Since I do believe that the theology of Mormonism is fundamentally flawed in a significant way, it makes sense to me to at least explain why I think this way to Mormons who are interested. I do not go into such conversations with the unrealistic expectation of converting them to trinitarianism, my aims are much more modest, the hope to impart a greater understanding of what the trinity is. Now that is not what evangelicals usually think when they think of witnessing. Evangelicals in general are an excited lot, certain of the obvious truth of their position to the point that many become quickly frustrated when others don’t see the obvious aspect of their truth claims. When dealing with Mormons this leads to disastrous results that you can see on internet boards all over- accusing Mormons of being brainwashed cultists, mocking Mormon rituals, ridiculing Mormon leaders and so forth. Evangelicals will gleefully take part in these activities with the explanation that they are telling the truth and therefore being loving.
Imagine for a moment if Paul, in a fit of exasperation, threw up his hands and let those at Mars Hill know that they were brainwashed beyond belief and incapable of rational thought because they didn’t agree with his explanations. Not a pretty picture is it? Paul, instead, found common ground and patiently reasoned with the people so they at least understood what he was saying. Likewise, he tells us that for Jews he becomes a Jew and for Gentiles a Gentile in order that he might convert some, that is, he explains things in a way that makes sense for each individual, not that he compromises the gospel message.
So here are my tips for witnessing to Mormons, borne of my experience having been a Mormon and on the receiving end of terrible ‘witnessing’.
1. Don’t be a jerk. This seems obvious but let me reiterate: don’t be a jerk. Don’t take pleasure in trying to cause another discomfort with negative information about things they’ve held sacred or persons they’ve held in high regard.
2. Understand Mormon culture. Mormons are often thought of as nice people, that is because Utah Mormon culture prescribes extraordinary niceness and the standard of communications. So this is especially for you Reformed people out there who liked to be in your face- realize that Mormons will interpret that ‘in your faceness’ not as being bold, but as being rude and whatever you have to say will then be ignored. If you actually care about communicating a message, communicate in a way that Mormons are willing to hear. Be polite, even excessively so, and you will find that Mormons will listen to your message without the message itself being compromised.
3. Do your homework. If you happen to run into misisonaries coming to your house, or find yourself suddenly in a conversation with a Mormon friend, you may have to rely on scattered information. In that case, stick to what you know best, your side of things, and avoid venturing into Mormon territory. If you think that witnessing to Mormons is something that you should be doing all of the time, do not be lazy and rely on what this and that website tell you. Take the time to read through Mormon scriptures, attend a few Mormon meetings, read through the literature they use to teach other Mormons so that you understand Mormon language and understand what Mormons hear every Sunday. That way you will understand what is truly significant to average Mormons and not get on useless sidetracks about whether or not the Journal of Discourses ought to be counted as scripture, it’s just not.
4. Take the time to learn about different Mormon circles. This relates to the above point. Your average Mormon isn’t going to be in the same boat as your apologetic FARMS oriented Mormon, and he isn’t going to be in the same boat as your theologically liberal Sunstone oriented Mormon, and you may occasionally run into the old school Mormon who hold onto old ideas such as natives getting lighter skin with baptism. Get to know the way of thinking of these different groups and learn the basic apologetic arguments. For instance, you may find yourself embarrassed if you aren’t at least familiar with the limited geographical model of the Book of Mormon widely accepted amongst true believers. It is wrong to insist that “Mormons” believe that Elohim had sex with Mary when only your old school believers will assent to this.
5. Examine your own motives. You may have wiggled at some of my above information and said “but it’s true! Mormon leaders DID teach that natives become lighter and that Elohim had sex with Mary! that’s right!”. The point is, will insisting on THOSE issues with average Mormons get them any closer to understanding the gospel? The point is not about you winning points.
6. Focus your conversation. I suggest sticking to theological issues rather than trying to attack the historicity of the Book of Mormon or prove that Joseph Smith had sex with all of his spirit wives. That is, I suggest sticking to the issues that actually matter- the nature of God, grace, atonement and so forth. Now it is true, that some Mormons will show some interest in learning about other topics, and if that is so, you should discuss them using discretion, but avoid attacks. I think of this as trying to talk to someone about a straying spouse, if you go in for the attack straightaway the natural human reaction is to clam up and defend the spouse. Be patient and kind and avoid casting dispersions on Mormonism.
7. On that last note, think of a few things you can admire about Mormonism. It will help the conversation along if you can admire some things about Mormonism- find some kind of common ground, to set the tone of the conversation as positive. Likewise, be willing to defend misinformation of Mormonism against others who have an incorrect understanding even if it may seem to them that you are defending Mormonism itself. It will advertise to Mormons that you have integrity and won’t lie to them.
8. My last suggestion is to listen. Do not follow a script. I repeat, do not follow a script. Be open to a real discussion, that’s where any meaningful exchange of discussion is going to happen. You may never know if your Mormon friend was altered by your conversation, but it’s not for you to know, it’s for God to know, but you can be sure that if you are rude, if you are simply throwing out this and that negative statement about Mormonism, you did nothing for the glory of God. In fact, many Mormons point to the perceived rudeness of evangelicals in general as proof that their messages must not be any good. It’s time to turn that around.
I’m not saying there isn’t a time and place for out and out debate, if for no other reason than mutual amusement, but please be honest about your motivation.