Archive for April, 2021

“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold In settings of silver.”
(Proverbs 25:11 NKJV)

by Michael Flournoy and Fred W. Anson
In part one of this series we considered some of the harsh “scorched earth” methods, behaviors, and tactics that Christian Mormon Critics often engage in that either drive Mormons deeper into the LDS Church or ensures that when they leave it they go, Atheist, Pagan, whatever rather than anything Christian. 

In response, we outlined and considered a better way: God’s way: The way that we see Evangelism modeled in the New Testament. That model we summarized in the following five concepts:  

1. Love them
2. Listen
3. Promote the good they do
4. Curb your ego
5. Keep it positive

In Part One we briefly mentioned how in Mormon Culture, orthopraxy (the correct practice of what one believes) trumps orthodoxy (correct belief). In other words, Mormons won’t care about what you believe and why it’s better than what they already believe until they see that you care about them as a person. Treat them badly and no matter how right you are, they won’t listen and they won’t care.  

So that’s the concept and theory, now let’s talk about how to actually do in the real world, shall we? Let’s do orthopraxy! 

Keepin’ it Real: The Orthopraxy of Paul
Here’s how Paul described his approach in scripture: 

“To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.”
(1 Corinthians 9:20-23 ESV)

Paul didn’t shun outsiders. He embraced them to the point of joining their tribe, in a sense. His methods are bound to make my Evangelical counterparts uncomfortable, but it’s brilliant. It destroys the “us vs them” mentality.

This puts the Christian on the same playing field as the Latter-day Saint. It makes them a friend instead of a foe. It was this type of believer that had the greatest impact on article author Michael Flournoy’s journey from Mormonism to grace. 

In contrast, other Christians have told us that they refuse to respect a false religion. We’re not suggesting they should. However, there’s a difference between respecting falsehood and being respectful in dialogue.

Do the Mormons in your life know you love them? When was the last time you jumped to a Mormon’s defense when you saw them being mistreated? When was the last time you offered them an encouraging word? When was the last time you prayed for them by name and asked God’s mercy upon them? Are you preaching in a spirit of rivalry or out of love? When was the last time you challenged a fellow Evangelical for Mormon Bashing Latter-day Saints? 

Keepin’ it Real: The Orthopraxy of Jesus
Whenever we hear Christians speculate how Jesus would have evangelized Mormon we tell them that we already know because He showed in scripture. Let us ask you this, who does this sound like? 

    • They’re heretics yet they claim that they are the only true and living church.
    • They claim that all other churches are apostate.
    • The founding of their religion was strongly opposed, criticized, and denounced by the established church at that time.
    • Many members claim to be from the House of Joseph – descendants of the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh.
    • They have a view of God that differs from the larger mainstream orthodox church’s view.
    • They believe in pre-existence.
    • They claim that the current church’s scripture is corrupt – deliberately infused with an apostate agenda. That is, it’s truth intermingled with the vain philosophies of men, not God.
    • They claim to be the sole possessors of the original, pure and uncorrupted Bible – a bible which discards books in the established church’s canon, and that is very different on key points of doctrine relative to that canon.
    • They have additional sacred texts which, while not formally canonized, maintain a quasi-canonical status.
    • Critics claim that portions of their theology is syncretistic, incorporating outside cultures and religions.
    • They have their own priesthood system.
    • They have a temple system that deviates strongly from the Levitical system given in the bible.
    • They claim that their temple, rather than the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, is the correct place set apart by God for special ceremonies and worship.
    • Outside critics and scholars throughout history have disputed the veracity and historicity claims of their scripture as well as their origin story.

They, of course, are the Samaritans of Christ’s day – who did you think we were talking about? But joking aside, it’s not hard to see how much the Samaritanism of Christ’s day parallels today’s Mormonism. And in the fourth chapter of the gospel of John, Jesus, using the Mormons of His day, models for us how to reach Mormons of our own. So, let’s compare how Christ ministered to the Mormons of His day with the new model that was given in Part One, shall we? 

