This month, I thought I would give you something less heavy to read. Below is a copy of my recent interview on the blog of Desiree Mondesir, Managing Editor for Gospel Today Magazine.
Interview of Janis Hutchinson by Desiree Mondesir
February 16 and 17, 2015 – Part I and 2
|Desiree M. Mondesir, CEO,|
I’d like you all to meet Janis Hutchinson: blogger, author, and former Mormon. Janis hails from Southern California (like me!) and comes out of the mainstream LDS Church as well as a branch of fundamentalist Mormonism. Janis has kindly agreed to share her diverse experience in the Mormon Church with us to show was what the deal really is. Learn about some major fundamental differences between Mormonism and Christianity as well as how to witness to the Mormon Missionaries who seek to convert you! You can read Janis’ full, harrowing tale of escape here and also check out her blog and books. It’s a wealth of information. Also, be sure to stop by Janis’ blog and follow her onTwitter and Facebook! Enjoy!
DMM: How long were you in the Mormon faith, overall? Did you have family ties to the church?
JH: I was a member of the mainline LDS Church for 35 years, during which time I served two Stake missions, married in the temple, and was active in all the organizations, mainly teaching the Gospel Doctrine class. I also had articles published in the church’s magazine, excerpts of which were used in their radio programs to promote the family. I had no family ties in the church prior to joining.
By the way, I consider Fundamentalist groups “cults”; the LDS Church a “sect” or “fringe religion.” I don’t like to call the LDS Church a cult because it conjures up images of a Jim Jones type of destructive cult.
DMM: Why did you decide to join the LDS Church?
JH: I didn’t make a decision to join. My mother was looking for a church with a good youth program and seeing the excellence of the LDS Church’s [programs], joined and had my sister and I baptized. I was 14 at the time. By the age of 19, I became thoroughly converted to its theology through its genealogy program and temple work for the dead.
DMM: What were the positives of your LDS experience?
JH: The church’s programs and activities helped to bring me out of my shell. I gained confidence in myself, learned how to speak before congregations, and teach classes. Also, ethics and high moral standards were taught directly from the pulpit, something I miss in today’s Christian churches. Actually, I can think of nothing negative to say about the church as far as its programs, the Ward community, and taking care of one another. Its theology, however, is another matter. For someone who was as happy as I to leave the LDS Church, definitely suggests there had to be a good reason.
DMM: What were some key differences between the LDS and Christian faiths that you personally observed?
JH: When I was a Mormon, I didn’t even pay attention to Christian faiths, except for my grandmother’s. She was not LDS and all I knew was she was a good woman and loved her Bible. The reason I didn’t pay attention to other religions was that we were taught that Christians who only believed in the Bible were on a kindergarten level, whereas we had more advanced knowledge. In my mind, I thought, “Why would I want to demote myself to something lesser?” I had no problem believing we had more, as I was hooked on the writings of an early church leader, Orson Pratt, who deeply expounded on creation, the world of spirit that existed before the physical creation, the transmigration of particles and other applicable scientific data, an explanation of the original God, who was the First Great Cause and how He came to be, as well as detail about the hereafter. Pratt’s scientific approach validating doctrines appealed to me because it was so deep; therefore, I knew we had more than Christians had.
DMM: What were some feelings you personally experienced while being in the LDS Church?
JH: My personal experience in the church was positive until, very slowly, I began recognizing incorrect principles being taught by church leaders. My blinders began to lift and I became aware of the requirement of “blind” obedience when the church’s magazine came out with a message from headquarters:
Brethren, keep your eye on the President of the Church and if he tells you to do something and it’s wrong, the Lord will bless you for it.
Whoa! Houston, we have a problem here! Since when does God bless someone for doing something wrong just because someone else tells them to do it? Generally speaking, obedience to leaders is fine; but should not be “blind.” I recall saying to a few members, “Don’t you think you ought to pray about such and such.” Their answer? “Oh, we don’t need to pray, we know the leaders speak for God and won’t lead us astray.”
