For Mormons, mission work is key. Is that why they are often seen knocking on doors?
Over its short history, Mormonism, a controversial offshoot of orthodox Christianity, has been known for everything from polygamy to the practice of abstaining from coffee. Today, Mormons are perhaps best known for having missionaries who knock on doors.
After high school, the children of Mormon families are encouraged to participate in a two-year mission. Many Mormons will do so after they retire as well. They receive basic language and cultural training and are assigned partners and a service location.
But a missionary’s life is much more than the stereotype you may know: wearing button-up shirts and ties, riding bikes, and knocking on doors. The official website of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints describes a day in the life of a missionary this way:
A common morning for a missionary might consist of waking up at 6:30 a.m., studying the scriptures, and meeting new people to share the gospel with. The afternoon might include discussing gospel lessons with people they meet and volunteering for service in the community. A good night has them teaching the gospel to interested individuals and helping them learn and keep God's commandments.1
The work of a Mormon missionary is not easy. Every day, they try to create conversations about religion with strangers. Often they are ignored or rejected. Author Jeff Benedict writes about Mormons and business; he describes how sending young Mormons on mission has a powerful effect on character:
In two years they have gained an enormous competitive advantage, especially if they are going to become entrepreneurs, businessmen or any sort of professional, because they obtain a set of experiences and skills that cannot be replicated in any institution of higher learning or business school. . . . if you can do that for two years and come away with a smile on your face and your chin up, you can do just about anything.2
Mormons believe in an afterlife where they will have the opportunity to commune with the god they call Heavenly Father and populate their own planets.3 Because they also believe that “certain ordinances like baptism are necessary for us to return to live with our Heavenly Father, [they] feel an urgent need to share this blessing with everyone [they] can.”
This process is called proselytization. To proselytize means “to try to persuade people to join a religion, cause, or group.”4 Proselytization happens in many religions, philosophical schools, and political parties. It has been a major force throughout Christianity, one that carried through in Mormonism.
Mormons believe their mission is pressing. To help readers understand this, the Church’s website provides an analogy: “Imagine you found a cure for cancer. How urgently would you spread the news of your discovery? Who would you tell? The gospel of Jesus Christ is the cure for so many of life’s ills that Mormons want to share the good news of eternal life with the same urgency.”5
Mormon Proselytization and Christian Evangelism
Mormons aren't the only ones who try to win over people to their way of thinking. Christians have always been committed to evangelism, the process of spreading the good news about Jesus Christ. They have even used the practice of knocking on doors. Is there any difference? The differences are found in the details of each group’s beliefs.
1. A Different Jesus
Both Mormons and Christians say they want people to know about Jesus. But they don't necessarily mean the same thing.
Christians believe that the one and only God became a human being in the person of Jesus; that is, Jesus is God. Mormons believe that the Heavenly Father and Jesus are both human beings who have earned the right to be called gods.
2. A Different Workload
At the center of the Christian faith is the belief in grace, the belief that God happily rescues from their sin the women and men who have faith in him. This is a free gift offered to all believers.
Mormons believe that eternal life is earned by those who complete “the ordinances.” If they do enough of the right ordinances in the right way, they begin a process called “exaltation,” whereby they earn the right to become gods themselves.6
3. A Different Good News
Christians believe that Jesus died for our sins, took on the burden of our shortcomings, and was resurrected from the dead so that our relationship with God could be restored. That same resurrection power can change our lives today and, at the end of time, will renew and redeem the world to what it was meant to be. This is what Christians mean when they talk of the gospel.
Mormons offer a different gospel. They believe that after they die, they will have the opportunity to become gods themselves. Husbands and wives will be reunited in order to populate their own planet.
How to React When a Mormon Knocks on Your Door
Even if you do not agree with their beliefs, conversing with a Mormon can help you in the process of exploring God. What should you do when a Mormon approaches you?
- Be gracious. Remember, Mormon missionaries are often treated rudely or completely ignored. Even if you do not want to hear them out, you can still show them respect.
- Listen to their story. Ask them why they believe what they believe. Their personal stories will help you understand how others make these important decisions.
- Ask about history and practices. Mormons have a complex history. This includes historical claims and shifting positions on polygamy, racial issues, and gender roles.7 Conversing with another about the difficult areas of their beliefs will help you articulate your own.
- Compare with the Bible. Though Mormons claim to be Christians, they do rely on a very different set of scriptures. Understanding the similarities and differences will teach you about both Mormonism and orthodox Christianity.
- Decide for yourself. Jesus promises that if you “seek you will find.”8 The process of exploring God can take you to many places. Be open but discerning.
Ask hard questions and be willing to learn from everyone.