Things That Mormons Allegedly Accomplish by Debating Doctrine with Evangelicals
"Let us be articulate for while our defense of the kingdom may not stir all hearers, the absence of thoughtful response may cause fledglings among the faithful to falter. What we assert may not be accepted, but unasserted convictions soon become deserted convictions." - Elder Neal A. Maxwell
"Mormonism" differs from mainstream Christianity enough that many mainstream Christians refuse to acknowledge it as Christian at all, claim that it follows a "different Jesus", and often regard it as a cult that must be opposed to save its practitioners from hellfire (even though the vast majority of de-converted Mormons become atheists). Historically by far the most vehement opposers have been evangelicals. Catholics have done it sometimes but only a fraction of a percent as often. Times have changed, though. I believe that evangelical anti-Mormonism is virtually irrelevant to anything in this day and age. For one thing, as evangelical scholars themselves noted nearly twenty years ago, it has spectacularly failed to evolve in response to Mormon apologetic counter-arguments. For another, Western Christianity altogether is increasingly unpopular and rapidly shrinking, and one sect arguing that it's less irrational than another looks absurd to many people. In this century Mormons and evangelicals have begun to realize that they're far more alike than different, and to foster a more constructive dialogue which is beginning to supersede the tired old polemics.
Militant atheists, on the other hand, who once mostly ignored Mormonism because it's so small, have turned a lot more of their attacks toward it in recent years as it grows in prominence disproportionately to its size. So in my view, anyone who wishes to be involved in Mormon apologetics, which is a noble and necessary endeavor, should focus on addressing atheist critics and not worry about evangelicals much at all. I've had a hard time persuading others of this, though. There's a group of internet apologists I hang out in and many of them, in turn, are involved in Mormon-evangelical dialogue groups that are jointly led by admins of both faiths and intended to model the more constructive and less polemical dialogue but often degenerate into the same old arguments. When one of these groups becomes too contentious or too evangelical-dominated, someone leaves the group and starts a new one, and the cycle begins again. I've long viewed the whole affair as a colossal waste of time that persuades no one of anything.
Recently I couldn't stand it anymore and asked these people, "What exactly is debating doctrine with evangelicals supposed to accomplish?" I presumed the answer was "nothing", of course, and that they would realize this and move on to more productive endeavors. I was wrong. What follows are the reasons they gave, with a few edited slightly for aesthetic purposes. I let them speak for themselves, with no commentary on my part, and their inclusion here is not necessarily an endorsement of every word of all of them. I intend no offense or disrespect to evangelicals or their beliefs. I really like that this allows me to fill up the post without thinking of something to write myself.
"Challenge your own arguments, fine tune them, or change them if you discover they are unsound. Respectful, intelligent debate analyzes some of the best or worst points we adhere to."
"D & C 71."
"It's made me a much more effective scriptural pugilist, for what that's worth."
"Nothing much. Just post the truth to correct their misrepresentations of LDS beliefs. Don't defend much or give in to their provocative rhetoric."
"We learn their perspectives, see the differences, Learn the sources of their doctrines (scripture, creeds, etc.) So we can speak from experience when we empathize with and share truth with our actual relations (friends, family, members, etc.)."
"Christopher... much, actually. Having been involved with this particular endeavor for over 25 years now, I know of literally dozens who have joined the Church who once opposed it as a result of hearing the gospel taught in the course of our discussions. Behind the facade of anti-Mormonism, sometimes there is a true seeker of truth exploring to see what that truth might be... someone who fights the LDS Church because they are insecure in their own faith. I've been told by some who later joined the Church that when they read what we wrote, they felt impressed that it was true... some said that it 'sounded right,' or that it 'felt right,' like something they had always secretly believed, but which ran counter to popular EV belief. Never discount the impact that teaching the truth... in WHATEVER setting... may have on those who are secretly searching."
"^ amen to that"
"^ Yep. For instance, I was in Cambridge, UK for a long weekend in January. A man approached me and informed me that he had struggled with LDS theology (Christology; plurality of Gods doctrine, etc) due to his Church of England/Trinitarian background for a number of months while meeting with the missionaries there until he happened upon my blog posts on LDS vs. Trinitarian Christologies, such as my response to Bobby Gilpin and others, which made him do a 180 on the topic of LDS Christology and other issues that had once troubled him and was nearing baptism. There are truth seekers watching on the benches, if you will."
"When I go out with my local missionaries, I share our discussions, questions and the comments by the Evangelicals that oppose us. When they see the lack of logic, consistency and scriptural support, they readily listen to the Restoration message. Take this from Bowman, for example. I asked: What is the purpose for which the Triune god created mankind, ex nihilo? He answered: 'Mankind was not created ex nihilo. The universe was, but not man.' Rob doesn't seem to understand 'Ex nihilo'. But he continues, 'God created human beings to bear his image in this finite, physical world - to be and act as his representatives, displaying his glory (his goodness, truth, etc.) in the world as physical creatures endowed with the capacity to know and love God and each other in ways that reflect God's character.' When you pose additional questions like this for which 'Christianity' had not response, it become quite simple to open a once closed mind."
"It mostly strengthen my own testimony because it forces me to research and study and reinforce, intellectually, what the Spirit has already confirmed. Sure, it's disappointing when they refuse to listen but when they are here to argue about points of doctrine they're not really ready for the true gospel anyway."
"When I was still inactive, living in Bay City, Texas, just outside Houston, I met a former Jehovah's Witness the one time I attended the Block. I asked him how devout he had been as a JW. He told me he averaged 160 of proselytizing each month. Our full-time missionaries don't do that. I then asked him what opened his mind to listen to us, as they are indoctrinated, 'You are there to teach, not to be taught.' He said it was a missionary who showed him with his own Bible there would be more than 144,000 going to Heaven. So, it pays to not only learn our own beliefs, but theirs."
Food for thought, I suppose.
Janeen Brady and the Brite Singers - I'm a Mormon
The song I wanted to post today is not on YouTube. What a bitter disappointment that I shall have to fix later. So instead, you get this. I suppose that it, like the above remarks, speaks for itself.
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender Christian male, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic and asexual, so you can't, unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.