A few Guidepost Magazines fell into my hands, via my grandmother, and I read about individuals in other religions having prayers answered. Latter-day Saints claimed only they received answers to prayer because they belonged to the only true church. I began to suspect differently and dared to make the comment in my adult Sunday school class that Baptists also had their prayers answered. Some immediately got up and walked out of class, and the looks from others was like I should be stoned.
Another wake-up call regarded the Bible. I had been taught that it was full of error because of faulty translations and therefore, untrustworthy. Later, when I taught a class on the Dead Sea Scrolls, I saw that scholars had compared the Bible’s Masoretic text with the Isaiah text in the scrolls and they were word-for-word identical in more than 95 percent of the text. The other five percent of variation consisted primarily of obvious slips of the pen and spelling alterations. It left me with the thought: “If my leaders are wrong about the Bible’s unreliability, could they be wrong about other things?”
DMM: What led you to try out fundamental Mormonism?
JH: Mormon Fundamentalist groups are apostate offshoots of the mainline LDS Church who pride themselves on practicing doctrines of the early church that the mainline LDS Church no longer teaches. Many of those doctrines were difficult to live, requiring much self-sacrifice. Spurred on by the LDS Church’s teaching to strive for perfection, and hungry for an additional opportunity to draw closer to God, I thought that by perfecting myself I would achieve that. Knowing in earlier times the mainline LDS church under Brigham Young practiced United Orders—living communally and having all things in common, I thought if I could live that kind of life it would be a good test to see if I could unselfishly share everything I had with others and purge out any hidden selfishness I might have and thus become perfect and closer to God. Since the New Testament saints had tried it in the Book of Acts, I believed it was a heavenly principle and that God had restored it through Joseph Smith. It seemed like an answer to my prayer and I began attending a Fundamentalist group’s secret meetings in Salt Lake City. I learned about comparable "United Effort" groups that shared goods and finances, operating on a smaller scale.
The group I investigated was not the FLDS Church that has received notoriety in the news. There are many Fundamentalist groups, some large and very well organized; but also some called “Independents” consisting of those who once belonged to a large, organized group but left to form their own group on a smaller scale.
DMM: Can you tell us a bit about your experience at the Order?
JH: In 1978, I was very excited to secretly join an independent group in Montana and gain a new communal “Christian” experience. At first I was given the royal treatment and showered at every turn. This, I later learned, is called the “honeymoon period”; only it didn’t last. It was not paradise and they did not love each other with the love of Christ as I supposed. Typical of cults, things gradually changed.
Amidst the strife, jealousy, and contention, the Order grew progressively worse. Stricter rules were added and robot obedience to the leader's priesthood authority was demanded. Individual interests and opinions were absolutely prohibited. The joy I experienced at first was gone—I felt desolate. I never heard anything about Jesus.
But despite the strict atmosphere of control, my one freedom was driving up to Flathead Lake on Sunday mornings to pray and meditate. This was allowed since the Order’s services were held in the afternoon. (This was sort of a lie.) What I really needed was to get away from what seemed like a dark cloud God showed me was hovering over the farm.
At the lake, I would pray asking God to lift my depression and also to give me humility for submission and also charity to withstand the leader’s wife’s verbal abuse that always left me in tears. I had my car but I never considered fleeing. I had covenanted before God to share my belongings and felt sincerely obligated to keep it.
Once Winter set in, I was no longer able to drive to the lake, so I drove aimlessly over the barren plains. On one such day, in the middle of nowhere, I happened upon The Little Brown Church. I decided to go in, realizing that I would have to keep it a secret, and quietly slipped into the back row.
The peaceful, loving atmosphere was a sharp contrast to life in the Order and my spirits immediately lifted. The leaders were loving and kind and I began to gain a clearer perspective of how wrong things were. But I still felt bound to stay and keep my covenant with God.
In a short period of time, The Little Brown Church taught me about grace—something the LDS Church never expounded on in my day. I also learned works would never get me into heaven. My head was in a confused whirl. Calvary and reconciliation were explained. And contrary to Mormon teaching, I learned Adam's sin definitely applied to me. Inherently, I was a sinner—not a basically good person who was a literal, divine, spiritual offspring of God! That was a tough pill to swallow.
Nevertheless, I began to gain a new understanding of what Jesus did for me on the cross. But I still only thought of simply incorporated these new concepts into my Mormon thinking.
