How to properly handle critics and criticism against the Church

In light of recent conversations about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a question needs to be addressed. How do we, as Latter-day Saint Christians respond to those individuals that are antagonistic against the LDS Church, doctrines, history, and belief system? Mormon Apologia would like to provide this simple “how-to” guide for those who may find themselves in a verbal altercation when sharing their faith with fellow friends, family, and neighbors.

1.      Do not take it personally

In the customer service field, one of the mechanics in dealing with consumers, and more specifically the difficult and irate consumers, is that the representatives do not take statements, name-calling, and the tone personally. This is, of course, quite difficult sometimes and even the best customer service representatives tend to falter and react negatively to the slurs being launched against them. Furthermore, one of the best lines from Roadhouse is where Patrick Swayze’s character says, in response to a question, it is two nouns put together to illicit a prescribed response.

As Latter-day Saint Christians, when someone comes against what we believe, we must not allow ourselves to take it personally. Granted, we do hold our faith and testimony near and dear to our hearts, however, we must recognize that what the antagonism and criticism is against the doctrines, history, and not us personally.

The other advice is recognizing that many of the criticisms that are launched against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are not new criticisms. Some of them may be rephrased, or restated in a different manner, yet the content of the criticism goes back to the first Anti-Mormon criticisms and attacks on Joseph Smith and the early Saints. What we hear today, what we read today is not any different from what the early saints and leaders heard and read during their lifetimes. In this understanding, we have the ability to know that what the individual speaks against us is nothing more than a recitation of something they read on a website, book, pamphlet, or even heard in a devoted Sunday school class on how to witness to Mormons. Most people have not taken the time to investigate the criticisms against the church to verify whether those claims have any validation.

2.      Do not engage in a contentious conversation

In a 1978 Ensign article, Marvin J. Ashton related a story where he met with some missionaries that had received Anti-Mormon literature. Elder Ashton answered the missionary’s questions as what should they do by stating this:

I answered, “To the author of these words, we do nothing. We have no time for contention. We only have time to be about our Father’s business. Contend with no man. Conduct yourselves as gentleman with calmness and conviction and I promise you success.”

Elder Ashton further observes:

There never has been a time when it is more important for us as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to take a stand, remain firm in our convictions, and conduct ourselves wisely under all circumstances. We must not be manipulated or enraged by those who subtly foster contention over issues of the day.

As true as this statement was for members of the Church in 1978, almost 33 years ago, it is still true for us today; especially in light of the technology of the internet and social media outlets that are prevalent and part of our lives today. We must never engage in a dialogue that leads to a contentious exchange of ideas.

3 Nephi 11:29-30 teaches us that those who have the spirit of contention are truly not of Christ, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another. Christ’s doctrine is not to stir people up to anger, but his doctrine is that we are to love one another as Christ and our Heavenly Father loves us. When we are busy condemning and passing judgment upon someone, we are not walking in accordance with the Holy Spirit.

With that said, there is a difference between engaging in contentious dialogue versus contending for the faith (see Jude 1:3). The difference between being contentious and contending is how we approach the antagonism and criticism of the Church. When we stand firm in our conviction, share our testimony, and respond with a presentation of the facts, we are contending for our faith. When we cast judgments, condemn, or even engage in personal attacks onto the person bring criticisms against us, we are being contentious. Elder Ashton defines it this way:

Ours is to explain our position through reason, friendly persuasion, and accurate facts. Ours is to stand firm and unyielding on the moral issues of the day and the eternal principles of the gospel, but to contend with no man or organization. Contention builds walls and puts up barriers. Love opens doors. Ours is to be heard and teach. Ours is not to avoid contention, but to see that such things are done away with.

Bearing one’s testimony is considered standing firm on our convictions and faith as Heavenly Father has revealed to us personally. And, in fact, in the most recent General Conference, Tad R. Callister gave a most wonderful message on the power and truth of the Book of Mormon. Elder Callister related a story of hearing a 14-year old girl who spoke at her Sacrament meeting:

She said that she had been discussing religion with one of her friends at school. Her friend said to her, “What religion do you belong to?”

She replied, “the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons.”

Her friend replied, “I know that church, and I know it’s not true.”

“How do you know?” came the reply.

“Because,” said her friend, “I have researched it.”

“Have you read the Book of Mormon?”

“No,” came the answer. “I haven’t.”

