When some members think of anti-Mormonism, immediately they have an image pop into their minds of the Evangelical preacher standing outside the convention center with the bullhorn screaming that Mormons are members of an evil cult. Typically the arguments that come to mind have to do with either the Bible (FAIR only had one question on it this year) or the tension-state between faith and works (also only one question this year). For most members, those issues have been discussed and debated over many generations of anti-Mormons, and members typically dismiss them with a wave of the hand. And if those were the only issues that people dealt with, we probably wouldn’t need an organization like FAIR.
We get well over 100 questions each month. We had 150 sent to us just in the month of August alone. Typically the questions we get are from people who had an idea of what the Church was supposed to be like, and then didn’t know how to handle it when their image didn’t match something else they were told. The real question for us becomes how to respond.
In our recent, very successful FAIR conference one of the recurring themes was to treat people with kindness and to understand their pain.
For example, we recently received this email from a member who is leaving the Church along with her family:
“I have studied Journal of Discourses, church history and am sad
to say that the church is hiding so much information. They lie by
omission. Deliberately lie. If people knew the truth they would
not join. The church teachings aren’t even the same as they were
when I was growing up.”
This was, of course, followed by the member claiming to have found the Church-hidden facts from studying books published by the Church. My first reaction was a strong temptation to respond that the Church was very clever to hide all of those disturbing facts in Church books where no one would read them. But then I started to ask myself what would really help this woman and her family. What would comfort her?
Should we compare the accessibility of information in our Church with other churches? Ours is amazingly accessible. There isn’t much hidden for those who have the time and want to know. I have tried to get information from other church history libraries and find that while their historians are very nice, Mormons really are some of the best record keepers and they publish an incredible amount of historical information about the Church and its leaders.
Should we point out that other churches have as much or more dirty laundry than ours? Just think of American history: the massacres, the injustices, the denial of rights, the lack of moral values, the racism, even the witch trials, all put forward in a mostly Protestant America.
But I really don’t think any of these arguments will work. While these arguments might make us feel better, I doubt they would convince this member to stay in the Church and there is little to be gained by arguing that some things we have done may have been bad but some things others have done have been worse.
So, how should it be handled? What should we do? My answer is that I don’t know. That’s right, I am the president of the largest LDS apologetics organization, and I don’t really know how to help her.
So, I have to go back to what I do know. I have been taught that the best way to work through any problem is to first focus on what you do know.
- I know that God loves us. He loves all of us, including those leaving the Church, those who have left the Church, and those who are attacking the Church.
- I know that God wants the best for us.
- I know that God put the Church here to help us, and to help us help others.
- I know that the Church is filled with imperfect people who have extraordinary callings. These imperfect people rise to extraordinary heights and do amazing things. But, they also sometimes stumble and fall, even when acting within their calling.
So thinking of those things, the right answer is to try to listen.
Before we start listing possible apologetics, we should try to discern what the person really wants and needs. Will this stop the woman from leaving the Church? Probably not. But, it may help her maintain a relationship with members of the Church. And it may help her maintain a relationship with God.
I received an email from an active member married to a man who has left the Church. She has remained married to him and tries to keep her family together. Unfortunately, some of her worst experiences come from members who grill her on affiliating with individuals whose teachings are contrary to the Church. Some of the grilling has been directly of her husband in front of her children. I have to ask myself how that less-active or non-member husband is now supposed to feel about the gospel. Would he feel it is a gospel of love?
I have read those allegedly “hidden” things that shock people out of the Church. Thinking of the miracle of the Church, those things don’t shock me. Given the various personalities in the Church, I think it is a miracle that we get right the things that we do. But I know those things shock others. And I have to remember that they are not me. They are upset. They are hurt, and the hurting is real. I have to remember that in all of my conversations.
I hope that we can help people strengthen their testimonies and feel the love through us that God has for all of his Children.