A Convert’s Conscience

Apologetics Book of Mormon Converts and Conversion Epistemology Ethics Mainstreaming Mission Priesthood Prophets Public Relations

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.

14 thoughts on “A Convert’s Conscience

  1. Even if we ignore the ethical issues, one could argue that the technique is strategically unsound. (Actually I have argued that, of course 😉 .)

    If the convert has a legitimate cause to believe that you intentionally deceived him/her, s/he may not only deconvert but may also become a harsh critic — one bearing a very legitimate criticism that may influence others’ opinion of the church.

  2. Your comment reminds me, Chanson, that the early missionaries in Europe would routinely deny the practice of polygamy. I suppose they might have thought that once the converts were on the boat to Utah, the commitment would hold because it was so hard for immigrants to get away.

    Apparently, lots of converts left Mormonism in St. Louis where their gentile countrymen were educating them about the rest of the Mormon story.

    Utah itself, of course, was full of disillusioned converts including the paternal ancestors of President Howard Hunter.

  3. Due to the nature of Mormonism’ preparatory gospel( D&C 84, and Mormon Doctrine page 333) misrepresentations of what the LDS Church ultimately teaches are bound to happen.

  4. Thanks, Steve. I just looked up D&C 84. It seems to me that the phrase ‘preparatory gospel’ refers to what Protestants would call the old covenant, i.e. the Mosaic law.

    So I am left a little bit confused about your remark.

  5. In the meanwhile, I watched your video. Your juxtaposition is interesting. I agree with you that the temple covenants contradict the baptismal covenant.

    However, I am not so much concerned about theology in the narrow sense but about the unreasonable demands of obedience to mortals.

  6. Even looking at it from their (the Mormon) point-of-view, that seems morally unsound. Okay, so if people don’t convert they might not get to heaven, but still, how could they think lies and obfuscation to convert people would be right in the sight of the God they believe in? That kind of logic makes zero sense to me, and I’m pretty sure I’d have felt the same when I was Mormon.

    I remember being taught – many times, by many leaders – that members don’t convert people to the gospel; the spirit converts people. And yet this guy is directly contradicting that. He seems to be saying that the spirit he believes in isn’t up to the task, so members have to lie and fudge to open the way for the spirit to do its job. And, from what I was taught, the spirit can’t be present when people are doing things like, oh, say, LYING.

    Doesn’t make much sense, even from a Mormon perspective.

  7. Actually, non-conversion for Mormons isn’t as fatal as non-conversion for Evangelicals. Mormonism has quite a number of “back doors” built into the system. Not just baptism for the dead, even B.K. Packer is on record stating that parents can get some sort of “legacy” admission for their kids.

    Also keep in mind that the Mormon church is mostly run by people who have no formal training–or even any interest–in theology. BYU may be the only church-run school that doesn’t offer degrees in Divinity. There’s no need to attribute to conspiracy what apathy and chaos can explain better.

  8. Thanks, Eugene. My point is that conversion can create disaster in people’s lives. I realize that most missionaries are not aware of that, which is why I wrote this post.

    I am not sure that you need a degree of divinity to recognize that you should answer the questions of investigators honestly, forthrightly, completely, and without reservation.

    That’s just a matter of common decency, which can be taught in a matter of minutes.

  9. You’re assuming, Hellmut, that missionaries have the slightest idea what they’re talking about. We’re talking about teenagers who don’t know what they don’t know and are easily motivated to treat missionary work like church ball. What’s a late hit for the Lord? What they tell investigators is only the beginning of the problems they can cause.

  10. That’s another good point, Eugene, the missionaries are young. On the other hand, most of them have been four years to seminary, one year to college, often at a Mormon school, and to the MTC.

    If the Church cannot prepare the kids for a mission in all that time, we have to admit that we are doing something wrong.

    It would seem to me that a proper curriculum in priesthood, Sunday school, etc. should be able to prepare kids to serve with the basic knowledge of a social worker.

    The curriculae suffer from the same problem as everywhere in Grantite Mormonism. We just go through the motions and no one is interested in excellence.

    No wonder, the kids are not prepared.

  11. Perhaps what surprised me the most growing up in New York and then attending BYU was the scriptural illiteracy of my Utah-reared counterparts. Those years spent in time-release seminary are more about socialization, me thinks. The required religion classes at BYU are no less a joke.

    Mormon missions exist primarily for the same reasons that societies throughout history have striven to sublimate the energies of randy males into more productive–or at least less destructive–pursuits. But it’d be nice if the church offered a see-the-world option that didn’t involve peddling religion.

    During my childhood, many of the local Mormons (as opposed to transplants from California and Utah) were “Vatican II” converts who were perfectly happy with “hard theology.” These were McConkie people down the line. As far as they were concerned, Catholicism was getting too soft for comfort.

    More recently, though, the church has drawn in far more Protestants and Evangelicals. More faith, less works. More emotion, less theology. As the church tries to accommodate this growing demographic, the cognitive dissonance will only become more severe.

  12. Mormon missions exist primarily for the same reasons that societies throughout history have striven to sublimate the energies of randy males into more productive–or at least less destructive–pursuits. But it’d be nice if the church offered a see-the-world option that didn’t involve peddling religion.

    That’s very true. As I said in one of my earliest posts, I think it’s admirable that Mormons would make it a priority to send their young people all over the world. A mission (especially foreign) can be an amazing learning experience, and one the kid probably wouldn’t choose spontaneously if it weren’t a part of the culture.

    That said, I think it would be a good idea to dump the proselytizing missions entirely and convert them to worldwide service missions. The mishies are recognized worldwide, but wouldn’t it be cool if the sight of mishies made the average person think “Ah, these guys are coming to help” and not “these guys are coming to talk my ear off with their weirdo religion”?

    They’d probably not only get more converts, but might likely wind up with less disillusionment among the mishies themselves — who often report that the sales-pitching and numbers game made them question their faith.

  13. For example, it would be pretty easy to provide GED classes at the Institute buildings. May be, there could even be distance learning classes towards an associates degree from BYU Idaho.

    For teenagers, there could be homework support on top of fun and games programs.

    Another element of adult education could be training for ward officers such as boy scouts leaders or financial secretaries. Bishops could get weekend courses about counseling.

    One could imagine word of wisdom classes about nutrition, cooking, and gardening.

    There are limitless possibilities with so much personnel. A lot of those activities would only require a minimal budget or pay for themselves.

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