Thursday, March 16, 2006

Sacramento LDS Temple Opening Summer 2006: Is Apologetic "Outreach" Really the Best Response?

The First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently announced the Open House and Dedication dates for the Sacramento, California Temple. An open house for hte general public will take place from July 29 through August 26, 2006, excluding Syndays, and a four session dedication will be held on September 3. A cultural celebration is scheduled for September 2.

It didn't take long once this announcement was made for evangelicals in the countercult community to set their plans in motion for an "outreach" during this event. I'd like to share a few thoughts about alternatives to evangelicals in general, and perhaps to a few evangelicals in the countercult community as well where I might still have some credibility.

1. Let's consider the place of the temple to LDS culture. After my experience at the Manti Miracle Pageant last summer, I have been conducting further research on the place of LDS temples within LDS culture from the perspective of anthropology of pilgrimage for a cultural hermenetics class at seminary. My ongoing research has confirmed my initial insights, namely, that visits to temples constitute a form of religious pilgrimage in Mormon culture parallelling religious pilgrimages in other religions, such as Islam, Hinduism, and Christianity. For individual Mormons, participation in such pilgrimages serve an important function, not only spirituallty, but also in terms of reinforcing their individual and collective identity as a part of the Mormon community and culture. With this insight in mind, the presence of evangelicals engaged in "outreach," no matter how well intentioned, is interpreted as an attack both on the sacred symbol of the temple, but also everything it represents, including the history and culture of Mormonism, and the individual Mormon him/herself.

With this insight in our minds, I think we would recognize that not many evangelicals would stand outside the Dome of the Rock to pass out tracts documenting the false nature of Islam in contrast with traditional Christianity. Neither would they stand outside of the Wailing Wall while holding up signs decrying the failure of the Jews to recognize Jesus as Messiah. In these instances evangelicals recognize that such activities are inappropriate in light of the symbolism of the structures and the needless friction with the culture that would result. And yet the cultural courtesies extended to religious groups like Islam and Judaism are curiously misisng in evangelical responses to Mormon sacred sites.

If evangelicals don't find this line of reasoning compelling, put yourself in the shoes of the Latter-day Saint, if only or a moment. How would you feel if you came out from the dedication of your new church or chapel building to find LDS standing on the streets outside your property passing out tracts on the satanic nature of your new building? Would this warm your heart to hear the message of your LDS neighbors? Of course not, you'd be offended, and rightly so, and this is same kind of reaction LDS experience in response to evangelicals at temple openings.

2. I was recently in a small group meeting with a a representative and a few others sympathetic to its approach to Mormonism. I shared my concern about evangelical responses at Manti and LDS temple openings, and that such approaches are needlessly counter-cultural and counter-productive to sound evangelism, and one of the participants in the meeting, Bill McKeever of Mormonism Outreach Ministry, told me that LDS temple openings are not conceived of as evangelistic outreaches, but are more aimed at informing evangelicals and the general public about differences between traditional Christianity and Mormonism. If this is the case, then a few questions arise. First, if the temple responses are more for educational purposes for evangelicals then why are they presented as evangelistic outreaches? Second, since the LDS people rightly bristle at such outreaches, why continue to alienate the very culture we say we want to reach? Why create additional stumbling blocks? And third, if the goal really is to educate evangelicals and the public, aren't there other ways, better ways in which this can be done?

I'd like to try to reason with my fellow evangelicals as the Sacramento temple opening nears. If that doesn't work, I'll try pleading with them. We've simply got to do something different in response to temple openings, both in Sacramento and throughout the United States. I suggest that traditional apologetic approaches must be abandoned, and in there place we must substitute educational events that accomplish the worthy goals we seek. I am working feverishly to create a new paradigm for evangelicals in response to temple openings, one that includes public evangelical-LDS dialogues modeling civility and understanding, followed by Bridges training to help evangelicals understand the Latter-day Saints as a culture rather than as a "cult." It would be wonderful to have evangelicals join me in the development of this new paradigm.

