I walked outside to dump my bucket of dirty mop water. Two young men on bicycles clad in white shirts and ties stopped. “Do you need any help?”
“The floors are clean but you could paint the garage,” I said expecting them to evangelize not perform manual labor. “Are you Mormons?” They nodded. “You are easy to spot. I’m not interested in Mormonism.”
“I started to read the Book of Mormon but stopped when I read that people are black because they are cursed by God. I believe we are equal in God’s eyes, so I’ll never be a Mormon.” Elder Michael Winlow and Elder Landon Dutson were not fazed by my honesty.
“All black people are not cursed,” Elder Dutson said in defense of his faith. “The Lamanites were punished for doing sinful things.”
“Everyone has sinned, so it seems we should all be black,” I said.
They were not going to convert me, but I strive to treat every with respect. After the elders left, I read Nephi Chapter 5 again to see if I misunderstood the passage. The prophet Nephi was appointed by God to be a ruler and teacher. The Lamanites were “white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome…” They hardened their heart and refused to listen to the prophet so Nephi claims “that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them” (Nephi 5:21). The black skin made them loathsome to Nephi’s people. Nephi’s people are warned if they didn’t have a problem with black skin and “mixed seed” their children would be cursed with black skin as well.
The passage in Nephi indicates that white skin is good, and black skin is bad. That idea is an injustice to millions of people on this planet who have dark skin. I don’t know if the Mormon Church is racist, but the “Lord God” who spoke to the prophet Nephi was.
The young missionaries were polite and honest. I didn’t believe they were racist, so I asked them if I could write about their missionary work and beliefs. They accepted. I invited them in. They declined. I was home alone. I understood and appreciated their modesty, so I so I set up chairs in the garage and turned on my recorder. Elder Winlow nominated Elder Dutson to speak, and I focused my camera on Elder Dutson.
“I was raised in the LDS faith,” said Elder Dutson. “LDS stands for Latter Day Saints. My parents taught me to believe in Jesus Christ. They always told me to pray and ask if what they were teaching is true. So I did, and I always felt like it was. I remember sitting on the floor with my Mom reading the book of Mormon every morning and the good feelings I had from the Holy Ghost telling me this was true and this was good. All Mormons are expected to do missionary work, and I’ve been planning on doing this from the time I was a child.”
“How are you supported?” I asked.
“We pay our own way. Usually, missionaries save money while they are growing up. Honestly, I saved money for college to study aviation and my parents helped me with this.”
“Have you abandoned your plans for a career in aviation?”
“No, there are not any career opportunities in our church. No one gets paid.”
“Don’t you have buildings? How are the buildings funded?”
“The buildings are maintained from the tithe and offerings of its members. There are some employees but none of the ministers are paid.”
A number of scriptures came to my mind. “… [T]he laborer is worthy of his hire.” Luke 10:7; “If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you?” 1 Corinthians 9:11-12; “…the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.” 1 Corinthians 9:14.
I assumed Mormons only read the book of Mormon, and we were not debating theology, so I didn’t question him about the Mormon method of supporting their missionaries, which contradicts the Bibles. Later in the conversation Elder Dutson corrected my assumption. The Mormons consider the Bible equal to the Book of Mormon and read both books.
“All male members of the church are commanded to go on missions,” continued Elder Dutson. “Female members have the option to go or to stay and get married and have a family. My Mom served a mission in Peru, and my Dad served a mission in England.”
“Mormons don’t have a problem with women in ministry?” I asked.
“Women can be missionaries but the congregational leaders are always men.”
My Mormon friend sounded Baptist. I have female friends in the Baptist church who wanted to preach the gospel. The only option they had was to become a missionary or teach children in Sunday School. I asked Elder Duston why women could not be congregational leaders. He gave me a Baptist answer.
“I can’t tell you why God has chosen men to be congregational leaders.”
“So the reason is God only chose men to lead,” I said.
“Yes, like Moses and Aaron were chosen by God. The prophets are always men.” He quickly added, “Not to make men superior to women. We believe men and women are completely equal but with different roles in life.”
