Your Online Cup of Tea
I’ve seen an increase in Mormon missionary activity in Belfast over the past few months (or perhaps I’m just noticing). I’ve had two encounters where I’ve actually spoken to them. Both were relatively short, but where firsts for myself.
At Chrismation I received a small wooden cross necklace as a gift which doesn’t really stand out but is noticeable if you wear it over your shirt. I do it at times since one never knows what conversation it may spark. Today I had one such conversation when a young Mormon missionary about my age saw it and asked if I was a Christian. At times it can be a bit nerve wrecking when these things start and you may feel like bailing. But I decided to go ahead and cordially talk about what we believed.
Reminding people that you’re not against them, is important if you want them to listen to you. And one thing I tend to find in these situations is that when confronted with different view point, it forces you to clarify and better understand what you believe. All in all it was a pleasant encounter. I’m just glad I said my prayers *before* leaving the house, since you never know what you’ll face.
This first encounter happened in June. The young missionary started out by asking whether I was a Christian, noticing the cross necklace. I said yes that I was. This was followed by whether I was Protestant or Catholic, I said Orthodox, but grew up Evangelical, only received in May (well April the last day, but who’s counting). I added this so as to signal off that he was talking to someone who took their faith seriously and looked into issues. The question then came up of if I knew anything about Mormons. I said I said I know a fair bit about Mormonism and knew some people who were too. At this point he asked me if I had considered it, or why I wasn’t Mormon. I said that I didn’t believe in the concept of God that they portrayed, nor that the Joseph Smith, no offence to the missionary, was a prophet. And that I didn’t buy the narrative that the early church, and people who knew the Apostles or were taught by people who did, messed up. I said there was no evidence of this discontinuity.
He then asked what God was to me, since I didn’t believe in their concept. I responded rather clumsily that God was eternal, all power, immaterial, Father, Son, Holy Spirit; the Trinity, three persons with one nature who depended on nothing (I avoided saying self-existent, in case he was well read and challenged me on the notion that the Son and Spirit could not be God since the eternally come from the Father who alone is unbegotten. Not that this would’ve been a problem, I just wanted to keep it simple and truthful. I now realise that I should have just said that to be God is to be a person with an uncreated nature).
Hearing this the young man told me that they too believed in Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but that they were three beings, yet one God since they were one in purpose. I asked then, what is it that makes the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, God in a way that no one else is. Since if you have three beings, they can’t all be the Supreme God, and that it was wrong to worship a creature. To which he repeated again a few times their unity of purpose. That Heavenly Father loves us, and that Christ came to bring us back to Heavenly Father and that that the Spirit helps us here on earth (or something of the like). I then asked if the term God was being used much in the same way one would use the term Mormon. Since Mormons, in regards to belief and salvation, are all Mormon by virtue of being one in purpose/faith, would I then be God, if I was one in purpose with God? He said that I wouldn’t be because I’m not perfect. That’s when I brought up my point again “by virtue of what, are the Father, Son and Holy Spirit one God?” Because it seems then that being one in purpose isn’t sufficient to be “one God” but that the quality of perfection is also needed. I wanted to then ask if there were other beings who also shared one purpose with them and were perfect in which case are they one God? I wanted him to give me a definition and understanding of God in order to say why I didn’t hold to it.
Somehow I mentioned how God wasn’t material, and that scientifically speaking the evidence strongly suggests that the material world had a beginning. To which he asked me if God was like us? Doesn’t he look like us? I said no, God doesn’t have a form, he’s immaterial. It is only at the incarnation that God the Son took on human form and now has a body, but before that God was wholly immaterial. He then brought the fact that we are made in the image of God. And I said that they’re taking that literally in a way that people would not have understood it. That the image of God was a blueprint that we were made after and that we were made to reflect God’s glory. This prompted him to say “Doesn’t it say that Moses spoke to God face to face?” I responded that these were theophanies, that God was making himself accessible by taking on forms that weren’t actually what he is fundamentally like. I knew he wasn’t buying the assertion, so I added, that God appeared in many forms, such as a pillar of fire, and that the Holy Spirit descended like a dove but that doesn’t mean He is a dove. On top of that the Gospel of John is clear that “No man has seen God.” It was only at the incarnation that God became visible in a permanent form.
Seeing that we weren’t going to agree on that he said that there are so many ways to interpret these things and that I was taking and choosing how I felt (not so bluntly but that’s what it felt like he was saying) and that this is why we need the book of Mormon to tell us how to interpret things. I said that this was yet to be established. I don’t believe in the book of Mormon, so he can’t just say that it is the final interpreter. And that I was interpreting the scriptures how the Church Fathers and those who knew the disciples and were taught by people who knew them interpreted the scriptures. That it makes far more sense to believe them than a book which was written 1800 years after. At which point he said that the book of Mormon was actually written 600 years before Christ. I asked why I should believe that? To which he told me that there was plenty of archaeological evidence to substantiate it. I said that I haven’t come across any, and I was told to look it up and see for myself. At this point the conversation ended and we shook hands, whilst I wished him a good day.
The second encounter happened in November. Walking into town I was stopped by these two Mormon Missionary girls, who have been in Belfast for quite a while (it says something to their commitment that I only recognized them due to their frequency and duration). Now I had headphones on, during a cold wet night and they still stopped me for conversation (which again speaks to their boldness). Though maybe I had likewise become a familiar face to them so they felt it was less awkward to approach.
I usually keep walking, since I’d be busy or I’m generally not the best on the spot but stopped for some reason. They started out by asking what brings me happiness, to which I responded that I’m already a Christian, since I knew what they were going for. They then asked how I felt God’s presence in my life to which I gave a generic on the spot answer.
It then became a question of had I read the book of Mormon or knew anything about the Mormon Church, I said that a knew a fair bit but hadn’t read the BoM. I didn’t particularly feel like perpetuating a long convo at the moment, so said I wouldn’t be as I had my reasons. When pressed a little more, rather than go into deep philosophical/theological explanations, taking a cue from someone I respect well, I decided to go for the basic issue of Ecclesiology. Politely yet candidly I said something to the likes of “I’m not a Mormon on the same basis that I don’t agree with Protestantism, and that is the assumption of general apostasy or corruption of the Church, which I find no evidence to support.” I then explained the transition to Orthodoxy. I said this not to throw Protestants under the bus (and things are slightly more complex) but rather, it as I expected it was a pre-emptive move. It narrowed the conversation down to one basic issue, an issue which is particularly important to the Mormon narrative.
This either meant they wouldn’t be able to go down rabbit holes, since they were aware of and couldn’t ignore what I had put forward as “the” issue. Or it meant that it was probably in their interest of time and effort to abandon the conversation. Which they as hoped they did. Now, there are a lot of key theological issues one may have for picking one tradition over another, but I find that the issue of authority/revelation, summed up in Ecclesiology, is a basic yet important one, a good position to start from. It would be on the same basis that I wouldn’t accept other traditions which came out of small “o” orthodox Christianity.
Despite disagreements I did admire their ‘chutzpah’ and politeness. Hopefully they felt the same from me. But given it seems they’re going to be here for a while, perhaps a little more preparation would help for a second encounter.
For a better example on how to go about this, I’d recommend reading this blog post (and anything else on the site for that matter): The Open Door