I realize that despite my passionate plea to my evangelical brethren the Sacramento temple "outreach" will likely press ahead as planned. The unfortunate result will be that the "outreach" participants will come away from the event satisfied that they have warned the church and defended the faith, and the Latter-day Saints in Sacramento will come away personally and corporately offended. Perhaps without planning to do so evangelicals will widen the divide between our two religious communities making understanding and real sharing of our spiritual concerns that much more difficult. Folks, let's move beyond our methodological dogmatism. There's a better way, one that is more in keeping with the Spirit and way of Jesus.


jpu said...

outreaches at mecca or the wailing wall would result in physical violence. and if not physical violence then physical and/or political expulsion. this country allows vigorous discussion and disagreement. the US is home to this perversion of the gospel of Jesus and leads people to enslavement and hell. some fish with poles, some with nets, and some with firecrackers. how do you measure which method is best? having a public forum dialogue attracts some and it still repulses others. sidewalk evangelism interacts with only a few people also, attracting some and offending more. but since we don't know which method of fishing doesn't rescue souls from hell how can we say one is wrong? offense by tract is different than offense by bullhorn and slander. and can you tell a sibling in the Lord that God definitely did not call them to hand out tracts at a temple meeting? do you have such knowledge? if you don't, i think you need to leave them alone and operate with the vision God has given you instead of opposing the work he is doing through them.

John W. Morehead said...

JPU, thanks for stopping by the blog and leaving your comments.

You appear to be saying that the major hindrance to evangelical "outreach" at places like Mecca is the threat of physical violence. But surely this cannot be our only criteria. And whe might consider that such violence would likely result because this form of "outreach" at a sacred place is perceived as attacking the culture. Mormons may not respond culturally with violence when evangelicals offend at their sacred sites, but they still feel the same sense of cultural attack. This should give us pause for reconsidering this methodology.

I also find your characterization of Mormonism in the context of an allegedly Judeo-Christian America of interest. You paint a picture of Mormonism as an evil cult given its connection to traditional Chrsitianity and its distinctive teachings rather than as a religion on a par with other world religions. I believe that it is precisely this filter of cultism that prevents evangelicals like yourself from seeing the broader cultural issues connected with Mormonism, and this perspective results in a defensive and reactionary response such as temple "outreaches." Thus, the methodology you advocate is more of an approach born out of a need for identity and boundary maintenance and defense than of sound missional methodology.

Finally, I don't claim to speak with the voice of God on this issue. But I can analyze an approach with a criteria of methodology that includes biblical theology, the history of Christian missions, and the social sciences. When I apply this criteria then it becomes clear that the LDS temple "outreaches" are indeed deficient. This is a fair criticism and one that I hope you and others will be more open to consider.

jpu said...

are you saying someone's culture can't be challenged? didn't Jesus completely insult the Samaritan woman by saying she didn't know what she was talking about regarding worship? is Jesus not a valid example for us? he went into her territory. didn't he attack the religious culture all around him. he was met with violence too. but are you saying his method is not available to his followers today. was it wrong for missionaries to oppose the religious culture in India that expected widows to commit suicide at their husband's funeral? is it wrong for missionaries now to oppose the Indian caste system and the oppression of the Dalits? the Hindus are responding with violence, see my blog's recent entries. is it wrong for americans to oppose the fundamentalist mormon polygamists? i presume you'll answer, "no its not wrong," but correct me if my presumption is wrong.
now this religious subculture invites the public in to see their temple, this religious subculture who on one hand will publish with an historically orthodox publisher claiming the distinction between them and historic orthodox Christianity is one of a few degrees and on the other hand will go door to door and say that historic Christianity is unorthodox and needed a new prophet with a new revelation from God to restore it to its original intention. so since a crowd will show up, can't a member of the historic version stand out front and distribute literature countering these contradictory and false claims? the mormons are claiming the boundary is fuzzy and the believer wants the public to know that the claim is false. yes it does serve to distinguish identities. are you saying this is wrong? is it wrong to shine in the darkness of falsehood a flashlight of truth? if there is a boundary that is being denied, an outright falsehood, what is wrong with contradicting it. if mormons can go door to door what is unfair about going to their door?
deficient relative to what? holding public dialogues and educating the Christian public is also deficient because it is self-selective. mormons who don't want to risk their faith's claims or don't have time or don't care will not come. the person with a tract has that opportunity. the believers who come to bridges training are those with time and interest after everything else is done. but those believers might have time to visit a temple and get some information that they didn't know from that same person with the tracts. why can't these methods be complementary? they reach two different populations, the casual vs. the intentional. is the seed sown among the casual now off-limits in your new paradigm?
i hope you will interact with my questions. they aren't simply rhetorical.

John W. Morehead said...

JPU, thanks for stopping by again and leaving your comments and questions, and for your passion on this issue.