But soon, my worst fears were realized—I was followed!
One afternoon upon returning to the farm, the leader confronted me yelling,
"Have you been attending that Little Brown Church?”
I admitted that I had, and tried to tell him about Jesus but he cut me off. I’d seen individuals lose their temper before, but never rage. All hell literally broke loose! They accused me of spiritual adultery and “worshiping at the Altar of Baal.” I was confused because I thought we all believed in Jesus. My leader’s response?
"Of course...but you found him in a Christian church instead of through me! I'm your spiritual head! You learn through me!"
They demanded my car keys, which I dutifully handed over, and confined me to the unfinished building at the back of the farm in an 8x10 room that was only sheet rocked. There was a bed, a dresser, and a small window. A bare light bulb hung from a hole in the ceiling, and there was no running water or toilet facilities—only a thunder bucket.
I was expected to remain in isolation until I repented. Everyone was forbidden to interact with me in any way. I could only be reinstated in fellowship once I came into their Sunday Sacrament service and publicly repent of my sin—and denounced the Christian Jesus—at the Sunday Sacrament meeting. My refusal came automatically and naturally from my heart and spirit.
I was held prisoner for nine months. The leader periodically came into my room to rail and revile me yelling, "Repent!" But I kept refusing. I wouldn’t renounce the Christian Jesus even if they killed me.
Meanwhile, my health deteriorated. I grew dangerously thin and my thinking processes became sluggish, no doubt the combination of poor food, poor living conditions, and abuse. My thinking varied between extremes, at times it was difficult to even think. Other times, I found myself going through mental gymnastics in a feeble attempt to rationalize my circumstances. I soon began to believe that I deserved my situation (common among cult prisoners).
I slipped in and out of deep depression—even to the verge of suicide. Yet even in all this, I never entertained thoughts of escape. Why? Because I was still concerned about my commitment to the Order and covenant with God. I didn’t want to break my promise, even if it meant dying. Plus, the leader's brainwashing words "God doesn't like a covenant breaker" were pounded into my head.
My health grew worse and I lost all incentive to live. When I would ask my leader "Why don't you let me die?" his response was always the same. "You're staying alive—you’re not going to bring law down on me!" He felt that if I died and the police came in, he might face a murder charge. I began to wonder how long it would take to actually die—my answer came sooner than I anticipated. One of the children snuck into the building to visit me and found me on the floor, unconscious, and ran to the leader. He and his cohorts put me on my bed and prayed (I was told later) I would not die—for the sake of their leader.
While I couldn’t measure the length of time I was in that state, my body felt so horribly weak and my skin was grotesquely discolored: a solid fusion of black, gray, and purple. (After my escape, I was told by an RN that I had actually died.)
During the next two months, I slowly regained a degree of strength because the leader ordered his wife to bring me better food. Still, my health progressively worsened. The worst were the crippling spasms that felt like electric shocks through my neck and back and struck without warning. After I escaped, I was in bad shape with a host of health problems.
One day something strange but marvelous happened. I knelt by my bed praying aloud, entertaining no thoughts of escape, when I was totally interrupted with these words:
"I shall deliver you."
Wow! I thought. God evidently approved of my leaving! Which meant he wouldn’t consider me a covenant-breaker. It was all I needed. Although extremely thin and still suffering from serious physical problems, I became excited about leaving and planned my escape, which can be read here.
When I finally arrived home in Northern California it was over—or so I thought. I was unaware of the length of time it would take to overcome all the physical and emotional aftereffects. I experienced three to eight years of flashbacks, conflicting emotions, nightmares, as well as grappled with disorientation and an inability to speak and relate to people from 9 months of isolation.
I also had anxiety attacks, fearing the cult leader would find me and either force me back to the cult, or carry out the doctrine of "Blood Atonement" on me. I was afraid to walk by any window at night, for fear of being shot, knowing in the cult's eyes I had apostatized from God, and Jesus' blood couldn't cover something that terrible. The only way I would inherit some degree of salvation in heaven was if my own blood were spilt—and it was their responsibility to see it done.
In 1980, I requested my excommunication from the LDS Church and entered Christianity with my whole heart.
