I traveled to Japan between June 10-26 at the invitation of several churches and ministries to provide some introductory training to churches and Bible schools on Mormonism. The LDS Church has roughly 125,000 members in Japan, which is about 1/10 of 1% of the overall population. (By contrast, Protestant Christians make up around 1/2 of 1% of the population in Japan and 4% in Utah.) Various sources estimate that only 20-25% of Mormons in Japan are active. Japan has two LDS temples (with a third under construction) which serve almost 300 local congregations (wards and branches). Two years ago there were 630 LDS missionaries in Japan, but the with the recent surge of new missionaries, that number might well be closer to 900 now.
My hosts have been collaborating on an annual conference about cult-like groups in Japan for the last 21 years. Jehovah’s Witnesses have been very active in Japan, and quite a number of new religious movements unique to Asia are active as well. The ministries I was working with focus mainly on helping people exit groups that practice high degrees of mind control, information control, and social control.
Even though Mormonism does not have much impact in Japan compared to other groups, this year my hosts decided to focus the annual conference on Mormonism, and to do it as a series in multiple venues in various places, rather than as one central event. These seminars were interdenominational in character and open to the entire Christian community.
Depending on the available time, at each seminar I covered at least two of these three basic topics. We also tried to leave plenty of time for questions.
- The Origins of Mormonism: how it began and features of the LDS Church experience today.
- The Claims of Mormonism: response to unique LDS claims such apostasy, priesthood, continuing revelation.
- The Mormon Plan of Salvation: contrast between the LDS and biblical Christian answers to the questions, “Where did I come from?”, “Why am I here?”, and “Where am I going?”
June 14: I did a seminar in Tokyo to a mixed group of pastors, missionaries, and interested laymen. The venue was Ochanamizu Christian Center, a site where many missions and ministries have office space and where community events are held. After this session I spent an hour counseling with a young woman on her journey out of Mormonism.
June 16: I preached in two churches in the Tokyo suburbs (Koshigaya and Sugito), on the subject of grace. The average church in Japan is under 50 people. A church of 500 would be a rare mega-church.
June 18: I did a seminar in Sapporo, held at a local convention center. Attenders included a seminary teacher and his students, some former cultists, pastors and various interested parties.
June 19: I did a seminar at Christ for the Nations Japan, a Bible school in Ishikari, a suburb of Sapporo.
June 21: I did a seminar at Kansai Bible Institute, the largest Bible college in Japan, in Ikoma – not far from Osaka. “Large” is a relative term – the school has about 45 students. Several non-students attended from the Osaka area.
June 23: I did a seminar for a group in Okayama that has extensive ministry to people coming out of cult groups, especially Jehovah’s Witnesses and a Japanese group called Setsuri.
June 23: I preached at a church in Sakai, in the Osaka metro area, on the subject of the biblical standard of Christian maturity.
June 25: I spoke at a Bible study group at a church near Osaka, on real versus formal religion.
At most of these events, there was at least one person there with some relationship to a Latter-day Saint. A couple of people had formerly been LDS. Others had LDS co-workers or relatives. Most of them were hearing about Mormonism for the first time. All of the groups had excellent, insightful questions and observations. The most common question I was asked had to do with comparing Mormonism to other groups in the areas of mind control and social control. Many of the attenders were less interested in the theology of Mormonism and more interested in learning about any social, emotional, psychological, and/or relational damage Mormonism might cause.
Two weeks in Japan certainly doesn’t make me very insightful about Mormonism or Christianity in Japan, or about anything else Japanese. But I’ll try to post a few reflections from the trip over the next few weeks. If you have questions, please post comments.