Michael opening thoughts
In some ways Mormons and Evangelicals are like oil and water. Both groups possess very distinct beliefs and when we come together our differences come to light more than our similarities. Often, our doctrinal disagreements can result in bitter feelings and misunderstandings. Over the last centuries relations haven’t been terrific between us, which keeps us from benefiting from any sort of profitable relationship.
Perhaps it is time for a change in the way we approach one another. If it is possible for Mormons and Evangelicals to be friends, or at least coexist peacefully, here are a few places to start. First, both our religions believe we have “good news” to share. It shouldn’t be difficult for Latter-day Saints to understand that Evangelicals don’t consider themselves good friends at all if they don’t try to share the gospel, since we believe we’ll be held accountable for friends we don’t share it with. Maybe we should allow our Mormon and Evangelical friends to share their view of the gospel with us.
I know some of you are reading this and thinking, “blasphemy”! Let me clarify that letting someone share their beliefs with you comes with no necessary commitments. You don’t have to marry someone just because you go on a first date, and you certainly don’t have to switch religions simply because someone witnessed to you. As every former Mormon missionary knows, it’s all about choice; and a good choice cannot be made without the proper information. Evangelicals and Mormons alike will understand if their message is shared but not accepted. Participating in this sort of exercise can strengthen friendships by allowing each participant to share the hope that is in them while learning about the other.
As Latter-day Saints we are intimately aware of the fact that Evangelicals disagree with us on many important doctrinal issues. What we aren’t always so sure about is whether or not our Protestant friends bring these up simply to spite us. However, it has been my experience that most Evangelicals are not excited about the prospect of any Latter-day Saint spending eternity in hell. Usually when they talk religion to us, it’s actually because they care about us. Of course, I understand that some Evangelicals (and Mormons) do not talk religion with love in their hearts, and I would encourage these individuals to get their priorities straight before entering into any sort of interfaith dialogue.
On this note, Evangelicals and Mormons should refrain from “telling” each other what they believe and try “asking” instead. When we view each other with our Mormon or Evangelical lenses, what we see will not make much sense. But if we try on one another’s glasses for a moment, and try to see things their way, we’ll see clearly why someone believes as they do. This will eliminate the tendency to build and tear down straw men.
Sometimes I’ll hear Evangelicals say something along the lines of, “I’m not attacking you, I’m attacking Mormonism”. What Protestants need to realize, is Mormons take their religion very personally, and so attacking our religion will be construed as an attack on us. If an Evangelical absolutely feels the need to bring up an objection or concern with Mormonism, it should be done with the same tender love and care one would use to tell someone they might have cancer. Evangelicals should also take care not to use the words “Mormon” and “Jehovah’s Witness” in the same sentence. While we may share some similarities with Jehovah’s Witnesses, we are still very different religions, and lumping us together makes the perpetrator seem ignorant and “anti-Mormon”.
My advice to Latter-day Saints is to be sure we aren’t pretending to be the same religion as Evangelicals. Certainly there’s a desire in Mormonism to be acknowledged as Christian, and we do use many of the same words a Protestant would use to describe their faith. We should not be so zealous in our quest to expose similarities that we make our Evangelical friends perceive us as no different.
I came across Michael Flournoy when I was in the middle of one of my all time favourite hobbies. Book shopping on Amazon. As I often do I was looking for books on Mormonism, the title "A Biblical defense of Mormonism" of course caught my eye.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that Michael understands where I and many others come from theologically, (no modalism strawmen) as a result of a lot of dialogue with Christians, and also that he had some interesting and even challenging points raised in this book. I looked him up on Facebook and the chat that has followed between us has brought about this idea of some joint posts.
When evangelicals hear of an ongoing dialogue with an LDS apologist or scholar etc I think we all often have the same fearful expectation of another compromise. Another evangelical for the sake of being "friends" with a Mormon letting go of some key beliefs and not asking some of the key questions, and further victory of the LDS churches goal of being accepted as Christian.
