Saturday, May 5, 2007

Joseph Smith vs. Fidei Defensor

For whatever reason, Mormon missionaries have targeted my college town for some thorough proselytizing. I think it may be because A) this is a college town and it’s not hard to find impressionable people and B) because I live in one of a minority of American counties with no reported Mormon population, hence they want their foot in the door. Anyway, I myself have been approached by Mormons 4 times in the past few weeks and my experience is by no means exceptional. The Mormon missionaries are all young men, usually blonde, clean cut, with big shinny name tags and thin black ties. In the past I have been kind of a push-over and got sucked into having to stand and listen to these guys make their sales pitch. I think when the missionaries approach a college student the most common reactions are... 1-Student ignores them. 2-Student harshly rejects them. 3-Student is too polite to ignore or reject and gets stuck having to listen to them. Two less common yet possible reactions would be that a student is interested in Mormonism and wants more info (though I have not witnessed this and have a hard time believing these missionaries are having any kind of success). The other would be that the confronted student makes a defense of their own faith, and this is what I did today. I was walking across town and on a long bridge. On the other side, I could see two guys wearing ties and helmets and riding fancy new bikes coming from the other direction. Right away I knew they were Mormon missionaries, but since I was on a bridge there was no avoiding them this time. The first missionary rode past me but the second one stopped in front of me and immediately started talking. Now as I said, I am usually a push-over and end up wasting a lot of time listening to these guys talk. Today however, I was a Catholic on a mission of my own; I had to get to confession (it has been too long) and was looking forward to praying the Rosary and going to Mass and being able to at last receive the Eucharist. As soon as one missionary was talking to me the other backtracked and parked his bike behind me. The wind was sweeping through the river valley and over the bridge, it was intense and howling (to get a sense of how windy it was here today, later on my walk I saw a recycling bin blowing away!) The sky looked like it would break out into a storm at any moment and the stage was set for an epic confrontation (epic in the sense that I have never before stood up to these guys.) Anyway here is the conversation as best I can remember it. *** Missionary: Hey, I'm Elder so-and-so, do you want to hear a message about Jesus Christ and the Apostles and the Gospels? Fidei Defensor: I am familiar with that message, I am Catholic, in fact I am one my way to confession right now. Missionary: Oh...well...that's cool, I'm with the Church of Jesus Christ and Later Day Saints and... FD: I said I am Roman Catholic, and I will never change. (Since this was not enough to get the guy to back off I decided I was going to start playing hardball) Missionary: Really? You would never change? What if God told you to change? FD: He wouldn't, I am part of the Church that Jesus founded in 33 A.D. you guys were founded by Joseph Smith in the 1800's in Illinois or Missouri or something. Missionary: Hey we believe the same thing, we believe that Jesus founded the Church in 33 A.D. but the Church lost its way and Joseph Smith was a prophet who God sent to put things back on track, you have to accept the revelation of God to a prophet. FD: Like Prophet Mohamed? Missionary: Revelations says there will be more prophets… FD: False prophets. Missionary: Well... (Visibly taken aback, goes to default script) Christ and God have a plan for you, and that there are still prophets on this earth today. FD: Look, I think you Mormons are nice people with some good values, but theologically I don't agree with you, and I don't appreciate you telling me I need to change my religion. Missionary: Ok, well that's very interesting, let's talk about this some more, and you can learn more about the Church of Jesus Christ and Later Day saints.... FD: Bye *** I think they were kind of shocked to see that someone besides them could be passionate about their religion. They also seemed kind of surprised to see that I knew the basics of Mormon history (i.e. I had heard of Joseph Smith.) I suppose some might say I was rude to these guys, but honestly, they get weeks of pretty advanced training in how to influence the unsuspecting. Besides, in the past I have bent-over backwards to be polite to them and this time around, telling me to abandon Catholicism as I was on my way to Church was the straw that broke the camel's back. I think it is part of these Mormon Missionaries training to be real polite, hence him trying to explain to me why we actually believe the same things, and referring to my religious activities as "interesting," and "cool," but the whole premise of it all is so condescending. Catholicism may be "interesting" and "cool" but more than that it is "One, Holy, and Apostolic," sorry Mormons no dice, we do not have the same roots. Anyway if you want to get your blood boiling a little bit, consider these three stories (all from letters to the editor in Salt Lake's paper a few years ago, regarding some controversy.) "As an LDS missionary in Italy, I stood in front of Catholic cathedrals with aggressive, determined companions who thought nothing of chasing a person down the street trying to get them to stop and talk, when it was abundantly clear the person had no desire or willingness to do so. I had companions who on occasion followed people into churches because they had not been taught to respect religious boundaries." "Missionaries were advised to scout for converts around St. Peter's Square at the Vatican and...actually stood in front of Cathedrals, telling the church-goers 'that their church was a whore.'" "When we toured the Vatican and, more importantly, the Sistine Chapel, guess who was standing just outside of the inner-sanctum door leading directly to the chapel? Yep, you got it right, the LDS missionaries passing out LDS literature, trying to convert everyone passing by...I find it hard to believe that the LDS Church authorities can carry on so about other religions passing out their religious literature when they proselytize inside a private building that is adjacent to the pope's home." Back to my story, I had to get to confession and so I cut things short with the "Elders." Clearly though, these guys were uncomfortable with being put on the defensive, especially if things started to be going towards history and theology. If I had more time I would have asked them about some of the weird things Mormonism teaches like that Jesus and Satan are brothers, Jesus had many wives and children, or that the Indians are one of the lost tribes of Israel, and all that weirdness is just the tip of the iceberg. Anyway, as I continued my walk to Church, I wondered what it would be like if a group of Catholics started going to Utah and doing similar missionary efforts, give those Mormons a taste of their own medicine? Then I recalled this and thought better of it. If Mitt Romney is the Republican candidate for President (though I don't think this is very likely) I will probably vote for him, but I wonder, how many voters are going to be alienated from voting for Mitt due simply to run-ins with Mormon missionaries. They might do more for the Democratic candidate than the Dems own organization. Needless to say, I remembered the young Mormon missionaries in my prayers before Mass.

