Previously I shared about my entry into Apologetics through the study of Mormonism. Today’s story comes from another of my experiences with Mormons. It, unfortunately, also involved another failure. I guess I haven’t had a lot of luck in my interactions with Mormons.
From the time I first started learning about Mormonism to the time of this story I had investigated Mormonism fairly thoroughly. I have never received any real training in how to do research (so I wasn’t necessarily doing it right), nor had I invested years investigating the subject, but I think it’s safe to say I had a sufficient handle on Mormon doctrine, the basis for it (from the Bible and the Book of Mormon) and a bit about their history as well. I had also connected with a new friend who was also a Christian and was also passionate about interacting with Mormons. Passionate, though, does not always mean polite.
I recall a time when my friend (I’ll call him Tim) and I met at his friend’s house (I’ll call him Ed) and the meeting was arranged with a couple of Mormon missionaries. There may have been others (I recall Ed’s parents wandering in and out of the room but not being involved) but there were at least the 5 of us. The truth of the matter is that I don’t remember a lot of the details of that day, because all the other details faded quickly when one moment was seared into my memory forever.
I don’t remember everything that we discussed, but we got on to the subject of Joseph Smith’s integrity. Some Christians have pointed out (rightly so) that Joseph Smith had a bit of a history doing some shady interactions with others. This, of course, is by no means a knock-down case against Mormonism, and I would never hang my hat on that line of discussion these days, but it came up that day and I certainly tried to make a big deal of it then. Tim and I knew about Smith’s former dealings and deception and we wanted to make sure the Mormons in the room knew that we were by no means ignorant. They were following a troubled character and we made sure they knew we were in on their little secret.
I don’t remember what Tim said, or how he said it, but whatever I said, I said with passion. With gusto. I said it with deep-seated conviction. All of which means, of course, that I was being a totally obnoxious twit and making a complete idiot of myself. After having delivered some well-placed zinger about Joseph Smith, Ed made some comment in reply. Ed was on my right and the missionaries were on my left. Something inside me (I suspect it was more like “someone” inside me) prompted me to look back at the missionaries seated on my left. Just as I glanced over to them the one missionary was looking at the other and mouthing something to the effect of “oh boy!” The general gist of his message was something like this:
It was one of those moments where God’s message to you is loud and clear without a single word ever being spoken. I was a jerk. I had treated these people and their beliefs with utter contempt and ridicule. I saw who I had become and realized that I did not like who I saw in the mirror. I had studied the facts and arguments about Mormonism but I knew nothing about how to discuss what I had learned with others. I had acquired knowledge but never acquired any wisdom nor character (to use Greg Koukl’s summary). Getting the facts is the easy part; being the kind of person that other people wish to discuss the facts with is much harder. I had obviously not reached that second point.
My first “conversion” into the world of Apologetics was inspired by a total failure on my part to be in the least bit prepared to discuss these issues with anybody else. My second “conversion” started that day. I needed to be more than just a know-it-all. The lessons I learned over the years are largely what inspired me to write Arguing with Friends, and I hope others can learn from my lessons before they make the same mistakes I did. In this case my mistakes included (but were probably not limited to)
- Acting like an all-round jerk.
- Letting zeal get in the way of a level-headed examination of the evidence.
- Focusing on tangential issues (Joseph Smith’s history is frankly not the most fruitful avenue of discussion).
- Being a total jerk.
- Dominating the conversation.
- Behaving like a jerk.
Did I mention that I was the biggest jerk around during that conversation? It’s true! So there’s another story of failure that hopefully the rest of you can learn from so that you avoid the mistakes I’ve made.
What about you? I hope to share many stories from others about successes and failure in their conversations. If you look back at some conversation and think, “man I blew it” or perhaps, “I love how that conversation panned out” then maybe you’d like to share your success or failure with the rest of us. We’re all trying to learn how better to dialogue on these issues and it’s great to share our collective notes so we can learn from each other. Drop me a line if you are interested.