We all cringed when we heard Richard Mouws words in 2004 at the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, when he apologized on behalf of the evangelical world saying this:
"We have sinned against you. The God of the Scriptures makes it clear that it is a terrible thing to bear false witness against our neighbors, and we have been guilty of that sort of transgression in things we have said about you. We have told you what you believe without making a sincere effort first of all to ask you what you believe."
While of course this will have at times happened, many Evangelicals that heard this sighed. Thinking Mouw was pandering to the LDS people without gaining an understanding from many of those in ministry to Mormons themselves about their methods and motives.
LDS Apostle Jeffrey Holland in his talk "Standing together for the cause of Christ" said:
“If I esteem mankind to be in error, shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up, and in their own way too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better; and I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by the force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way. Do you believe in Jesus Christ and the Gospel of salvation which He revealed? So do I. Christians should cease wrangling and contending with each other, and cultivate the principles of union and friendship in their midst; and they will do it before the millennium can be ushered in and Christ takes possession of His kingdom.”
While there may be good intentions here, for evangelicals this wreaks of compromise, and also the misconception that our goal is to tear down, when actually the intention is to serve God by bringing people to Himself. This is not about wrangling and contending but rather preaching and causing people to submit to Christ leaving behind their false religion. LDS people may not accept this conviction but often the fact that this is our desire is missed.
It often seems that the only people that are known to publically dialogue with the LDS apologists scholars or leaders are those that compromise, and don't make the points or ask the questions that many others think should be asked.
However is it possible for someone to dialogue with LDS people, publically and honestly with friendship love and respect without compromise?
In October 2013 Southern Baptist Seminary President Albert Mohler visited Brigham Young university regarding issues of the threat to religious freedom. Probably the most memorable quote Mohler made on this visit was as follows:
“I am not here because I believe we are going to heaven together, but I do believe we may go to jail together,”
Its my desire that LDS people see that while I and many others share the sentiment of this quote, that LDS people who go strictly with the teachings of the LDS church have missed the gospel of grace and are not going to heaven, that this is not a belief that we take pleasure from at all. Often this is not understood.
I do not like this belief, but nevertheless I hold to it on the conviction that the gospel of grace and the God who saves, has been missed by the Mormon church. So often the label "Anti-Mormon" can get thrown around and before you know it any good motives are irrelevant and missed. The desire of myself and many others in doing this ministry is to bring people to Christ.
If I were to say that I myself have never communicated in a way that may be less than totally friendly or respectful or have never assumed the beliefs of the LDS person I am speaking too before asking, I think I would be less than honest. So often a supposed "expert" like myself can jump in too quickly without truly respecting the other person by listening as well as speaking. Sometimes the conviction that I have something this person needs to hear can overtake the fact that they may not want to hear it, at least not in a disrespectful manner.
If there is a way through dialogue with Michael that I can learn from him how to better communicate with LDS people, and start a respectful, uncompromising dialogue then this seems like a great opportunity.
Michael Closing Thoughts.
Ephesians 4:15 says that we may grow up unto Christ in all things by “speaking the truth in love”. Notice that this verse does not say speaking the truth is love. Are we at times coming across too aggressively, saying the truth hurts as an excuse to be overbearing? Indeed, we may honestly have love in our hearts while sharing our message, but if we are unable to show that love so that the receiver recognizes it as such, it is useless.
When Bobby initially contacted me on Facebook, I knew immediately that I could trust him. Although he unflinchingly acknowledges that he is anti-Mormon (the religion), he is at the same time one of the least anti-Mormon (the individual) people I’ve come across. Sometimes the things he says on his blog “Mormonism Investigated” can sting a bit to read, but his writing is devoid of sensationalism and exaggeration. If any Evangelical is wondering what tone to take when engaging Latter-day Saints, I highly recommend taking a look at Bobby’s articles, he does a great job of it.
Finally, let me just say that Evangelicals make wonderful friends, and if any LDS readers have them, you know what I’m talking about. There is zero doubt in my mind that Protestant Christians are God-fearing, respectable people. I’m so grateful for my Protestant friends who continue to put up with me, showing Christ-like love day in and day out.