17 comments:

Joan said...

Joseph Smith had his revelations in Palmyra, NY, actually. Relatively near my hometown. They went to Illinois and Missouri and finally Utah because they were chased there.

Check out Mormon2Catholic for some good stuff on this subject. She's a Mormon convert who recently tussled with Mormon apologetics in her comments.

I'm sure on college campuses, they don't run into many students who are sure in their faith.

Anonymous said...

Wow, just last night a couple of mormons knocked on my door. I stood outside my door evangalizing to them about our beautiful catholic faith. They are supposed to come back next Friday so we can continue our discussion. Please pray for me and them. I have not had the experience of talking to mormons only jehova's witnesses. I don't really know what they believe.

Any suggestions on what to read?


Anna B.

Joan, thanks for the info, at the time I was not so sharp on my history, but you are right, they did indeed start out in new York.

Anna, first off, be careful! You invited them back to try to teach them about Catholicism, but they are going to interpret the invite to mean that you really want to learn about Mormonism, be on your guard.

Before they come, say the Rosary.

As for the reading, just read up on the basics of Mormon history and theology (From non Mormon sources.) They have some very crazy beliefs, some of which I mentioned above, also many of their beliefs have already been proven wrong by genetics and archeology, especailly stuff pertaining to Native Americans.

Let us all know how it goes! I'll say a prayer for you!

Timothy said...

The best response I come acroos regarding missionaries it to apologize and say;

"I'm sorry I don't have time to convert you right now, but let's make an appointment and I'll be glad to help you convert to the Catholic faith."

God bless...

- Timothy

Cynthia said...

DF and Anna:

I would highly recommend taking the time to watch the PBS Frontline Special "The Mormons", available online at PBS.org. (http://www.pbs.org/mormons/). It's about four hours of watching, but it is an amazing and objective look at the history of the Mormon church, and the culture the church teaches today. It will give some much-needed perspective on the true entity of the Mormon church.

skeetor said...

I always feel sorry for these people. My typical repsonse is along the lines of "I'm sorry I can't agree with you, but I just love Jesus to much to deny any aspect of his being like you do."

Karen said...

Hmmm... the Mormon missionaries I'm used to aren't pushy like that at all-- very polite.

The best strategy is to put them on the defensive. They aren't used to that.

It's not necessary to know a great deal about Mormon theology; all you need to know is that the Achilles Heel of Mormonism is their belief that the true Church completely apostasized. Show from Scripture and from Church history how that's not possible.

Far too many of us are too clueless about our faith to be able to defend it when it is attacked, muh less evangelize. Unfortunately, we're even more clueless about what false psuedo-Christian religions like Mormonism teach; if we knew up front that they teach that good Mormon men become gods of their own planets, they'd get far fewer converts.

Ben said...

I wrote about a run-in I had with some missionaries in Salt Lake City here

And, for fun, polygamy revealed!