DMM: Wow! That eerily reminds me of an old Walker, Texas Ranger episode where the Assistant D.A., Alex Cahill, was kept in a similar room as you and experienced similar abuses. I know law enforcement shows often try to mimic or borrow from real-life situations. Do you find that your experience was singular or have you met or heard of others who had similar experiences to yours?
JH: I’m unfamiliar with the episode of Walker, Texas Rangerso unable to comment on that. However, I have heard stories that trickled down from other Fundamentalist groups about physical and emotional abuse, but have never personally talked with anyone who had the same experience as I. I’m sure there are plenty. A TV documentary interviewed one former member who had been locked in a closet.
DMM: Tell us about your book Out of the Cults and Into the Church: Understanding and Encouraging Ex-Cultists.
JH: Based upon my 35 years of experience of coming out of Mormonism and including former members from the Mormon Church, Unification Church, Hare Krishna, and others, the book presents the difficulties former members of tightly structured fringe religions face in leaving their tightly structured religious community with its unique doctrines when they try to enter an orthodox Christian church. It explains the emotional trauma and the difficult questions they face that Christians can’t always answer, offering practical, non-technical suggestions for pastors, counselors, and friends on how to understand and encourage ex-cultists through the difficult times of post-conversion stress.
It is the only book on the Christian market to describe, in extensive detail, these traumatic difficulties. The book is also designed for new converts to Christ to read who will see, probably for the first time, why they are having such severe problems. Many have told me this book “saved their life.”
DMM: In your opinion, how does the experience of those leaving the Mormon Church (any sect) differ from those who leave other cults?
JH: I see no difference, which is why I included former members of other false religions in my book, Out of the Cults and Into the Church. For example, when the World Wide Church of God rejected the teachings of its founder, Herbert J. Armstrong, and shifted to orthodox Christianity, there was such a traumatic shock among its members that for a while the church gave my book to its ministers to help members through the transition. I have had former members of other fringe religions tell me my book also applied to them.
DMM: Would you mind telling us about your other book The Mormon Missionaries: An Inside Look at Their Real Message and Methods?
JH: This book examines the Mormon Missionary program and what they don't tell upfront—from its unorthodox theological and political beliefs to its carefully planned strategies to win converts. Written like a novel, the story is set against the backdrop of a Christian Bible College where I taught for a short time. Two Mormon missionaries venture onto the campus and Susan, a student, falls for one of the handsome Mormon missionaries. Believing she can convert him, she agrees to take their lessons and soon finds herself in over her head, torn between her romantic feelings and her Christian faith. A concerned teacher on campus, a former Mormon, accompanies her to the missionaries' lessons, counsels Susan about their false claims, and discusses the Mormon material and their beliefs in her Comparative Religions class. The book also describes the LDS Church's present evangelistic manual, Preach My Gospel, that outlines the missionaries' lesson material, enabling Christians to be prepared ahead of time when conversing with them.
DMM: What are some main methods Mormon Missionaries employ to gain new converts?
JH: The first role of the missionary’s manual is to convert the missionaries since many have never studied the church and its doctrines and do not have a strong testimony, if any. Their testimony, the church explains to them, is the major tool in converting prospective members. The church, after studying marketing techniques, how people behave, and have scrutinized how sentences should be worded to make people respond more readily, pass these strategies on to the missionaries.
The missionaries focus on four objectives.
1. First, make the Investigator “feel emotion.” Good feelings are what will accomplish conversions. Therefore, they are to strive to have the person:
- Feel a good spiritual relationship with the missionaries, more than casual friendship.
- Feel good when the missionaries bear their testimony.
- Feel good in believing that the missionaries are uplifting them spiritually.
- Feel good about keeping the commitments they are invited to make.
- 2. Missionaries are taught how to use persuasive logic to bring about various commitments, and use Christian terms that have different Mormon meanings. For example, the word “Gospel” means something entirely different. This subtly leads unsuspecting Investigators into non-Biblical doctrines.
- Missionaries are cautioned not to have Investigators check the Bible against what they are saying (otherwise contradictions will appear); however, they do use Bible scriptures that are general in nature, such as God’s love, prayer, etc.
