To The Well Meaning Christians
To say that I was shocked would be an understatement.
There I was, a 19 year old kid, standing next to my 20 year old missionary companion on a balmy September evening on 36th Place South in Kent, Washington. As the middle aged man with a neatly trimmed salt and pepper goatee laid his hand on our heads and we began to pray, I couldn’t help but think, “He’s trying. He’s really, really trying to do the right thing.”
It had been a typical Mormon missionary kind of evening. We had ate dinner with a family who were members of our congregation, the Star Lake Ward, and without any set appointments or solid “leads” (so to speak) we set off knocking on doors. My companion at the time, Elder Faux, was a jolly sort of guy, and we were enjoying the evening of tracting (knocking on doors handing out religious tracts). Everyone we encountered was polite. “No thanks.” “We’re not interested.” “We’re Catholic.” As we made our way southward down the west side of the street the sun began to set and the beauty of a Puget Sound evening set in. We had only a few houses left to knock before heading in for the evening, and as we approached one particular split level home I am sure that we weren’t expecting anything special from this particular doorstep. However, the lesson that I learned standing there has proven to be incomprehensibly beneficial to my life in countless ways.
I’m not sure which one of us knocked. We took turns between houses. Elder Faux’s knock was light and friendly, mine was harder and more serious. (I once had a companion whom I thought had a “Gestapo Knock”, but that’s for a different blog post). But we knocked on the door. After just a brief few seconds a middle aged man opened the door in a sudden and broad swoosh. He was well dressed, wearing tan slacks and a tightly fitted dress polo. He peered down on us, both Elder Faux and I being only 5’7, compared to his 6 foot-something frame, and he literally towered above us from the additional height of his entry way. His eyes were filled with what I would later come to realize was joy in the fact that he was about to “bash” us. But I had only been in the mission field for a couple of months; so I hadn’t learned the look just yet.
“Oh! Mormons!” he exclaimed joyously.
I was still green to the whole proselyting thing; so I enthusiastically replied, “Yes sir! From The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints! And we’re out today…”
“Yeah, I know what you’re out doing,” he said with a robust smile and cutting me off. “You’re out teaching people about Joseph Smith, and polygamy, and your Golden Bible.” This was not our typical greeting.
“Well no sir,” I started, slightly dejected, and I am sure without the zeal of my initial greeting just seconds before. “We’re out teaching that Jesus Christ has restored His church just as it was in ancient times, with apostles, and prophets, and that the authority…”
“Oh I can tell you about apostles,” he said cutting me off again. – And then he proceeded to teach Elder Faux and I about apostles, and what Jesus Christ had really done in the New Testament. He was a born again Christian, a minister in an apostolic non-denominational church, and he knew that we had both grown up as Mormons and had been brainwashed by our families. We didn’t believe in the “real Jesus”, and we were following the devil straight to hell. He quoted, or rather misquoted, an endless array of Old and New Testament Scriptures to us proving that we were wrong in our faith, and told us how “you can’t add to or take away from the Holy Bible”. We were simply knocking on doors because our families and our church had made us. About five minutes into the conversation I was finally able to slip in that I was actually a convert to the Church of Jesus Christ, and he snarled his lips back and asked blatantly, “Why?!”
Now let me interject here that it isn’t a missionary’s job to argue with people. As a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints your mission is to “bring others unto Christ”. This is done by teaching faith, repentance, and baptism by immersion for the remission of sins by one holding proper priesthood authority. It is not done by arguing, by debating, or by belittling others or their faith. When you meet with a person, or a family for the first time as Mormon missionaries, you’re to teach simply from the Scriptures, testify of truth, invite others to pay heed to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and then kneel with them in prayer before you go. Plain and simple.
“Sir,” I started off as respectfully as I could from my geographic disadvantage on his porch. “You’ve told us a great deal of things which are not true about our faith or ourselves. We are not here to argue with you. We would like to teach you if you would allow us to, and then invite you to ask God if the things we share with you are true.”
“I know they’re not true!” he hollered, actually echoing through his otherwise peaceful neighborhood.
“Then we hope you have a good night,” Elder Faux said, beginning to turn to step off of the small stoop we were on. To my missionary companion this exchange was over with and we were leaving.
“Hold on a second!” the guy said, obviously not wanting us to leave just yet. “Can’t we at least have a prayer before you go? I would like to pray for you young men.”
