Evangelicalism gets amusing when it comes to other religions, deeming them as "stumbling blocks" from the true path of Jesus. New religions, in particular, are called out as "cults". Naturally, the one-off Messiah figures that crop up but also larger groups such as Jehovah's Witness, Christian Science, and the focus of my story today, Mormons.
If you're not familiar with Mormonism the Wikipedia article is a good place to start for an unbiased view of it with links to other sources you can explore. Some of the big differences that Evangelicals take issue with are Jesus showing up in the Americas to indigenous populations after he was resurrected, a rejection of the Trinity, the plural marriage beliefs that have since been retconned, and the belief that one can be exalted to a god over another planet. Personally, I believe that Evangelicals' biggest problem with Mormonism is the success it has in converting their church members to it.
I didn't even know who Mormons were until my family returned to the US from my parent's mission work in Africa. I learned of them when I attended a "youth camp" the first full summer we lived in the US. We signed up for "classes" that were designed to help us learn about various aspects of our beliefs and how we could spread the message of Jesus to others. I was big on converting people from other religions so I signed up for the class on "cults".
I insinuated above that there are some Mormon beliefs that I find weird but I'm not sure they're even as weird as Evangelical youth camps. The camps are a right of passage for Evangelical teenagers where you pile into a smelly van with fifteen to twenty other kids, drive to someplace in the middle of nowhere, and then spend a week getting to know 500 other kids from other places in the country. Obstensively, you're supposed to explore the body of Christ but I later learned the counselors were trying (and failing) to keep teens from exploring each other's.
The context of "cult class" was that our supernatural beliefs were better than other people's supernatural beliefs. We had very serious discussions about Satan literally crafting these religions to ensnare Christians away from God. To say we were given a one-sided view of other religions is an understatement. Every group we studied was presented as a strawman. "Here's what we believe we believe and why it's wrong." One of the reasons I think we see such arguments in the public space is because there are a whole lot of people who were indoctrinated with this style of debate.
Not long after this youth camp there was a "revival" at our church. Revivals involve going to church every day for a week because "God is ready to move". They often feature a traveling evangelist as well. The preacher this particular summer was huge on stirring up conflict. We were to "confront the pagans, the [homosexuals], and the cultists who pervert the name of Jesus!"
Regrettably, I nodded along and chose conflict.
The title doesn't lie. There were two instances of Mormon missionary harassment. Neither are particularly interesting and I present them in the context of regret and of the Evangelical pot calling the kettle "black". A great teaching in the Bible is the idea to "live peaceably with others". Something we didn't do often as Evangelicals.
The first instance involved a friend. I was dropping him off at his house when we found Mormon missionaries talking to his older brother. I told the missionaries to leave and to my friend's brother that they were trying to "lead him astray", echoing language from cult class. The missionaries protested and I panicked and yelled to my friend to be careful as I drove away.
The second instance was on a mission trip in college. Our group was repairing a church building in St. Louis and on the last night we were there we did a screening of one of the various "Jesus" movies. (Not the Mel Gibson one, this was earlier.) I was tasked with greeting people as they came in and I was shocked when Mormon missionaries showed up. In this case, I wasn't mean to them but I wasn't terribly welcoming either. I told them they weren't allowed to preach but they could watch the movie. I did insinuate they should leave.
The church leaders actually took me aside on the second one and chided me for it, almost progressive in Evangelical circles. "Let them speak," they said. "God's truth with be evident."
I'm glad they did because it shook me enough to realize that the conflict I was taught was dangerously close to wanting a group of people not to exist. This isn't to say I agree with Mormonism, I find it as problematic as Evangelicalism. But to wish erasure of anyone is a dark path that Evangelicalism has tread many times with LGBTQ+, Black folks, and Jews. One step toward a saner future.
- The biased version is that the New Testament is a weird fanfiction of Judaism and the Book of Mormon is a weird fanfiction on top of it.
- The Trinity is the belief that God is a single entity with three distinct personas: "The Father", "The Son" (Jesus), and the Spirit (Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost).
- And apparently, you get to populate it with your celestial wife? That part could be fun.
- It should be noted that the richest churches go to the nicest camps and families go into debt to send their kids to these things, there's a ton to unpack around these places.
- Not me though, I have zero game. Maybe negative game if that's a thing.
- One of the things I'm working to unlearn is the Evangelical views of Judaism which are ... problematic.
- I substituted the word. He used a slur.
- Hebrews 12:14. Though the author of Hebrews kind of contradicts Jesus himself who said he came to bring conflict (Matthew 10:34-36).
- With the exception of Nazis. We should erase Nazis.