Other Worldviews

Ground Rules for Talking to Mormons

Author Greg Koukl Published on 02/26/2013

You want to inform them, in as polite a way as possible, that they cannot knock on your door as missionaries promoting their religion, proselytizing and seeking to convert you, and then say you are out of bounds when you try to dig a little deeper to see if their case holds water or not.

Driving to the studio today I passed two young men in white shirts and bicycle helmets pedaling down the road, going from community to community LDS, Mormons on their missionary rounds. It triggered a thought I want to pass on to you because there are times when young men like that will be knocking at your door.

Much could be said about how to respond to them. One thing I have noticed is frequently they are glad to share with you their point of view, but they’re very quick to take offense if you actually offer up a challenge to their ideas. They’ll object if you want to have a principled discussion about what is true using your information from your Bible or other lines of evidence to challenge their ideas. This doesn’t always happen, but I’ve seen it enough to see a pattern.

When LDS missionaries knocked on my brother Dave’s door while he was working, he took off his tool belt and sat down to talk with them. When he began to press them on their case, though, they took offense. “We just came here to share our point of view and now you are trying to have an argument with us,” they said. “We’re not here to argue with people. We just want to talk about our view and our experience.” Dave pointed out that they knocked on his door for the purpose of changing his point of view. They weren’t just “sharing.”

Sometimes they’ll take another tack. When you try to offer evidence counter to their view they’ll say, “You’re persecuting us.” I have heard that as well. I’m not sure if LDS missionaries are actually taught to take that approach when challenged. Maybe they just see it modeled by their mentors, or maybe they have a persecution complex, but this is ready on their lips the minute you offer an objection to their point of view.

How do you get around that? If those young men I saw pedaled up to my house and knocked on my door, I’d want to politely set some ground rules.

It’s axiomatic that every door-to-door missionary thinks his view is true and yours is false when it comes to religion. That’s why he’s knocking in the first place. This is inherent in the missionary enterprise itself. When Dr. Beckwith was here last week he pointed out that when Mormons complain that we think they’re wrong and that’s being judgmental, as a part of a missionary religion themselves they don’t have that option open to them. They’re missionaries because they think they’re right and they’re out trying to persuade other people of their view. What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

With this in mind, it might be a good thing to settle this up front right after you answer the knock and hear, “Hello. We’re with the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, and we want to talk to you a little bit about our beliefs.” I think it’s fair to first ask some questions, being very careful not to be quarrelsome or nasty.

Here’s the way I’d introduce the first question: “Great. I’d be glad to talk to you. I just want to be clear on a couple of things before we get going. Do you think your religion is actually true, I mean really true?”

Now this is a “yes” or “no” question. Either they’ll say “yes”which is the right answer, because they do think their religion is true and that’s why they’re proselytizing or they’ll say “no,” in which case I would ask, “If you don’t think Mormonism is true, then why are you knocking at my door?” So they are probably not going to say that. They might say, “Well, it’s true for us.” Then I’m going to ask what that means. If it is just “true” for them that is, just their opinion that works for them then why should I listen? I have my own “truths” that work for me. What we are getting at is the fact that they actually believe their view about religion is right and ours is wrong. It’s not just true for them. That’s why we should change our religion and become Mormon.

Of course, that’s a politically incorrect way of putting it, and they may be uneasy having their position stated so baldly. (I had one LDS young man say, “I would never say anyone else is wrong in their religious view,” a statement he ultimately retracted after my probing questions forced him to think a little more carefully about that remark in light of his missionary efforts.) To ease the discomfort you might say, “I’m not in the least offended by that view. My religion is a missionary religion, too. We think we’re right and others are wrong in so far as they differ from our beliefs. I just want us both to be clear on our positions. We both think we’re right and the other is mistaken. That’s all.”

We continue. “Okay, so you believe your view is correct. That’s why you’re here. If my view is different from yours, then mine is incorrect and I should change my view if I’m a reasonable person and become a Mormon. So what this discussion is about is who’s view is true, yours or mine. Is that fair? Great—come on in.”

Here’s what you’ve done: You’ve closed the back door on them. You’ve taken away their option to complain when you begin to challenge their claims and critique their views. You’ve established the ground rules.

Once again, the reason this is necessary is you may have LDS come to your door to share their view, to persuade you Mormonism is correct and your Christianity is false. Then when you get into discussion and point to problems with their view, they cry foul. That is illegitimate.

You want to inform them, in as polite a way as possible, that they cannot knock on your door as missionaries promoting their religion, proselytizing and seeking to convert you, and then say you are out of bounds when you try to dig a little deeper to see if their case holds water or not. That’s my point.