Evangelizing Mormons

May 8, 2014 | 9 comments

Sharing your faith with a stranger is always a delicate affair. How do you get another person to thoughtfully reconsider his religious beliefs without offending him? Also, how do you do that without getting trapped in an awkward situation for several hours?

I had those concerns in the back of my mind when I had the opportunity to dialogue with Mormons on two recent occasions. One was with a woman seated next to me on an airplane and the other was with two missionaries at a friend’s doorstep.

Polygamy Myths

On a flight to one of my recent speaking engagements a young woman sitting next to me noticed that I was reading a book about Mormonism. She said she had recently joined the LDS church and so we struck up a conversation (the proper name for Mormons is “Latter-day Saints” or “LDS”).  She said that she didn’t like it when people held incorrect or bigoted views towards Mormons and I said I agreed. I cited the belief that, “Mormon’s practice polygamy” as an example of one such mistaken belief.

Technically, LDS are accused of practicing polygyny, which is a form of polygamy that occurs when a man is married to more than one woman at a time. Polyandry occurs when a woman is married to more than one man at a time. In any case, LDS do not currently practice any form of “polygamy,” which means they do not enter into marriages with more than one living spouse at the same time.

At an October 1998 General Conference, LDS President Gordon Hinkley said, “If any of our members are found to be practicing plural marriage, they are excommunicated, the most serious penalty the Church can impose.” The polygamists you see on TV shows like “Sister Wives” are schismatic Mormons and are not part of the mainstream LDS Church.

This myth is derived from the fact that the LDS church did practice polygamy in its early years. In 1843 the founder of the LDS church Joseph Smith said that God had revealed to him that polygamy was morally acceptable (See Doctrine and Covenants 132:61-66). Todd Compton, who is a practicing Mormon and a professional historian, has provided evidence that Joseph Smith had at least 33 wives who were unofficially “sealed’ to him in marriage.[i]

In the late 1800’s the United States government began to outlaw polygamy and prosecuted LDS who engaged in the practice. However, the conflict between the LDS Church and the State began to dissipate in 1890 when LDS president Wilford Woodruff claimed he received a revelation from God saying that LDS should no longer engage in polygamy (or what Woodruff called “plural marriages”).[ii]

Polygamy Reality

I then said to the young woman that the modern LDS Church did believe in polygamy, but not in this life. You see, the LDS church believes marriage is an eternal reality and any marriage sealed in an LDS temple is considered to be a “celestial marriage” that will last for all eternity. Mormons who are married outside of a temple only have life-long marriages that are dissolved upon the death of either spouse (just like everyone else’s marriages). As the official LDS document The Family: A Proclamation to the World puts it, “The divine plan of happiness enables family relationships to be perpetuated beyond the grave. Sacred ordinances and covenants available in holy temples make it possible for individuals to return to the presence of God and for families to be united eternally.”

One interesting consequence of this belief is that LDS celestial marriages can be polygamous. According to one LDS manual of instructions, while a man can remarry in the temple after his wife dies (and thus have more than one wife in Heaven) a woman can only be married in the temple once.[iii]

The young woman said in response to this, “That’s not really fair . . . I’ll have to think about that.” As our plane pulled up to the gate I told her she could email me if she ever had any questions. I also got her contact information and promised to send her a copy of my booklet on Mormonism that will soon be published through Catholic Answers Press.

Missing Jesus

In the second encounter, I was invited to engage two young missionaries at a friend’s doorstep. After we discussed how Mormons and Catholics differ in their beliefs I decided to leave these two young men with a powerful, yet simple reason for why I would never join the Mormon Church.

“You guys said in your presentation that Jesus is our “eldest brother.” You see, I believe that Jesus is my Lord and God and that he is co-equal and co-eternal with the Father. You believe, in contrast, that the Father created Jesus and so you don’t pray to Jesus. I love being a Christian and I would miss my relationship with Jesus if I joined the Mormon Church.” The young men had never heard this particular objection before and promised to study the issue in further detail.

