October of 1984. That was the first time folks from Alpha and Omega Ministries handed out tracts and shared the gospel with people attending the semi-annual General Conference of the LDS Church in Salt Lake City, Utah. There were only three of us, and at one point in the afternoon we actually had lines of folks waiting to speak to us! It was an amazing experience.
But times change. The Mormons have changed, actually. Fewer Mormons believe in any kind of objective truth, hence, fewer are liable to stop and do anything more than bear their testimony to you. But we continue to trust the Lord to bless our outreach and the tracts that we distribute.
Of course, we developed some very firm convictions concerning our work in Salt Lake City and the proper way of approaching the task in a God-honoring fashion. There is a vast difference between the Mormons and say, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (Jehovah’s Witnesses). The Witnesses will not, generally, take literature from you, nor will they be seen by other Witnesses standing on a sidewalk talking to “active opposers.” Hence, holding signs outside of the District Conventions of Jehovah’s Witnesses would be most appropriate (especially in light of their own history of carrying sandwich signs outside of Christian churches back in the early decades of the 20th century).
But Mormons are of a completely different mind-set, especially when attending General Conference. They are well dressed, serious in comportment. That is why we dress well and do not seek to stand out in any way by making excess noise, or by carrying signs. Mormons do not respond to such things. Many of them are returned missionaries, and hence expect of others some semblance of respect before they will consider entering into a discussion. That respect is communicated to them in two ways. First by deportment, secondly by demonstration of knowledge regarding their beliefs. Comportment includes one’s demeanor, the clothing one wears, the way one passes out the tracts, the speech one uses in conversation, even when provoked. These are vitally important.
The second means is likewise vital. I have often commented that conservative Christians would not give much credence to a person who approached us and said, “Your entire religion is a fable. The Bible is completely false” but who, upon cross-examination, confessed he had never bothered to read the Bible at all. Such a person would have no credibility in our eyes at all. And yet, many will approach LDS people with an attitude of arrogant pride in the fact that they have never read the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, or Pearl of Great Price, and have never invested time in learning LDS theology, the ever widening spectrum of variations on that theme held by Mormons, etc. Why does anyone think they should give us a hearing? Simple consistency and honesty requires some level of preparation. Likewise, the materials we present, the statements we make in the witnessing encounter, must be accurate and fair. That is not to say we can avoid all charges of misrepresentation (many Mormons pick and choose their theology these days just like many evangelicals!), but we should be consistent in our presentations. Many, many times I have had the opportunity of sharing with a Mormon person while keeping full control of the direction and content of the conversation due to my knowledge of LDS theology and the general directions the Mormon is going to go in responding to the message of grace. Very often the Mormon will be somewhat surprised to meet a Christian who “speaks their language” and shows them respect. That is when you get to really have an impact.
Given these things, the reader will understand our consternation, disappointment, and righteous anger at the events that took place during the General Conference April 6, 2002. When we arrived prior to the beginning of the first session, we immediately saw that the situation was a little different than normal. First, the crowds were huge. Evidently the church chose to funnel everyone into a single entrance, resulting in a line that snaked from the Conference Center across North Temple to the North Gate of Temple Square, around Temple Square to the West, down to South Temple! It was a huge line. But, the other prominent feature was the presence of a large group
of “street preachers,” such as the man in this picture. You will note a few things immediately. First, this young man stands out since he is, quite simply, very casually dressed. Secondly, he is carrying a sign that simply does not communicate to Mormons. It reads, “Turn to Jesus or Burn in Hell.” While that is hardly written in Mormonese, it likewise says little to the average LDS person. We talked to this young man later for quite some time (I was joined in my effort to reason with him by Jason Wallace, pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Salt Lake City). He and one other young man were the only ones of the group who listened to us at all and showed any semblance of willingness to reason with us on a Scriptural basis. He admitted he needed to learn more about
Mormonism, but continued his street preaching anyway. This picture shows him standing on the south side of North Temple, facing the line of Mormons waiting to get into Conference. Here is another one of the preachers, this time standing right outside the Conference Center with his sign after the big rush was over.
In the third picture you see the reverse of the sign held in the first picture: again, it has nothing to do with Mormonism per se. “Study and Obey the Bible” and “Judgment is Coming” are both true statements. But again, all the thousands of people walking by would believe both statements and would wonder why in the world this young man is standing there with a sign preaching at them when they already agree with what he’s saying! This was one of the major problems with all of the “street preachers.” Given their manifest ignorance of the people to whom they were preaching, they could not begin to tailor their message so as to make it meaningful (even if they knew enough about Christian theology to be able to do so). They could have at least made meaningful statements to the crowds as they passed by that would have caused some level of thinking to take place. They could have said things like “There is only one true God who can save” and quoted relevant Scriptures. They could have focused upon particular LDS beliefs and provided biblical replies. They could have contrasted the LDS concept of grace as found in passages like Moroni 10:32 and 2 Nephi 25:23 with the biblical doctrine.
