Last Friday (April 29, 2011) LDS Deseret News published an article providing tips for successful member-missionary work (as distinct from the formal Mormon missionary program). Because a recent poll showed that 77 percent of Americans aren’t sure if Mormons are Christians or not, “Understanding how the public views us can improve our responses to gospel questions,” the article said.
One of the tips provided was this:
“Ditch the lingo. Gary Lawrence is a respected pollster and adviser to the missionary department. He suggests we use simple terms to which our Christian friends will relate: Use ‘Christianity’ instead of ‘gospel,’ ‘re-established’ instead of ‘restoration,’ and ‘men changed’ instead of ‘apostasy.’”
The next tip offered was similar:
“Stay on message. Only 12 percent of Americans know our central message. It is this: We are the re-established, original Christian church.”
A couple of things here stand out to me.
- Keeping in mind that these tips are to enable Mormons to do missionary work more effectively (presumably “bring people unto Christ”), notice that Mormons are told to use terms to which Christians will relate. Does this suggest that Christians are the primary unreached people group upon which Mormon proselytizing is focused?
- Apparently Christians are thought to be unable to relate to (i.e., identify with) the words “gospel,” “restoration,” or “apostasy.” This strikes me as an odd claim, but perhaps the real issue is that Christians understand the words differently than do Mormons. For example, a Christian would be unlikely to substitute the word “Christianity” for the word “gospel,” because to us they don’t mean the same thing. We would never say that Paul had fully preached Christianity (Rom 15:19) or that Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the Christianity of God (Mark 1:14). But if the Mormon Church is seeking to establish itself as a Christian church, for the sake of successful branding, the word substitution might make sense.
- The stated “central message” of the Mormon Church was a bit of a surprise to me. I would have expected a tip suggesting emphasis on Jesus Christ rather than on the Church, especially with the word substitutions that tend to take the hard edge off of the LDS doctrines of apostasy and restoration. Yet if this is indeed the central message of the Mormon Church right now, that “We are the re-established, original Christian church,” everything here falls into place. Evangelical Christians are the people who are most likely to view Mormonism as non-Christian; hence, the focus on delivering this message primarily to Christians. The phrase “re-established, original Christian church” might sound fairly innocuous to Christians since Christianity has no concept of an earthly “one true church” denomination/organization. Christians might be likely to understand a “re-established, original Christian church” to be referring to a Christian denomination that is conservative and fundamental in its worship and doctrine, “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the [biblical] apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:19-20).
Ditching the long-established Mormon lingo while staying on a nuanced central message certainly has the potential to change the way the public views Mormonism. But let’s be clear: Mormonism itself hasn’t changed.
- Mormonism does not preach the Gospel as found in the Bible; it preaches a “restored gospel,” in biblical terms, “a different gospel” (Galatians 1:6-8).
- Mormonism is not built on the foundation of the teachings of prophets and apostles as set forth in the Bible; in Mormonism, latter-day prophets and apostles take precedence over biblical teaching while claiming “designing and corrupt priests” maliciously altered the Bible and took out many of its “plain and most precious” parts.
- Mormonism isn’t a re-established conservative Christian denomination; its very foundation is based on the assertion that the church Christ built fell into complete apostasy and disappeared off the face of the earth, requiring a total restoration by Joseph Smith.
- Mormonism does not see itself as a Christian church; it claims to be the only true Christian church while “so-called Christianity” (not “re-established Christianity”) is wrong, corrupt and abominable in God’s sight.
A prominent Mormon Apostle in the 1960s said that “virtually all the millions of apostate Christendom have abased themselves before the mythical throne of a mythical Christ.” Not one to mince (or nuance) words, this LDS Apostle provided the straight-up central message of the Mormon Church.
If only Latter-day Saints today would provide such a candid and forthright declaration by which the public could rightly understand the central message of Mormonism.