Proselytizing: No Obligation?

I had to chuckle as I read an article in the online Wall Street Journal December 7th. “What Iowans Should Know About Mormons” by Naomi Schaefer Riley has received attention from several bloggers for various reasons, but what caught my attention was this:

“Once Mormons complete their missionary service, they are not obliged to proselytize, so having Mormons as neighbors doesn’t mean a constant bombardment with invitations to join up.”

I probably don’t need to tell you that Ms. Riley is not a Mormon. I have no idea where sheLDS Christ Pass Along Card got this mistaken notion about Mormons being non-proselytizing unless they are serving formal missions. She read the Ostlings’ Mormon America, but she wouldn’t have learned it from that book. She spent some time on the BYU campus in Provo, UT, but surely she didn’t learn it there. At least since 1959, when LDS President David O. McKay said in General Conference, “every member a missionary,” lay-member missionary work has been a high priority for Mormons all over the world.

Just last General Conference (October 2007) this was emphasized in a talk by Seventy Erich W. Kopischke where members were called on to use the missionary training manual Preach My Gospel in order to become better at finding people who will agree to meet with LDS missionaries. Members are encouraged to become better at “working hand in hand with missionaries,” becoming one with them in their “efforts to proclaim the [restored] gospel” (“Preach My Gospel—the Unifying Tool between Members and Missionaries,” Ensign, Nov 2007, 33–35).

At the April 2006 General Conference LDS Apostle M. Russell Ballard told members that they need to develop “gospel-sharing homes” to make it natural for inviting neighbors “to attend church, a family home evening, or some other activity.” Mr. Ballard said,

“More than 20 years ago I suggested that the key to successful member missionary work is the exercise of faith. One way to show your faith in the Lord and His promises is to prayerfully set a date to have someone prepared to meet with the missionaries. I have received hundreds of letters from members who have exercised their faith in this simple way. Even though families had no one in mind with whom they could share the gospel, they set a date, prayed, and then talked to many more people.”

Mr. Ballard made some suggestions for member proselytizing:

“Church literature or DVDs can introduce new friends to the Church. Invitations to hear a family member speak in sacrament meeting or to attend the baptismal service of a family member or to tour a meetinghouse have also been appreciated by those who are not members. From every indicator we have, there is nothing more effective that any of us can do for our friends than to say ‘come and see’ by joining with us in sacrament meeting.” (M. Russell Ballard, “Creating a Gospel-Sharing Home,” Ensign, May 2006, 84–87)

Pass Along Card — Book of MormonIndeed, how many non-Mormons reading Mormon Coffee who have come into contact with Latter-day Saint neighbors or co-workers have not been given at least one “pass-along card”?

Please don’t misunderstand me. I see nothing wrong with Mormons taking an active role introducing people to their church. I just wonder how the journalist for the Wall Street Journal could have gotten it so wrong. In the words of Mormons’ beloved former Prophet:

“No individual can go away from this conference, even as a listener, without a heavier responsibility upon him…

“In 1923 in the British Mission there was a general instruction sent out to the members of the Church advocating what Brother Gordon B. Hinckley has emphasized today. We did not spend money advertising in the press. The feeling in England was quite bitter at that time, but we said: ‘Throw the responsibility upon every member of the Church that in the coming year of 1923 every member will be a missionary. Every member a missionary!…’

“And that is the message today. Every member–a million and a half–a missionary! I think that is what the Lord had in mind when he gave that great revelation on Church government, as recorded in the 107th section of the Doctrine and Covenants…

“‘Wherefore, now let every man learn his duty, and to act in the office in which he is appointed, in all diligence.

“‘He that is slothful shall not be counted worthy to stand, and he that learns not his duty and shows himself not approved shall not be counted worthy to stand. Even so. Amen.’ (D&C 107:99-100.)” (David O. McKay, Conference Report, April 1959, p. 122)

Pretty strong words. Compelling. Which is another way of saying Mormons are “obliged to proselytize.” Whether they do so by employing “a constant bombardment with invitations to join up” would really need to be determined on a case-by-case basis.

What has been your experience?

About Sharon Lindbloom

Sharon surrendered her life to the Lord Jesus Christ in 1979. Deeply passionate about Truth, Sharon loves serving as a full-time volunteer research associate with Mormonism Research Ministry. Sharon and her husband live in Minnesota.
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10 Responses to Proselytizing: No Obligation?

  1. Nathan16 says:

    I don’t live in Utah (I live in an area of Texas that has a surprisingly large number of LDS members), but it is definitely true, from my experience, that LDS members proselytize extensively, whether they’re missionaries or not. This is true of their youth as well (I go to high school with my Mormon friends). My LDS friends are always inviting me to Ward dances and youth events at their ward and such. I’m not the only one they invite, either. However, the Mormons I know don’t do a “constant bombardment”. I’ve received a Book of Mormon and a few pages printed off of, but my LDS friends know now that I’m not interested in joining, so while they invite me to events, they don’t seek me in doctrinal conversation, and they don’t see the vast difference between Christianity and the Mormon church anyway, so they see no cause to be particularly concerned about me, for the most part.

