Category Archives: Ministry in LDS Culture

Statement of Ministry Principles

The following statement describes the foundational philosophy of how we approach our ministry at Utah Advance. These principles guide everything we do.

1. At Utah Advance Ministries, we believe in the strategic importance of the local church in reaching communities for Christ. Thus our agency exists to serve and foster the church. The best hope for a community is the multiplication of healthy congregations. We believe in the propagation of new congregations of many forms to reach different people.

2. We believe that healthy churches practice wise contextualization, meaning that they discern the culture in which they are planted and adapt their means and methods to reach the people of that culture – without undermining eternal truth. Thus we encourage churches in the Latter-day Saint cultural heartland to study and understand Mormon culture in order to wisely frame how the gospel is best communicated and how disciples of Jesus are best made and nurtured.

3. We believe that there is much good in Mormonism and in the Mormon people which can be appreciated and respected. In spite of this, we believe that Mormonism represents an aberration from the true gospel and offers people a false hope for eternal salvation.

4. We believe in treating Latter-day Saints not as adversaries but as neighbors. While we disagree significantly on many issues of ultimate importance, we believe that our neighbors (of any faith) deserve to be treated with kindness and respect.

5. We believe that Mormonism should be engaged as more than just a set of beliefs, but as an all-encompassing culture. We see Latter-day Saints as persons embedded in this cultural identity that shapes their worldview, epistemology, and spiritual practices. Thus Mormonism should be encountered in ways that go beyond comparison of truth claims or doctrines, to understand the cultural and social dynamics that shape people’s commitment to and experience of their LDS faith.

6. We believe that the historic Christian church has wonderful good news for Latter-day Saints, which should be communicated as an invitation rather than as an attack. Valid differences must be pointed out, but the gospel is an invitation to grace, not a demand for theological capitulation. Presenting evidence and winning arguments are not enough. We believe in engaging Latter-day Saint (and other) neighbors with grace and demonstrable love, in ways that feel like grace and love to them.

7. We believe that dialog with Latter-day Saints around matters of ultimate belief is a worthwhile endeavor that serves the larger purpose of sharing God’s good news. Yet we believe that forms of such dialog that take place in the public eye are not conducive to the honesty and depth of interaction which genuine dialog requires.

8. We will show respect and honor to other ministries seeking to reach Latter-day Saints with the good news of God’s grace in Jesus Christ, regardless of whether they agree philosophically with our approach or not. We believe that differences in approach or method are best addressed by building relationships.

9. We understand that those journeying out of Mormonism face unique challenges in finding a new faith home. Thus we encourage churches to make every effort to be conscious of and accommodating toward the often turbulent path that former Mormons must travel.


Leaving Mormonism is Hard

Not long ago I met with a young man who is on his way out of the LDS Church. Through some friends, he and his wife came to our church recently. I met with them for several hours to hear their story and to share insights I have learned over the years about the journey out of Mormonism into a biblical Christian faith. Much of that time was spent just answering questions that they had accumulated on their journey so far.

With about 1/3 of people raised LDS eventually leaving their childhood faith, this scenario is becoming more and more common. This young couple faces certain issues that I have run into over and over again.

  • First, they have been ostracized by family members. They are wounded by how certain family members have treated them since their decision to leave Mormonism.
  • Second, they are confused about the new landscape of religious options that has opened up before them. They now have to navigate the process of how to make choices for themselves, instead of having their religious life dictated by the LDS Church.
  • Third, they are trying to sort out what they believe, and why. Now that Mormonism is not the default setting, they must work through and evaluate where the ideas in their thinking come from, and whether each idea is valid.

Like many people transitioning out of Mormonism, this young couple has retained a belief in God and Jesus Christ, and has held on to a loyalty and trust toward the Bible. Others follow different paths, into atheism or self-defined spiritualities. It seems that perhaps those who look to the Bible often do so because of an early exposure to sources or friends that use the Bible as the authority for belief and practice. I find it an important goal in assisting former Mormons to help them transfer their trust from an ecclesiastical institution to God and his Word.

I have a lot of hope that this young couple will make the journey successfully. They are earnest and sincere. They seem pretty united in their journey. They have encountered loving and sensitive Christians who, rather than bashing on their Mormon ways, have pointed them toward positive literature about the Christian life and faith, and have invited them into their own lives and into the Christian community.

This is the model for how churches can successfully enfold those persons who have chosen to disengage from the LDS Church.

  • Be patient. Give them time.
  • Answer their questions.
  • Don’t dwell on the negatives of Mormonism or stimulate anger and bitterness.
  • Do offer positive encourage in moving forward.
  • Connect them into healthy relational networks that provide support and prayer.

Why not just ask a Mormon?

From time to time the question comes up, “If a person wants to know more about Mormonism, shouldn’t they just ask the Latter-day Saints?”

Sometimes the point is raised as a critique, as if no one else has a right to comment on Mormonism except Latter-day Saints. It’s an attempt to invalidate any outside perspective.