- Gradually, Bible scriptures are replaced with more Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants scriptures, explaining to the person that the Bible is untrustworthy due to faulty translation, but the good news is that the Book of Mormon is the pure word of God. It is the old “bait and switch” strategy, meaning you are sold one thing, then delivered another.
DMM: In my experience with Mormons, why is it that whenever someone starts asking them “hard questions” about their doctrine, they always have to pass you off to someone else who knows more than them?
JH: This is because the majority of young missionaries are unfamiliar with their church’s deeper doctrines. This is because many of them:
- Were previously living a contrary lifestyle and sent as a last ditch effort by parents and bishops to straighten them out
- Accept a mission call only because it is expected of them (a rite of passage).
- Have never studied the church or its doctrines.
- Do not have a testimony about the LDS Church's beliefs or its claim to a divine origin.
Are LDS leaders aware of this? Yes. When these young men and women arrive at the Missionary Training Center and leaders tell them that it will be the power and fervor of their personal testimony about the Mormon Church, Joseph Smith, and the Book of Mormon that will influence potential converts to join, without which they will never bring in converts, how do you think that affects these young missionaries? Panic is putting it mildly. Missionaries respond with:
- What if we don't have a testimony?
- How are we supposed to get one?
- Won't it be dishonest if we fake it?
Since the church claims that a testimony is given to members from the Holy Ghost, these young men and women plunge into a quandary on how they can grab hold of the Holy Ghost in the time allotted.
Addressing the missionaries' dilemma of "how to get a testimony," Apostle Boyd K. Packer provided a surprising answer, albeit a deficient one. In a speech to Mission Presidents, he said: "A testimony is to be found in the bearing of it!" A clever strategy well known in psychological circles. The principle is that if individuals verbally declare something often enough, they will grow to believe it. It is a kind of self-brainwashing that works for any declared affirmation regardless of the beliefs involved. This reveals why the church programs its young children in the Primary organization to "memorize" the required testimony about Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, and the LDS Church. Their continual recitations of it eventually become a conditioned response, producing an inner conviction that Joseph Smith was really a prophet and that the Book of Mormon and the LDS Church are true, which leaders hope will carry into adulthood. Leaders know that their repetitious, rote-like declarations will soon have them believing it. Unconverted missionaries are expected to use the same method. Soon, they too will have a “testimony” and come to believe it is from the Holy Ghost.
DMM: In high school, I had many LDS friends and I noticed that they all attended church at their stakes before school each day. What is this meeting and what is its purpose?
JH: For High School students, it is called “Seminary.” For college level, it is called “Institute of Religion.” It is a course for students to study the literature of the church, e.g., The Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price, basically to strengthen their faith in Mormonism so they’ll remain converted during the age when statistics show that most become disinterested in their religion. Since the church launched its big PR program years back to start emphasizing Jesus Christ and sound more Christian, the official description of the Seminary program’s objective has now changed to read:
To help youth understand and rely on the teachings and Atonement of Jesus Christ, understand the doctrines and principles of the gospel as found in the scriptures (meaning the Book of Mormon and other church literature considered ‘scripture’) and the words of the prophets (from the Book of Mormon and early church presidents), and to learn how to qualify for the blessings of the temple, and prepare themselves, their families, and others for eternal life with their Father in Heaven. Also to prepare them to teach the (LDS) gospel to others.
DMM: Utah, which contains a population of about 51% Mormons (~81% in Utah County), “boasts” some of the highest divorce rates in the nation as well as high rape, incest, depression, and suicide rates. From your own experience, can you tell us why that is?
JH: Suicide: In 1999, Utah health officials ranked the state's suicide rate as 10th highest in the nation and the leading cause of death for males between 15 and 44, exceeding the national rate by 30%. In 2012, Utah was the 7th highest in the nation for suicide, still higher than the U.S. rate and the fourth leading cause of death among Utahans ages 24 to 64. Since 2010, an average of 501 Utahans each year have died by suicide and another 3,968 were hospitalized or treated in emergency rooms from injuries due to suicide attempts according to the Utah Department of Health. Utah and other states in the Rockies consistently have the highest suicide rates in the country aside from Alaska. In 2014, the region became known as the "suicide belt." An even more concerning statistic is that the state is ranked fifth for youth suicides.
