Opening the Dialogue
Opening the Dialogue
"In your book, you mentioned snapping. I think I have been experiencing that very thing, but I thought I was getting senile or losing my mind Im only 46!
"You said there were places in your mind that you couldnt go what did that mean? I have been described by friends and relatives as possibly having had a minor stroke.
I hope this doesnt last too long but no matter, it is better this way than to be lost forever following the dictates of the Mormon Church."Carol
Walk up to a Latter-day Saint and ask him, "Do you really believe in Mormonism?" Hell almost certainly answer, "Yes." I dont care if he hasnt been to church in ten years. Or if hes mad at all his Mormon friends and relatives. Hes a "Mormon." Weve all met Catholics who were "Catholic" even though they havent been to church since their First Communion. Thats what it is like to be a Mormon. A Presbyterian can become a Baptist without losing his family; a Methodist can join a Lutheran church without being ostracized from his society; but a Mormon always pays a price for leaving the Church. That means a Mormon professes to be Mormon regardless of doubts.
So you can see that your approach to your Mormon friend will depend upon how committed he is to the Church. Some people are unapproachable. Others are hungering for someone to talk to. The problem is discovering what level people are on.
The Mormon Commitment Level
Every Mormon exists somewhere between True Believer and Doubter. We can describe his level of commitment three ways: The True Believer, The Moderate Believer, and The Doubter.
Since we will approach different people differently, it will be necessary for us to evaluate the level of commitment. That will tell us where to begin.
Here is a brief breakdown of the three levels.
The hallmark of The True Believer is that hes an evangelist. He is convinced he has found the way of truth and he is ready to share it with others. He may be bold or shy, confident or self-conscious those are personality traits. But whatever his nature, he is disposed, to the best of his ability, to declare his confidence in Mormonism.
The Moderate Believer, on the other hand, is more restrained in his faith. Hes convinced in his own heart that Mormonism is the True Church, but he is tolerant of others. He understands that Mormonism is his religion. He believes it is true perhaps "with every fiber of his being," as Mormons are fond of saying but he holds out the possibility that he may be wrong. He will be less inclined than the True Believer to "bear you his testimony," though he probable would do so if you asked him.
The Doubter is no longer convinced that the Mormon Church is true. He continues to be a member, he may even go to church regularly, but he is no longer sure.
Now lets look at each of the three Mormon groups in more detail:
The True Believer
The True Believer can be either an Arrogant True Believer or a Naïve True Believer.
The Arrogant True Believer is convinced that hes a member of the Only True Church, and he has never encountered serious challenge to his faith. That may be because he does not readily listen to anything. He may be brash. He is so convinced of his position that he pities those who are not Mormons.
At his worst, the Arrogant True Believer disdains non-Mormons as stupid if they dont immediately submit to Mormonisms gospel, and hes not above ridiculing those who disagree with him. If hes a boss he may resort to harassment of non-Mormon employees. Whether he is a convert or "born under the covenant," he has never seriously considered the possibility that Mormonism is wrong.
In his most deceived condition, the Arrogant True Believer has committed intellectual suicide. He is, as one friend describes it, "self-deceived." He has looked at reality and chosen to retreat into Mormonism. His conscience is seared. He may suffer from terminal spiritual deafness.
The Naïve True Believer is also convinced about Mormonism. But, unlike his arrogant counterpart, the Naïve True Believer is shocked to discover serious challenges to his faith.
I think I was a Naïve True Believer. I can remember two incidents from my early Mormon experience that make me say that. First, on the very night I was baptized into the Mormon Church, I met a cheerful girl who was serving me in a cafeteria. She asked me why I was so happy and I told her I had just become a Mormon.
"Oh," she said, "I used to be a Mormon."
Her response shocked me. I couldnt believe that anyone ever left the Mormon Church. Especially not someone who appeared to be happy and cheerful. She should have been pining away in dejection if she had rejected the One True Church.
Another time I met the nicest middle-aged woman in an art class. In private conversation, I let slip that I was a new Mormon. She said the same thing the girl had said: "Oh, I used to be a Mormon."
For the rest of our acquaintance, I puzzled over how she could have left Mormonism without collapsing under the wrath of God. Id have died for the Church. I was a Naïve True Believer.
The Moderate Believer
The Moderate Believer is more subdued in his approach to his faith. Hes tolerant. He respects other points of view.
The Uninterested Moderate Believer is not uninterested in Mormonism, he is uninterested in opposing opinions. The Uninterested Moderate Believer respects your right to believe what you want; therefore discussion is not particularly interesting to him.
The Interested Moderate Believer, on the other hand, wants to talk if it can be done reasonably. He may simply have an academic interest in debate or he may be seeing things in Mormonism that disturb him. He may be on the verge of becoming a Doubter. He is a candidate for profitable discussion. If he really is objective, hell respond to a realistic discussion of the problems of Mormonism.
But be careful with the Interested Moderate Believer, for he also presents one of our greatest opportunities to go wrong. He may not be what he seems! I encounter Arrogant True Believers masquerading as Interested Moderate Believers.
These are people who only want to appear interested. They are being deceptive. Their motives vary: perhaps it is important to them to seem to be objective when they are not; or they may be masquerading only in an attempt to convert you to Mormonism; or, in the saddest cases, some of them have no real interest in Mormonism at all they are so confused that everything is simply a game to them.
The doubter has moved to objectivity. He has begun to see something is wrong in Zion. He may only have a vague sense of misgiving and may be quite defensive. With time, however, his doubts intensify. This does not mean hes ready to leave Mormonism. He may be years from that if, indeed, he ever makes that choice. The Doubter has lots of options, and if he is particularly afraid of or controlled by his family, he may never seriously investigate his doubts. He may make accommodations. In short, he may choose to live a lie.
The Closet Doubter is one who is not yet willing to discuss his doubts openly. One of my teachers in college slipped into a Baptist church during a showing of the movie "The God Makers." Someone struck up a conversation after the film and recognized that he had doubts, although he carefully attempted to conceal them. I was notified and telephoned him at his home. He was very secretive, but we arranged a meeting. Those meetings have continued for two years. Today he is open with me. He has concluded that the "Christ of Mormonism" is "too insipid to save." He is searching for God. As yet, he remains a Closet Doubter.
The Open Doubter had dropped his pretensions. He is fed up with defending the Mormon Church. He is nearly certain it is false. Or at least so full of flaws as to be unredeemable. He is looking for answers. He may find them in Christ, but he may find them in another religious or social system.
Everyone is an individual. He has his own motives within the confines of his private world. At best, we can only draw him out into an objective discussion of truth as it exists in Christ. To do so with cultists, we need to be aware of their commitment to the organization. Only then can we determine how best to deal with them.
The best way to find out where Mormons are in this spectrum is to ask them. Asking questions opens doorways to discovery. Thats why every great salesman asks a lot of questions. The answers allow people to reveal, indirectly and without threat, where they are. To know what questions to ask, we need to know whom we are talking to.
In the next chapter I will show you how to deal with each of the three Mormon types.