Mormon missionaries have been responding to the Broadway show, “The Book of Mormon,” all across the country. The Fresno Bee recently explained that Mormon missionaries stand outside of the theatre before and/or after the show to answer people’s questions and hand out copies of the actual Book of Mormon.
This news story stood out to me because of the flack I’ve taken over the years for doing a similar thing outside of various Mormon venues; that is, being available before and/or after Mormon pageants to answer people’s questions and hand out literature. Many Mormons have told me I should not be there. They say it’s disrespectful and ruins their family outings. They often say, “We wouldn’t do that to you!”
But Mormon missionaries are engaging in a similar outreach approach, and LDS Church leadership whole-heartedly approves it!
Certainly there are some differences between what I do at a Christian outreach and what the Mormon missionaries are doing, but the basic idea is the same. So with that in mind, I’ve rewritten some portions of the Fresno Bee article to reflect how it would read if the journalist was writing about a typical Christian outreach at a Mormon venue. (I’ve chosen the annual Christian outreach in Nauvoo, Illinois for my example.)
Anyone planning to attend the [City of Joseph Pageant] in [Nauvoo] next week…should be prepared to see missionaries, real ones, as they approach the [pageant grounds].
They won’t be picketing, just politely offering information about what [the LDS] religion is really about…
Since the [City of Joseph pageant] opened in [Nauvoo]… the [Nauvoo Christian Visitors Center] has encouraged its [missionaries] to conduct themselves with “dignity and thoughtfulness” in their response to the show…
[Steve Dealy], who presides over the [Visitors Center], home base for [outreach] missionaries from around the world, said a number of missionaries will be handing out copies of [The Nauvoo Times] outside the [pageant grounds].
“We don’t want to harass anybody. We just want to be available.”
…a public affairs assistant for the [ministry] in Nauvoo, said of the [pageant]: “We’re not really saying we’re against it. We are just saying, ‘Hey, if you want to know the true story of [Mormonism], we’d love to tell you that.’”
“Of course, [the pageant] isn’t reality,” [a Christian might say] of the musical, “and it’s the very distortion that makes it appealing and often funny. The danger is not when people laugh but when they take it seriously — if they leave [the pageant] believing that Mormons really are [biblical Christians].”
While the [Christian ministry] isn’t “opposed” to the musical,… “we would like the truth to be known about what these guys (Mormon missionaries) … really [want you to believe].”
I’ve never read a traditional media story that reports so positively on Christian outreaches at Mormon events. But if such a news story were written as above, it would be true. Even so, Mormons might not see it that way, perhaps objecting that the Mormon missionaries are merely providing a positive response, via their scripture, to a show that mocks their faith; while Christian missionaries are distributing negative literature that criticizes the Mormon Church.*
Well, without getting too far into this anticipated objection, I’ll just say that LDS pageants (and temples) mock my faith, and the Book of Mormon (that is handed out by LDS missionaries) criticizes my beliefs. There is no difference of substance between the Mormon outreach and the Christian outreach here.
Yet there is a difference worth mentioning. The Broadway musical aims only to entertain audiences. It is a musical parody that never pretends to be anything else: it makes no truth claims. But Mormon pageants and temple open houses aim to gain converts to Mormonism — proselytizing is a prime element of each event. In addition, Mormonism makes many truth claims; and these declared “truths” have the potential to negatively impact a person through all eternity.
Because the stakes are so high, Christians often stand outside Mormon events, engaging in evangelism with a commitment to be “kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting…opponents with gentleness.” We hope and pray that by doing this, “God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 2:24-25).
Christians have been doing this for decades, patiently enduring accusations and denunciations from Mormons and their friends. Now, at long last, we have LDS leadership’s tacit approval of our outreach approach. I hope this means we can now move past the common Mormon objections to our outreach presence, and instead talk about what really matters.
*Just to be clear, the literature I’ve handed out during these Christian outreaches has certainly discussed Mormon doctrines and history, but it also explains my own, biblical faith. The format of this literature is very often a compare-and-contrast approach.)