I had an interesting experience today that I, unfortunately, had no patience to deal with. I have been writing and discussing religion and philosophy on the internet for over a decade now so I feel like I’ve earned the right to be selective about engaging in heated discussions anymore. As many of you know, as I get older I have been drawn more and more to Eastern Orthodox theology. It has changed my life in a way – there are so many tools to experience Jesus Christ in new and deep ways that I have never before been aware of, from meditative and prayer practices to the Christus Victor view of Jesus’ Atonement. Aristotle and Aquinas opened my mind to the possibility that God may be immaterial and transcendent, but it is Orthodoxy that really has caused me to feel an experiential component with my Savior. For me, this whole process of breaking down the walls of prejudice in my mind and experiencing God in new and infinitely deep ways – that, for me, was “Aristotle’s revenge.”
However, the thing that I love the most about the Orthodox who have befriended me through this process is that none of them have never felt the need to attack Mormonism in order to make Orthodoxy look more appealing. I have even befriended an Orthodox priest who has been working with me using daily spiritual journals to help me grow in my relationship with God. When I talk about Mormonism and its problems, I can tell that this Father wants to say what’s on his mind about Mormonism, and he always holds it back. As someone who has been in many religious arguments through my life this took me by surprise. So many nominal Protestant Christians and some Catholics have taken it upon themselves to try to show me why Mormonism is wrong – as if attacking the faith that I have loved, and by extension the wonderful experiences I’ve had in Mormonism – is going to make me somehow agree to join the church of my attacker. However, this should make no sense to anyone who has been on the receiving end of such things.
Today I withdrew from participating in a certain Orthodox Christian group online because I began to see some of the old, tired, inaccurate arguments against Mormonism that I am more used to seeing from Evangelical adversaries. I suppose it would have been more Christlike for me to answer their objections, but as I said above, I am a bit old and tired for that sort of futile waste of energy these days.
However, I do want to say some things to anyone out there reading who might be thinking of ministering to a Mormon friend.
First, Mormons know Mormonism way better than you do. They know the strengths of Mormonism, and they know the weaknesses of Mormonism better than you do. It is extremely unlikely that you will introduce some new information about Mormonism that the Mormon does not already know – if you try doing this it is likely that you will butcher Mormon beliefs or history so badly that you will lose all credibility in their eyes, and they will feel more confident in simply dismissing anything else you have to say. Also, because they know the weaknesses of Mormonism better than you do – they are likely aware of many problems of Mormonism and they are struggling with these things in their own way. You don’t have to “expose” Mormonism to a Mormon – they are very much aware of things already.
Statistically speaking, it is possible that your Mormon friend knows your religion better than you do. Don’t believe me? Check this out. Now of course many of you are experts in Christianity and I don’t want to discount that, and I don’t think Mormons are really experts in other beliefs, but they definitely know plenty about Christianity from lots of sources. Remember, Mormons that went on missions or lived around other Christians as a minority know a lot about where the Bible came from, how the books were selected, about Constantine, about Christian doctrines on the family and the afterlife, because these are the unique doctrines that we use to set ourselves apart. Now I actually believe a lot of the Mormon conceptions of other Christians are based on distortions, but not flat out falsehoods. And frankly, Christians don’t help this because many of the people who attack or bully Mormons in school or at work don’t actually know their own religion very well. If a Mormon doesn’t know much about the doctrine of the Trinity, for instance, it’s very possible that’s because their Christian neighbors did such an awful job of trying to explain it to them (perhaps saying things like “it’s like the three parts of an egg” or “it’s like steam, ice, and water” when these are actually tritheism and modalism and heretical to creedal Christianity – or saying it’s “three gods in one God” which is a logical contradiction and again, heretical to creedal Christianity). If you don’t know your own religion, your Mormon friend will not see why they should care what you say about Mormonism.
Mormonism is beautiful, complex, deep, historically rich, and woefully misunderstood. Furthermore, Mormonism has grown out of a long history of families and communities struggling with each other to fend off persecution from mostly other Christians. The Mormon already thinks that if you attack Mormonism you are attacking their family histories, their parents, and the very core of their being. The bottom line is that if you are sloppy or careless in this, you will just make yourself look stupid and make the Mormon angry. And because Mormonism is so deep, it is not something that you can understand by just reading one book, a Wikipedia page, or a few pages on a website. It takes years of dedication to understand the Mormon mindset, and if you’re not willing to put forth that effort, then don’t bother trying to have an antagonistic conversation about it with a Mormon. The old, tired arguments simply don’t work against them, and they’re so bothersome that I’m not even going to get into them at the moment, but here’s a hint – telling the Mormon that they believe “God lives on a planet called Kolob with his wives” or that “Jesus and Satan are brothers” will evoke one thought in the mind of your Mormon friend: “You have no idea what the %&^ you’re talking about.”
Lastly, Mormonism uses its own special vocabulary. When Mormons talk about God, priesthood, the Bible, scripture, the Holy Ghost, the Atonement, temples, the sacrament, apostles, apostasy, and prophets, they are likely using these terms in very different ways than their Christian friends are using them. You should realize that if you’re both talking about, say, prophets, you are likely not going to come to much agreement unless you work out the differences in vocabulary.
Do I think it is therefore useless for any Christians to try to “minister” to a Mormon? Absolutely not! However, here’s my advice, taken from my experience with Eastern Orthodox Christians:
Show Mormons how great your religion is, and if you know that and communicate it well enough, you won’t need to get a PhD in Mormon studies to influence your Mormon friend.
I would encourage you to re-read that bold statement before continuing this essay. If you really want to minister to a Mormon, know your own religion and share what you love about it. This will get you much, much further than trying to tell the Mormon that he or she is not Christian, that Joseph Smith was a gold-digging pervert, or that Mormons are a cult. These are based on cartoon-like thinking about Mormonism and just bounce off Mormons while destroying your credibility.
If you really want to see a Christian blogger who, in my opinion, really “gets” Mormonism and is really, really credible with her criticisms, check out ClobberBlog.