Why so many suicides with the males, especially the youth? I can give you a real live example. In St. George, where my mother lived, a youth who had just come off a mission committed suicide. He left a note explaining that he just couldn’t live up to the code of perfection demanded by his bishop. This was not an isolated case. Some of the males, too young to have yet gone on a mission who committed suicide may have been victims of incest. Many have testified to this (including females), and reporting it to the bishop does no good because if the father holds the priesthood, allowances are made. Some youth may commit suicide because they have committed some sexual sin such as experimenting with masturbation, done innocently at first due to their young age. They are reprimanded so harshly and made to feel extremely guilty, with the bishop using the leverage of their never making it to the Celestial Kingdom nor being with their family for eternity, they feel all hope is totally lost and they will never measure up to the standard of perfection demanded by the church. Some, after coming off the restrictive lifestyle of their mission also experiment with smoking and drinking. Coupled with all this is the sense they have let their family down and caused them great sorrow. Older men may have committed adultery and also feel all is lost, plus do not want to face their bishop.
Depression: 2014: Utah is the No. 1 state for antidepressant use. Among adults in Utah, 10.14% experienced a depressive episode in the past year and 14.58% experienced serious psychological distress. Among adolescents in Utah, 10.14% experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. Individuals in Utah reported having on average 3.27 poor mental health days in the past 30 days.” I have read that the depression exists mostly with the women because their husbands are so controlling. The latter become this way because of the doctrine and their temple experience which states they will become a God, and their wife is to be totally subject to them. “I am your God; therefore, do as I say.” A wife of a member of the bishopric, who was close friends with my mother, told her that she went to the bishop and showed him all the bruises on her body from her husband’s abuse. Absolutely nothing was done. Interestingly, Perry Renshaw, a neuroscientist at the University of Utah blames the “altitude,” saying it is because high altitude oxygen decreases as altitude rises and thus effects the brain making it go through metabolic changes. While some people can adapt, others can’t, based on their DNA. He claims scientific research bears his theory out. However, knowing what goes on behind closed doors in the Mormon culture, I don’t think this theory is going to carry much weight as explaining the suicides and depression.
DMM: I’ve noticed a pattern with people who leave the Mormon faith: the Mormon Church almost always tries to assassinate their character. Can you tell us why that is and have you had any experience with this?
JH: Fortunately, the only experience I had was when I requested my excommunication. My friends in the Ward were told by the bishop that I was now in the “devil’s territory” because I had apostatized from the truth. They all rejected me; even literally turning their backs on me and crossing the street should they see me coming down the same sidewalk. That really hurt.
Has the church tried to assassinate me because of my books and blog articles on Mormonism? I know they are aware of me because every time I post a new article on my blog, one of the email addresses checking the article out is “BYU Studies.” However, I have had no accusatory repercussions directed to me from the church nor mention me in their list of anti’s. I think there are 3 reasons:
- My articles don’t “bash” the Mormon Church like a few Christian writers do.
- I quote LDS leaders accurately.
- I just present what Mormons believe in a respectful manner, despite showing the biblical perspective that opposes their beliefs.
DMM: You mentioned blood atonement in your tale. Can you explain what this is in Mormon terms?
JH: Blood atonement is the belief that if you apostatize from the truth, Jesus’ sacrificial blood is not enough to cover that sin; therefore, it is the leaders’ responsibility to shed your blood for you to save your soul. While this is no longer practiced in the modern-day church (although they favor state executions by shooting so that blood is literally spilled), it was practiced in the early church.
Brigham Young said:
This is loving your neighbour as ourselves; if he needs help, help him; and if he wants salvation and it is necessary to spill his blood on the earth in order that he may be saved, spill it. (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, vol. 4, p. 220)
Joseph Fielding Smith said:
Joseph Smith taught that there were certain sins so grievous that man may commit, that they will place the transgressors beyond the power of the atonement of Christ...Therefore their only hope is to have their own blood shed to atone. (Doctrines of Salvation, vol 1, p 135)
DMM: Is blood atonement still actively practiced today? If so, how often is it carried out and who by?
