NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Wednesday, September 12th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.
Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: evangelizing Mormons.
Joseph Smith founded the group now best known as Mormons in 1830. He and thousands of his followers eventually moved west to what became the state of Utah.
EICHER: Today, 55 percent of the state still adheres to Latter Day Saints teachings. Evangelical Protestants make up just seven percent of the state’s 3.1 million residents. One ministry is trying to teach that relatively small number of Christians how to become missionaries in their own backyards.
WORLD Radio’s Sarah Schweinsberg has the story.
SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: It’s a Thursday night in Sandy, Utah, a suburb just south of Salt Lake City. The sun casts a pink glow on the rocky sides of the Wasatch Front mountains. It was along these rocky giants that Mormon pioneers settled when they first arrived in the 1840s and 50s.
Tonight, a group of 30 Christians gather in a meeting room inside Grace Community Bible Church. They’re here because they each know someone in the Mormon religion.
Linda Grant and her husband have many LDS neighbors. They want to learn how to start spiritual conversations with them.
GRANT: We’re surrounded with all these sweet young families, but I find it difficult to talk to them about that because I think they, they are so ingrained in what they believe. I find it really hard to find that inroad.
Mormonism Research Ministry tries to help Christians find that inroad. Bill McKeever founded MRM in 1979. As a new Christian in his twenties, McKeever began meeting Mormons in his native southern California.
As he started to learn more about their faith, he made a discovery: Although they claimed to believe the Bible, their theology wasn’t biblical.
MCKEEVER: I was very intrigued by what I was hearing them say. And when I would go home and I would search it out in the Bible, I’d come to see that yes, they had definitely taken some verses out of context, interpreted them quite inaccurately.
That interest led McKeever to start MRM. His goal is to educate Christians on Mormon beliefs and teach them how to evangelize Mormons with the gospel.
MCKEEVER: We want to educate Christians so they don’t feel intimidated and they have some real questions that are really good to ask without being offensive.
McKeever and his fellow evangelists at MRM speak at dozens of churches a year both in the United States and abroad.
MRM evangelist Aaron Shafovaloff suggests beginning conversations with simple questions. Has the Mormon person ever known a born-again believer? Or, what are some of the differences between Mormonism and Christianity?
SHAFOVALOFF: You’ll see my agenda here is I would love for them to introduce a topic that we can talk about and if possible, I would love to build on the existing conversations that this person might have already had with a Christian.
But in order to have a productive conversation with these questions, Bill McKeever teaches Christians they have to understand the basics of the Mormon religion, which he says many don’t know. The biggest difference comes down to salvation. While the gospel teaches salvation by grace, the Book of Mormon teaches a works-based salvation.
And there are many other important differences. For instance, Mormons don’t believe in the Trinity. They also believe that God the Father was once a man.
MCKEEVER: You might ask this, well, what biblical or historical evidence is there to suggest that early Christians believed the godhead was composed of three separate gods? What evidence do you have for that or that God was once a man or that God has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s?
McKeever notes that many Mormons call their faith a “Christian religion.” They use biblical words like grace, salvation, repentance, Savior and heaven. That’s why it’s important in conversations to define terms.
MCKEEVER: For instance, when a Mormon uses the word salvation just politely asked them, well, how would you define that word?
Linda Grant plans to use these questions to start spiritual conversations with her neighbors as she continues to build relationships with them.
GRANT: We had them over this summer for a dessert social, so I went around and invited the neighbors and their kids and they came and it was wonderful and then they’ve, they’ve invited me to a couple of things.
Jan Prison came tonight because her husband is Mormon. She was too until six years ago. She says it wasn’t arguments that made her leave the LDS religion, but rather the Holy Spirit’s prompting.
PRISON: I had one Christian friend who prayed for me for over 10 years. She was the first born again believer that I ever was introduced to and so she started praying for our family and, and she thought my husband would come out, but it was actually me. It was like a taking a dead man, making him alive, you know, it’s nothing I did. It’s all God.
Jan Prison’s experience highlights one of Bill McKeever’s most important lessons: While questions and sometimes arguments are necessary, they must be coupled with prayer and love.
McKeever says Utah’s Christian churches increasingly want to learn how to reach their Mormon neighbors. That’s good because there’s a large need for Christians in the state. Utah has 29 counties. 10 of them don’t have a single Christian church.
MCKEEVER: I’ve noticed, too living here that in some cases there’s kind of like a fox hole mentality. We’re not going to go out of our way to try to convert the latter day saints, but if they fall into our foxhole then we’ll talk to them.
McKeever says he hopes MRM will inspire more Christians to begin going out of their way to reach their Mormon neighbors.
MCKEEVER: But let me pray and I’ll just let you go. Father, we thank you for this time that we’ve had tonight, and I pray that we get excited about wanting to be able to share with our LDS friends and acquaintances about the good news that you have provided for all of us as your creation.
For World Radio, I’m Sarah Schweinsberg, reporting from Sandy, Utah.