Saturday, August 13, 2005

Mariners Church and Temple Openings: Consider Alternatives

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently held an open house following the completion of the building of their latest temple in Newport Beach, California. In response to such temple openings evangelicals often stand on public property and pass out tracts, carry signs, engage Mormons and the general public in conversation about evangelical and LDS doctrinal differences, and in the case of the Newport Beach temple an ad was taken out in a local Christian newspaper. The concern many evangelicals have is that evangelicals and others in the community will not realize the differences between Mormonism and Protestantism, and that the temple opening will be used for LDS proselytizing.

A new twist was added to this scenario in southern California. A church near the Newport Beach temple, Mariners Church, raised the ire in countercult and apologetic ministry by opening the church parking lot to Mormons and the community who wanted to use it in order to facilitate their attendance at the temple opening. To make matters worse (from one evangelical perspective) the church took an additional step and refused to allow evangelicals to use the church parking lot to pass out tracts. The perception on the part of the the apologists was that the church was compromising the gospel, and taking a stand with those who promote heresy rather than evangelical brethren interested in sharing the truth. This incident has become something of a small controversy in apologetic circles, having been discussed on a few websites, and on at least one apologetic radio program in southern California.

I can't speak to the motivations of Mariners Church that stood behind these actions. I haven't been able to get in touch with anyone at the church. I have read some website comments posted by those who expressed concern with the church's actions, and if these statements are accurate, the church was motivated by a desire to be a good neighbor to Mormons. Although many evangelicals are upset over this incident, what lessons might we learn, and what other perspectives might we consider as evangelicals as we consider our response to future temple openings? I'd like to offer another perspective to consider, followed by a recommended alternative.

It might be helpful for us to step back and put ourselves in the shoes of the Latter-day Saint. Imagine that your church has just completed the building of a new chapel or worship center. You have just left the dedication ceremony, a time of celebration and fellowship for your Christian community, and as you return to your car in the parking lot you see Mormons standing on the sidewalk passing out literature stating that your chapel is part of a false church and your doctrine is corrupt. Would this warm the heart of the average evangelical to the message of the LDS Church? Hardly. We would rightly be upset, we'd become defensive, and we would not be in any frame of mind to listen to any possible merits in the LDS message. What evangelicals fail to understand is that Mormons feel the same way when we pass out tracts and hold up signs at their temple openings. In fact, considering the significance of temples to LDS culture, their reaction is even more severe.

If we step back conceptually once again and look at this situation not through the lenses of cultism and heresy, but through other perspectives, such as cultural anthropology, we can gain some important insights. Scholars have noted that cultural groups celebrate and reinforce a sense of communal identity in a variety of ways, including through community celebrations. These are expressed in a variety of ways, including celebrations that focus around a religious pilgrimage to sacred places. If a cultural outsider is perceived as attacking the symbol and substance of the religious pilgrimage this threatens the sense of identity of the individual and defensiveness and confrontation are the result. These insights are applicable to not only temple openings, but also to the Mormon Miracle Pageant at Manti, and Pioneer Days celebrations. As a religious community Mormons come together, sometimes traveling great distances, other times to engage in nearby local celebrations, in a form of religious pilgrimage. They come to the temple to participate in a celebration as part of their community that centers around an important religious and communal symbol, the temple. When well meaning evangelicals show up at such events, no matter how well intentioned, they are perceived by Mormons as attacking that which is held sacred, and thereby put a wedge between the evangelical and Mormon communities. Thus, temple tracting is actually counter-cultural and counter-productive to evangelical desires to communicate meaningfully to Mormons.

If this is the case, how might evangelicals respond more effectively and culturally appropriately to temple openings, using them as an opportunity for positive interaction? How can we learn important lessons from the Mariners Church example: a well intentioned church which wanted to be a good neighbor to LDS people, but one which apparently had no proactive strategy involved for interacting with Latter-day Saints? I'd like to suggest that evangelical churches consider the following course of action for the future.

