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Thursday, July 2, 2009

Christian Courage at Temple Square

Note to the reader: This is an essay I wrote in reply to the July 2009 Ensign's call for articles. The theme was around Elder Robert D. Hales' conference talk entitled "Christian Courage: The Price of Discipleship". Constructive criticisms, critiques and other comments are appreciated before I submit this essay to the Ensign.

Christian Courage at Temple Square 


by Stephen O. Smoot 


As a volunteer with the Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research (FAIR)1, I was particularly impressed by Elder Robert D. Halesʼ October 2008 General Conference talk2. In his talk, Elder Hales admonished the Saints to respond to criticisms and challenges from critics and other foes of the Church by exhibiting what he called “Christian courage”; namely, we should “not retaliate” against our critics, but instead “show forth His love, which is the only power that can subdue the adversary and answer our accusers without accusing them in return.”3 Elder Hales went on to clarify that “especially important [are] our interactions with members of other Christian denominations. Surely our Heavenly Father is saddened—and the devil laughs—when we contentiously debate doctrinal differences with our Christian neighbors.”4 Thus, Elder Hales cautioned, “our primary concern must be othersʼ welfare, not personal vindication. Questions and criticisms give us an opportunity to reach out to others and demonstrate that they matter to our Heavenly Father and to us. Our aim should be to help them understand the truth, not defend our egos or score points in a theological debate.”5 


In my experience as a volunteer with FAIR, I have had several opportunities both in person and on various online message boards and chat rooms to engage with critics of the Church and its teachings. These experiences have been interesting, exciting, uplifting, faith-promoting, frustrating, irritating, and disheartening simultaneously. While I have learned much from engaging with critics of the Church and my testimony in the Restored gospel has grown stronger with my experience with FAIR, I have at times come away from these interactions in a bad temper or exceedingly vexed. Usually it is after I have been vigorously Bible-bashing or contending with a heated ego and temper against someone who is as equally sure of their convictions as I am of mine. Thus, these words from Elder Hales have been very important to me as I have interacted with critics and skeptics. They remind me of how I must react to critics and skeptics the same way the Savior would - with love and understanding that even those critics who I debate with are children of our Heavenly Father who have their right to their free will and agency. 


However, one particular moment has always stood out above others to me as an example of how I was able to exhibit Christian courage in the face of adversity and skepticism. Every six months at General Conference, I travel down to Temple Square with a couple of my fellow volunteers from FAIR to speak with and engage the anti-Mormon street preachers who try pester and provoke the Saints with unsavory epithets, distasteful slurs and repugnant accusations against the leadership and doctrines of the Church. During the April 2009 General Conference, I met a man at Temple Square, an Evangelical Christian with a large poster who was there to, according to his own account, “witness” to the Saints, with whom I began to speak with. 


This man informed me that he was a former member of the Church who discontinued believing in the Restored Gospel. When I asked him why, he stated that he came to believe that the doctrines of the Church were not compatible with the Bible. After listing some examples, such as the unique understanding of the Godhead that the Saints hold to compared to conventional Christianity, this man then began to ask me various questions designed to challenge my faith in the Restored Gospel: How can you believe in the Book of Mormon when there is no evidence for its authenticity? Are you aware that the LDS view of the nature of God is not at harmony with the Bible? How can you believe in Joseph Smith as a prophet even after he uttered false prophecies? The Bible makes itself clear that it is the sole source of authority. How, then, can you accept additional scriptures?  


