“It’s a Two-Way Street,” Ensign, July 1986, 66–71
It is apparent that everyone in the world does not look with favor upon The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In fact, among certain groups, this Church and its people are still thought of as among the least desirable of religions. We are considered by some to be a representation of the powers of evil, and there are those in the world who consider that it would be a service to God if our religion could be eliminated. In the words of the scriptures, “They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service.” (John 16:2.)
There are, of course, many people of sound understanding who do recognize that true Latter-day Saints are choice people of worth who have characteristics that are worthy of emulation and who represent a powerful force for good in the world. But the truth is, even today our people are often subject to intense criticism, to ridicule, and to overt persecution. It was emphatically true in the days of Joseph Smith. It was true during my childhood. It is true today, and we may anticipate that direct opposition will continue in the future.
How, then, do we deal with antagonism? How can we respond effectively to the voices of opposition, ridicule, and even hatred? How can we explain ourselves? What answers do we have?
I want you to know that there are sound and appropriate responses. They can be effective and powerful in promoting better understanding of the Church and, ultimately, in converting others to the truth we represent. We are not interested only in having others like us—our great purpose is to help them understand God’s revealed plan and then embrace it.
I had cause for a few moments of reflection as President Gordon B. Hinckley was greeting a group of ministers during the open house in the Jordan River Temple several years ago. After he had welcomed them as our guests and expressed the appreciation we have for their service in bringing people to righteousness, he invited their questions. Two or three in the group, forgetting their manners as guests in a warm and friendly situation, asked some cutting and antagonistic questions. Central to their criticism was a demand for President Hinckley to justify the declaration mentioned in Joseph Smith’s testimony, as he beheld the Father and the Son, that those professors of religion were all corrupt. President Hinckley responded that the Lord did not say that.
As I have pondered the same question, I have wondered: Do we really believe that all ministers of other churches are corrupt? Of course not. Joseph Smith certainly did not intend to communicate that. By reading the passage carefully, we find that the Lord Jesus Christ was referring only to that particular group of ministers in the Prophet Joseph Smith’s community who were quarreling and arguing about which church was true. The Savior (not Joseph Smith) said that they were drawing “near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.” (JS—H 1:19.)
It is clearly apparent that there have been and now are many honorable and devoted men and women in other churches who are moving in the direction of their eternal salvation and who give righteous and conscientious service to their congregations. Joseph Smith evidently had many warm and friendly contacts with ministers of other religions. Quite a few of them joined the Church: Sidney Rigdon, John Taylor, Parley P. Pratt, and others in America and England. Others, of course, did not join the Church, but they exemplified the Christian attitude of tolerance. There are many like them today.
It is a fact, however, that Joseph Smith was roughly handled by the members and ministers of various prominent religions. These individuals tarred and feathered him, took up arms against him and his people, imprisoned him, and finally instigated his murder and martyrdom. Today, some like them follow a similar course of ridicule and persecution. Their antagonism, however, must not warp our understanding and conduct.
Are ministers of other churches inspired of God? Of course they are, if they are righteous and sincere. Do they accomplish good? Certainly. In his journal, Wilford Woodruff records this incident before he ever heard about the Church:
“The people of Connecticut in those days thought it wicked to believe in any religion, or belong to any church, except the Presbyterian. They did not believe in having any prophets, apostles, or revelations, as they had in the days of Jesus, and as we now have in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“There was an aged man in Connecticut, however, by the name of Robert Mason, who did not believe like the rest of the people. He believed it was necessary to have prophets, apostles, dreams, visions and revelations in the church of Christ, the same as they had who lived in ancient days; and he believed the Lord would raise up a people and a church, in the last days, with prophets, apostles and all the gifts, powers and blessings, which it ever contained in any age of the world.
“The people called this man, the old prophet Mason. …
“This prophet prayed a great deal, and he had dreams and visions, and the Lord showed him many things, by visions, which were to come to pass in the last days.” (Leaves from My Journal, Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1882, pp. 1–2.)