Elder Faux turned back around, and we shared a brief glance of hesitancy. This guy had just given us a short sermon on the evils of our faith and our lives. But not wanting to offend, we simultaneously nodded in approval anyway.
“Let us pray then,” the minister said, bowing his head, and we followed suit.
Then out of nowhere I felt him place his large and powerful hand on the top of my bowed head, and he began, “Dear Jesus, please guide these boys out of the error of their ways…”
Oddly enough, nearly seven years later, I can still remember his prayer almost word for word. It was burned indelibly upon my mind that evening as we stood upon his porch. I am sure it was a site to see for the couple of cars I heard pass by behind us. – Two Mormon elders, heads bowed, and praying with a guy who had his hands on them and was shouting to Jesus to forgive them of their sins. It’s a sight people don’t get to see every day! – And as the prayer went on and on, God’s Holy Spirit taught me more and more as we stood there on that porch step.
“He’s trying. He’s really, really trying to do the right thing,” I thought to myself. And God told me that was true. To that guy, at that moment, he was doing what he thought was right, and I couldn’t be upset with him for that. “Heck,” I thought, “at least he cares enough to publicly beseech God in our behalf.” Even if he was saying that we were united with “the whore of Babylon/aka Mormons”, at least he cared for our souls. As he prayed for us, I actually felt God’s pure love and compassion for him. And when he finished his prayer, I couldn’t help but look back up at him with tears in my eyes and say, “Thank you for your concern. We’ll be praying for you to find God’s truth too.” And in that moment, in that briefest of brief instances, he looked me in the eye, grabbed my hand, and said, “Please do.”
He was a well meaning Christian.
During my missionary travels around the Seattle area for my church I met more well meaning Christians. And once I returned home to the great State of Alabama, I encountered even more. Over the years as I’ve knocked on doors, passed out copies of The Book of Mormon at gas stations, invited friends to come to church with me, and shared the things I know to be true, I’ve met countless well meaning Christians. Some have been kind. Some have not.
Let me tell you about one who was not.
About a year and a half ago I was at work one day selling cell phones in what was then a much tinier store than the one my staff and I now occupy. It was a cozy store, in which a dozen people felt cramped because it was so small. And on this particular afternoon, we were cramped. As three of my associates helped other customers I greeted a well dressed man as he walked in the door. Ironically he, like the man of many years before, had a salt and pepper goatee. And he was super nice the moment I met him. I asked him what I could do for him, and he told me his family wanted to change cell phone providers. We moved to an empty place in the middle of our crowded store and talked about cell phones, rate plans, data plans, text messaging, his kids, his wife, their internet connection at home, and everything and anything we could have possibly discussed in relation to the services we offer at my store. He then asked me what kind of phone I carried. I told him I used an Android and he asked if he could play with one. Having no other live demos at the time, I pulled out my personal phone and showed him how to unlock the screen. We’d chatted for about ten minutes at this point, and I felt comfortable allowing my new friend and customer to play with my phone. After all, he was such a super nice guy. But as soon as he unlocked the screen, he saw the myriad of apps before his eyes, including numerous church applications, and his entire demeanor changed from friendly, to stern and hard as he stated loud and clearly, “You’re a Mormon.”
My store paused. You could have heard a pin drop. Customers, employees, and myself were all in dead silence as this man held my phone and looked up to peer deeply into my eyes. Undoubtedly some of the dear folks of Walker County Alabama were beholding their first real and live Mormon. A true rarity in these parts. And even better, they were witnessing their first Mormon in a standoff with some guy who seemed upset with such a religious preference. Once again, it was a sight to see.
“Yes sir,” I stated just as loudly and firmly as he had stated the fact.
Then came his hand on my shoulder as he looked me deeply in my eyes and said, “Well I’m a Christian, and I believe Jesus Christ died for my sins.” – The air grew even more still. It was a challenge. I recognized it for what it was. And as I stood there with every eye in my store upon me, I quickly forgot about cell phones and rate plans, and I looked him back in his eyes and said, “So do I.”
It felt like an eternity of seconds slowly ticking by as the dozen or so people standing there all watched as this man and I locked eyes. However, I’m sure it was only about five seconds before my beloved employee Nancy half shouted from behind the counter, “I believe in Jesus Christ too! And so does Stan.”
