Catholics and Protestants have employed a number of strategies against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and its various offshoots, with varying success.
I. How Not to Evangelize to Mormons
There’s sort of a cottage industry within Evangelical Protestantism of making audacious and easily disproven claims about “What Mormons Believe.” Sometimes, these things are taken from fringe views, sometimes they’re things claimed by ex-Mormons, sometimes they’re wild interpretations of LDS texts or speeches. In any case, they’re good at trumping up fear of the Other, and bad at converting any but the most ill-informed Mormon. In short, it’s the approach that many of these same Evangelicals take against Catholicism (Unfortunately, given the number of ill-informed Catholics, they seem to be much more successful against us). Here are some examples of how not to evangelize to Mormons, from a quick pull from the Internet:
- Facts Mormons Won’t Tell, by MacGregor Ministries
- Recovery from Mormonism – This site assaults things like prioritizing tithing over your family’s needs. It’s an attack on religion in general under the guise of an unpopular and alien Faith.
- Alpha & Omega Ministries – This site is run by an uncharitable Calvinist, James White. The attacks he launches against Mormons (and Catholics, elsewhere on the site) rely on the assumption that his opponents must be liars.
Rather than converting Mormons, the purpose of these sites seems to be to (a) scare Evangelical Protestants into a fear of non-Evangelical Protestants, perhaps in a misguided effort to shore up their faith; or (b) to attack those who take religion seriously. What’s stranger is that a number of Evangelical sites will link to the anti-religious sites as “proof” of the nuttiness of Mormonism. Hopefully, Catholic apologists have a more sensitive ear for these kind of attacks, since they’re identical in form to what we Catholics have to deal with all the time (and much moreso in the past, when Catholicism seemed more alien). To their credit, I haven’t seen any of the over-the-top outlandishly false claims put forward by Catholics, but perhaps I just haven’t looked hard enough.
II. A Better Way to Evangelize to Mormons
A good evangelization approach is one which demonstrates what their Faith says, v. what we know from other sources, like the Bible or science. For example:
- They say a Great Apostasy happened – the Bible says that there won’t ever be one (see today’s earlier post for more on that topic). There are lots of other areas, particularly Christological ones, where a Biblical debate is needed, but it’s not as clearcut as you might think. Most LDS missionaries are well-prepared to argue exactly how the Bible should be interpreted on the nature of Christ, and the relationship of God to man. So do the Biblical ones, but these other examples are science-y.
- Their Scriptures include reference to “all manner of cattle, of oxen, and cows, and of sheep, and of swine, and of goats” (Ether 9:18), as well as “horses, and asses, and […] elephants” (Ether 9:19) being in the New World prior to Columbus – none were. This is pretty easily provable, particularly for horses, since their introduction shortly after Columbus’ arrival revolutionized the lifestyle of the Plains Indians and many other groups. The mental image we collectively have of Native Americans riding horses and hunting buffalo is an image only possible after Columbus’ arrival. Their lifestyle prior was radically different.
- Similarly, 1 Nephi 4:9 claims that Laban’s sword was made of steel, yet the New World never had steel weapons prior to Columbus. What’s more, if one group did have steel weapons, it’s hard to imagine them dying out and losing the technology (and any trace of it), particularly since metal swords (of any kind) didn’t exist in the New World. In other words, a Steel Age tribe in the midst of peoples who hadn’t yet entered the Bronze Age would have had a heyday. Consider how relatively easily a band of Conquistadors, with their metal armor and weaponry, conquered the much large Aztec Empire.
- The honeybee occupies a strangely prominent place in Mormonism, based upon Ether 2:3, which says that Jared, his brother, and their families “they did also carry with them deseret, which, by interpretation, is a honey bee; and thus they did carry with them swarms of bees, and all manner of that which was upon the face of the land, seeds of every kind.” This is where the State of Deseret (the original idea for a Mormon state) and the Salt Lake City’s daily newspaper Deseret Morning News get their name. But (you probably see this coming), honey bees didn’t exist in the New World until the 17th Century [okay, technically, there were bees in prehistoric times, but for the last 14 million years, we have no records of honey bees in the New World]. The reason that this is one of the best arguments against the authenticity of the Book of Mormon is that unlike men with steel weapons or large animals, it’s about impossible to wipe out a honey bee population. When honey bees were introduced, they spread rapidly, as Africanized honey bees are doing today. Plus, the honey bee’s had its genome mapped, and we can trace it scientifically to Eastern Africa.
The trend continues – even Mormon sources will acknowledge that there’s never been any archeological evidence supporting any of the cities which the Book of Mormon describes; in contrast, Biblical archeology has been incredibly fruitful. The result of this should be a picture where the uniquely Mormon parts of their belief system don’t comport to what the rest of Christianity believes from the Bible (which is important only if you can dispel the notion of a Great Apostasy, of course), and which contradicts all known science.