Then this sweet young girl responded, “Then you haven’t researched my church, because I have read every page of the Book of Mormon and I know it’s true.”

The response that Elder Callister relates was not one of contention; it is one where the young girl stood on her convictions and testimony as to the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, responding appropriately to her friend’s criticism. Many people will say to us, “But I have researched the teachings and doctrines of Mormonism”. Others will even declare that they have prayed about the Book of Mormon and received an answer that it was not true. Yet, much of these lead into a downward spiral of communication that is negative, unproductive, and becomes contentious.

3.      Emulate Christ in all things – even amidst criticism.

As Latter-day Saint Christians, we are taught that we ought to consider fashioning our lives after the manner in which the Savior lived. Countless times, we are taught in scripture and from the pulpit that we are to come follow Christ. Likewise, when it comes to responding to those who are antagonistic against our faith, doctrines, history, and teachings, we must learn from the Savior. How he responded to some of the criticisms that the Pharisee’s and Sadducees launched against Jesus Christ, and subsequently the Apostles.

In a blog article published on March 21, 2011, and titled Latter-day Saints must follow the example of Christ the author observes that Christ never sought out the religious leaders. They inevitably came to him. One also observes that Christ never offensively declared the religious leaders false; instead, he listened to what they had to say, and then appropriately responded. Sometimes, he responded with parables, other times, he responded by resting upon the scriptures. Third, he responded by asking probing questions as to how and why they came to their particular conclusions. The only time we find Christ condemning and criticizing the religious leaders of His day was in direct response to their own criticisms and arguments against Jesus Christ and his ministry.

National LDS Church Examiner, Greg West, wrote a two-part article on Biblical Pharisees and modern-day Anti-MormonsThe observation is one where the religious leaders of the First century viewed themselves as the guardians of Jewish Orthodoxy. Since the close of Malachi, the last Old Testament Prophet, there were no prophets to speak to the people, and without this heavenly guidance, the Pharisees had sought to preserve Jewish Law and tradition, placing their confidence in the written word. Today, modern evangelical Christians, and more specifically those who operate counter-cult ministries dedicated to attack the Mormon religion, claim to be the guardians of what they perceive to be Christian Orthodoxy.

The other aspect of this is that Christ knows there are going to be those individuals, no matter what, who will attack our faith, attack our testimony, mock us, ridicule us, and even deceive us. To the Apostles, he revealed that some of them would even be put to death for their faith and testimony of who Christ is and what he came to do (see John 16:2-3).

4 – Understand the subtle deception – even if it appears to be true

The craftiness of the Anti-Mormon movement is very persuasive. Facebook pages, websites, and even discussion forums are now being designed, tailored, and produced in such a manner as to reflect and mirror official Church websites and pages.

In the October 2010 General Conference, M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles gave a message titled O that cunning plan of the evil one. Elder Ballard discusses the nature of the fly fisherman and the particular goal of the fisherman:

 The goal of the fly fisherman is to catch trout through skillful deception. The adept fisherman studies trout behavior, weather, the water current, and the types of insects trout eat and when those insects hatch. He will often craft by hand the lures he uses. He knows these artificial insects embedded with tiny hooks need to be a perfect deception because the trout will identify even the slightest flaw and reject the fly.

Today, the Anti-Mormon and critic are like the skilled fly fisherman. They design their arguments, statements, and presentations of the LDS Church in a manner that is deceptively as authentic and mirroring of the teachings, history, and current instructions of the Church. They do this by giving themselves over to thorough studying of current trends. They listen to General Conference talks. They access the official websites of the LDS Church and read articles that are published to the membership of the LDS Church. They take their time to associate themselves with what we believe. They will even go so far as to publish Church handbooks online, handbooks that are published for local leaderships to instruct and help them fulfill their callings.

Once crafted, the angler sets out and cast their line until someone takes that fatal bite. Much like the trout that breaks from the surface of the water to take a bite of the deceptive fly, only to realize that they have been hooked and their testimony and faith is literally hanging on the line. The Anti-Mormon and counter-cult ministry groups are skilled fisherman that pit their skill and knowledge against the noblest Latter-day Saint Christian in hopes to bring them out of Mormonism by convincing them that Mormonism is false, and that Mormonism teaches a different gospel and Christ than that of the Bible. The member, sadly, leaves the Church for what they are convinced is a real relationship with Jesus Christ, when they have had that relationship all along as members of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. In fact, it is from experience that there is a difference when an evangelical Christian brings a friend who accepts the alter call and the celebration that another evangelical Christian brings their Mormon friend to the same meeting and that friend accepts the alter call. Mormon’s are prized individuals for an evangelical Christian.

