A Convert’s Conscience
Although he appears to be a star professor at BYU, I have only become aware of Robert Millet’s efforts during the last two years. As a convert, I have to admit that his approach to investigators distresses me somewhat.
I know that Millet means well when he suggests to side step investigators’ questions. Sometimes, gentiles are more interested in embarrassing us than having an honest conversation.
More importantly, if Millet believes that Mormonism is the one true church then it would be fatal with eternal consequences if our friends did not get baptized and married by the proper authority. In light of that view, it might be justified to fudge the truth a little bit to present the Church in the best light.
The Book of Mormon asserts an outcome oriented morality several times. Moroni 7:16 states that anything that brings you to Christ is good:
For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.
I hope that I am not mischaracterizing Dan Vogel but he appears to be arguing that this passage justifies lies and pretense as long as they strengthen the audience’s faith into Christ. Since the text does not justify white lies explicitly, there is some ambiguity whether fibbing is a legitimate response to conversion obstacles.
Nephi 4:6-18 narrates Nephi’s experience who slays his uncle Laban upon command of the Holy Ghost who reasons that ‘[i]t is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief.’
Again, there is no reference to fibbing but if another person’s salvation justifies homicide then answering an investigator’s question less than forthrightly cannot be much of an issue.
After all, if the Church is true then the convert will inherit eternal life in the presence of God.
Although I can empathize with Millet’s point of view, possible justifications of his behavior remain a matter of faith while the negative consequences of conversion are observable.
I might be atypical but in my experience, conversion results more often than not in the disruption of family and friendship relationships. Abroad such disruptions can compromise careers and result in social isolation. I have friends and family members whose therapists attribute their personality deformations to their Mormon experience. There are even cases of converts who commit suicide.
I do not know whether more people are happier or unhappier as a result of their conversion. I have seen it both ways.
In light of Millet’s instructions, I have to assume that he is not aware that conversion may have negative consequences or that the eternal consequences outweigh observable negatives. But that point of view is a matter of faith.
Robert Millet would be more responsible if he would not substitute his faith and judgment for our own. The right to practice our religion according to the dictates of our conscience becomes meaningless if we privilege our own conscience over that of our investigators by withholding information from them.
Every missionary needs to treat investigators with care and respect. That requires awareness of the likely price of conversion. The latter should not be the problem of missionaries. As long as they are straightforward, it is the investigators’ responsibility to assess their self-interest. However, even a white lie can rob an investigator of the opportunity to make an informed choice. In that case, the consequences may well be devastating.