1. Love them
If there’s anything that we’ve learned in Mormon Studies, it’s that many Evangelicals love, love, love to Mormon Bash. Even if what they’re saying is bigoted, prejudiced, or downright wrong, bash they will – you know, almost as much as the Jews of Jesus’ day loved to bash Samaritans. Consider this:

Later authorities [such as Rabbi Jehuda the Holy a 3rd Century Rabbi] again reproach them [the Samaritans] with falsification of the Pentateuch, charge them with worshipping a dove, and even when, on further inquiry, they absolve them from this accusation, ascribe their excessive veneration for Mount Gerizim to the circumstance that they worshipped the idols which Jacob had buried under the oak at Shechem. To the same hatred, caused by national persecution, we must impute such expressions as that he, whose hospitality receives a foreigner, has himself to blame if his children have to go into captivity. The expression, ‘the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans,’  finds its exact counterpart in this: ‘May I never set eyes on a Samaritan;’ or else, ‘May I never be thrown into company with him!’
(Alfred Edersheim, “The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah”In Judæa and through Samaria – a Sketch of Samaritan History and Theology – Jews and Samaritans chapter) 

Yet in the face of this extreme – one might even say, excessive – bigotry and prejudice we see Jesus showing this morality challenged, untrusting, skeptical Samaritan woman love, respect, and acceptance. Put yourself in her place as you hear these words:

Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.

Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”

The woman said to Him, “Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where then do You get that living water? Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?”

Jesus answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”

The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.”’
(John 4:9-15 NKJV)

In the face of an ugly and sarcastic verbal “shove” from the Samaritan Woman, how did Jesus respond? He offered her a gift, He showed her love and compassion.

2. Listen
One of the most stunning aspects of Christ’s encounter with the Samaritan, to us, is His restraint. His self-control and compassionate patience in listening to this woman laying out her self-righteous religiosity convicts and challenges me:

Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.”

The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.”

Jesus said to her, “You have well said, ‘I have no husband,’ for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly.”

The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.”
(John 4:16-20 NKJV) 

Wouldn’t Jesus have been well within His rights to blast away both at the woman’s compromised morality and her horrible theology at this point?  And really what could she do but just sit there and take it? After all, she was dead wrong and He was absolutely right, correct?  Instead, what did He do? He listened. Yes, He also spoke the truth but He did so in a spirit of love and compassion, not condemnation. He did as He has taught us: He turned the other cheek (see Matthew 5:38-40) and turned away wrath with a gentle answer (see Proverbs 15:1)

3. Promote the good they do
Notice Christ’s response in the face of the religious dogma that the Samaritan woman spews at him in the following exchange:

The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.”

Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
(John 4:19-24 NKJV) 

Did you see that? Wouldn’t Christ have been perfectly justified in launching into an apologetic about how the false temple of Samaritanism on Mount Gerizim was unbiblical and the seat of, and the idol for, their false religion at this point? Wouldn’t He have been right in pressing in on her ignorance regarding what scripture really says about true and proper Temple worship?  But what does He do instead? He commends her. He implicitly commends her for her devotion to God in the midst of her ignorance. He commends her for being a true worshiper who is being sought by God. Yes, He commends her for her love of the truth. He found the good in the midst of the bad and promoted it.

In fact, this is a common pattern that we see throughout the Bible when it comes to how Christ presents the Samaritans. Yes, they were heretics. Yes, they were in a cult. Yes, they were following compromised scripture, false prophets, and worshiping in a false temple that was in the wrong place according to God’s Word. But even in the midst of this sick, dysfunctional mess, how does Jesus so often speak of them in public? Answer: They’re the-wrong-in-orthodoxy, but right-in-orthopraxy good guys – at least as compared to the right-in-orthodoxy, but wrong in orthopraxy guys that are in front of Him, that is.

Still, doubt us? Then lest us give you these three words: The Good Samaritan (see Luke 10:25-37). And let us pose just one question: Who was the good guy in that story, the two biblically orthodox, mainstream religious guys (the Priest and the Levite) or the fringe heretic (the Samaritan)? We rest our case.

4. Curb your ego
What comes next in this exchange is the real stunner to me:

The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When He comes, He will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.”
(John 4:25-26 NKJV) 

And there it is, Christ’s first explicit declaration that He is the Messiah in the gospels. To a woman. A sinful woman. A half-breed Jewish/Gentile mongrel of the type hated by His people. A sinful mongrel who was born into the religious cult that she is still ensnared in.