I suppose that information was for my benefit since I had already called the book of Mormon racist. This was a subject worth pursuing since I’ve encountered the same equal but separate attitude in other religions.”
“In the prophet Micah, God said, ‘I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam.’ God sent Miriam to lead the nation with Moses and Aaron. So how do you explain why women are excluded from being leaders?” (Micah 6:4, NIV)
“To be honest, I don’t know who Miriam is,” said Elder Dutson.
“Miriam was Moses and Aaron’s sister, she stayed by the Nile to see what would happen to Moses after his mother made a basket and left him floating in the reeds.”
“I’m better with the Book of Mormon.”
“Do you consider the Book of Mormon superior to the Bible?”
“All the words of God are equal. The prophet holds the same authority as Moses and today the prophet is Thomas Monson.”
I didn’t finish reading the Book of Mormon and wondered if there were warnings about prophets who teach their own ideas instead of God’s desires like there are in the Bible.
It was time for a lighter subject. “Mormons are fairly easy to recognize. They are always on bikes with white shirt and tie. Is that a practice from religious tradition or based on a Mormon doctrine?”
“There have been missionaries in the Mormon church since the 1800’s. They would be sent out for a year sometimes as long as five years. Eventually, the practice became more organized and established a dress code. We ride bikes because we don’t have a lot of money.”
What is the funniest thing that has happened in your missionary adventures?
“Once, we went to a woman’s house to deliver a DVD, but no one answered. We were leaving when her husband pulled into the driveway, and she opened the door completely naked.”
I grinned. “What did you do?”
“I shielded my eyes and kept walking.”
“That could be filed under one of your most embarrassing ministry moments too. What is one of your scariest moment?”
“We were walking down a dark street and a couple of guys yelled they were going to kill us.”
“Yep, that would be scary, especially if they had a car, and all you had was a bike.”
“Is it your intent to convert people?
“Yes,” said Elder Dutson, “first of all through faith in Jesus Christ.”
“Faith, according to the prophet Alma, is a hope for things which are not seen which are true.”
Elder Dutson quoted Alma 32:21 in the Book of Mormon. I know because I looked it up after they departed. Alma’s definition of faith reminded me of Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
“Faith also has a principle of action,” continued Elder Dutson, “if I believe in Jesus Christ then I will do the things he has commanded me to do and one of those things is to repent of sin.”
There is a fine line between Mormonism and Christianity. He gave me the ABC’s of salvation that I’ve been taught all of my Christian life. A – admit you are a sinner and ask for God’s forgiveness. B – believe in Jesus. C – confess that Jesus is your Lord. He stopped at B, which suggested Jesus is not Lord of their lives.
Jesus had been a constant theme since the Elders arrived, so I decided to pursue Dutson’s concept of Jesus and asked, “Who is Jesus in relation to the other prophets in the Bible and in the Book of Mormon?”
“Jesus is a the prophet,” said Elder Dutson.
That was a Muslim answer. They also believe Jesus is a prophet of God. “Would you say Jesus is the prophet of prophets, the ultimate authority?”
“Yes,” Elder Dutson affirmed with a nod.
“Have you ever found discrepancies between the things Jesus said and what the prophets in the book of Mormon say?
“No, not in the formal teachings I’ve read.”
At this point, Elder Dutson drew my attention to the prophet Thomas Monson, the current leader of the Mormon Church. Duston believes God speaks his will through Elder Monson just as he spoke through the prophets in the Bible. I found that comment interesting. The Catholics also have a supreme leader in the Pope, but Protestants believe that God can speak through any of his people willing to obey him.
“Christ is the center of our teaching,” continued Elder Dutson, “he holds the whole plan together but the book of Mormon is key. I’ve seen miracles happen just by people reading a few chapters.”
“Tell me about the miracles,” I said.
“We were teaching two girls whose boyfriends didn’t like us. The girls received a spiritual witness that the Book of Mormon is true and wanted to be baptized and then a friend of theirs also wanted to be baptized. The friend’s life changed so dramatically, the boyfriends were amazed and started reading the book of Mormon. All of them became members.”
