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Dec 15 2011

A Mormon story

Back in my evangelical Christian days, I took an interest in what my fellow believers and I called “the cults”—chiefly Mormonism, Christian Science, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Hare Krishnas, Moonies, and so on. My favorite radio show was “The Bible Answer Man,” with Walter Martin, and I devoured his book, The Kingdom of the Cults. But even then I was a big fan of gathering my own information and not just taking someone else’s word for it. So I decided to contact the Mormons and find out for myself who they were, what they believed, and why they believed it.

My pastor was against the idea, not the least because of my youth. I assured him, however, that I was not at risk (and as it turns out, I wasn’t the one in danger). I started attending a local Mormon church, and was somewhat surprised to find how little difference there was between Sunday morning at the Mormons, and Sunday morning at my usual church. There was a bit more emphasis on doing good works, and a bit less emphasis on just trusting in God to save you, but other than that I felt right at home. Hmmm.

The Mormons were very nice people, and we all got along just fine. Since my goal was to learn Mormonism, I was not the least bit confrontational and did nothing to try and convert them to my own personal faith.  I even participated in their Sunday school Bible discussions, and contributed one or two evangelical Bible-based perspectives that seemed to fit the general train of thought. But I found I wasn’t really learning much about Mormonism: they all knew it already, and the Sunday morning sermons and discussions were just about how to be good people in the context of everyday life.

My next step was to contact a pair of Mormon missionaries, which happened to take place while I was attending college some distance away from my hometown. Here at last was the intro to Mormonism I had been looking for, as presented and defended by the Mormons themselves. As before, I was there to learn and take notes, so I simply listened attentively and raised no objections to their teachings. Little did I realize what effect my attitude was having on the missionaries themselves.

This went on over a period of a few weeks, with the missionaries leading me through a series of filmstrips and tape recordings, and related discussions. I learned a lot, and though a lot of it was familiar and expected (due to my study of Walter Martin), it was interesting to see how they delivered their material, what they emphasized, and what they glossed over.

Then one evening, I came to the little chapel that the missionaries were using as their headquarters, and found that there was some unusual activity going on. In the larger room off the main hallway, several of the other missionaries were filling a makeshift pool constructed of pipes and something like a swimming pool liner. I asked my missionaries what was going on, and they rushed me past the door, mumbling something about expecting a baptism tonight.

That really caught my interest, and I was hoping we could skip the filmstrip so that I could watch a real Mormon baptism being performed. Instead, my missionaries started an intense and detailed discussion of Mormon doctrine and commitment and salvation and so on. I was starting to get a bit impatient with them—I didn’t want to miss the baptism, and here they were dragging things out worse than usual!

As you’ve probably figured out, there was no way I was going to miss that baptism. It was waiting for me. As in, it was waiting FOR ME! They saw me as ripe for the picking, and were just trying to “close the sale,” as they say. But I wasn’t committing. I was still trying to learn. I was blithely oblivious to the social cues, and was thinking of nothing but learning more about Mormonism. Finally one of them asked me point blank if I would be willing to become a Mormon.

That was when I tumbled to what was happening. End of the line, folks. Time to sign up, or get off the bus. So I explained to them that I was happier with the God I already had, and that the Mormon God actually seemed like a bit less powerful than Jesus (in my opinion at the time). I wasn’t joining.

In hindsight, I’m guessing that was probably the low point of their 2-year missionary sojourn. Without any malice, intent, or forethought, I had dealt them the most crushing blow their faith could have experienced. I had listened to their Gospel politely, without twisting it or distorting it or hassling with them about it in any way. And then I rejected it. They were crushed.

I felt bad about that later on. It was entirely unintentional on my part, but I suppose I could have predicted it. Still, it was an interesting experience, and it gave me an unexpected insight into the mind and heart of a Mormon missionary. Take from that what you will.

19 comments

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  1. 1
    sunsangnim

    They’re probably used to having doors slammed in their faces. But it’s not every day that somebody conducts anthropological research on them. I’m sure they were shocked that you would show so much interest but not want to join. Did try to seal the deal by telling you that you get your own planet?

    1. 1.1
      Hmmph

      @sunsangnim: Your attitude is condescending, rude, and betrays an extreme ignorance and bias.

      1. N. Nescio

        @Hmmph

        Really, now? Is there any part of what she said that is factually untrue? Can you point it out?

        Methinks you’re just making shit up and feigning butthurt so you don’t actually have to address the substance of her comment. Grow up.

  2. 2
    mikespeir

    “But even then I was a big fan of gathering my own information and not just taking someone else’s word for it.”

    That was my failing, too. But my exposure was different. I lived for a year among the Buddhists in Korea and another among the Muslims in Turkey. One of the most religiously disabusing experiences you can have is getting familiar with people who “know” just as well as you do that their religion is right, but which nevertheless contradicts your own.

