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How to Reach Out to Your Mormon Neighbors

mormon neighbors

A year ago this past Tuesday was Election Day 2012. Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee for President of the United States, and a devout Mormon, lost the election to incumbent President, Barack Obama.

Throughout the election process, interest in Mormonism was unprecedented. The exposure that came from having a candidate for the highest office in the land resulted in quite a bit of attention toward a religion that had been a mystery to many people.

Yes, it’s been a year since the election and I’ve not talked much about Mormonism. Talking about Mormonism during the election was hard to do—it was too politicized, and when you mix politics and religion, you get politics. As this helpful article explains, the Mormon Moment is passing, but I think it’s worth one more round at this blog … particularly now that the politics are less prominent.

We should continue to be clear about how we define Mormonism.

Politics and Religion

We saw the reality when the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) removed Mormonism from a list of cults on their website. Many were disappointed by this move, as they thought it seemed to be more about endorsing a political candidate due to the timing. Franklin Graham, in a helpful CNN interview, stated his position, explaining, “If I want to win a person to Christ, how can I call that person a name? That’s what shocked me, that we were calling people names.” (Be sure to watch the whole video, where he also explains the differences and focuses on our need for Christ.)

The challenge was that the BGEA changed their web page in the middle of the election, and that change became the story. I imagine the BGEA sees that now and would have timed things differently, and I remain thankful for their ministry and for their clear desire to win men and women to Christ, not to focus on “names.”

As I see it, the BGEA (for whom evangelicals have a deep trust and appreciation) had the right impulse, but the wrong timing and missed the technical definition. They are focusing on the common (sociological cult) definition (and I agree with them that it is best to not use the term). However, I would also find a place to affirm the theological categorization. Again: Mormonism fits the definition of a theological cult, but it is not helpful to lead with that term as most people do not make the distinction.

I simply call Mormonism what it is: another religion, distinct from Christianity, with kind, gracious people who need to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I, for one, hope that the Mormon Moment hasn’t passed us completely.

So, let’s not let the Mormon Moment pass completely. No prominent Mormon is running for President, but the issues still remain and Christians need to answer with truth and clarity. The need is clear.

Mormons and Evangelicals

Even this week, the Salt Lake Tribune reported on a well-known LDS politician who became an evangelical Christian while the Daily Beast excerpted the conversion story of a former LDS/BYU professor.

At the same time, evangelical leaders have been connecting with LDS leadership with more to come (including the headline wondering if there was a “detente”).

I’m not sure that “detente” is a helpful term, but I think it is always helpful to have dialogue. And I, for one, hope that the Mormon Moment hasn’t passed us completely. I want us to be on mission, and that requires educating ourselves about the world around us. I wouldn’t want that awareness to disappear as quickly as the campaign commercials did.

Labels and Mission

We should continue to be clear about how we define Mormonism. I have stated that it is wise to treat Mormonism as a different religion from Christianity (since it is), and it is also unhelpful to lead with the term “cult” (even though it does fit the theological definition of a cult).

It requires a gracious spirit to reach out, befriend and even grow to love our Mormon friends and neighbors.

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Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., is a professor and dean at Wheaton College where he also serves as Executive Director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, has earned two master’s degrees and two doctorates, and has written hundreds of articles and a dozen books. He is Regional Director for Lausanne North America, is the editor-in-chief of Outreach Magazine, and leads the Stetzer ChurchLeaders podcast. Ed is frequently cited in, interviewed by, and writes for news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He is the Founding Editor of The Gospel Project, a curriculum used by more than 1.7 million individuals each week for bible story. His national radio show, Ed Stetzer Live, airs Saturdays on Moody Radio and affiliates. He serves as interim teaching pastor of Calvary Church in New York City and serves as teaching pastor at Highpoint Church.