The tension eased, customers looked away realizing they had been staring, and I then formally met the man as he extended his hand to shake mine. He was a preacher of one of our local Baptist churches here in Walker County. And he eventually returned my own phone to me, but only after sharing with me (and everyone in the store) that he would love for me to come on out and learn about the “real Jesus”. I was polite, and understood his motives, but was nonetheless unappreciative of his inferring that I believed in a fake Jesus as opposed to his real one. Nancy, who had saved me, stated emphatically once all the customers had cleared out, “He needs to learn that you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.”
Yet, in my experiences in living and sharing my faith, I’ve come to find that many of the well meaning Christians I encounter try to lure me with their vinegar, their unkind words, lies, and misinformation about my faith, rather than the honey of the pure love of Christ.
To say that I am shocked each and every time someone invites me to “accept Christ”, or learn of the “real Jesus”, would be a gross understatement.
Let me state plainly that I don’t just believe in Jesus Christ, but I know by the power of the Holy Ghost that He is indeed my Savior. As Peter in the New Testament, I can testify without equivocation that He is the Christ, the Son of the living God. He lived a sinless life as God’s only begotten to die for my sins and offer Himself as a sacrifice for my countless follies and shortcomings. I know that through His blood alone am I cleansed, and that by His grace only will I ever enter back into His presence. I testify that He indeed lives.
Dear Well Meaning Christians, you say that I, as a Latter-day Saint, don’t believe in the real Jesus Christ. But let me tell you that I do indeed believe in the real Jesus Christ. And in fact, because I believe that He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (something often overlooked in the Scriptures), I am blessed to know much about Him than I would otherwise know without the blessings of latter-day revelation.
Yes, I believe Joseph Smith was a prophet. But so was Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Even Samuel in his youth was called by the voice of the Almighty God to serve. And when he was fourteen years old, so was Joseph Smith. And because the Lord is the same yesterday, today, and forever, he called young Joseph Smith in the year 1820 to restore and establish His church for the last time upon the earth, in preparation for His glorious Second Coming and millenial reign.
Do I believe The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ to be the word of God? You better believe I do! Because, in addition to the Holy Bible, it teaches of God’s unbounded love for His children not just in the Holy Land, but throughout the entire world. It teaches that God loves all of His children enough to give them His gospel, prophets, and the ability to enter back into His presence no matter what has occurred in their lives. The Book of Mormon is a record, kept by the ancient inhabitants of the American continents, of God’s dealings with them, and Christ’s great mercy and plan of happiness. It is not an “addition” to the Bible as some might say. It is in fact another testament. Because it does say in the Bible that “in the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.” And I invite you to read it, pray and ask God if it is true, and then follow without hesitancy the answer God gives to you. Because I promise you He will answer you if you will ask with a sincere heart and real intent.
My approach to sharing the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is a honey approach. If you don’t like what I’ve got to say, that’s just fine. We can agree to disagree. But at no point will I ever lure you in with vinegar, telling you that you’re wrong, that what your faith is based on is all a lie, and you’re probably going to go to hell for believing incorrect doctrines. And at no point ever will I go on the assault, purposely going out of my way to belittle your personal belief system in any way. That is just wrong.
At a time when more and more people are looking upon my faith, scrutinizing its every detail, and questioning its very origins, I feel that it’s important to state simply what myself and millions of other Latter-day Saints know to be true.
I am thankful for the man who laid his hands on me and prayed for me years ago on a doorstep in Seattle, because it taught me compassion, forgiveness, and true charitable love; it taught me that most of society is truly trying to do their best with what they’ve got. And the lessons I learned in those few short moments will stay with me forever.
Well Meaning Christians of the world, thank you for your sincere concern for the salvation of my soul as a Latter-day Saint. I appreciate it; I really, really do. But next time you encounter a Mormon, stop being so caught up with witnessing to us that you look past the words I’ve shared right here. Please don’t go and offer to teach me of the “real Jesus”. I’m fully aware of the peace and happiness that following the real Jesus brings. Yeah, I get it. I’m a Christian too, whether you think I am or not.
What’s important is that we unite in purpose, as Christians, to act as Christians, not just in word but in deed also. We can work out the doctrinal differences later. There’s lots of work to do in the meantime.
– Stan Way