A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold In settings of silver.(Proverbs 25:11 NKJV)
In Disney’s “Hercules”, Hercules battles a monster called a hydra. During the fight he slices its head off with his sword. Bystanders applaud his victory until the beast revives with two heads instead of one.
Hercules flies around on his pegasus decapitating one head after another. Each time he does, two more heads spring out until he’s faced with a far more dangerous opponent than before. Hundreds of dragon-like heads stare him down and his trainer Phil yells, “Will you forget the whole head slicing thing?”
I sympathize with Phil.
I’ve watched Evangelicals debate Mormons for a few years now. I’ve seen them deploy the same flawed tactics over and over. Then they congratulate themselves while Latter-day Saints grow stronger in their faith and more distrustful of Christianity.
As someone who knows the LDS mindset, I can tell you that the sharpest, most direct tactic is not always best.
Christians value directness and truth. We come from a society that is far more accepting of debate than that of our LDS counterparts. In fact, Latter-day Saints view contention as the devil’s tool.
They value orthopraxy as much, if not more, than orthodoxy. This means that our tone can destroy a perfectly good argument. For instance, a common mantra in Mormonism is: “people can leave the Church, but they can’t leave it alone.”
So when an ex-Mormon comes across as angry or bitter, it doesn’t matter how valid his arguments are. He is fulfilling the words of the prophets and proving that life away from Mormonism is bleak.
When I was an active member I compared Christians who slandered their former religion to married men who continued to gripe over an old girlfriend. It was an obvious sign that they weren’t fulfilled in their relationship.
The same is true for Christians who have never been Mormon. When we take the position that causing offense and hurting relationships is an acceptable way to promote truth, we alienate the LDS.
To be fair, sometimes the blunt approach is exactly what’s needed. It depends on the situation and the personality of the one doing the witnessing. If you’re going that route, be sure to bring a first-class argument with you.
If there’s one thing Mormons love, it’s a bull in a china shop, rampaging blindly against strawman arguments. The LDS will wave that red flag all day, dancing gleefully as you miss their vital organs by a longshot.
They’ll use the futility of your attempts to promote their own testimony, or add fuel to their dislike for Christians. Worst-case scenario, it gives them an excuse to play the victim and cut off future dialogue with you.
Of course, the truth is offensive. Sometimes a Mormon will be offended no matter how accommodating you are. So where does the balance lie between being honest and being compassionate?
It’s quite the juggling act. However, I have a few tips to assist in talking to Latter-day Saints.
1. Love them
It sounds obvious, but I can’t state this enough. If you’re talking to Mormons to win an argument, validate yourself, or let out steam for hurt the Church has caused you, it’s time to leave the ministry. Now.
We need to be mindful of what happens when a Mormon abandons their faith. They experience a loss of family, identity, and culture. The last thing a Latter-day Saint needs is us as enemies. These are victims we’re talking about here!
Mormons need to know there’s a new family waiting to embrace them with open arms. So commit right now to loving your LDS neighbors regardless of whether or not they leave the Church.
Latter-day Saints balk when we tell them what they believe right out of the gate. Instead ask them to explain the particulars of their faith and why it’s meaningful to them.
It might be cringy listening to someone pour out their soul about a false gospel, but it’s helpful. It builds a bond between you and the Latter-day Saint, which puts you in a better position to share the hope you have.
I can promise you this. A Latter-day Saint is far more interested in talking to someone who listens and respects what they say.
3. Promote the good they do
One of the worst mistakes I’ve seen is when Christians bad mouth the LDS church for doing good. For example, we might find ourselves grumbling when they donate millions of dollars to charity. After all, what’s a couple million compared to the 100 trillion dollars in their vaults?
But do you realize how petty that makes us look? When a Latter-day Saint brags about service their church has performed, the correct response isn’t, “Well, it’s still a cult”, or “why didn’t they give more?”
The best response is, “That’s really cool. Tell me more about it.”
If you’re appalled by that, please reference point number one on this list.
4. Curb your ego
Sometimes you’ll be in the middle of a discussion and realize the debate isn’t going well because the point you’ve been making is a strawman.
