My regular readers know how much I like to argue and debate. Perhaps this is also why I so enjoy when door-to-door missionaries come knocking on my door whether it’s Mormons or Jehovah’s witnesses. The other day LDS missionaries who had come once before while I wasn’t home returned. They were two bright-eyed young women who I could tell were excited to talk about Jesus and the Book of Mormon. I explained I was a Christian and I was also familiar with the Church of Latter-Day Saints which they were actually glad to hear. I’d like to recap our discussion since I think it was productive — not at all like I thought it would go. Just one of them, Sister [Jane], did all the talking.
Now, I already know that Mormons place a great deal of weight on what they believe to be the Holy Spirit’s confirmation of their beliefs, so I knew exactly where I was going to go with the discussion. Before diving in I wanted to be sure they’d be OK with me asking some questions of them and some of their beliefs, and she assured me they’d love to answer anything they could.
The first thing I wanted to stress was that I was perfectly OK with them trying to convert me and that I wasn’t offended in the least. “After all, if Mormonism is true, I should believe it, right?” I said. I also wanted to set the foundation that either Mormonism is true or it isn’t, that it’s not a subjective truth. “If Mormonism is true and Smith were a true prophet, it’s true whether I believe it or not”, and they gladly agreed. This was essential to where I wanted the discussion to go. Next I explained that regardless of each of our feelings about Smith’s prophetic claims, they are either true or false, and our feelings can’t guarantee our beliefs are true no matter how sincerely we hold them. I gave an example of a rake in my garage. There’s either one in the garage or there isn’t and our feelings aren’t going to change whether there’s one there or not. So in order to determine whether a claim is true we have to look to something outside our feelings — to something tangible. We need evidences. Surprisingly they both agreed.
So now that I had laid a foundation that things are either true or false and our feelings are irrelevant in the matter, I could begin to examine Joseph Smith and some of his claims. Much to my surprise, Sister [Jane] readily admitted that there were many Gods. Jesus, Elohim (the Father), Elohim’s God from before, etc. into eternity past. Even more surprising, she admitted the Mormon teaching that Elohim is a Man-God made of flesh and bone. This usually is avoided — but I digress. So when she was done acknowledging the existence of many Gods, a teaching of Smith, I asked how we adjudicate between the Bible and Smith when there is conflict in teaching, which she struggled with, so I moved into my first attempt to undermine Smith: Mormon henotheism. I brought up these verses:
Isaiah 43:10: “You are My witnesses,” declares the Lord, “And My servant whom I have chosen, So that you may know and believe Me and understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed, and there will be none after Me.”
Isaiah 44:6, 8: “Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: ‘I am the first and I am the last, And there is no God besides Me. [...]‘Do not tremble and do not be afraid; Have I not long since announced it to you and declared it? And you are My witnesses. Is there any God besides Me, Or is there any other Rock? I know of none.’”
These were verses she had not considered before. I didn’t harp on the issue because I didn’t want them to feel cornered or defensive. So I said, “it’s just something to think about”.
Next was the Book of Abraham. She was familiar with the book, and even had a copy with her. The book she was carrying contained the Joseph Smith King James Bible, Pearl of Great Price, and Doctrine and Covenants all under one cover. I was curious if she knew what the Book of Abraham said and when it was “translated”. She told me what the Mormon understanding was, i.e., writings of Abraham.
It was at this point that I told her why it was difficult to trust Smith and the Book of Mormon. Smith claimed to have translated the Book of Abraham in a similar fashion as the Book of Mormon, an important detail. Smith translated the Book of Abraham before Egyptian hieroglyphics were widely understood. Eventually Egyptologists had correctly translated the document and determined it to be common funerary texts — nothing close to Smith’s rendering.
“This”, I said, “should give you great pause in trusting Smith. If he translated the Book of Abraham with the help of Elohim, and also the Book of Mormon, and he got that one so wrong, why should I trust him?”
I could tell the wheels were turning. She pulled out a note pad and asked me to repeat the Isaiah verses and also noted to look into the Book of Abraham. I could tell she had been confronted with information and reasoning she had not considered before.
I told them I didn’t want to inundate them too greatly and I asked if they’d return after looking into some things more closely. “Oh, we’re definitely coming back” she said. I thanked them for taking the time to hear me out, and that it was quite commendable that they did. Jehovah’s Witnesses on the other hand would have excused themselves as soon as they recognized what I was doing. When they do return, I plan to discuss the problem of salvation in the LDS Church.