Can ministers of other churches call forth blessings from God upon their people? Most assuredly they can and do. We revere the effort and service of such great men as John and Charles Wesley in the forefront of the Methodist movement, Martin Luther, John Huss, John Wycliffe, Huldrych Zwingli, John Calvin, and many others who were moved upon by the Spirit of God to bring light and truth to a world in spiritual darkness.
We know from Chapter 13 in 1 Nephi [1 Ne. 13] that Columbus was touched by God’s power to accomplish a work of discovery to which he was foreordained and prepared. Furthermore, a fundamental point in our doctrine is that the Lord established the Constitution of the United States “by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose.” (D&C 101:80.)
The Lord did all this well before the days of Joseph Smith.
Does the Spirit of God bless people who are not members of the Church? Of course, when they seek him in faith and righteousness. “For,” as our doctrine states, “the word of the Lord is truth, and whatsoever is truth is light, and whatsoever is light is Spirit, even the Spirit of Jesus Christ.
“And the Spirit giveth light to every man that cometh into the world; and the Spirit enlighteneth every man through the world, that hearkeneth to the voice of the Spirit.” (D&C 84:45–46; italics added.)
Does the Lord answer prayers of nonmembers? Millions have given testimony that he does.
It is instructive for us to remember that the history of religion is a record of conflict and controversy. Differences in religion have brought forth as many evils as have differences in politics. Acting, as they declared, in the name of God, religious proponents killed the Savior and many of his prophets and Apostles, tortured and martyred Christians, conquered and destroyed nations, and fought the bloody wars of the Reformation.
It is said that by 1648 at the Peace of Westphalia, which ended a thirty years’ war between Catholic and Protestant political factions in Germany and Austria, Germany was a wasteland and that no more than half of her people had survived. In the name of religion, and invoking the name of God, priests and ministers launched the Catholic Inquisition against heretics—meaning those who did not accept the leadership of the church in Rome.
The story of religion, which should have been an account of the spread of the good news, the glad tidings of great joy and peace, is instead, too often, a horror story of hatred, torture, persecution, war, and holocaust. From the pages of the Old Testament and the Book of Mormon, as well as from secular history, we find that mankind has not changed very much in the way he justifies his ungodly actions in the name of religion.
From his second inaugural address we have these wise observations of Abraham Lincoln on the attitudes of people during the American Civil War:
“Both [the peoples of the North and South] read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes his aid against the other. … The prayers of both could not be answered—that of neither has been answered fully.
“The Almighty has his own purposes.” (In Carl Sandberg, Abraham Lincoln: The War Years—IV, New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1939, p. 92.)
The standard of conduct in our social order is typified in the description of General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, who was a very religious man. “Jackson’s reverence for the Sabbath went so far,” it is said, “that he would not mail his wife a letter to be carried in the mails on a Sunday. Nor would he open a letter received from her on a Sunday. But, with the blessing of an ever kind Providence, as he put it, he would fight, slay, and deliver doom to the enemy if on a Sabbath the enemy looked ready for punishment.” Thus we justify what we do in the name of religion.
So how do we relate to people who are filled with bitterness and antagonism or who consider Mormons to be a weird sect, who call us a cult, who claim we are not Christian, who point to tragic episodes in our history or to apostates who have been engaged in horrible incidents in our own time?
I had an interesting experience many years ago as my family and I returned from our mission in Brazil. We had nine children, and the ship we traveled on carried about forty passengers, so we were very conspicuous. It turned out that there were three ministers on board, and within a few days each of the three approached me and inquired if we could visit about what the Mormons believe. They didn’t seem to be much interested in what each other believed, but they all wanted to know what we believed.
