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LifeWay store fills Salt Lake City void in Mormon culture

SALT LAKE CITY (BP)–Sunlight peeks over the Rockies and rushes across the valley floor until it strikes the golden statue of the angel Moroni, fixed high atop Salt Lake Temple’s towering eastern spire. The brilliant light flashes off his trumpet, raised to the ready, waiting to herald the arrival of a kingdom that will never come.

Far beneath Moroni, employees of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints scurry along flower-lined sidewalks to a tall governmental-looking office building that houses the world headquarters for 12 million-plus LDS members. The efforts of more than 52,000 worldwide Mormon missionaries are directed from the heart of Salt Lake City, a city established in 1847 when Brigham Young led a caravan of followers from Missouri to the Utah Territory. The temple’s site was established four days after his arrival.

The temple itself took 40 years to build and is an influential location in the lives of Mormons. The weight of Mormonism blankets this valley and its
teachings shape the lives of a majority of Salt Lake City’s residents.

But almost 10 miles straight south on State Street from Temple Square is an oasis offering biblical resources to spiritually transform lives and cultures. The Salt Lake City LifeWay Christian Store, recently relocated to the corner of State and Winchester, is welcomed and much needed, one area minister says.

“Given the dominance of the LDS church in this area, this bookstore is an oasis of truth,” said Dan Walker, director of missions for the Salt Lake Baptist Association, which covers Salt Lake County and portions of Davis, Utah. “There are a number of bookstores here, both secular and Mormon, but I know if one of our churches sends someone over [to the LifeWay store] looking for help with something, they are not only going to find something based on the true Gospel of Jesus Christ, they are going to be helped by someone who sees their job as a ministry.”

Store manager Robert Romney echoes Walker’s observation. Although Romney grew up in a Christian home, his parents were former Mormons (see accompanying story). He sees the LifeWay Christian Store as an opportunity to support churches, minister to Christians and witness to the Mormons who may come into the store.

“We had a woman come in from Provo, which is heavily Mormon and a long drive from here,” Romney recounted. “She just burst into tears. It was some time before she was able to collect herself and she finally said it was such a relief to just be in a place where people loved Jesus. We have people drive all the way from Wyoming and Idaho just to shop at this store. They come from two to three hours away. We realize how important our opportunity to minister to our customers is.”

There are 32 Southern Baptist churches in the Salt Lake Baptist Association; 29 of them have 100 members or less. The pressure and persecution these churches are under can be intense at times, Romney said. To help them, the store stocks additional resources on world religions and especially Mormonism.

“We do have a larger section on Mormonism than other LifeWay stores do, but that is because churches will come in looking for books to do training on how to witness to Mormons,” Romney said. “We see it as an opportunity to help equip the church to reach people for Christ.”

Walker said a challenge Christians face is how Mormons have tried to blur the distinction in doctrines -– and with some success -– between Mormonism and historic Christianity. However, even a cursory examination of the two reveals significant differences.

Robert Bowman, an apologetics specialist with the North American Mission Board, writes in a summary on Mormonism found on NAMB’s website, “Mormonism is not faithfully or soundly Christian because it deviates from historic, biblical standards of orthodox Christianity. For example, Mormonism teaches that God the Father is an exalted Man, that Jesus, angels, and human beings were all the literal spirit offspring of our ‘heavenly Father and Mother,’ and that the ultimate goal of the Christian life is to become exalted to Godhood ourselves.”

Romney said his staff understands those differences and how conventional witnessing approaches do not work with Mormons.

“When we have a Mormon come into the store and we start talking with them, we know that we can’t use words like salvation, atonement, accepting Christ and others,” Romney said. “They use those same words and they have different meanings for them. We have to explain the Gospel using different terms.”

Alofa Vaa, a customer from Ogden, deals with Mormon wordplay all the time. Vaa works in a juvenile detention facility and coaches football at Ogden High School. He grew up Mormon and also became a gang member. Now a Christian, he preaches at the youth facility every Sunday -– his off day -– and he knows the meaning of words that have been distorted. That doesn’t slow him down.

“Many of the guys I deal with have lived hard lives and their religion hasn’t changed them,” Vaa said. “How could it? It isn’t based on the truth. These guys are hungry for the truth and are always asking for Bibles. I know the only way they are going to have their lives changed is to get in the Word; get them understanding what the words really mean. This store is a great resource because I can come in here and know I’m going to get help finding what I need. I can’t get that at a secular store.”

Testimonies like Vaa’s encourage David Pigg, director of LifeWay Christian Stores’ western region operations.

“Stores like this help us reach out to nontraditional markets where there are not a lot of Southern Baptists,” Pigg said. “This is our mission field in a sense and we have a great opportunity to reach a lot of people for the Lord. That’s our goal. That’s really the heart of the staff here.”
Chris Turner is media relations manager for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.