No, I am not saying that a culture cannot be challenged. Christ and the gospel confronts aspects of every culture. However, this does not mean that we should engage in forms of engagemetn with the culture that are needlessly confrontational and end up being counter-productive. While evangelicals might think they are communicating effectively at LDS temple openings, in fact, they are perceived as attacking both the symbol of the LDS religiuon, as well as the culture and individual who is a part of it. Thus, no true hearing is taking place, and temple outreaches result in a defensive posture on the part of LDS rather than understanding. Thus, missionaries and good communicators seek to engage in receptor-oriented communication wherein the form of communication is effective from the frame of reference of the part one is communicating with. This does not involve erecting additional stumbling blocks. If offense is to come let it come from the gospel, not from the offensive methodologies and perhaps personalities of evangelicals in temple outreach.

I appreciate your desires to educate people concerning the differences between traditional Christianity and Mormonism, but there are ways in which this can be done that avoids offending the culture and widening the divide between evangelicals and LDS. Direct mailings, seminars in churches, etc., can all be utilized to accomplish this goal that would not offend the symbolism of the temple. In my discussion with Bill McKeever of Mormonism Research Ministry a few weeks ago I shared my concerns about this type of outreach, and he said that he was open to other ways in which information could be disseminated and people informed other than temple outreach. My thesis is not outlandish.

Finally, keep in mind that no response will reach everyone we'd like to reach. By engaging in my alternative of public evangelical-LDS dialogue, followed by theological and culturally appriate training for evangelicals on the LDS, this would make the most of evangelical relationships and encountes with LDS and avoid the cultural offense of a temple outreach.

You might want to download and read my article on the Manti Miracle Pageant, and the article by missiologist Gailyn Van Rheenen on the missional helix. These articles will provide you with additional considerations, and a criteria of methdology by which you can step back and reassess the appropriateness of temple outreaches. Perhaps once you've done some more reading and careful reflection we can have further exchanges.

Jeff Downs said...

John, I think we (me and you) along with everyone else in the Countercult community see it as beneficial to have seminars, etc. in local church (although the LDS-Evangelical dialogue is another issues). So, I think you are making an assumption that this will not take place. In fact, it will and has in the past.

But, an additional way to reach people is at the Temple opening itself.

jpu said...

John, i read your post on your manti experience. you seem to throw out the baby with the bath water. just because some people think they can bring about conversion with a sign or a chant through a bullhorn does not mean the ones who hand out tracts that try to explain differences and the gospel more completely and engage in conversation should be lumped in with them. no matter the method though, the gospel will always offend unbelievers, but its a sweet aroma to those who belive. if you advertise a debate at the time of a pageant you are doing the same thing as the street evangelist. but while you may be able to afford billboards and direct mailings, poorer evangelists, called by God, use the resources he has given them. by deciding you are the only one who hears God on this issue you exhibit the behavior of a cultic leader. a cult fears freedom. Christianity has a document that any follower can consult and an indwelling of the Holy Spirit primarily then community input and culture secondarily. since there is no commandment against evangelizing during false religious ceremonies and since the Holy Spirit has prompted some to do so and since seed has been planted and fruit harvested by such means by what authority can you condemn such people who do these things? our only appeal is that it is done offensively by a few and most are offended regardless, even though offense taken is to be expected most of the time. another way that you propose is good, but can not be exclusive.

John W. Morehead said...

To save time I will respond to both Jeff Downs and JPU in this one comment.

First to Jeff. I appreciate that you addressed the specific issues related to my post, Jeff. Doing this, and in a cordial and thoughtful way, will result in the publishing of your comments.

I make no assumptions about seminars. I'm sure countercult folks will try to set up presentations in the Sacramento area, but that's not what I'm advocating. I'm presenting a specific alternative in the form of Bridges presentations that moves beyond the doctrinal contrast and apologetic refutation approach in order to teach evangelicals about the cultural aspects of Mormonism and how to share their faith in this context. This is very different than standard countercult seminars, and other than my efforts in this regard, I'm not sure that anyone else will be attempting it.

I see that you still take issue with the public LDS-evangelical dialogues put on by Bob Millet and Greg Johnson. But I have yet to hear any interaction with my thinking on this in a previous blog post. Folks seem content to continue on with their assumptions repeated in mantra like fashion.

As to your statement that the temple opening is an additional way to reach people, this is merely a restatement of your position that assumes the validity of the philsophy that undergirds it. My post specifically challenges this and presents the reasons why. I'd like to see countercult folks, and those sympathetic to their methods, seriously interact with other perspectives in order to reassess the alleged appropriateness of "outreach" at LDS temple openings.