With some hesitation, because I had little experience with ministers of other faiths, I arranged an interview when all four of us could sit down together. It turned out to be very congenial and consisted primarily of them asking questions and me giving the answers. I had supposed that they would come out with strong arguments supported by scriptures that would make it difficult for me to hold my own. But in their friendly, congenial way they just asked questions, and it turned out that I knew the answer to each question. I hadn’t realized that I was that well informed.
Within a few minutes, as we visited, they began to turn to each other and make comments like, “Isn’t it interesting? He has an answer for any question you can ask.” They repeated that comment over and over again, and we ended our discussion on a very friendly basis.
Two or three days later, however, one of these men engaged me in conversation and said, “I have been thinking of what you told us the other day and I wonder if it is right to know everything. I think maybe you know too much. I don’t believe the Lord wants us to know it all.” I could tell that he was offended. A day or two later he spoke to me again. He said, “I’ve been considering what you told me, and I have come to the conclusion that what you teach is a very dangerous heresy.”
I wasn’t prepared, as I ought to have been, for that kind of comment, and with hurt feelings I asked him why it was that other religions didn’t seem willing to place the Latter-day Saints in the same fellowship with themselves. He turned on me almost in anger and said, “Because I want you to know it is a two-way street.” Then I caught the point. We do not fellowship them. We do not recognize them as the true church of Jesus Christ, and therefore we offend them in some things we teach. I don’t think it should be otherwise, but he had reason for the feelings that he had. I wasn’t in a position, being unprepared, to conciliate his feelings.
What can we do to build friendship and understanding, even appreciation and eventual acceptance of the principles that we teach?
First, we must not act as they do. If they are critical and antagonistic toward us, we must not respond in the same way. Over the years, in association with many missionaries, I’ve learned that missionaries develop a jargon. Some jargons are worse than others, but each has phrases that can be offensive. I was a mission president in a Latin country, and our missionaries would call the priests of the major church in that country padres—“PDs” for short.
To me, that became offensive. I’m sure it would have been offensive to the members of that church. Those people had very sincere and deep beliefs and traditions. It wasn’t Christian to make that kind of derogatory comment.
I remember forty-six or so years ago when I was entering my first city of labor in southern Brazil. We were riding the streetcar from the center of town, and our companions were showing us the way to our residence. In those days all of the men in Brazil wore hats. So we were told, “When you see the men take their hats off the second time, you are to get off at the next stop.” What that meant was that the streetcar passed two churches. As it passed the churches, the men, out of respect, would lift their hats. What a lesson they taught! It ought to be a lesson to all of us to appreciate and understand other people.
Where are our manners when we think of other people who do not use good manners? The direction for Latter-day Saints is clearly spoken of in this scripture:
“But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. …
“Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.
“But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
“That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:39, 43–45.)
A second thing to remember in responding to others is not to get mad. Uncontrolled anger distorts reason and cancels wisdom. All of us are susceptible to rising anger, but before we act we can bring ourselves under control. I have often thought how low the boiling point is in a young missionary when he sees something that doesn’t seem complimentary to him or his religion. But we sometimes fail to remember that we too can offend others. Our doctrine, for example, is offensive to some people. In one city in Brazil, our elders found that a Protestant minister had begun publishing and distributing derogatory pamphlets against the Church. It was information that would not have been accepted in the United States, because generally we have been too well known for people to believe those ridiculous stories. But the people in Brazil began to get some wrong ideas about the Church, and the elders wanted to do something about it.
I suggested they take a copy of the pamphlet and call on the minister, if they could find him. After some preparation, they found him, and they said, “Are you responsible for the publication of this material?” He responded rather evasively and with some embarrassment. They said, “We would just like you to know that we represent The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and that this material is not true. This is not what we believe. We don’t appreciate having this kind of falsehood distributed about us, but you should know that when we find people who have read it, it is easy for us to tell them the true state of affairs, and then, of course, they get a poor opinion about you. If you feel that you must publish this sort of thing, go right ahead; it really doesn’t hurt us that much. In many ways it helps us. But we would prefer that you don’t do it.” That solved the problem.
