When I was on my mission I encountered my fair share of anti-Mormonism. Upstate New York was largely Catholic, and those good folks almost entirely avoided the anti-Mormon scene. But there were also the Evangelicals, and they had all the pamphlets, the books, the same tired arguments ready to go. What bothered me the most about anti-Mormonism was the havoc a few sentences could wreak on your work. If you were talking to a group of people, and one person started spouting off about how Mormons are racist, how we believe Jesus and Satan are brothers, and that Adam and God are the same person, no one else wanted to listen to you. They could tear down our whole faith and claim to know what we believed with just a few choice words.
Of course, there are answers to anti-Mormon attacks. The problem is, if someone truly wants to know where we’re coming from and what we believe, they have to be open-minded and they have to be willing to listen to us for a few minutes. To respond to a charge that says we believe Jesus and Satan are brothers, for example, requires an explanation of the pre-existence, the roles both Lucifer and Christ played, etc. It’s not something understood in a hurry. But if someone is open-minded, they can learn about the richness of Mormon doctrine and the beauty of our experiences in the Church.
Words are exceptionally powerful things, depending on the context they are spoken in and the people who are listening. On my mission, if you told a Catholic that Mormons believe in a different Jesus, they’d probably ask questions and inquire into what you mean. Tell an Evangelical the same thing, they may never speak to you again. In Evangelical-ese, as I learned as a missionary, saying “they believe in another Jesus” is code for they’re not really Christian; they aren’t up to snuff.
Mormons have their own words that may not mean much to others, but to fellow Mormons, speak volumes. And sadly, just like anti-Mormonism, a few lines can devastate how others look at someone and their beliefs. Tell people that someone is “losing their testimony,” or is an “apostate,” or “doesn’t follow the prophets,” or “a Sunstoner” and so on, there’s an immediate perception that is gathered about that person. And just like anti-Mormonism is an unfair portrayal of what Mormons really believe and why they believe it, these kinds of pathetic labels are also unfair portrayals of what someone like myself believes and why I believe it.
Just as we in the Church need those who are open-minded and willing to spend a few moments to listen to our perspective, I need the same thing. Calling me an apostate is just as dismissive as saying Mormons are crazy because they believe Adam and God are the same person. Aside from being inaccurate, it fails to listen to someone’s perspective. If someone really wants to know why I believe the way I do, and how I’ve gotten to the point I’m at, they too need to be willing to take a few minutes to listen to my story. They need to hear my experience with Church history, my lifelong struggles with belief, my personal experiences with Church members and leaders, and what I really believe and why.
Doing so doesn’t mean you’ll agree with me, and it certainly doesn’t mean that I’m right. But it does accord me the respect and courtesy I’m due, just as the Church is due the respect and courtesy of finding out what we really believe, instead of blithely dismissing us with one-liners meant to tear us down and mark us as suspect in the eyes of others. Aren’t we better than anti-Mormons?