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7/2/97 Different terms, worldviews complicate witness to Mormons

RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–Witnessing to Mormons is more complex and time-consuming than presenting Jesus Christ to other non-Christians, said speakers to a national Southern Baptist summit on Mormonism.
In fact, some speakers said it is easier to witness to Muslims than Mormons.
Mormon doctrine and differing worldviews are the major obstacles, speakers said. They cited Mormon word choices, often similar to words Southern Baptists use but which hold radically different meanings. Even the words “God,” “heaven,” “hell” and “Holy Spirit” mean something different to Mormons.
The summit, sponsored by the International Mission Board and the interfaith witness division of the North American Mission Board, was held June 27-28 at Ridgecrest (N.C.) Baptist Conference Center to begin preparing Southern Baptists for the Southern Baptist Convention’s 1998 annual meeting in Salt Lake City, June 9-11.
The headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (commonly known as the Mormons) is located in Salt Lake City, and Utah is considered the epicenter of Mormonism.
Summit speakers pointed out that the Salt Lake City area includes hundreds of thousands of unchurched non-Mormons.
They also said it is imperative that Southern Baptists act in a spirit of love toward Mormons and not come across to the public — in Salt Lake City and the rest of the United States — as angry or hurtful toward Mormon people.
“I’m concerned that we not have a bunch of Dennis Rodmans coming in,” said Mike Gray, pastor of Southeast Baptist Church in Salt Lake City. He was referring to the controversial Chicago Bulls’ basketball star who slurred Mormons publicly during championship games of the National Basketball Association this spring.
During the June 1998 convention, messengers will be encouraged to witness to area residents including Mormons through a wide variety of opportunities, especially through Crossover Salt Lake City the weekend prior to the convention.
Mormon leaders deny they are not Christians and are expressing concern about the witnessing efforts.
“I call it the ‘woe is me’ attitude,” Gray said. “Mormons ask, ‘How can you say we’re not Christians? You are still persecuting us. We don’t say unkind things about you.’ But what they don’t say is that they believe theirs is the only true church, all others are an abomination and we as members are corrupt. I ask them, ‘How is that supposed to make me feel?’
“Image is everything to Mormons,” Gray said. “They truly care about their image. They want to be thought of as Christian.”
Through public relations efforts in recent years, Mormon leaders have downplayed the more controversial aspects of their religion and injected traditional Christian vocabulary into their language and public activities, Gray said.
Southern Baptists must remember three things as they engage Mormons, he explained:
1) “Mormon country is God’s country. God is the same in Salt Lake City as he is in Dallas, Atlanta, Nashville and elsewhere. Even though that state (Utah) is a stronghold of Satan, remember that God is doing great things there, and we are expecting great things (of this convention).
2) “The Mormon church is not a Christian church. If you begin to argue doctrine with them, you will lose it.”
3) “Mormon people need Jesus Christ.”
Mike Reynolds, former director of Utah Missions Inc. in Marlow, Okla., said Southern Baptists must have “some understanding of Mormonism before they try to witness to them, or else it won’t be effective.”
It is important for Southern Baptists to be sure they know what they believe doctrinally before they approach a Mormon, Reynolds said.
“This (the witnessing effort) isn’t going to be done in 15 minutes,” he said. “Try not to offend (them). The gospel you present will do that.”
Herb Stoneman, evangelism consultant and interfaith witness state coordinator for the Utah-Idaho Southern Baptist Convention, said a loving attitude is the only effective way to witness to a Mormon.
“I hate the error of their false doctrine, but I love the Mormon people enough to tell them the truth,” he said.
He also said Southern Baptists must avoid arguing with or condemning Mormons.
He offered these suggestions for ministering to Mormons:
1) Explain who you believe God to be. Understand that to a Mormon, God is a physical man who has been exalted because of his earlier life on another planet somewhere in the universe. Be prepared to testify that God is a spirit and those that worship him must do so in spirit and truth.
2) Be prepared to give a simple explanation of the Trinity. Understand that Mormons are polytheistic and believe in many gods, including the teaching that Mormon men can someday become gods themselves and rule over their own planets. Be prepared to testify that God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are three expressions of one God who is united and is both creator and redeemer.
3) Tell them what the gospel is. Be prepared to explain that the gospel is the good news that Jesus Christ is God’s Son who rose from the dead that all who believe in him will not perish but have everlasting life.

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  • Louis Moore