1. Reaffirm your church's commitment to effective evangelism. This may also include an assessment of traditional forms of outreach at LDS temples used by parachurch ministries. As we've seen from the discussion above, these activities are actually counter-productive. While evangelicals might feel good about engaging in such activities, they appear to have little positive long-term impact.

2. Model positive and effective evangelical-LDS dialogue. One way this can be done is by inviting qualified representatives from each faith community to publicly dialogue thereby demonstrating how civil and respectful dialogue can take place between evangelicals and Mormons, and how these dialogue partners need not shrink from honestly discussing evangelical-LDS distinctives. Rev. Greg Johnson of Standing Together and Dr. Robert Millet of BYU have been speaking around the country, and overseas, in various venues modeling just such a dialogue. Churches should consider inviting these individuals to their community and involving both evangelicals and LDS to attend to witness a model of interfaith dialogue. While evangelicals have tended to be more comfortable with debate than dialogue, this particular dialogue format, and these participants, are well qualified to provide an example that evangelicals and Mormons can learn from. (See the sidebar under Evangelical-LDS Resources for contact information for Standing Together to explore this option.)

3. Provide theologically sound, culturally-sensitive evangelism training. The dialogue should be followed up with a training program that equips evangelicals to understand not only LDS theological distinctives, but also important LDS cultural considerations that will allow evangelicals to share their faith in sensitive and effective ways. Such a program may be found in "Bridges: Helping Mormons Discover God's Grace." It is a cutting-edge multi-media training resource produced by Salt Lake Theological Seminary. Contact the seminary via the contact information in this Blog's sidebar, or this blogger to consider Bridges training for your church and community.

The above mentioned three-pronged approach represents a positive, proactive, culturally-appropriate alternative in response to LDS temples in the community. Might evangelicals not only consider what makes them feel good about defending the gospel, but also what is culturally appropriate as we seek to be ambassadors of the gospel to our Samaria (1 Cor. 9:20-23)?

Those interested in mining for further missional gems relative to these issues will benefit from the following:

Christian Anthropology

Paul G. Hiebert, Anthropological Reflections on Missiological Issues (Baker Books, 1994)

Charles H. Kraft, Anthropology for Christian Witness (Orbis Books, 1997)

Religious Pilgrimage

Ellen Badone & Sharon Roseman (eds), Intersecting Journeys: The Anthropology of Pilgrimage and Tourism (University of Chicago Press, 2004)

Alan Morinis, Sacred Journeys: The Anthropology of Pilgrimage (Greenwood Press, 1992)

Mormon Community Celebrations

Davis Bitton, The Ritualization of Mormon History and Other Essays (University of Illinois Press, 1994), pp. 171-187

Steve Olsen, "Community Celebrations and the Mormon Ideology of Place", Sunstone 5 (May-June 1980), no. 3: 40-45

Steve Olsen, "Celebrating Cultural Identity: Pioneer Day in Nineteenth Century Mormonism," BYU Studies 36 (1996-97), no. 1: 159-177


Anonymous said...

You really have no clue, do you, John?

John W. Morehead said...

When I first created this Blog I excluded anonymous comments. Based upon a suggestion from a colleague, I modified this to accept them, at least until this comment confirmed my concerns about anonymous posts.

Unfortunately, you were unable to interact with the substance of this article on which you commented, and did not attach your name to your comments. This Blog was created with the desire to discuss serious missiological and theological issues facing evangelicals in the 21st century western context. Criticism and disagreement are to be expected, but I hope folks can put more thought into their comments, and avoid ad hominem posts such as this. I think I do have a clue, and through informed discussion, I hope others can be clued in as well.

philjohnson said...


It is also possible on your blog, as the administrator of the blog, to delete comments attached to your posts.

Sometimes spammers dump junk in posts, but hit the garbage icon on your blog comments and twaddle can be eliminated.

The ad hominem one-liner is pretty much the equivalent of spam because the message is all about the poster and not about your post; it is a form of self-centrism, it is discourteous, the poster ignores basic netiquette protocols, and in this particular instance the intended insult simply reflects a form of immature rudeness that is unChristlike, and need not be entertained or replied to.

Keith Walker said...

The following is an excerpt from our new article.