  2. bsb says:

    Sharon – my experience has been that the culture backs up the “off the mission – not a missionary” attitude and behavior — irrespective of the LDS leaders admonitions to the contrary.

    Likewise, my experience has been that if you ask or show interest to a general LDS member, they will effectively avoid questions and say “Let me have the missionaries meet with you” — and the member may “sponsor” the meeting by having it in their house, but the practical role of the missionary, in practice seems to fall squarely on the missionary elders.

    Romney has modeled this culturally as well, as he routinely falls back to the “If you have questions about what my Church teaches, ask them, that’s not my Job.” side-step.

  3. Megan says:

    I haven’t seen this at all. I do have 2 LDS friends who I have gotten into extensive theological discussions with. But I wouldn’t categorize it as proselytizing. My husband and I know several LDS members through his work, but at first we were surprised and kind of disappointed that no proselytizing took place. He even commuted in with a Mormon guy a few days a week, and they never got into anything. We thought it strange.

  4. Daniel says:

    I’m from northern Indiana, and now live in Ohio, so I don’t see a large population of LDS members on any sort of regular basis. I will say, that while I was in high school I dated a girl who was LDS and we did go to a “church picnic” type event, and we did get into a few pretty theological discussions, but other than that, my experiences with LDS MM’s face to face has only been one time while I was in college a few years ago, and they caught me at a bad time as I was on my way to class…

  5. rpavich says:

    My experience has been that this varies from member to member…some LDS that I know are vocal about inviting people to church, and witnessing to them and others that I know never mention their beliefs…

    I have to hand it to Mormons…they do a much better job at proselytizing than we Christians do…they put us to shame.


  6. Rick B says:

    Bob said

    I have to hand it to Mormons…they do a much better job at proselytizing than we Christians do…they put us to shame.

    This is sad but true. But it has been said, would we do for the truth, what the cults do for a lie. Rick b

  7. Arthur Sido says:

    Remember that mormon proselytizing is often more subtle than knocking on doors and handing out the book of mormon. Knocking on doors is a pretty poor method, very inefficient. Most of the converts that we knew as mormons were brought in by casual relationships that turned ever so subtly into proselytizing. When the frontal assualt fails, the backdoor approach often works.

  8. pallathu says:

    I’m a non-Mormon living in a Mormon neighborhood. I have gone to the Mormon Church for parties, and on Mondays to my neighbors to attend their family time – to many friends houses. I was not aware about their family time at that time. Their primary aim is to discuss the prophet and Book Of Mormon. One neighbor gave a Christmas gift on a Christmas day after inviting us to their home. The gift was a Book Of Mormon, and a 3 page letter in it. We gave back the BOM because we felt the letter in it was very offensive. We did not respond to this neighbor in any mad manner after that. Unfortunately this neighbor never look at us after that incident. She excluded us from any neighborhood activities after that. It is true that every member of the Mormon Church is in active conversion. This happens at work too. The principal of a School in provo gave my wife a Book Of Mormon on her first day to work.

  9. handmaiden says:

    My experience has always been to be a “Member Missionary” all the time. I certainly can stand up and be counted as one of the most enthusiastic about being a member missionary. I was a “Stake Missionary” for two years in Michigan.
    My parents are trying to get me back into Mormonism by means of my husband. His mother just passed away and my dad itched to talk with him about eternity.
    Fortunately, my husband is well grounded in his Christian faith and already knows about eternity!

  10. Donny says:

    Well, guys, this thread’s sounding kinda FLAT so let me see if I can breath a little LIFE into it for ya.

    You see, the “Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints” (some of you prefer ‘mormons’ – makes the ruse about us not being Christians SLIGHTLY less obvious) believes in a LIVING Christ. No crosses on the churches, speaks to us today (through LIVING Prophets) just like He always did in the Bible – and we actually believe that DOING something about what He said bears some significance – like when He said ‘go out into the world and teach all nations’ (hence member missionary work). See – a LIVING Christ.

    Now, you EVs, you have crosses on you churches, you don’t let Him speak anymore – just close the Good Book and that little inconvenience is taken care of – and then you leave the work of salvation all up to Him! No, no, no – we don’t want to hear from You any more – you just sit there on the self and behave yourself. And then when the time comes – well, you save us, right? That’s YOUR job.

    Okay, now I’ll just wait. This should be fun!

    (Aside: My neighbour has this ferocious bull terrier that wants to eat me for breakfast. Fortunately, he also has a good fence. We have a little chat every morning. The bull dog tries to chew through the chain link fence while I poke him with a stick.  You’ll never be as mad at me as he is!)

    From your Living Christ Christian (e.g. “mormon”) blog buddy.

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