It would have been easy for me to become defensive and combative with this gentleman as he asked these questions. It would have been easy for me to become dismissive and flippant in the face of these accusations. However, I remembered the council of Elder Hales as well as the words of the Savior to the Nephites in 3 Nephi 11:29 and restrained myself from become contentious. In response, I calmly pointed out to this gentleman that these accusations have been answered by groups such as FAIR or the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS): While there is evidence for the Book of Mormonʼs authenticity, it is primarily and most importantly a witness from the Spirit that we come to know of the Book of Mormonʼs truthfulness.6 The Latter-day Saint view of God does have backing from and is in harmony with the Bible.7 The allegations that the Prophet Joseph Smith uttered false prophecies rests on both a misunderstanding of the nature of prophecy and prophets alike.8 The Bible affirms the principle of an open canon and nowhere claims to be the sole source of authority from God.9 


I could tell that my non-confrontational approach to these accusations had made an impact on this gentleman, as he seemed to open up and began asking questions that were not so much aggressive but genuinely sincere and thoughtful. He asked me what I thought about Jesus Christ. I responded that my faith is in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the Savior of the world. He asked how I knew this. I responded that my testimony came from reading the Book of Mormon and the teachings of the prophets therein. 


  I could tell that because our encounter did not turn into a vindictive and egotistical debate but instead became a sincere and friendly discussion, I was more easily able to share my testimony of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ with this man. Because of the fact that the spirit of contention was unable to penetrate the atmosphere, the Spirit of our Heavenly Father was able fill both our hearts and plant within them peace. We ended our conversation with good feelings towards each other and the spirit radiating within us. 


This demonstration has shown me that Elder Halesʼ principles taught in his General Conference speech are true, and that by abiding by these precepts when we encounter criticism and skepticism we can hopefully escape the spirit of the contention and do our best to stand firm in our faith and our testimonies as we bear witness of the truth. We will all ultimately face criticism. We will all be asked questions about our faith from both sincere and insincere people. It is therefore imperative that we as Latter-day Saints remember to exhibit Christian courage in the face of adversity and affliction and to “stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places” (Mosiah 18:9).


Notes:

1 FAIR operates a website, www.fairlds.org, that is an online cache of apologetic information. Apologetics, 

from the Greek apologia (απολογία), is a systematic defense of a particular doctrine or idea. See, for 

example, the remarks of the Apostle Peter in 1 Peter 3:15, wherein the Saints are admonished "to make a 

defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you" (Revise Standard Version, 

emphasis added). 


2 Elder Robert D. Hales, “Christian Courage: The Price of Discipleship,” Ensign, Nov. 2008, 72-75 


3 Ibid, 73. 


4 Ibid.


5  Ibid.


6 While a large corpus of literature has been written on this subject, see generally Donald W. Parry, Daniel 

C. Peterson and John W. Welch, eds., Echos and Evidences of the Book of Mormon (Provo, Utah: 

Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies. 2001), Noel B. Reynolds, ed., Book of Mormon 

Authorship Revisited: The Evidence for Ancient Origins (Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research 

and Mormon Studies. 1997) and Noel B. Reynolds, ed., Book of Mormon Authorship: New Light on 

Ancient Origins (Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies. 1982). See also the 

plethora of articles published in the FARMS Review and the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, both 

produced by FARMS. 


7  See generally David L. Paulsen, “Divine Embodiment: The Earliest Christian Understanding of God,” in 

Early Christians in Disarray: Contemporary LDS Perspectives on the Christian Apostasy, ed., Noel B. 

Reynolds (Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies. 2005), 239-295. See also 

the FAIR wiki website under the category “God” at http://en.fairmormon.org/ 

FAIRwiki:Table_of_contents#God (Accessed June 29th, 2009). 


8  See generally John A. Tvedtnes, “The Nature of Prophets”. Available online at http://www.fairlds.org/ 

Bible/Nature_of_Prophets_and_Prophecy.html (Accessed June 29th, 2009).


9 See generally Michael R. Ash, “Is the Bible Complete?”, available at http://www.fairlds.org/ 

FAIR_Brochures/Is_the_Bible_Complete.pdf (Accessed June 29th, 2009). See also the FAIR wiki article 

“Open Canon vs. Closed Canon” at http://en.fairmormon.org/Open_canon_vs._closed_canon (Accessed 

June 29th, 2009).