Q. My co-worker, who is a pastor in a local church, gave me a whole bunch of handouts that he received at a training session. (The session was in preparation for a temple open house in our area.) He gave them to me and asked me to respond, but I don’t know where to start.
A. (by Allen L. Wyatt) Thank you for sending the materials so I could look at them. They are the normal “shotgun approach” that we see among many anti-Mormons. They take everything they can, load it into a series of documents, and then fling it at people hoping that something will stick. The documents you received cover Joseph Smith, prophets, grace vs. works, the Book of Mormon, the endowment, blacks and the priesthood, racism, the First Vision, polygamy, the place of faith, whitewashing history, scholarship and the Church, the endowment, unrighteous dominion, etc.
It is virtually impossible to respond to shotgun tactics, because as soon as you deal with one item, the critic says “Oh, yeah? Well, what about this item?” And so it goes, in rather fruitless discussion. (There are “ministries” devoted to doing nothing more than finding fault with the Church. They don’t preach Jesus; they preach the falsity of The Church of Jesus Christ, and produced these shotgun materials for use in public venues, such as the temple open house.)
You indicated that your friend was interested in a response. Assuming your friend’s name is Rev. Harris, I would suggest that a prudent response might be “Rev. Harris, this material must have been disturbing to you when you read it. I know it would be disturbing to me if I read such things about Methodists or Episcopalians. Tell me what bothers you the most.”
In other words, invite Rev. Harris to list out the things that he finds bothersome. (Rev. Harris should not read from a script; if he does, then there is nothing that you can do and you should call it a day.) As Rev. Harris lists the things that bother him, write them all down. When Rev. Harris is done, say “Is this everything? I don’t want to get in a situation where I deal with your issues and then you start adding more to the list.” If there are more, add them to the list, up front.
You should then go through the list and look for commonalities. For instance, how many of the items can be attributed to a misunderstanding of Joseph Smith’s prophetic role? Lump the common items together, and explain to Rev. Harris why this is being done. Get Rev. Harris’ agreement that if the underlying theme is addressed that the specific manifestation of that theme will also be addressed.
Then sit down with Rev. Harris, and one by one discuss each of the themes. Never lose patience, and always be helpful. Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know,” particularly about historical issues. (Most anti-Mormons twist historical issues to one degree or another. They willingly pull our history out of context while conveniently ignoring their own–blacks and the priesthood is a perfect example.) If you don’t know an answer, simply say so. If it still bothers Rev. Harris, then offer to find answers, provided that he agrees to read the answers you provide.
The idea is to get Rev. Harris to draw his own conclusions about the tactics of anti-Mormon ministries without directly attacking the ministries. Show Rev. Harris that you are willing to discuss matters openly (all except the temple endowment) and that answers are available. Rev. Harris may not agree with the answers, but reasonable people can reasonably disagree once all the cards are on the table.
If you are interested, a lot of information can be found at this location:
This is FAIR’s Topical Guide, a repository of information that answers many of the common criticisms about the Church. Granted, Rev. Harris could be directed to this site, but it is unlikely that such a referral would be productive unless Rev. Harris were highly motivated to study the issues. The private one-on-one mentoring outlined above is much more effective.
Finally, you may be interested in two recent presentations at our annual FAIR Conference. These presentations speak specifically to many of the criticisms leveled by anti-Mormons. The first is by Dr. Davis Bitton, who used to teach at the University of Utah and served for a time as assistant Church Historian. It is entitled “I Don’t Have a Testimony of the History of the Church.” You can find it here:
I Don’t Have a Testimony of the History of the Church by Davis Bitton
Dr. Bitton’s presentation talks about how anti-Mormons use history, about whether we really whitewash our history, and at the end of the day whether history really has that much bearing on a personal relationship with the Savior.
The second presentation was by Matthew Brown, a well-known author in LDS circles. His presentation is entitled “Historical or Hysterical–Anti-Mormons and Documentary Sources.” You can find the presentation here:
Historical or Hysterical: Anti-Mormons and Documentary Sources by Matthew Brown
Brother Brown’s presentation examines the claims of anti-Mormons concerning Joseph Smith and how they misuse the original documents from that period. Given the materials that your friend provided you with, I’m sure that you’ll see the relevance of this presentation right away. (Again, the presentation is for your edification, not necessarily for Rev. Harris. The one-on-one approach I outlined is much more effective than just handing someone articles such as this.)
If you would like help addressing specific issues that Rev. Harris brings up, please don’t hesitate to ask. Dealing with specifics, particularly in a thematic way as described above, is something that FAIR can generally do very effectively.
I wish you success in dealing with the anti-Mormons. Overall, they are yapping dogs, nipping at the wheels of the Lord’s wagons as they roll forward. And go forward, they will–but it is much better if they can go forward without casualties due to those who lie in wait to deceive.