On another occasion two of our elders, rather young and inexperienced, had gone to open a new city to missionary work. The city was almost totally Catholic and was reportedly under the domination of the Catholic bishop who lived there. As these elders went about their work, making contacts and becoming acquainted, people frequently said to them, “Does the bishop know you are here?”
They would answer, “We don’t know.”
“Well, it will be interesting to see what happens when he finds out.”
One day the blow fell. A priest came to their lodging and delivered a letter. It said in substance, “We would like to know by what authority you come into this community and teach your doctrine without having first cleared it with the bishop of this area. Therefore, we ask you to appear at a special meeting that will be held at the central Catholic church.”
The elders called mission headquarters.
“President, what will we do? Can you come and help us?”
I answered, “No, I can’t come, but they have offered you an invitation to explain what we believe. That is what you went there for, isn’t it?”
“Well, yes, but how do we handle this situation?”
I said, “I’ll have my assistant join you. Accept the invitation, but do it on two conditions. Say, ‘We’ll be glad to come if we are treated with courtesy and if you will assure us the opportunity to explain what we believe.’”
In the meeting, the priest in charge, without any formality, stood up and said, “These two young men are here teaching their religion, and we have called you together to hear an explanation of their doctrine.” There were two or three hundred people present representing the influential people of the city.
The elders then stood up and spoke of the Apostasy, the Restoration, and the Book of Mormon. As they finished, they said, “If you people will read this Book of Mormon and pray about it, the Lord will give you a testimony.” A priest in the rear of the hall immediately jumped up and said, “Oh, no, no, no. None of you can read that book.” Everyone laughed. The only problem occurred after the meeting when a Seventh-day Adventist got into an argument with one of the priests. Our elders, on the other hand, had several very pleasant conversations. From then on they caused no ripples by proselyting in that city.
Third, we should not argue. Arguing never leads to understanding. I listened to President Harold Wright, recently released as president of the Mesa Temple in Arizona. He has served over the years as stake president and regional representative and has had many contacts with nonmembers. He said that for years he would go to general conference and notice those people outside Temple Square passing out literature antagonistic to the Church. President Wright noticed one man in particular who seemed to be there every time. One conference he visited with the man and found that he was a minister from Los Angeles. President Wright talked to him every time he came to conference, and they came to be friends. One day he said to this man, “Have you ever attended a session of general conference?”
The man said, “No, I haven’t.”
President Wright asked, “Would you like to go in?”
The man answered, “I would very much like to go in.”
So he took the minister to the session. President Wright said his friend felt an influence he had never felt before in his life, and he commented on it repeatedly.
As far as I know, the minister didn’t join the Church, but what a beautiful way to respond to someone with a difference of opinion!
Fourth, we need to recognize our opportunities to teach and testify. People who have expressed adverse feelings about the Church have signaled that they are at least thinking about it. In Brazil, we taught our missionaries how to turn rejection into opportunity. Often, they would have two or three friendly visits with a family, then one day the father would meet them at the door and say, “We’ve decided not to discuss religion with you anymore.”
We taught our elders to express what they felt in their hearts at hearing such disappointing news. They would say, “Oh, we are sorry that you have decided not to study with us anymore. We have enjoyed visiting with you, and you have been very friendly to us.” The father, of course, would say something nice in return.
Then the elders would say, “Could we have just a moment to step in and leave a greeting with your family? We won’t impose on you.”
Inside, the elders wouldn’t try to force another discussion, but they might say: “You have been very kind to us and we appreciate it. Before we leave, however, we need to tell you, because of our calling, what the gospel means to us.” Then they would explain why they believed the way they did.
“Do you remember when Joseph Smith knelt by his bedside and asked the Lord to tell him if he loved him or not and the angel appeared? The angel said, ‘Joseph, I have come to you from the presence of God and he has a mission for you to perform by which your name will be known for good or evil among all men.’ What did Joseph say to the angel?” (See JS—H 1:33.)