JH: A rare few Fundamentalist groups practice it. I was fearful of this after I escaped the group I was in. I was afraid to walk by my window at night for fear someone was outside in the dark intending to shoot me. I also had nightmares, thinking that even though they may not kill me, they might kidnap me and take me back to the cult to be punished. The only group I became aware of was Ervil LeBaron’s Fundamentalist group.
He murdered opponents as well as disobedient family members in the name of blood atonement, including his own 17-year-old daughter Rebecca, who was pregnant with her second child and who had hoped to leave the group. He also had members carry out his murders. Caught and sentenced to life, he continued to order murders from his cell, which his faithful followers committed. He died in prison in 1981. An excellent 5 minute video featuring LeBaron’s daughter before she was killed, can be seen here.
Today—and this is just conjecture—I do not doubt there may be some unexplained murders that are committed by some of the groups. As late as 1989, former members of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (renamed in 2001 the Community of Christ) killed in cold blood the five member of the Avery family on April 17, 1989, and buried their bodies in the floor of a barn. Unless one reads it in the news, it’s difficult to know about them.
DMM: What advice would you give someone like me trying to witness to Mormons? Does it differ depending on which Mormon sect they belong to?
JH: Yes. It depends. Witnessing to a mainline Mormon is different than witnessing to a non-Christian; and witnessing to a Fundamentalist is also different from witnessing to a Mormon. Since there are too many facets in the differences between witnessing to a mainline Mormon, a missionary, a Fundamentalist and a non-Christian to list here, I’ll just address the mainline Mormon, although other strategies are answered in the next section. Here are a few pointers:
- I have found the use of the word “blood” (as in saved by the blood), with reference to Jesus’ death on the cross, too bloody and gross for mainline Mormons to handle, so avoid that word.
- Don’t come on like gangbusters with every negative thing you can think about their church, telling them how all their doctrines are wrong. Since they’re trained in defense mechanisms, you are not going to convert them--at least while they’re on their mission. You’ll only get into a heated argument. Think more about planting positive seeds that may sprout later. Don’t underestimate the growth potential of a seed. After their mission there is a chance they may convert to Christianity, even as my daughter did.
- If you are a former Mormon, tell them about your LDS background and positions held. The more impressive, the better. This leads to questions.
- Don’t try to take on the Mormon missionaries in a theological debate until you’ve dealt with the average Mormon, and don’t take on the average Mormon without a thorough understanding of Mormonism.
- When backed into a corner unable to provide an answer, the missionary will revert to his “testimony,” which he claims is given him by the Holy Ghost, because how can one refute a personal testimony. They will give something similar to the following:
“I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus is the Christ, that the Book of Mormon is true, and I know the LDS Church is the only true church upon the face of the earth, and Joseph Smith and President Thomas Spencer Monson are prophets of God.”
“I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus is the Christ and Savior of the world…that he died for my sins, was resurrected, and that I have forgiveness of all sin, not just some; that I am saved by grace and not by works and will inherit the highest heaven upon that principle because the Bible tells me so. I also know God hears and answers prayer and know all this, not only by the feeling I have of the inner witness of the Holy Ghost (not Holy Spirit, as they believe they are two separate entities), but also by the reliability of God’s word, the Bible, which declares it to be so. And I also know that because of my relationship with Christ he has changed my life, continues to bless me, and answers my prayers.” (You might want to give an example of the latter.)
Be prepared that the missionary will probably fudge through it well, may even smile and say something to the effect that they accept your testimony. Nevertheless, say, “Well, since we both have testimonies about our own religions, how are we to determine which one is correct?” That’s when you say, the Bible has to be the yardstick, and take it from there. Also point out that the Bible is not faulty through mistranslation (as Mormons believe).
DMM: What would you say to someone enthralled in the Mormon faith?