In this scenario the temptation is to push ahead and keep hammering it in, forcing the Mormon to see the light through brute force. This is about as effective as talking louder to someone who speaks a different language.
The drive to keep pushing is your ego talking. Don’t let it win. The best option if you’ve misrepresented Mormonism is to apologize. Believe me, losing the battle is better than losing the war.
When you make a move like this, a Mormon can’t help but respect you. Remember when I said they value orthopraxy? Humbly apologizing when the situation demands will paint you as a true Christian in their eyes.
They’ll see you as someone who’s fair and approachable. And that’s exactly the kind of person they’ll want to confide in if their shelf breaks someday.
5. Keep it positive
It’s important to avoid phrases that come across as overzealous. Telling Latter-day Saints they worship Joseph Smith, believe in a different god, or aren’t Christians is a sure-fire way to get their walls up. What might seem obvious to you, is far from obvious to them. They’ll see you as a raving lunatic.
In fact, it’s usually best to keep the focus on the positive aspects of your beliefs. A lot of Christians are uncomfortable with this, because of how similar the LDS vocabulary is to ours. However, there are some definite appeals we can highlight. For example, in Christian culture, it is common for people to confess sins and build each other up. Many Mormons long for this kind of fellowship.
But wait, there’s more! In Christianity, God doesn’t send any of His children to hell. In Christianity, God’s love is unconditional, to the point that we can be saved in our sins. In Christianity, everyone who believes holds the priesthood. In Christianity, Christ’s entire life was a vicarious ordinance on our behalf. In Christianity, God’s revelation never changes.
If a Mormon challenges you on these points, it opens the door to compare beliefs. Invite, don’t incite.
While appealing to his fellow critics in regard to their often horribly unbiblical (sometimes even cruel) treatment of Mormons one Mormon Critic summarized it well he said:
The Golden Rule of Apologetics is: “Always treat your debating opponent’s evidence and arguments the way that you would want to have your evidence and arguments treated.”
All too often I see Christians engaging in the exact opposite of this, in something that apologists call “Scorched Earth Tactics”. This is a tactic whereby one is determined to win the debate no matter the cost. It’s like dropping napalm or salting the ground after each advance so nothing can grow in your wake. The end result is that you win the debate but lose your debating opponent – forever.
This is a formula for failure since it can take a Mormon years, even decades to shake off the mind control of the LDS Church, to unsnap psychologically, and start considering the body of evidence through clear eyes rather than Mormon sunglasses. And then there are typically several years more after that before they transition out due to family, professional, and cultural entanglements. Therefore, it’s always best to strive to maintain a good relationship even if you’re at loggerheads as debating opponents.
Think long, not short term, and always, always consider how to maintain the relationship without compromising your message or yourself.
That sounds easy, doesn’t it? It’s not. It can be so hard to keep one’s passions, ego, and pride in check when engaging Mormons. And if you really like the person it can be hard not to soften your message to maintain the relationship. It’s a balancing act. Which is why we so desperately need the mind of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit guiding us rather than our fallen human nature. So for those moments when you feel your adrenaline beginning to pump, your palms beginning to sweat, and your eyes beginning to bulge I would encourage you to remember (or better yet, memorize) what God has said to us through His word.
(Fred W. Anson, “Weak Arguments #13: “There’s NOTHING in Mormonism that’s true – it’s all wrong and nothing but a pack of lies!”, Beggar’s Bread website May 3, 2015)
And in regard to Mormons and Mormonism this is what God through His word says to us:
“Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.”
(2 Timothy 2:25 NIV)
“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
(Colossians 4:6 NIV)
“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”
(1 Peter 3:15 NIV)
Brother and Sister Mormon Critic, I would rather lose the debate in order to win the Mormon over to Jesus, wouldn’t you? I would rather look like a fool than a sage if that’s what it takes. This isn’t about me, it’s about Him, isn’t it?
“He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30 NKJV). Can I get an amen?
NEW BOOK! Coming July 30th 2020: “Falling into Grace” by Michael Flournoy