Instead, the loudest of the group chose to engage in what can only be called “street abuse.” This was not preaching. It was rank abuse of LDS people, nothing more.
One man, shown here in his red cap, had been “preaching” outside the Easter Pageant of the LDS Church in Mesa, Arizona the previous week. In fact, he had been arrested twice, once for trespassing and once for disturbing the peace (no one from Alpha and Omega Ministries has ever come close to being arrested in eighteen years of ministry in Mesa at the Pageant, and this man managed it twice in the space of one week the first year he was there!). I walked down to listen to him “preach” in Mesa (thankfully, he stayed away from the main corner most of the week). Using the same plastic “megaphone” seen in this picture, he harangued the passing crowds with, “Mormonism is a cult! Joseph Smith was a whoremonger! You are headed to the pits of hell!” And if anyone replied to him, or laughed, or even shook their head, he would focus upon them. “What’s wrong, mister? Don’t you read your Bible?” These words were not spoken with compassion or love, I assure you. They were spoken–no, yelled–in true KJV Only fundamentalist style. The vast majority of Mormons simply shook their heads at the hatred displayed.
Sadly, Mesa was quiet in comparison with the show put on in Salt Lake. Seemingly the presence of the other street preachers made the worst of the group all that much bolder. You will note that in this picture the man is holding something in his right hand. Those are LDS undergarments. Yes, these street abusers would pull out sets of LDS undergarments and wave them about in front of the lines of Mormons while mocking them over their megaphones! That is what is going on in this picture. The man is standing barely ten feet from a line of Mormon Conference attendees, waving the garments about while mocking them.
Now do not be confused. I own a pair of the garments and have used them in classes to explain the temple ceremonies, the connection with Masonry, etc. The temple ceremonies are not Christian–indeed, they mock the true faith. But there is a time and a place for everything. If you are seeking to communicate with Mormons, you do not start out by making sure to offend them to the core of their being, raise every possible emotional wall you can, soak them in a flood of hatred and disrespect, and then say, “Now, let’s talk about the gospel.” As I later said to them personally, that’s like walking up to me and saying, “Your father is a drunkard, your mother a whore, your sister is ugly, and I love you in Jesus.” The contradiction is just too strong to overcome. More on this below. It is one thing to explain the garments in the context of a class of believers: it is another to wave them around outside the General Conference in front of thousands of Mormons. One is necessary education, the other foolish mockery.
But these street abusers are proud of their acidic attitude and “in your face” methodologies. In this picture you see the other leader, whom we believe to be local to the Salt Lake area (the man in the red cap is from New York) holding a sign of his own making. This one is LDS specific. Sort of. It says the Mormons have a false Jesus (they do). It warns of false Christs from the Bible (so do we). But then it has a picture of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and Orin Porter Rockwell, bathing in the flames of hell next to a representation of the Angel Moroni (replete with horns). Over Young’s head is the description, “Brigham Young the Whoremonger” and Rockwell is described as “the assassin for the LSD Church.” Yes, that is “LSD” not “LDS.” The man holding the sign admitted that he put “LSD” instead of LDS purposefully. Yes, that’s how you open up avenues of communication!
In eighteen years of ministry in Salt Lake City we had never seen anything like this. Indeed, while the Mormons had tried various things to silence us (and failed), a group of street preachers managed to succeed where the LDS Church had failed! We passed out one tract in the morning. One! And it is no wonder. Can you imagine the mind-set of a Mormon man with his wife and children who has been forced to walk past this line of abuse? Would you be open to taking a tract or talking to someone about the gospel?
Hardly! They shut us down completely. We would later pass out a number of tracts to the crowds headed to lunch, but the only way to get a tract out was to attempt it far away from these people. Their attitude was so glaring, and so thick, it hung like a cloud anywhere they would stand, poisoning all efforts in the area.
Of course, I did not choose to sit back and allow this travesty to go unchallenged. Many of the street preachers had attended the debate I had done the previous evening against Gilbert Scharffs, a Mormon scholar and author, the retired director of the Institute of Religion at the University of Utah. The debate had been on the fall of Adam and its consequences. I had a wonderful opportunity to speak of God’s grace. I had likewise been in the position, if I had chosen to do so, to truly embarrass my opponent, as he was not really prepared for a biblical or
theological debate. But I chose to allow the message to speak with clarity and not press my advantage. I truly sought to honor God with how I handled the situation, and I believe that by showing mercy to my opponent I allowed the gospel to be heard by the many LDS in attendance. A number of the folks accompanying the street preachers attended the debate and enjoyed it. As a result, I had a very small amount of “respect capital” that I was compelled to use to try to reason with these people who were so obviously engaged in an activity that was dishonoring to God.