Offending Fish- A response to the partnership between the Mormons and Mariners Church

==Begin Quote==
Offending Fish
By Keith Walker

Fish Trap

The misapplication of the relational style of evangelism leads to an interesting “catch 22.” Once the relational evangelist befriends a Mormon, they often refrain from preaching the gospel to their Mormon friend for fear of offending them. If the friendship is lost, then what chance does the Christian have to share Christ? If you cannot preach the gospel until you have a trusted relationship, yet shy away from it because you may lose the friendship, what good has been accomplished? We may want to meditate on what the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) does not say;

Go therefore and build relationships with all the nations, befriending them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, encouraging them to observe your Christian behavior; and lo, I am with you always, building bridges to the end of the age.

Befriending Mormons at the expense of warning the community about the dangers of Mormonism or protecting your own flock is negligence. If we refrain from preaching the gospel to our Mormon friends in order to maintain our relationships, we have turned the Great Commission into the Great Omission.
==End Quote==


manaen said...

May I offer some comments from my own LDS viewpoint? I was at the Newport Beach Temple’s open house and I saw the demonstrators there. I also saw them at the open houses in Toronto and in Fresno.

Your observations about how LDS perceive these demonstrations are accurate as far as they go. However, I believe that you miss the depth of our feelings about them. I have ancestors buried on the trail to Utah who the Protestant mobs ran out of the early LDS settlements in the eastern U.S. I draw a straight line:
· from the Jewish mobs that demanded the death of bringers of new revelation, our Lord Jesus Christ and his apostles, and persecuted the Saints in the early Church
· through the Protestant mobs that killed a later bringer of new revelation, Joseph Smith, and persecuted the Saints of the restored Church of the 1800s
· to the current Evangelical demonstrators against God’s revelation of eternal sealing of families in His holy temples and disruption of today's Saints’ worship and lives.
Although current demonstrators don’t kill the Saints, their animus is unmistakable. It’s not just that these demonstrations make the Evangelicals less likely to convert us; their demonstrations confirm for us that the same Adversary who always has fought God’s truths leads them.

As one LDS blogger wrote,
“Sometimes I think the hatred they [Evangelicals] spew out helps the [LDS] church's image when it comes to people's view of it. I have never seen [LDS] members outside of another church screaming vile hatred and lies.
“Keep our heads high and our beliefs sacred, and our actions will be an example, as are theirs.”

We believe that when Christ appeared to his believers in the Americas that he taught:
“For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.
”Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.” (3 Nephi 11:29-30).

Compare that with the video clips and photos posted here:
to understand the difference that we see.

Here are a couple links in which you may be interested:

1) This is an LDS blog thread about David L. Rowe’s new book, “I Love Mormons – A New Way to Share Christ with Latter-day Saints.” It includes participation by the author and some Evangelicals who just can’t help acting like Evangelicals.

2) This is an LDS blog thread about the Evangelical demonstrations at the Newport Beach Temple’s open house.

Its title and first paragraph are:

“Evangelicals Are Spiteful, Intolerant Bigots”

“That's the message I received recently while visiting the public open house at the LDS Newport Beach Temple in Southern California. It didn't come from the LDS faithful hosting the tour, of course; they talked of nothing but what a lovely building the temple is and how wonderful it makes them feel. No, the message about Evangelicals comes from the Christian fellow out front with the signs announcing the URLs of his anti-LDS websites. As I turned the corner into the temple parking lot (with my wife and three children aboard the shuttle bus), Mr. Fine Example of a Christian waved his signs two feet from the windows and shouted at us, "You're worshipping an idol!" That may be the message he thinks he's conveying, but the message that actually comes across to the over one hundred thousand local citizens who have visited the open house function — which includes plenty of non-LDS Christians, Jews, Buddhists, New Agers, and nonbelievers, not just local Mormons — is how intolerant and bigoted many Christians are toward those who do not adopt their particular view of conservative Christianity. And it's Christians themselves, especially Evangelicals (the primary source for anti-LDS publications and activism) who are spreading that message. So don't blame cults, liberal Christianity, the Pope, the secular media, or Satan if Christians aren't always respected by your fellow citizens. Blame yourselves. And don't expect any sympathy from me.”