Therefore, by understanding the deception employed by the various counter-cult and Anti-Mormon groups, we can prevent ourselves from individual apostasy, and protect our families and children from biting onto a deceptive hook that will bring them out of the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ.

5 – Rely on the promptings of the Holy Spirit in all things.

When we give ourselves over to recognizing the promptings of the Holy Spirit, understanding the nature of personal revelation, many of us may be compelled to move as the Spirit directs us. Even when we are in the midst of a storm of criticism. Jesus Christ stated that when we build our foundation on solid rock, the storms may come against us, but we have a sure foundation that will never falter and fall (see Matthew 7:24-27).

Sometimes, the spirit will reveal that all we must do is to bare our testimony. Other times, thoughts, impressions, and scriptures that we have studied, pondered and committed to memory come flooding in so that we can respond from the Scriptures and teachings. Yet, we may even remain silent amidst the tumult of words and fervent opinions of criticism that are launched toward what we believe, and the history of our faith.

Regarding the latter, let us consider the trout and the skilled angler that is casting the line. When we see the reality that the fly that has been skillfully crafted to deceive us poses a danger and threat, we would remain steadfast in not responding to the enticing deception. In this sense, we keep ourselves from a potential contentious conversation that would prove unfruitful. Another way of looking at this is reflecting upon Proverbs 17:28:

Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding.

Another way of saying this, that most of us may recognize, is that it is far better to remain silent and be counted a fool than to open our mouths and remove all doubt! Christ himself remained silent at times, not offering a response to the criticism launched against him – even at his own trial.

It is only when we allow the Holy Spirit to work in our lives that we have the confidence to withstand the fiery darts of the adversary (Ephesians 6: 12-17). It is when we know that despite the crafty criticism, we have the ability to withstand those criticisms, and recognize them for what they truly are.

Furthermore, when we rely on the Holy Spirit and understand that it is the power of the Holy Spirit that pricks the hearts of men, we understand that a person’s conversion is not based on logical reasoning, based on evidence, or even based on polite dialogue, it is based on the Holy Spirit who searches the hearts of men and women and know who are opened to receive the blessings of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Conclusion

The Anti-Mormon’s and counter-cult ministries spend their time educating themselves on Mormon Doctrine, History, Teachings, and scriptures. Unfortunately, much of this time spent is not to understand what we believe, but to design deceptive arguments, literature, and statements. Like the skilled angler, their hope is to use their craftiness to draw people away from the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. By not taking the criticism personally, we allow ourselves to remain steadfast and calm, confident in the power of our testimony and faith on Jesus Christ and teachings of the restored Gospel in these last days.

Second, when we recognize and understand that it is more important to refrain from engaging in any form of contention, we allow the Holy Spirit to move in our lives. It is not a matter of what we say that counts, but how we say it and the actions we choose to allow ourselves to take that matter the most. We also recognize the difference between having a spirit of contention as opposed to standing with conviction of our faith and testimony of the Gospel in contending against the criticisms that are launched against us.

Third and most significant is remember that we should always strive to emulate Christ in all things that we do. How we speak to one another, how we respond to criticisms from other people that desire nothing more than to attack us and shake our testimony and faith, and how we stand with confidence on those things we know are right and true – no matter the cost.

The fourth aspect of this knows and understanding the subtle lengths, the adversary will go to cause us to question our testimony and faith. When we are able to recognize the deceptive enticing of our enemies, we are much more apt to refrain from breaking from the surface to be hooked into apostasy and false assurance. Despite the well meaning intentions of some individuals.

Finally, when we rely on the Holy Spirit, understand the nature and significant importance of personal revelation, we already know how we ought to respond, or not respond in times where our faith is questioned, mocked, ridiculed, and even challenged.

Given our best intentions, sometimes we falter and fail. We allow our emotions to overtake our well-meaning intentions, and react in situations that we may later regret, or realize there was a significant missed opportunity. This is where we learn from our mistakes, grow in our understanding, and strive to overcome our weaknesses.

And, if all else fails, the best way to respond to criticism is by living the Gospel of Jesus Christ as we best understand it so that we become a living testimony to those around us. This, of course, is the most fundamental truth of all teachings – when we truly walk the walk and not talk the talk.

 

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