Aside from two of the younger men, I wasted my time. In these pictures you can see that I truly did make the attempt to explain to these men that they were not only destroying the work of preaching the gospel that we had spent eighteen years establishing (the man with the anti-Mormon sign rejected my assertion that I had been coming up that long, though he could not provide the first bit of reasoning in support of his assertion), but that they were in violation of the teaching of the Scriptures themselves. And it was just here that the real motivations of these people came to the fore. They had no interest in godly counsel whatsoever. One claimed to have once been a pastor, but the rest were laymen. Yet, they had no concern about following biblical teachings regarding the authority of elders. In fact, I asked the man in the black shirt holding the anti-Mormon sign who his elders were. I wanted to be able to contact his sponsoring church to attempt to reason with them, since he obviously was not moved by biblical arguments. He looked at me blankly. I cited Hebrews 13:17 to him, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account.” I asked him to identify who had the rulership over him. “Jesus!” he replied. “That’s nice” I responded, “but the passage is not talking about the fact that Jesus is King. It is talking about the church. Who are your elders?” “Jesus is my elder!” he replied. I tried a few more times and finally said, “So, evidently, you don’t actually believe all the Bible.” “Of course I do!” he retorted. “Evidently not,
since you have no means of answering the command of Hebrews 13:17. How can you expect these people to listen to you when you stand here in open rebellion against God’s Word?” He was not interested, and as you can see in this picture, went back to yelling at the Mormons even as I spoke to the other man.
Now, it is hardly surprising that when you have a group of people standing around berating the religion of literally thousands of people in the same area using bullhorns and carrying signs that some of those folks might get a bit upset about it. That was seemingly what these people wanted. Indeed, during the big rush in, the man in the red cap spotted a group of five or six young Mormon girls standing together in line. Ministry President Rich Pierce was standing close enough to hear him yelling through his plastic megaphone: “What’s wrong with you girls? What are you, lesbians?” It is amazing he survived such antics, to be honest. But this wasn’t the final abuse the Mormons experienced: as they walked across North Temple a small number of LDS ushers would stand out in the street and direct them. Another of the street preachers yelled out to them, “I know what you guys want! You want what Mormonism offers you: SEX!” This kind of abuse was rampant.
Not surprisingly, then, some confrontations did take place. In this picture a hot-head gets in the face of one of the street preachers. For some reason this young man was carrying a sign with a huge picture of an aborted baby that simply said, “Abortion.” The police came in and separated them, but you can see from the picture the kind of attitude that prevailed that day.
During the lunch rush we set up shop down on South Temple and Main Street, and succeeded in passing out a number of tracts. That was because the street preachers were nowhere to be seen. One Mormon came up to us, took the tract, walked a few feet, came back and said, “Thank you for being nice about it.” We knew exactly what they were talking about.
Amazingly, despite the general rancor created by the presence of the street abusers, we did have a few conversations. Both of my memorable conversations actually started as a result of their presence. The first took place shortly after lunch. A group of three young Mormons were talking to the kindest of the sign carriers. They had gone around and around on the testimony, and now were talking about the gospel. I listened in and realized that the Christian man simply did not know Mormonism well enough to communicate with these guys. So, at one point, I stepped in and explained what the Mormons were trying to say to him. The lead Mormon young man thanked me. I then informed him I am not LDS, and began sharing with him. In God’s providence he had actually opened his LDS Bible Dictionary to the definition of grace (a definition I have used often, and had cited the evening before in the debate). I used that and moved into Moroni 10:32 and 2 Nephi 25:23, and then on to the biblical definition of grace. The fact that I knew what he believed, quoted from LDS Scriptures and sources, and showed him simple respect, gave me all the time in the world to speak clearly to him of God’s truth. I wrote my e-mail address on the back of a tract and gave it to him, offering him a copy of Letters to a Mormon Elder if he would like to read one. He thanked me for my kindness. As he turned to leave he said to the street preacher, “May I suggest something to you? Learn about what I believe before you speak out against it.” The young Christian had no reply, since we both knew the Mormon was right.
Later in the afternoon I spoke with a group who had stopped to talk to one of the street preachers.
Again the preacher could not get past a basic “4 Spiritual Laws” type presentation, and the Mormon had him tied in knots over the testimony issue (a topic every single one of our volunteers has handled over and over again). I stepped in and ended up having a good conversation with an entire group, as this picture shows.
Eventually the day wore down and it was time to go. Warren Smith had made his first trek with us, and I noted that though he is a good bit younger than I, he was looking a bit tired by the late afternoon. Standing in Salt Lake City for all those hours is truly hard work. So I went over and reminded him that I was feeling just fine. You get used to it after a couple of decades! However, after I posted this picture, Warren complained bitterly that this was the worst picture we had of him, so I have added this one, showing him being my brotherly “Onesiphorus” while I confronted the street abusers.
We are already making plans for the October General Conference. The street preachers have told us they will be back, so, we are making plans in light of their unwillingness to repent of their actions and attitudes. We can’t go into detail, for obvious reasons, but we plan on differentiating ourselves strongly from them in October. We intend to make lemon juice from their lemons, so to speak, and continue bearing witness to the truth in Salt Lake City