Here’s a summary from a recent posting in an LDS blog. It also shows how LDS believe that strident confrontation is antithetical to Jesus’ gospel of love and humility:


It's the Holy Ghost's responsibility to testify and to convert; our responsibility is to preach and to love, teaching how to receive the Holy Ghost's influence but never to replace it. Gene R. Cook pointed out the difference between teaching or preaching the gospel as in "To preach my gospel by the Spirit, even the Comforter which was sent forth to teach the truth." (D&C 50:14)
I became proficient enough in "Bible-bashing" as a missionary to out-argue Jehovah’s Witnesses with their own translation. None of them were converted or baptized. After wasting more than half my mission this way, I realized that hot argument and cold logic do not convert, but the sweet promptings of the Holy Ghost do. I then realized that rather than winning, I had lost -- valuable time to teach other people with the Spirit.
A more graphic example was from the informal religious-debating lunch group in which I participated during high school. I was able to argue a Protestant out of his beliefs, which is not difficult to do. He announced one day that he'd made-up his own religion and explained it to us. His new religion didn't work out very well: the year after we graduated, he wrote a note, took some pills, and died. I feel responsible for my part in his death because I took away his false foundation but I failed to show him how to obtain a real testimony based upon the witness of the Holy Ghost. "Trifle not with sacred things." (D&C 6:12)
When we argue and/or become angry, we defeat our purpose in several ways:
* PRIDE. We essentially are stepping in front of the Holy Ghost and saying, "I'll take this one." (and give me the glory)
* DENYING THE SPIRIT. As in, we're presenting the Church without the Spirit, creating a Spirit-devoid experience of the Church for them. Do we really want to teach that this empty shell is the gospel we offer?
"We cannot have the companionship of the Holy Ghost – the medium of individual revelation – if we are in transgression or if we are angry." – Dallin Oaks [modern Apostle]
"The Spirit of God never generates contention. It never generates the feelings of distinctions between people which lead to strife. It leads to personal peace and a feeling of union with others. It unifies souls. A unified family, a unified Church, and a world at peace depend on unified souls." --Henry B. Eyring [modern Apostle]
* LACK OF LOVE. Argument is putting the issue ahead of the person. Doing this teaches that we don't care and would rather hurt someone who doesn't yet agree than help them heal.
"Use boldness, but not overbearance; and also see that ye bridle all your passions, that ye may be filled with love" – Alma 38:12
"Never let a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved." – Barbara Johnson
* DISOBEDIENCE. Jesus told us not to argue, "...there shall be no disputations among you, as there have hitherto been; neither shall there be disputations among you concerning the points of my doctrine, as there have hitherto been. For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another." (3 Nephi 11:28-29)
* DENYING THE ATONEMENT. In the middle of working out the atonement, Jesus explained its ultimate purpose in his prayer: that we would become one with God and with each other. Creating schisms is the opposite of the Jesus’ plea for unity. (See again comment by Elder Eyring above).
I believe that Satan sometimes sets up really juicy targets to attack, not because we'll lose the argument, but so that we will argue. He doesn't really care about winning or losing the argument because the argument itself is the victory for him; it's what separates us and our opponent from the Holy Ghost. Arguing literally converts us into Satan's tool by denying our opponents experience with the Holy Ghost and teaches them that the Church doesn't have it.
"We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification. For even Christ pleased not himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me." (Romans 15:1-3)


If you read this far, thank you for your time and consideration!

John W. Morehead said...

Thank you for sharing these comments. I stayed with you up till the end!

I think I have a good feel for how evangelical activities at temple openings and other events are interpreted negatively by the LDS community, although I could never have the appreciation that an LDS would have.

I am extremely sympathetic to LDS concerns over evangelical confrontationalism, just as I hope LDS would be sympathetic to LDS beliefs that traditional Christian beliefs are an abomination to God and those who profess them corrupt.

It appears as if our two religious communities have a way to go in bridging the divide.