They would answer, “I guess he said he’d do what God wanted.”
“Yes, he did. He didn’t say, ‘Wait a minute, Mr. Angel. I didn’t want to go on a mission. I just wanted to know if the Lord loved me.’ You can’t do that to an angel, can you? So we have to tell you that someday you will stand before God and he will ask you why you didn’t listen to his message. We don’t know what you will say, but we think you should not refuse the gospel until after you have knelt down and asked the Lord what he wants you to do. Will you do that?”
Upon praying, many people joined the Church who had decided not to hear anymore about it.
Fifth, let’s be prepared. I think often of Brother Herschel Pedersen, who was a basketball star at BYU many years ago. He said he was eating his lunch and reading his scriptures one day on the job and a rough individual looked in the door and said, “Oh, you’re reading that stuff, are you?”
Brother Pedersen said, “Yes. What do you know about these books, anyway?”
The man said, “I know all about them.”
“Oh, do you?” asked Brother Pedersen. “Tell me, then, when the Savior comes again what color will his clothes be?”
The man said, “That’s easy. They’ll be white.”
Brother Pedersen said, “That’s not what it says in here.”
“Oh, what color will they be?”
“Why don’t you try to find out?”
Brother Pedersen wouldn’t tell him. A week or two later the man came back ready for further discussion. After some time, he said, “Tell me, do you think there is any hope for a guy like me?”
You might think of asking questions you have worked out ahead of time. What would a person who doesn’t belong to the Church make of this scripture:
“It shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.” (Isa. 2:2.)
Now all of us know what that means. It focuses our minds on the picture of the Salt Lake Temple. But if you weren’t a member of the Church, what would you make of it? You wouldn’t know. You can ask that question. You might also ask what the Savior meant in the tenth chapter of the book of John:
“And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.” (John 10:16.)
If you weren’t a member of this Church, that statement would be a mystery. You could ask somebody who the lost sheep were who heard the Savior’s voice. Just remember, you have the answers.
Sixth, we need to share our testimonies. We don’t have all the answers, but we don’t have to know everything to have a testimony. If you don’t know the answer to a question, bear your testimony. Maybe the one asking the question won’t believe it, but he will know that you are sincere in your faith.
Seventh, we must live our religion. We must each get into the pattern of living our religion so that other people will recognize what we stand for. Many years ago now, when I served in the armed forces, I think I never had a close non-Mormon companion who didn’t know that I was a member of the Church and who didn’t know I had been a missionary. They treated me with the utmost respect and admired my standards. I don’t believe that I ever gave my companions cause to think less of the Church in all those years that I served with them.
One of those companions joined the Church. I didn’t preach a word to him about the gospel. Somebody else found him and taught him, but I suppose he remembered a young fellow named Bangerter who was a Mormon and remembered the way I had lived. I hope so.
Now let me make our position clear. Although we should treat others with kindness, tolerance, and respect, we must stand firmly for the things that have been revealed to us. We do not apologize that we do not have the same doctrines and principles that other churches have. We can talk about it in a warm and friendly way, but we do not apologize. We didn’t initiate this restoration. God did. If others do not appreciate the Church or its doctrines, we nevertheless know they are true.
Some people don’t want the gospel to have been restored. Some people are offended that there might be living prophets and Apostles. Some people hate the thought that God would actually speak out of heaven again. I don’t know why, but I suppose the traditions of their fathers have promoted those attitudes to the point where the idea of a Restoration is offensive to them.
Nevertheless, we know what God has spoken to us—that in these last days he has brought forth the fulness of his everlasting gospel to prepare mankind to return to his presence and be exalted in his celestial kingdom. Our testimony is that God lives, that Jesus is in reality the Savior and the Redeemer, that Joseph Smith was called as the instrument of God to bring forth the Restoration in the last days. Latter-day Saints understand these truths, and we must be true to that vision.