III. The BEST Way to Evangelize to Mormons
Read up on what LDS Mormons believe about the Prophet, a.k.a. the President. Their view of him is far more expansive than even the most Ultramontanist Catholic’s view of the Papacy. While the pope is infallible, he can’t introduce anything new to the Faith – there’s no ongoing revelation. We build upon the foundations we currently have. In contrast, the LDS Church (and the President specifically) can have new revelations. The issue of polygamy, or plural marriage, is one such issue (Wikipedia has a quick rundown here, and a longer one here). Basically, Mormonism initially forbade polygamy publicly, while it was secretly practiced by Joseph Smith, in contravention of state law; in 1852, they began practicing it openly; in response to US law, they re-forbade it in 1890. In each case, the Mormon Scriptures were at the heart of the move. The 1835 and 1844 edition of the 101st Section of the D&C publicly condemned polygamy, while in 1843, Joseph Smith claimed that in a secret revelation, Christ ordered him to take an additional wife. This later became D&C 132: D&C 132:51-54 includes an eerie part where Christ allegedly orders Emma Smith, Joseph Smith’s wife, to put up with Joseph’s polygamy (and not take any extra husbands herself) or be destroyed. Finally, Official Declaration 1 reversed this divinely-ordained polygamy, claiming that polygamy was never sanctioned or practiced by the LDS Church.
So they have a President who can do the opposite of what they think that Christ had earlier commanded, because they think that it’s a new revelation. Here’s why this is important. A disturbed ex-Mormon by the name of Mark Hoffman, who happened to be an excellent forger, decided to play a trick on the LDS Church of his youth. He created a document which purported to be Joseph Smith establishing his son, Joseph Smith, III, rather than Brigham Young, as his successor. This would be the Mormon equivalent of finding an early New Testament transcript which said, “For thou art Thomas, and upon this Rock, I will build My Church.” The Mormon Church split into factions upon Joseph Smith’s death on the issue of succession. The LDS Church went with Brigham Young, while the RLDS Church claimed that it was blood descent, and went with Joe III. So this document, if it were real, would invalidate everyone in Brigham Young’s lineage, including the then-Counselor to the First Presidency, President* Gordon Hinckley. What’s the President and alleged prophet Hinckley’s response to learning of this document?
- First, he believed it to be real. This should raise some red flags, because if he believed he was put in place by God, the document couldn’t be real. Beyond that, the document wasn’t real. If this man was God’s prophet, how did he not know this? I realize that prophets aren’t psychics, but if they can’t tell God’s ordination of a successor through Joseph Smith from a forgery, how can they tell when God is speaking to them at all?
- Second, he tried to buy the document… to bury it. Faced with what he thought was unshakeable evidence that he was an illegitimate successor to Joseph Smith, President Hinckley tried to buy and hide the evidence. As it was, Hoffman outmaneuvered him: he told the RLDS leaders of the existence of the “blessing,” and it got leaked to the press, resulting in this awkward front-page story from the New York Times in 1981. Perhaps it’s possible for a true prophet to be duped into thinking he’s not a true prophet (I don’t think it is, but let’s say so for argument’s sake). It’s not then possible that a true prophet would preserve, through deception, his own status as prophet.
- Since (1) a true Prophet should have known the document was a forgery; (2) a faithful LDS Mormon wouldn’t have believed it was authentic; and (3) an honest man would have stepped down if he believed a document authenticly proved he wasn’t the rightful heir, we must conclude that President Hinckley was none of the above. For LDS Mormonism to be true, he must be at least the first two.
Sure, we can argue back and forth on the proper meaning of Biblical texts, the subjective feeling of inspiration of the Spirit when reading certain passages in what purports to be Scripture, and even what might have happened to all those New World civilizations, bees, steel, and horses. There may even be some erudite Mormon apologist who can explain why the 1844 edition of the 101st Section of the D&C publicly condemned polygamy if it was ordered by Christ Himself in 1843. But at the end of the day, the head of the LDS faith was convinced by a forger that he wasn’t the true head of the faith, and tried to use his power and money to preserve an office he no longer thought was truly his. The man who LDS Mormons claim was a prophet of God was convinced he wasn’t a true prophet of God, and tried to hide this fact through dishonesty.
While this doesn’t disprove every strain of Mormonism (if anything, the incident helps the RLDS case, although since the document turned out to be fake, it doesn’t really), so far as I can tell, it’s a 100% irrefutable argument against the LDS (dominant) form of the faith.
Edit: Important information can be found here, and especially here, as well.
*Counselors to the First Presidency are themselves called “President,” and are considered to be “prophets, seers, and revelators.”