Now to JPU. First, I have not thrown the baby out with the bath water. While there surely is a spectrum of approaches at Manti, some more offensive to LDS (and some of us evangelicals) than others, nevertheless, the thesis of my paper and my subsequent blog post on LDS temple openings is that regardless of the approach, from the perspective of missiology as informed by anthropology of pilgrimage and communication theory (not to mention Scripture) it is culturally offensive to LDS and inappropriate.

I am not advocating any debat in connection with Manti or temple openings. While evangelicals are far more comfortable with debate than dialogue with Mormonism, I urge the scheduling of an LDS-evangelical dialogue that will model convicted civility, foster understanding between the two faith communities, and allow for real communication of our similarities and differences to take place. Debates merely entrench individuals in their pre-existing views, and I have no interest in perpetuating this form of interaction.

As to resources, I appreciate the cost factor involved, however, should the least expensive form of approach be used if this is culturally offensive and widens the divide between LDS and evangelicals? I don't think so.

Finally, I have not stated that I am the only one who hears God's voice on this issue. But I have called for us all to carefully reassess what we assume to be biblical and appropriate. Thus, I am in no way behaving in "cult" leader-like fashion (in keeping with stereotpical evangelical understandings of "cults" informed more by secular anti-cultism than sound analysis). JPU, you will have to refrain from such accusations and personal attacks if you want to continue to see your comments published here. Please stick to the issues.

Bri said...

As a Mormon in the Sacramento region I would like to say a few things.

First of all, we know what evangelicals think already. We know that you don't agree with us, usually those differences are based more on ignorance than anything else. For example, no matter how much a Mormon will say "I do believe in Jesus Christ" there are some who will tell me "no you don't, not till you believe you are saved by grace and not works" If I'm saved by grace why worry about it? I already know, it is because there are a lot of you who believe Mormons worship another Jesus, that our Jesus is not good enough, etc. I am saved by the grace of Jesus Christ and what right do you have to say that he can't save me because I'm Mormon?

Do I believe evangelicals have the indwelling of the Holy Ghost in them? Some do, one's that just go around tearing down other people's faith do not, at least not at that moment. What they do have is an indwelling of pride.

How do those who will protest at our temple know it is the house of the devil as some like to say it is? They don't, they base their view on things said by people like Ed Decker, someone who's character should be checked out before being put on a pedistol. Put all the anti Mormon literature aside and take an opportunity to go inside the temple for a change. It will be open, we will show you everything inside of it. What we won't do is show you the endowment, we are not going to change that either because sacred things are to be kept sacred. If you doupt this consider that Jesus commanded Peter James and John not to tell of the visit of Elijah and Moses on the Mount of Transfiguration and what transpired till he was resurrected. Some things the Lord expects to be kept sacred, and not revealed to the world, that is proven in the Bible. (Unless someone can tell me what Jesus taught his apostles for the fourty days he was with them after his resurrection, I stick with what I have said)

With that said, we don't sacrifice chickens or spill blood in the temple as some have accused us. Go in and look, you will see, we don't even like the carpet getting dirty.

Are you guys planning to pass out the pamphlet "Mormon's Worship Another Jesus"? Do you realize how poorly written that pamphlet is? Do you realize that the pamphlet contradicts the Bible?

Let me point out that as a child we went to the Assembly of God church, our non Mormon family members for the most part are Baptist, etc. My family is good, but there are some among those churches who just want to thump, not discuss "differences" but create differences to argue about, and that is what does more harm than good. My family doesn't argue with me as to what Jesus we are suppose to remember on Christmas when we are together, and we don't argue over what Jesus actually resurrected from the dead either.

Another point that I would like to make, and that is that going after the oppenent at their moment always makes you look like the bad guy. Just consider for a moment the Democrats who intruded on the Republican National Convention, it didn't help them win, it helped them lose. There will be more than just Mormons going to the temple open house and if you behave rude, you will make yourself look bad.

My hats off to John for showing good reasoning. I respect his form of evangelicalism regardless if I agree or disagree with it, simply because that person was willing to show it to me.

And the person is right, if you try to reach out at the Dome of the Rock you would be dealt with by violence. Jesus said you will know the true prophets from the false "by their fruits" and Mormons do not act in violence. Think about that.

John W. Morehead said...

Bri, thank you for stopping by and sharing an LDS perspective. We may disagree on some things, but I appreciate your interest in evangelicals attempting to interact with LDS differently as we try to be more effective communicators across our religious cultures.