Some Mormons claim that the reason they only pray to the Father (who they call “Heavenly Father”) is because Jesus taught his disciples to address their prayers to “our Father” and because Jesus told his disciples to “ask of the Father in my name.” But of course, just because Jesus gave us one way to pray does not mean that is the only way to pray. After all, LDS give thanks to Heavenly Father even though Jesus never showed his followers through the Lord's Prayer how to give thanks to God. It seems more likely that LDS only pray to the Father because they are following the prescription in the Book of Mormon where Jesus says, “ye must always pray unto the Father in my name” (3 Nephi 18:19).

Praying to Jesus

But the Bible gives us many examples of praying to and worshipping Jesus. For example, after his resurrection Jesus received worship from his disciples (Matthew 28:9) and Thomas called Jesus “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). After his ascension St. Stephen prayed to Jesus saying, “Lord Jesus, Receive my Spirit.” St. Paul said, “may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father . . . comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word,” (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17).

Notice that Paul does not ask the Father “in Jesus name” to comfort believers but petitions both the Father and the Son to do that, or he treats them as equals. If the apostle Thomas can confidently say to Jesus “My Lord and my God,” Stephen can ask Jesus to receive his spirit, and Paul can ask Christ to comfort us, then why shouldn’t we pray to Jesus? Why would I join a Church that discourages praying to the eternal, all-powerful, and one-of-a-kind (John 1:18) Son of God?[iv]

Little Steps

When you engage Mormons, or any non-Catholic friend in dialogue, I recommend being nice, open, and not “out on a mission.” Don’t look at the encounter as an opportunity to “win an argument” or “get someone into the Church.” Rather, ask questions and get the person to think about one aspect of his belief system that the Catholic worldview better explains. Then, be open to answering future questions the person will hopefully have in his search for truth.

 


[i] Todd Compton. In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith. (Signature Books, 1997).

[ii] This is now referred to as “Declaration One” and is available online at https://www.lds.org/scriptures/dc-testament/od/1?lang=eng

[iii] Book 1 for Stake Presidents and Bishops, Section 3.6.1 “Sealing of Living Members after a Spouse's Death” (2006) Page 85. Posted online at http://stakepresident.blogspot.com/2011/02/should-i-marry-her-heart-wrentching.html

[iv] Sometimes John 1:18 is translated “only begotten” but the Greek word monogenes as it is used in this passage is better translated “one of a kind” or "one and only." The root word “genes” does not come from the Greek word gennao (or beget) but from the word genos which means “kind.” Even though it is correct to say Jesus is begotten, it is important to emphasize that Jesus is literally the “only kind” of God’s sons.

 


Ever since he converted to Catholicism at the age of seventeen, Trent Horn has had a passion for explaining and defending the Faith. After earning a degree in history from Arizona State University, Trent traveled the country training pro-life advocates on college campuses to engage opponents in...

Beginning Apologetics Volume 2: How to Answer Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons
The purpose of this booklet is to help Catholics identify and charitably refute the foundational doctrines of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons. Instead of getting bogged down in unimportant side issues, we show you how to focus objectively on their main beliefs. Our step-by-step approach uses Scripture, history, and common sense.

Comments by Catholic.com Members

#1  Alicia Ruiz - West Valley City, Utah

I live in a state that most of the population is Mormon. Plus, I have to deal with Jehova Witnesses and mainline Christians who don't celebrate Christmas or birthdays, don't believe in baptism of babies, and how we are devoted to the Virgin Mary and the saints. How do you deal with it. Also mormons don't believe The Father, Son, and holy spirit are all one being. They believe they are three separate beings. Also they believe that when they die, they will inherit their own planet and marriage is eternal.