Now, given that, wouldn’t the egotist have lead with the “little” fact that they are the Chosen One? Wouldn’t they have presented their credentials to gain the advantage? When she went into her previous tirade about the Temple and how wrong those apostate Jews are versus right we true God worshiping Samaritan, if you were Jesus wouldn’t you have been tempted to say, “Well, that’s all well and good, but hey lady, I’m the Messiah! How do you like them apples, little girl?” We confess, to our shame, that we probably would have.

But not Jesus, he checked His ego at the door and left it there. Yes, that’s right, God Almighty, Lord of the Universe, checked His ego at the door for the sake and out of His love for the Samaritan woman that was right in front of him. One word, and it falls far short: Wow!

5. Keep it positive
Rewind the tape again and consider how Christ first presented His message to the Samaritan woman: He offered her a gift, living water. He knew her need and met her exactly where she was at right then and there – physically (thirsty), spiritually (ensnared in a false religion), and emotionally (looking for love in all the wrong places). And what did He offer her? He offered her hope and life. Through the Messiah (Himself) He offered a way out.

Friend, is this the way that Christ first approached you? It’s sure the way that He approached us – Michael, the militant Mormon Apologist, and Fred the militant Atheist. And we are hardly unique, are we? After all, doesn’t Paul tell us that’s it’s the patience and kindness of God that leads to repentance (see Romans 2:4)?

One thing that we like about “The Chosen” TV series – in fact, maybe the thing we like most about it – is how Christ is portrayed as a genuinely warm, approachable, and attractive person. One can’t help but feel drawn to Him and His message as He is presented in this series. Do you think that real historic Jesus was any different? We don’t. As the saying goes, which draws more flies: Honey or vinegar? Based on your own reading of the gospels do you think that Jesus was vinegar or honey to those who heard His voice? Let’s consider what the text actually says in light of that hovering question, shall we?

Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work. Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest! And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together. For in this the saying is true: ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labors.”

And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me all that I ever did.” So when the Samaritans had come to Him, they urged Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. And many more believed because of His own word.

Then they said to the woman, “Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world.”
(John 4:34-42 NKJV) 

Again for emphasis, “we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world”. Friend do you think that Christ’s words were honey or vinegar to these Samaritans? Were they honey or vinegar to you when He called you? For Michael, the militant Mormon Apologist and Fred, the militant Atheist, those words were honey in the midst of vinegar. We were drawn to Christ because He was far, far, far more attractive than what we currently had. Case in point: Fred is fond of saying that Atheism, for him, was like ordering a pizza and eating the box instead of the pizza. And Michael has said similar things about the Mormonism that was crushing him under the weight of ordinance, commandments, and constant, unrelenting unworthiness.

So my Mormon Bashing Evangelical friend, we will end this with this: Are you Christ to your Mormon friends and family members? Are you honey or vinegar to your Mormon friends and family? We encourage and exhort you: Be Jesus. Be honey. Be the Good Samaritan to the Samaritans. Be a Mormon in order to win Mormons.

An artistic, moving, and powerful depiction of the Woman at the Well story from “The Chosen” TV Series. (click to view)

 About the Authors
Michael “The Ex-Mormon Apologist” Flournoy served a two-year mission for the LDS Church where he helped organize three Mormon/Evangelical dialogues and has participated in debate at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Born into Mormonism, Mr. Flournoy converted to Evangelical Christianity in 2016.

Fred W. Anson is the founder and publishing editor of the Beggar’s Bread website, which features a rich potpourri of articles on Christianity with a recurring emphasis on Mormon studies. Fred is also the administrator of several Internet discussion groups and communities, including several Mormon-centric groups, including two Facebook Support Groups for Ex-Mormons (Ex-Mormon Christians, and Ex-Mormon Christians Manhood Quorum). Raised in the Nazarene Church, Fred later became an Atheist but then returned to the Christian faith during the Jesus Movement in 1976. 