“Any other miracles?” I prompted.
“Another girl was really skeptical. I challenged her to read the book of Mormon and ask Heavenly Father if the teachings are true. When I returned a few days later, her whole countenance was different. She was ready to listen and expressed a desire to be baptized. I consider the softening of her heart to be a miracle,” said Elder Dutson.
Not as dramatic as miracles in the gospels where blind eyes were opened, hearing restored, leprosy healed and the dead raised to life, but I’ve heard more than one preacher say the greatest miracle is the transformation of a life.
I’ve also been taught that Mormons are not of God, and that they are deceived. The Bible has a test for determining if a spirit is from God.
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. 1 John 4:1-3, NIV
My next question: “Elder Dutson, do you believe Jesus came in the flesh and was resurrected in the flesh.”
Without hesitation Elder Dutson said, “Yes.”
I do believe Elder Dutson passed the test. Then he added, “The Bible says other sheep I have which are not of this fold. After Jesus was resurrected he visited the tribes who were scattered throughout the world. He came to America and taught the tribe of Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh). The things he taught them are preserved in The Book of Mormon and it’s important that we read the book of Mormon. If the book of Mormon is not true our entire religion is false, so we put the book of Mormon first.”
Elder Dutson made the statement “If the Book of Mormon is not true our entire religion is false” at least three times during our conversation. Was he protecting the Book of Mormon or pursuing the truth about God. Most people have too much invested in their religion to walk away even when they have evidence of falsehood. He had little knowledge of the Bible even though he stated it is equal to the Book of Mormon, and I wondered if he had ever made a serious comparison or simply believed the teachings of the Mormon Church.
“You told me Jesus is the ultimate authority, so why wouldn’t you start with his teaching recorded in the Bible?”
“The Book of Mormon begins 600 years before Christ was born and continues to 34 AD when he comes to America and teaches the people the same things he taught in Jerusalem. He even gives the sermon on the mount to the people of America.”
Apparently, the people in America let the gospel corrupt just like the people in Jerusalem. The gospel spread throughout the world from the east. Mormonism is less than 200 years old.
Every religion believes they have the truth and most have a sacred book. The Catholic Bible includes a few extra books than the Protestants Bible. The Mormons have another testament of Jesus Christ used in conjunction with the Bible, but clearly the Bible is not as important to the Mormons. The only constant is the Bible itself, which is embraced by all three. That fact alone is reason enough to stick to the Bible and not include another testament.
I will never embrace the Book of Mormon for reasons I’ve already stated. Elder Dutson reinforced that conviction when he told me the Bible and the Book of Mormon are equal, which contradicts what Mormons really believe, at least what Elder Tad R. Callister of the Seventy believes.
“… some are willing to set aside the precious gospel truths restored by Joseph Smith because they get diverted on some historical issue or some scientific hypothesis not central to their exaltation, and in so doing they trade their spiritual birthright for a mess of pottage …There will always be some seemingly intellectual crisis looming on the horizon as long as faith is required and our minds are finite, but likewise there will always be the sure and solid doctrines of the Restoration to cling to, which will provide the rock foundation upon which our testimonies may be built.”
Clearly, if I reject the teachings of Joseph Smith, I cannot be saved, since he was God’s instrument to restore the true doctrines of Jesus. Yet, Elder Dutson considers Jesus his savior just as I do and said the Bible and Book of Mormon are equal. The miracle Dutson referenced, the transformation of a human life, is affirmed by Protestants as the greatest miracle of all, and Dutson passed the test given by the Bible to test the Spirits. But is that a good enough reason to embrace the scriptures he espouses as key to salvation? I’ll let Jesus, the ultimate authority answer:
“You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” John 5:39-40, NIV
The only thing more important than the scriptures we choose to study is the one the scriptures tell us about – Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Mormons, Catholics, and Protestants embrace Jesus. Therefore, the Scriptures we choose to read and the practices we incorporate into our worship is for God and God alone to judge. As for me, my rock is found in the Bible and the Bible alone.