  3. 3
    Rukymoss

    Great story! But I’m not sure you really DID miss social cues. I had a similar, but less dramatic, incident happen to me, also while I was in college. My grandmother lived with us and one day she let some Mormon missionaries in, mainly out of curiosity and her enjoyment of young people. I happened to be home from school, and pretty soon, was debating and challenging them on several fronts. Undaunted, they kept coming back, and as my Gran and I were enjoying the arguments, as well as the increasingly weird topics that came up, we let them do it. At no point did either of us agree with them on anything, but one day they turned up and announced the date for my baptism, which they had already set up. At that point, I finally realized they were totally impervious to logic and kicked them out. I suspect that they had been coached to view anything short of verbal abuse as meaning they were making progress.

  4. 4
    RK

    Your account sounds a bit odd. I was a Mormon Missionary for 2 years and a member of the Mormon church for 30 years, and am now an atheist. (Also considered a ‘really good teacher’ so I know the doctrines very well.)

    Something is strange about your posting since as a missionary I never would have setup a baptismal font in advance like that, and baptisms were something most the whole congregation came to and every one was invited to. Also before a baptism (usually a few days before) one gets interviewed by the lead missionary for that area to see if they really know what they are getting into. Also such practices are very uniform throughout the church.

    So I would say your experience is not the usual one.

    1. 4.1
      davesmith

      I’m also ex-Mormon and a former Mormon missionary. (If I say “former Elder” does that mean I got younger?)

      I agree that this was not “by the books,” but policies have changed over time and situations and personalities differ.

      What is pretty normal is the nervous build-up to a baptismal challenge and then a huge disappointment when the “investigator” says no.

      Make no mistakes, the Mormon missionaries are there to save your souls, not just educate you. They’re paying their own way, giving up two years of dating, missing out on music, movies, weddings, funerals, postponing education or work. These are believers, and when you say no, it’s for eternity.

      1. Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges

        “For all eternity”? Surely, only until you die when they can baptise you without protest?

    2. 4.2
      Deacon Duncan

      I should add that this was during the “study abroad” portion of my college years, and took place in a city with very few Mormons—if the missionaries had left the church would have been about 50% smaller. Perhaps I should say “outpost” instead of church?

  5. 5
    ahcuah

    What I found interesting is that they somehow felt that deception was the only was to convert you. Even though you had not challenged them over all that time, showing no hostility, they still felt that simply asking you outright if you wanted to convert didn’t seem to even cross their minds.

    Says a lot, doesn’t it?

    1. 5.1
      RK

      The vast majority of Mormon missionaries are trying to actually have the other person truly become converted and abhor the idea of using ANY deception. As an atheist one could say it is all deception (or self deception) but that is a different issue from missionaries trying to deceive someone.

      1. RK

        Of course, missionaries are people too, and there are some that are hypocrites, as there are in any group of more than a few people, and I ran into a few of them as a missionary.

  6. 6
    Reginald Selkirk

    The jokes on you . You’re still going to be baptised Mormon – after you die. Just like Adolf Hitler, Martin Luther and Pope John Paul II.

    1. 6.1
      davesmith

      It’s OK — I just nodded my head and cast a few spells, and I made all the dead people Alethian.

      Then, I put some dandelions in a pot and made a brew to change the past ten thousand years of weather.

      1. Stevarious

        Oh yeah? Well I just sprinkled some oregano into the wind, said an incantation over some sauce, and baptised Joseph Smith into the Church of the FSM!

        Fitting, really. A lot of his life was a little pirate-y.

      2. davesmith

        Pirates?

        Funny you should say that. As my knowledge of geography has been expanding (consequence of age and experience), I learned that Moroni is the capital of the Comoros. (Joseph Smith claims an angel named Moroni buried the plates in the Hill Cumorah.) It seemed too much for coincidence, so I poked around the web until I found a really good essay: “From Captain Kidd’s Treasure Ghost to the Angel Moroni: Changing Dramatis Personae in Early Mormonism,” by Ronald V. Huggins can be found here:

        http://dialoguejournal.metapress.com/openurl.asp?genre=article&eissn=1554-9399&volume=36&issue=4&spage=18

        (look on the right hand side and you have three options for opening it).

        It’s long, but well worth the read.

        Basically, it tracks the changing accounts of the angel “Moroni” from a bloody man guarding buried pirate treasure to an angel, and then suddenly all that stuff about the treasure digging becomes part of the story of Mormon origins.

    2. 6.2
      Midnight Rambler

      Hey, it gets them to scan all the genealogical records, so I’m not complaining.

  7. 7
    skm9

    Here’s an interesting two-part interview with a pair of former mormon missionaries on the process they go through to learn how to go out an convert, as well as a description of some international missionizing.

    http://www.irreligiosophy.com/podcasts/077_ldsmission1.mp3

    http://www.irreligiosophy.com/podcasts/078_ldsmission2.mp3

  8. 8
    Mr. Widemouth

    What’s underneath the magic Mormon underwear? – Exposed http://www.squidoo.com/mormon-church

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