Lately I’ve been paying attention to the advice that some Christians give to others regarding the Mormon[1] at the door. It often sounds like this: “Do not try to engage Mormons if you have not studied Scripture. Mormon missionaries have a thorough knowledge of the Bible and you cannot afford to be bested in a religious disagreement. So if you’re not ‘studied up’ don’t even bother.”

I find this kind of counsel troubling not only because it suggests closing yourself off until reaching some (ambiguous) level of biblical/theological expertise; but also because the underlying reasoning here could be extended not just to the Mormon at the door but anyone, anywhere, on practically any subject simply because you lack specific knowledge. That is, if you should avoid the Mormon at the door, then you should also avoid the Muslim in the elevator or your Jehovah’s Witness brother-in-law or your atheist coworker, all for the same reason.

Avoidance is the wrong move in this kind of circumstance. There are a number of Scriptures (Matthew 28:19; Colossians 4:3-6; 1 Peter 3:15) that reinforce the notion that we should engage others and zero Scriptures to suggest that we should wait until the right time to speak or act. Also, Jesus tells us that we have no reason to be afraid to engage (see Matthew 10:26, 28).

I’d like to underpin my comments here by sharing a story about what I did when two Mormon missionaries came to my door.

Shortly after becoming a Christian I decided that I wanted to deepen my knowledge of God; so I enrolled in Religion at a university. I was only halfway through my second semester when, one day, I heard a knock at my front door. Two very polite Latter Day Saints smiled and asked if they could share with me the message of Jesus Christ. I invited them in and offered them something to eat and drink (see Hebrews 13:2). As we all sat down on the couch I quickly assessed everything I had heard about Mormons: They believe God was once a man. They believe Jesus and Satan are brothers. And I’m pretty sure there is something going on with magic underwear.

So faced with this fundamental lack of knowledge and my own undeveloped theology at the time I decided to take the direct approach. I said, “Look guys, I’m a new Christian; I think you would classify me as Protestant. I know we have some things in common but I’ve also heard we differ in certain areas. So why don’t you just tell me where we differ?” And then I sat back and let them share their message.

The two took turns speaking with me for about an hour. They were very genial and gracious. I stepped into the conversation when I wanted clarification or when I noticed differences in our beliefs. All in all the exchange was relaxed and pleasant. Now, I’m not going to give a play by play of my entire interaction because, over the course of three meetings, I spent four hours chatting with them. But I do want to highlight the tactics that I employed to engage in the particular kind of conversation I wanted to.

In inviting them to tell me where our two faith systems disagree I put all the work on their shoulders. I didn’t have to memorize all the relevant verses that counter their doctrine or the particular rejoinders offered by my church. All I did was sit back and listen. And when they finally touched on an area that I was familiar with I offered challenges in the form of questions. For example, at one point they explained to me the verification system for their religious claims, otherwise known as a burning in the bosom. They characterized this experience as an overwhelming feeling given by the Holy Spirit that the information they are reading/hearing/thinking about is true. And then they encouraged me to read the Book of Mormon to see if I would get that same feeling.

By the way, this method is entirely problematic. Each and every one of us, including Mormons, has had good feelings about something that turned out to be a bad idea later. Even God says, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it” (Jeremiah 17:9)? So feelings alone are a horrible basis for religious faith. This is actually one of the reasons I’m a Christian and not a Mormon because, Christianity (as a system) is rooted in evidence. Yes, I know many Christians trade on their own experiences. But if that’s all they trade in then there’s nowhere else to go when Mormons reference their own experiences.

I wanted to express all these thoughts without coming across as abrupt or too confrontational. So I looked at them and I gently asked, “How do you know that your feelings are from the Holy Spirit?” I think this question is entirely legitimate to ask a Buddhist or Muslim as well as a Mormon. By the way, it’s also a great question to ask a Christian, especially those who like to divinize every thought, feeling, and emotion. If feelings are the primary basis for one’s faith then he’ll have a difficult time answering this question. The only thing the Mormons told me in response was, “For me, I believe it is the Holy Spirit.”

We went round and round this issue (as well as others) and, when our time was up, I thanked them for the interaction and they left. Before leaving I got their email addresses with the possibility of further discussion if I had more questions. So to recap: First, I placed the responsibility on their shoulders by asking them to explain their faith to me. Since they were at my door with information they wanted to share, they might as well do the work. This freed me up to choose the particular moments I wanted to step in and engage. Second, when I did engage, I did not plumb the depths of my memory to find the pre-rehearsed Mormon-at-the-door script. I asked pointed questions to take the conversation where I wanted it to go.

