Mormonism's cultural rise likely to continue
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (BP) -- Although Mitt Romney lost his presidential bid, Christians should be prepared for higher Mormon visibility and credibility in America, an interfaith witness expert and a seminary professor told Baptist Press.
"When Mormon missionaries knock on people's doors, they will be seen in a more positive light when people know that [Romney] was once a Mormon missionary," said Tal Davis, executive vice president of MarketFaith Ministries in Tallahassee, Fla., who served with the North American Mission Board for more than 20 years training Christians in interfaith witness.
"They will likely gain entrance into homes where they formerly would have been denied."
The ascendancy of a Mormon leader to the cusp of the presidency, Davis said, "testifies to the fact that most Americans no longer regard Mormons as out of the cultural mainstream, as was true in the 19th and early 20th centuries."
Ant Greenham, assistant professor of missions at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., noted that the growth in Mormon acceptance predates Romney's presidential bid.
Mormonism may be on track for complete acceptance in American culture, Greenham said, but it would be "due more to society's postmodern tendencies than to ongoing Mormon efforts to achieve acceptance."
Still, Romney's faith may have taken a toll at the polls, Greenham said.
"Despite the postmodern tendencies of many that cause them to become less and less interested in differences between faiths, the additional attention given to Mormonism would have made many people more, rather than less, wary of this solidly Mormon candidate," Greenham said.
Davis, meanwhile, reflected, "Some people may have been wary of his Mormon beliefs, but I doubt that was the primary reason they may have voted against him" in view of the serious economic and social issues aired during the campaign.
Both Greenham and Davis encouraged Christians to become better informed of their own faith and the particulars of the Mormon belief system.
"Based on a number of very gracious receptions LDS leaders have afforded me and Southeastern students, they strongly desire acceptance within the broader Christian mainstream," said Greenham, a citizen of South Africa who spent time in the Mideast before coming to study and teach in the U.S. "They are offended when Christians call them a 'cult' and they downplay, but don't deny, unique elements of their faith in discussions with influential outsiders."
For Christians, Greenham said, knowing their faith "revolves around the essentials of our biblical, Gospel-focused faith, repeatedly affirmed through Christian history."
After that, Christians should explore various resources to learn more about the distinctives of Mormonism and what separates it from historic Christianity.
"Mormonism is not Christianity," Greenham said, "no matter how much Mormons would like to be considered part of the Christian mainstream."
For Greenham, the Republican presidential nominee should not be the centerpiece of conversations with Mormons. "I would not make Romney an issue in witnessing encounters," he said. "The issue is where you put your ultimate trust, not the strengths and weaknesses of some celebrity who happens to share the faith of the person to whom you are speaking."
Christians "should engage Mormons with love and friendship," Davis advised. "Nonetheless, we cannot ignore the need to share Christ with them. Mormonism is undeniably a false system and those in it are lost and need the salvation that only Jesus can provide."
Suggested Resources by Davis and Greenham:
Ways to minister to Mormons:
Pray: "The most important thing we can pray for is that they come to know the true God and the true Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord," Davis said, alongside prayer that Mormon friends and acquaintances be exposed to biblical truth.
Learn: "Take some time to find out more about Mormonism," Greenham said, noting that a firm foundation in what one believes and knowing about Mormon beliefs can yield a more confident witness to them.
Be open: "Christians should look for opportunities to witness to Mormons all the time," Greenham said, noting that a Christian has no idea when a available moment may present itself.
Invest time: "We should understand that they are a deeply moral, but lost group of people," Greenham said. "Christians should thus be prepared to befriend Mormons and look for opportunities to engage them in meaningful biblical-oriented conversations over a considerable length of time." Seeing a Mormon come to Christ is not likely to be a one-day development, but rather a considerable investment of time and love into the relationship.
Encourage: "Christians should realize that leaving the [Latter-day Saints] church is a major step," Greenham said. "They should be prepared to embrace those doing so in welcoming Christian communities." Churches should be ready to come alongside Christians coming from a Mormon background to encourage them in a commitment that will have great personal cost, Greenham said.
Aaron Earls is a writer in Wake Forest, N.C. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).