May 8, 2014 at 12:17 pm PST
#2  jennie mccabe - el paso, Texas

This is good. I have been good friends with a lady for many years. She was what I would call a "secular Mormon" as she retained the label but did not practice her faith. In fact, on a couple of occasions she had expressed doubt in some of the beliefs. She has even attended Christmas Mass with us a handful of times. Within the last six months she has reinvested herself into her faith. It seems so many things are illogical and so I am surprised that my friend has rose colored glasses on after being away so long. To me it seems that loneliness is what has placed the glasses on her face and allowed her to ignore the questions she previously had. I have tried to make extra effort in our friendship and if she shares her faith I share mine too. Thanks for your tips and if you have any more I am all ears. I didn't realize that they do not believe Jesus is a God. And my friend has mentioned "holy spirit" or words similar to that. What do they think that is? Thanks again, Jennie

May 8, 2014 at 12:18 pm PST
#3  jeremias ramos - trento, Agusan del Sur, Agusan del Sur

the important is we all heard about Him. those who believe and those who are not. sometimes we forgot that it is only a news to the whole world, the very first good news. He is God. yes. He is not God. yes. but to know all the things about Him is the Good thing. the very Good thing. because there was the reason made for us to wait until it was first told to be spread and the time to be unsealed. just love one another, be patient to one another. not be a judgmental to anyone and let not be your Religions separates us from one another. being in the community of many religions, i learn about some reason, reason to love more and a reason to hate evil more

May 9, 2014 at 1:19 am PST
#4  paul pineda - bakersfield, California

Hi, Trent,

I have listened to CA Live when you are on, and how you respond has helped me alot.

Anyway, I would like to make a request, if you do not mind. Can Catholic.com come out with more apologetic material geared towards the Iglesia ni Christo (Church of Christ), a home grown sect born in the Philippines. I heard from a friend in the Central valley of California that they are targeting catholics in that part of California.

Hope you can pass this on on Catholic.com.

Great work to you and Catholic.como

May 9, 2014 at 1:15 pm PST
#5  Trent Horn - San Diego, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

Hi Paul,

I will pass it on but I think much of our material on how to refute Jehovah's Witnesses (available on this website) would also apply to Iglesia ni Cristo since both groups deny the deity of Christ and claim their own unique authority.

Hope this helps!

May 9, 2014 at 11:22 pm PST
#6  Evan Hamilton - Perth, Western Australia

Hello Trent,

My understanding is that the LDS is a particular group of Mormon leaders, based at Salt-Lake City, who have achieved more than other competing Mormon leaders. They have monopolized the term 'Latter-Day Saint' for themselves. There are other Mormons not in communion with the LDS. Am I correct?

The LDS claims that the Gospel of Jesus was lost [or important doctrines/parts of the Gospel were lost] sometime after the death of the Apostles [AD90?] until the arrival of Joseph Smith [AD1820?]. They publish a booklet called, 'The Gospel of Jesus Christ.' The puzzling thing for me is that the publication lists principles that Catholics have always known.

When I read that publication I was confused by this fact. So, I consulted the catechism of the council of Trent [AD1600?] to check this out. According to the LDS, some articles of their, 'Gospel of Jesus Christ' should be missing from the documents of the council of Trent, but everything the LDS states is an important aspect [e.g. repentance, baptism, final persistence and so on] is directly addressed by the council of Trent. Therefore, the LDS can't demonstrate their claim that a Great Apostasy occurred. I questioned an LDS missionary about this situation. I asked them for a list of articles of the Gospel of Jesus that were restored by Joseph Smith. They simply answered, 'That's an interesting question.'

-Sigh

May 12, 2014 at 5:28 am PST
#7  Randel Paul - Makati, Mindoro Oriental

I agree. Please do create article refuting Iglesia ni Cristo cult. A uni-personal corporation from the Philippines.

May 16, 2014 at 12:04 am PST
#8  Gian Patrick de Guzman - Parañaque, Laguna

There's an article and I believe Karl Keating also debated with an Iglesia ni Cristo pastor.

http://www.catholic.com/tracts/iglesia-ni-cristo

June 7, 2014 at 5:41 am PST
#9  Barbara Mills - Kirtland, Ohio

This article is informative and much appreciated. I live in Kirtland, OH, a hot spot for Mormans. While the overwhelming majority of residents in our community are Christian, many Mormans travel to Kirtland to visit a temple in the city's center.

Information such as this is helpful when approached by a visitor looking for new followers.

June 11, 2014 at 8:48 am PST

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