All of this is a long way of showing that we need not fear interacting with the Mormon at the door. Even if I only asked one question or offered one rejoinder, I still engaged them as a relatively uninformed believer and lived to tell the tale. So don’t think that you have to be “studied up” in order to engage. Just engage. The more you do it the better you’ll get. And, if you can interact in such a manner that is friendly and nonconfrontational, you’ll be in a better position to get them thinking about the message you have to share.

*For those interested in the tactics I used, get this book by Greg Koukl.

 

[1] Or Jehovah’s Witness or whoever is at your door.

12 COMMENTS

  1. Good thoughts. Avoidance for the reasons you mentioned gives way to intellectual dishonesty, not to mention a close-minded mentality that you couldn’t possibly be wrong about your understanding of scripture.

    The point about Mormonism and feelings is important too. Once when I was studying with Mormons I asked what makes their feeling different than a Buddhist who says he’s reached nirvana. They couldn’t answer that, which told me all I needed to know.

  2. Thanks for being kind and open to those two missionaries as I used to be one just a few years ago 🙂 It’s nice to know there are people out there like you who are willing to understand all perspectives and to get information from the source. I feel that it’s easy to misjudge a group of people based on false information online or from word of mouth. I know that just from being a missionary that we aren’t out to bash (in fact, in my mission we were discouraged from doing so) but to share with the world what we hold to be true and give people the opportunity to learn more.

    I saw you’re from Las Vegas. So am I! I’m currently finishing up school here in Idaho and it’s still in the fifties here. I’m sure Las Vegas weather is a bit warmer.

    https://lifeismuyfantastico.wordpress.com/

    • Thanks for the comment, Zach. It’s a shame that a lot of us feel like we should be so hostile towards others with different points of view. I know one thing, for sure. No one can “outnice” a Mormon. You guys are some of the most respectful and gracious people I’ve ever met. All the more reason to engage and ask questions and share ideas!

      By the way, I like your site! Just started following it.

      • I agree with you. After the Boston Marathon Attacks, I was appalled at the discrimination and hostility Muslims here in the United States were facing. I decided to talk to and interview Muslims to clear my misconceptions about their faith. I was pleasantly surprised at what I learned and I can say that some of my best friends are Muslim. I agree with you. It’s sad to see how society can treat each other based on misconceptions. Thank you for the kind words 🙂 We strive to be and not force our opinions down people’s throats. We believe that everyone has the right to choose and that’s part of God’s plan. Thanks for following 🙂

  3. “Magic Underwear” – really, you have to stoop to that level?

    Find a member of the LDS Church who calls their Garment by that name?

    Many Christians choose to wear a cross – does that make it magic?

    Yes, members believe that wearing the Garment will assist them by keeping them safe from evil – but this is only the case if they are living to their covenants – it is the keeping of the covenants they have made with God that keeps them safe. The wearing of the Garment is simply a physical manifestation of their covenants, a reminder of what they have covenanted to do. Just as wearing, or displaying a Cross, helps many Christians to remember Him, and His sacrifice.

    To use a Church source:- “Wearing the Garment is an outward expression of an inner commitment to the Saviour, Jesus Christ.”

    So it may seem strange that they wear it, but please refrain from ridiculing comments.

    • Hi Andrew,

      I can tell you with all sincerity that my intention in writing the particular sentence you referenced was to showcase my own ignorance of Mormon teaching – not to ridicule Mormons. That’s why the next sentence I wrote was, “So faced with this fundamental lack of knowledge…” My “fundamental lack of knowledge” was supposed to indicate my misunderstanding of the Garment. If that did not come across that way, I apologize. That certainly was not my intention.

      I appreciate your comment so I could have the opportunity to clarify.

  4. Brother Nate,
    THANK YOU FOR SHARING THIS BLOG WITH ME. Lately, I have tried to be more loving to my Mormon brothers and sisters when I did come into contact with a couple of brothers. I think what is most important is building a loving relationship that may allow for loving correction when it comes to the truths of serving the risen Savior.
    In Christ,
    Jerome Danner

Comments are closed.