“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold In settings of silver.”
(Proverbs 25:11 NKJV)

by Michael Flournoy
In Disney’s “Hercules”, Hercules battles a monster called a hydra. During the fight he slices its head off with his sword. Bystanders applaud his victory until the beast revives with two heads instead of one. Hercules flies around on his pegasus decapitating one head after another. Each time he does, two more heads spring out until he’s faced with a far more dangerous opponent than before. Hundreds of dragon-like heads stare him down and his trainer Phil yells, “Will you forget the whole head slicing thing?”

I sympathize with Phil. 

I’ve watched Evangelicals debate Mormons for a few years now. I’ve seen them deploy the same flawed tactics over and over. Then they congratulate themselves while Latter-day Saints grow stronger in their faith and more distrustful of Christianity. As someone who knows the LDS mindset from first-hand experience, I can tell you that the sharpest, most direct tactic is not always best. 

Christians value directness and truth. We come from a society that is far more accepting of debate than that of our LDS counterparts. In fact, Latter-day Saints view contention as the devil’s tool. They value orthopraxy as much (if not more) than orthodoxy. This means that our tone can destroy a perfectly good argument. For instance, a common mantra in Mormonism is: “people can leave the Church, but they can’t leave it alone.”

So when an ex-Mormon comes across as angry or bitter, it doesn’t matter how valid his arguments are. He is fulfilling the words of the prophets and proving that life away from Mormonism is bleak. When I was an active member I compared Christians who slandered their former religion to married men who continued to gripe over an old girlfriend. It was an obvious sign that they weren’t fulfilled in their relationship.

The same is true for Christians who have never been Mormon. When we take the position that causing offense and hurting relationships is an acceptable way to promote truth, we alienate the LDS. To be fair, sometimes the blunt approach is exactly what’s needed. It depends on the situation and the personality of the one doing the witnessing. If you’re going that route, be sure to bring a first-class argument with you.

If there’s one thing Mormons love, it’s a bull in a china shop, rampaging blindly against strawman arguments. The LDS will wave that red flag all day, dancing gleefully as you miss their vital organs by a longshot. They’ll use the futility of your attempts to promote their own testimony or add fuel to their dislike for Christians. Worst-case scenario, it gives them an excuse to play the victim and cut off future dialogue with you.

Of course, the truth is offensive. Sometimes a Mormon will be offended no matter how accommodating you are. So where does the balance lie between being honest and being compassionate? It’s quite the juggling act. However, I have a few tips to assist in talking to Latter-day Saints. 

1. Love them
It sounds obvious, but I can’t state this enough. If you’re talking to Mormons to win an argument, validate yourself, or let out steam for hurt the Church has caused you, it’s time to leave the ministry. Now.

We need to be mindful of what happens when a Mormon abandons their faith. They experience a loss of family, identity, and culture. The last thing a Latter-day Saint needs is us as enemies. These are victims we’re talking about here! Mormons need to know there’s a new family waiting to embrace them with open arms. So commit right now to loving your LDS neighbors regardless of whether or not they leave the Church.

2. Listen
Latter-day Saints balk when we tell them what they believe right out of the gate. Instead, ask them to explain the particulars of their faith and why it’s meaningful to them. It might be cringy listening to someone pour out their soul about a false gospel, but it’s helpful. It builds a bond between you and the Latter-day Saint, which puts you in a better position to share the hope you have.

I can promise you this. A Latter-day Saint is far more interested in talking to someone who listens and respects what they say. 

3. Promote the good they do
One of the worst mistakes I’ve seen is when Christians bad mouth the LDS church for doing good. For example, we might find ourselves grumbling when they donate millions of dollars to charity. After all, what’s a couple million compared to the 100 trillion dollars in their vaults? But do you realize how petty that makes us look? When a Latter-day Saint brags about service their church has performed, the correct response isn’t, “Well, it’s still a cult”, or “why didn’t they give more?”

The best response is, “That’s really cool. Tell me more about it.” If you’re appalled by that, please reference point number one on this list. 