But every faith group has the right to evaluate other faiths and their claims from within their own specific view of truth and reality. We can show respect to others when we do so. We can also get the beliefs of others correct even as outsiders to their experience. But it is legitimate to express a different perspective. For example: if you were thinking of buying a Ford truck, would you only ask the Ford dealer? Probably not. Why not? Because you might suspect that the Ford dealer’s view of his own products might not be completely objective. The Chevy dealer’s view of Ford trucks won’t be completely objective either, but his evaluation might help you get a better idea of the issues and questions.

A couple of years ago the LDS Institute (a campus center for Mormon students) at our local college was offering a class on Protestant Christianity. I called the teacher and offered to visit the class to explain some things about Protestant Christians that Latter-day Saints would probably not understand, and to answer any questions they might have. I figured that if they wanted to learn about Protestant Christians, who better to ask than  a Christian pastor? The Institute teacher declined my offer, stating that they preferred to follow their own curriculum.

Is there a bit of a double standard at work? Probably. But I wasn’t offended. I figured that the Mormons have the right to make sense of Protestant Christianity from their own point of view – just as I have the right to interpret Mormonism to people who share my point of view.

We should ask people about their own beliefs and values before we assume we understand them. But it is also legitimate to evaluate the beliefs and values of others in light of our own perspective on truth.

Trends in Mormonism – Pressure Points

I’ve been posting recently about trends in Mormonism, especially in the last 5-10 years. The list is not exhaustive by any means, but it’s food for thought. Last week I talked about:

  • rise in the academic study of Mormonism
  • interfaith partnerships
  • visible humanitarianism

Certain trends are associated with internal and external pressure upon Mormonism to change. Each one provides an interesting case study in how Mormonism adapts. I’ll touch on three in this post and three more in the next.

Increasing public scrutiny.

First, Mormonism has been subject in recent years to increasing public scrutiny. It’s been about 5 years since the Proposition 8 battle in California and just over a year since the Mitt Romney presidential campaign. Both of these events have focused the public attention on Mormonism, including Mormon history, beliefs, and values. Add to this the award-winning Book of Mormon musical on Broadway, and the continual stream of books and articles about Mormon-related polygamist books. As people ask tough questions about Mormonism, the LDS church continues to try to control public perceptions about itself. It seems to me that they usually handle this scrutiny by saying as little as possible of substance, while redirecting attention in other directions. It’s hard to know what kind of pressure this scrutiny is exerting on LDS leadership, but their response seems careful and nuanced. They aren’t panicking, but continue to look for opportunities amid the scrutiny to press their claims to the world.

How the Book of Mormon is presented.

Second, we’ve seen changes in how the LDS church presents the Book of Mormon, both to the public at large and to its own members. There has been pressure for years surrounding the archaeology of the Book of Mormon. Outsiders have questioned the historicity of the Book of Mormon on many grounds. Mormons dispute among themselves about which geographical scenario they think best fits the Book of Mormon narrative. But more significant pressure has come in recent years from the DNA analysis of populations. Recent DNA research suggests that most Native Americans carry largely Asian, not Middle Eastern, DNA. Because of this, the LDS church has had to backpedal in the last couple of years in some of its claims.  For example, the introduction to the Book of Mormon once said that the Book of Mormon peoples the “principal ancestors” of the American Indians.  It was recently changed to call them “among the ancestors” of the native Americans. An essay posted by the church on in late January says that “what seems clear is that the DNA of Book of Mormon peoples likely represented only a fraction of all DNA in ancient America.” (On a side note, this makes it problematic to identify which Native Americans are actually descended from Lehi and are thus Lamanites, and which are not.) When I was growing up in the LDS church, it was almost universally understood that the American continent was largely unpopulated when Nephi and his family arrived, and that every Native American was simply a Lamanite. But Mormonism has a short memory, and seem to be very deft at navigating such changes without creating many ripples among its members.

Common practices publicly criticized.

Finally, let’s consider a couple of cultural practices in Mormonism that have created pressure by raising complaints from outsiders. One is the exclusion of non-members from temple weddings. This issue comes up frequently on social media and some blogs. Family members are offended that they cannot attend their daughter’s (or cousin’s, etc.) wedding because the marriage is solemnized in a location that non-members (and some members) cannot enter. It seems to me that the church has largely ignored these protests. They are personal and sporadic, and have never amounted to any kind of significant public movement. It’s not likely that this kind of pressure, even if it were more organized and concerted, would result in change, because it would affect something very fundamental about Mormonism. By contrast, consider the complaints made against the church for practicing proxy baptism for the dead on Jewish Holocaust victims. This protest arises from a sense that the ethnic heritage and identity of deceased Jews is compromised by baptising them as Mormons. The complaint has been expressed in a concerted manner from influential Jewish organizations whose intention has been to catalyze change. In response, the LDS church has changed it’s policy – even though the new policy continues to be breached by zealous members.

Next post: pressure on Mormonism from trends relating to race, feminism, and homosexuality.