JH: Here are 4 options I have used with individuals: You can say:
1. “Do you believe that God’s truths are eternal, the same yesterday, today and forever?” (They usually say yes.) “Well then, how do you handle the idea that the church used to teach that, but now teaches that truth is changeable—that each president of the church can change revelations issued by past presidents who were considered prophets? How, then can you rely on a present truth being taught by the church, knowing a next president may change it?”I often use this when I bump into missionaries because it plants a seed of doubt:
2. “I understand the Book of Mormon is supposed to contain the “fullness of the gospel.” (They give me an excited yes.) “Well, if that’s so, if you can show me in the Book of Mormon where it teaches the same concept of God the Father as is taught in the church today, I’ll join your church.” (They usually say, still excited, “Well, we can’t put our finger on it right this minute, but give us your telephone number and we’ll call you with the answer and reference.”) Of course, I never receive that call because the Book of Mormon teaches the Christian concept of God (Joseph Smith hadn’t yet started teaching his more bizarre doctrines about the godhead). The Book of Mormon, in Alma 18:26-28, teaches God is a Spirit; Mosiah 15:1-4 teaches Jesus is God; and Alma 11:26-31 teaches against a plurality of gods, all of which is contrary to what Joseph Smith later taught and what the LDS Church believes today—which is: God is not a spirit, but a resurrected man from a previous world who earned his godhood; Jesus is not God, but a separate and distinct third member of the Godhead who was a literal offspring of God and one of his wives; and there is a plurality of gods consisting of all those in worlds past who earned their godhood.
3. Actually, the best witnessing method is sharing what God has done in my life. Now, it cannot be a general statement like, “God blesses me every day” but something specific that resulted from a specific prayer.
When my daughter was on her LDS mission (she’s now a Christian), she and her partner kept running into, as she called them, “those crazy, born-again Christians” who excitedly testified to specific things God had done in their lives. While she and her partner would give a polite response, inside their heads they were confused, thinking, “How can God be in this lady’s life when she doesn’t belong to the only true church?” That kind of witness by Christians, plus a few other things observed on her mission, brought my daughter out of the LDS Church.
4. I ask a converted member: “Did you pray about the Book of Mormon?” They will say, “Oh yes. I know it’s true because I received a good feeling in my heart about it.”
“Well, I answer, did you pray about its “contents” or its “origin” about Joseph Smith receiving it from an angel?” Their answer is “on the contents.”
I then explain that there’s no question that the principles and concepts in the text of the Book of Mormon are true, because Joseph Smith plagiarized the United Presbyterian's Westminster Confession, used names influenced by the Book of Genesis, quoted over 18 chapters of Isaiah, the Ten Commandments, and portions from Deuteronomy, Malachi, and other parts of the Old Testament; also borrowed from Matthew, Mark, and Paul's writings, paralleling New Testament stories. Therefore, naturally the contents will ring true to your spirit and give you a confirming feeling. Therefore, it is not the content you should pray about, but the origin. And to be sure your own feelings won’t interfere, before you pray you should objectively research the Internet on the origin.
I also add: “Did you also know that according to the early church’s records, it wasn’t Moroni who was in charge of the plates, but a “toad” who changed itself into a “bloody Spaniard? His story was because he and his family relished pirates' tales that were prevalent in that day. Later, Smith said the messenger of the plates was not a toad, but "Nephi," (not "Moroni). (The first edition of the Pearl of Great Price states Nephi.) Later, Mormon officials became embarrassed by all of Smith's discrepancy, so changed both the History of the Church and the Pearl of Great Price to read "Moroni."END OF INTERVIEW
SPECIAL NOTE to those who wish to make a comment in the comment box shown further below (it has a small icon with a pencil by it). If you want to hear back from me when you have a specific question, you'll have to include (within your message) your email address. Without it, I can only respond directly on my blog, which means you will have to revisit this page to see my response to your question.
Jan, What a powerful testimony! Is it in the two books mentioned in t he interview? A biography or an autobiography? If so, How do I get a copy for my church library?
Mary, I do not have my story in book form. However, it is printed out on my dashboard under "My personal story" at wwwjanishutchinson.blogspot.com (no dot after the www). All I can suggest is to copy and paste it onto your own computer, and then print it out and put a copy in your library. The only published books I have are the 2 mentioned in the interview. They are on Amazon. BTW, if you would like to be on my mailing list to receive an email announcement whenever I post a new article (about once a month), email me at email@example.com and give me your email address.
Until next time,
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