4. Curb your ego
Sometimes you’ll be in the middle of a discussion and realize the debate isn’t going well because the point you’ve been making is a strawman. In this scenario the temptation is to push ahead and keep hammering it in, forcing the Mormon to see the light through brute force. This is about as effective as talking louder to someone who speaks a different language. The drive to keep pushing is your ego talking. Don’t let it win. The best option if you’ve misrepresented Mormonism is to apologize. Believe me, losing the battle is better than losing the war. 

When you make a move like this, a Mormon can’t help but respect you. Remember when I said they value orthopraxy? Humbly apologizing when the situation demands will paint you as a true Christian in their eyes. They’ll see you as someone who’s fair and approachable. And that’s exactly the kind of person they’ll want to confide in if their shelf breaks someday. 

5. Keep it positive
It’s important to avoid phrases that come across as overzealous. Telling Latter-day Saints they worship Joseph Smith, believe in a different god, or aren’t Christians is a sure-fire way to get their walls up. What might seem obvious to you, is far from obvious to them. They’ll see you as a raving madman.

In fact, it’s usually best to keep the focus on the positive aspects of your beliefs. A lot of Christians are uncomfortable with this, because of how similar the LDS vocabulary is to ours. However, there are some definite appeals we can highlight. For example, in Christian culture, it is common for people to confess sins and build each other up. Many Mormons long for this kind of fellowship.

But wait, there’s more! In Christianity, God doesn’t send any of His children to hell. In Christianity, God’s love is unconditional, to the point that we can be saved in our sins. In Christianity, everyone who believes holds the priesthood. In Christianity, Christ’s entire life was a vicarious ordinance on our behalf. In Christianity, God’s revelation never changes.   

If a Mormon challenges you on these points, it opens the door to compare beliefs. Invite, don’t incite. 

In Conclusion
I think that when in appealing to his fellow critics in regard to their often horribly unbiblical (sometimes even cruel) treatment of Mormons one Mormon Critic summarized it well he said: 

The Golden Rule of Apologetics is: “Always treat your debating opponent’s evidence and arguments the way that you would want to have your evidence and arguments treated“

All too often I see Christians engaging in the exact opposite of this, in something that apologists call “Scorched Earth Tactics”. This is a tactic whereby one is determined to win the debate no matter what the cost. It’s like dropping napalm or salting the ground after each advance so nothing can grow in your wake. The end result is that all too often you win the debate but lose your debating opponent – forever.

This is a formula for failure since it can take Mormon years, even decades to shake off the mind control of the LdS Church, to unsnap psychologically, and to start considering the body of evidence through clear eyes rather than Mormon sunglasses. And then there are typically several years more after that before they transition out due to family, professional, and cultural entanglements. Therefore, it’s always best to strive to maintain a good relationship even if you’re at loggerheads as debating opponents. Think long, not short term, and always, always, always consider how to maintain the relationship without compromising your message or yourself.

That sounds so easy, doesn’t it? It’s not. It can be so hard to keep one’s passions, ego, and pride in check when engaging Mormons. And if you really like the person it can be hard not to soften your message to maintain the relationship.  It’s a balancing act. Which is why we so desperately need the mind of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit guiding us rather than our fallen human nature. So for those moments when you feel your adrenaline beginning to pump, your palms beginning to sweat, and your eyes beginning to bulge I would encourage you to remember (or better yet, memorize) what God has said to us through His word.
(Fred W. Anson, “Weak Arguments #13: “There’s NOTHING in Mormonism that’s true – it’s all wrong and nothing but a pack of lies!”, Beggar’s Bread website May 3, 2015) 

And in regard to Mormons and Mormonism this is what God through His word says to us: 

“Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.”
(2 Timothy 2:25 NIV) 

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
(Colossians 4:6 NIV)

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”
(1 Peter 3:15 NIV)

Brother and Sister Mormon Critic, I would rather lose the debate in order to win the Mormon over to Jesus, wouldn’t you? I would rather look like a fool than a sage if that’s what it takes. This isn’t about me, it’s about Him, isn’t it?  “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30 NKJV). Can I get an amen? 

About the Author
Michael “The Ex-Mormon Apologist” Flournoy served a two-year mission for the LDS Church where he helped organize three Mormon/Evangelical dialogues and has participated in debate at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Born into Mormonism, Mr. Flournoy converted to Evangelical Christianity in 2016.