Anyway, here's my Mormon stumper: "Ok, so you want me to believe that Jesus founded a Church in Jerusalem, that it failed, that he established another Church in the Americas, that it failed too, but that 1800 years later he established a third one in Palmyra NY, and that THIS one WON'T fail. Third time's the charm?"

Anonymous said...

Ben,

That's a great comeback.

FD,

My faith is grounded. They will either stop coming to visit me or want to hear more about the one true church.


Thanks all of you for the great information.

I will discuss more after Friday and let you know how it went over.

Anna B.

Thanks for sharing this story. I've recently been soul-searching, researching and debating the arguments over the extent that Christians should consider Mitt Romney’s affirmation of Mormon beliefs in deciding whom to endorse for President. Yesterday, my wife brought the subject of Catholicism squarely into the center of my struggle, and today I find a Catholic blog talking about Mitt Romney and Mormonism. Who says that God does not direct our paths?

I started life as a Catholic. I went to CCD and was an altar boy, but when I was in Jr. High school my family left the church to join a non-denominational evangelical (for lack of a better term) church. Now as an adult I don’t believe that anyone would mistake me for a Catholic. I don’t believe that the church sacraments are necessary for salvation, nor do I believe that Mary or the saints have any special intercessory powers or status with respect to earthbound believers, and I don’t believe that ritualistic prayer like the Rosary are particularly helpful in establishing the prayer life that Jesus and the NT writers describe. With that said I reject the notion espoused by some that those who choose to worship as Catholics and embrace the traditions should be condemned outright or have their salvation questioned.

It seems clear to me that many who attend mass and perform the sacraments week after week have little understanding of the gospel and do little to apply it to their own lives and therefore are no more saved than the atheist who watches sports on Sunday morning. However, I feel equally sure that there are many Catholics who cling to the true promises of the Gospel of Christ, have accepted His atonement and stand to inherit His kingdom along with all true disciples of Christ whether they are Presbyterians, Lutherans or messianic Jews. And correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think that if I chose to worship as a Catholic, that I would be excommunicated for my differences with traditional Catholic beliefs.

I don’t feel as comfortable making the same statements about LDS. This is because the Mormon Church is marked by institutionalized authoritarianism and anti-intellectualism with respect to their extra-biblical beliefs. To them, belief in Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon is required for “exaltation” and those that do not affirm those beliefs are marked as “apostate”. I cannot state categorically that there are no active Mormons who have accepted salvation by faith in Christ alone, but I would think that if there are any, they would have to keep quiet about it.

When I laid out these arguments about Mormonism to my wife she expressed similar discomfort about Catholic beliefs and we discussed the issues long into the night. Certainly she challenged what she perceived to be my acceptance of Catholic doctrines and hopefully I challenged her to examine the common ground we share with Catholics and ask if it unites us more than those doctrines divide. I would ask you all to pray for us as we tackle these questions, which is certainly not something I would ask of Mormons.

Jim Sweeney, would it be ok with you if I responded to your comments in a future post, or would you prefer to keep them consigned to the box here? Anyway thank you for your respecful tone, I would of course respond in kind in any sort of future response.

I apologize for awkwardly mixing my observations about Mormonism in with explanations about my experience with Catholicism and how it informs my beliefs.

Feel free to respond to either set of comments in a future posting if you wish. I will make an effort to follow the blog.

The JW's often come to my door. I keep some pamphlets from my church by the door for just such an opportunity. Of course, they want nothing to do with it, yet expect me to give them my full attention.

Always be leary of religions founded on the "revelation" of one person.

Anonymous said...

Pot. Kettle. Black.

Anonymous said...

You know Tito, I remember being 15 years old, sitting in history class and having you ask me "How many mothers you have?" because you found out I was Mormon. I'll never forget how hurt I was by that. Especially because I knew that I had only one mother and that not all Mormons practice polygamy. I don't go to the Mormon church anymore and don't think I'll ever go back, however, you are comparing your 37 year old Master's degree educated mind with that of two Mormon elders who were probably no older than 22. There is no doubt that some who are looking for potential converts get over agressive and annoying...but they deserve compassion. If you believe that they have not found Christ....then they need to see him in you.

Tito said...

Anon (BM),

I apologize for saying any such thing as it was said in jest 22 years ago.

God bless,

Tito

Tito said...

Anon (BM),

What does THAT have to do with THIS posting? Besides, I didn't even write this posting, "Fidei Defensor" did. I sign on as "Tito".

Plus that was 22 years ago?

Hope you're ok now.

God bless,

Tito

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