There’s no escaping the fact that when you love and believe in the Savior and someone says you are not a Christian, it can really hurt. And when they accuse your church or its members of terrible things, it adds even more hurt. But if you are not careful, with the hurt comes anger, an emotion that can be more harmful to you than anything anyone says. So the first thing to do is remember that you truly are a disciple of the Savior. Keep a prayer in your heart for strength to return love for persecution.
Next, it helps to understand why people say such things. There are several basic reasons or motives:
Some are only repeating what they have heard someone else say in order to see how you respond. They may be saying, in effect, “I have heard that you are not Christians, or that Mormons do such and such. How do you respond to that?”
Others firmly believe that they know enough about us to say, “By my definition you are not a Christian, no matter what you say you believe.”
There are, unfortunately, a few who say such things just to antagonize you. They don’t really care about doctrine. They may be against religion in general. As a Latter-day Saint, your high standards are well known, so you become a target. Also, some people automatically think that if you profess high standards, you are looking down on them, so they strike back. For example, someone who drinks may feel you condemn them just because it is contrary to your personal ideals.
So, how do you respond when you are faced with false accusations about your church?
First, remember that your actions speak far more eloquently about your beliefs than anything you can say. If you are known as one who is honest, who is clean in speech and action, slow to anger, a peacemaker, friendly to all—well, you get the idea. Remember the old question: “If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”
Second, do not argue. It only invites the presence of the adversary. Instead, you might calmly ask, “What makes you say that?” If the person who has confronted you seems sincere, you could offer to tell him why we say we are Christians. This will give you the opportunity to bear your personal testimony of the Savior. You can tell how you were baptized in his name, and how you take the sacrament each week in his remembrance. You can introduce the Book of Mormon, with a friendly challenge to read it. (Just a glance at the index, with its pages and pages of references to Jesus Christ, makes a strong statement.)
If someone is obviously just trying to antagonize you and is using the Church to do so, it’s sometimes better to smile and say, “I’m afraid you’ve been misinformed,” and walk away from the situation.
Sometimes you will encounter those who have been watching anti-Mormon films and reading anti-Mormon literature. They may have been taught wrong things about the Church by adults they respect. They feel they do know about us. Many of them are sincere people who really do love the Savior according to their understanding of him. See if you can make that the center of your discussion. Ask them what their definition of a Christian is. Find out what you have in common. For example, we believe in being “born again.” That’s what the whole process of faith, repentance, baptism, taking the sacrament is all about. We believe that after all we can do, we are saved by grace (see 2 Ne. 10:24; 2 Ne. 25:23). We accept Christ as our “personal Savior” when we declare our faith in him, are baptized in his name, and look to him to lift our burden of sin.
Still, after all of that, some say we are not Christian because we believe things about Christ and his gospel that they do not find in the Bible. They simply choose to define “Christian” in such a way that it excludes Latter-day Saints. And let’s face it, we do claim additional knowledge about the Savior and his gospel from revealed sources besides the Bible. People who do not accept those sources will not accept the teachings that come from them. If they want to define “Christian” in a way that excludes our revealed teachings, that is their privilege.
Just remember that you know that your church is founded upon Christ and his teachings, that he leads it today through his prophets and apostles. Keep your testimony strong and bright and live to be the best possible example of a true Christian. That is the ultimate proof of what you truly believe. Remember, too, when you discuss other people’s beliefs, how much it hurts to have someone malign yours. Always keep in mind the Savior’s example—the way he returned love for persecution, kindness for unkindness, tolerance for intolerance.
There are very few Latter-day Saints in Mexico, although the Church is growing here. Except for my brothers and sisters, I was the only Church member through my elementary and high school years. I know it can be hard when people criticize us, but I have come to realize that the more aware they are of the Church the more they watch what we do and say.
Whenever anyone has expressed criticism of the Church to me, I have tried to let them know of our beliefs without belittling theirs.
I have never tried to get into an involved discussion of gospel principles, but just tried to be friendly and to respect their point of view.
Overall, I have tried to live as Heavenly Father would have me live, hopefully setting an example by living Church standards. When people want to know why I maintain those standards, the way has been open for me to discuss the Church and my beliefs.
Rosaura Castañeda A.
Correct them gently and ask them to come to church with you. Tell them about the Church, but don’t belittle their religion. Think what Christ would do, and remember the 11th article of faith.
Kevin Dalton, 12
Las Vegas, Nevada
Above all, don’t get defensive and argue. People who are arguing aren’t listening. Also, don’t think that it’s your personal responsibility to change the thought patterns of everyone. Start with the youth you know. Ask them what it means to be Christian and be truly interested in what they have to say. If they attend another church, get them talking about it, and talk about differences and similarities between your church and theirs. You will find that there are many similarities. Also, don’t use an attitude that yours is better than theirs, but do give some possible reasons for the differences, using the Bible as your main source, but also using the Book of Mormon, referring to it as scripture the same way that you refer to the Bible. If they ask questions, great. It means they’re probably listening.
If you can get other people thinking rationally, they will realize that Mormons are Christians and at least respect your beliefs even if they do not choose to share them. In return, you need to respect their beliefs. If a discussion begins to degenerate into an argument, break it off and try again later.
Rebecca Nielsen, 19
Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania
There are many of these kinds of youth at my school too. My very first step in acting upon their remarks is to pray and ask my Father in Heaven what to do. I know he will give me an honest answer and help me know how to approach the problem.
Sherry Gillson, 16
There are many ways to explain to people the teachings of the Church so that they know we are Christians, that we believe in Christ, that we talk of Christ, that we live in Christ, and that we serve Christ.
I believe the most ideal way is through example. Our example as Latter-day Saints is the most tangible and living proof we can offer.
From the time we are identified as Latter-day Saints, we are the center of attention. That is when people start scrutinizing us to try and find error in our beliefs. But if we live the teachings of the gospel, we can help people and they will realize our love for them.
The Lord said, “Arise and shine forth, that thy light may be a standard for the nations” (D&C 115:5).
I testify that if we will let our light so shine, we can influence the lives of others for good, and they can come to know the truthfulness of the gospel and of the Church.
Gloria Eunice Tapia Cabello, 21
Villa Hidalgo, Mexico
First of all, don’t get defensive. Sometimes those who criticize our religion might be trying to get you upset. The Spirit will not dwell where there are hard feelings or anger. Be calm and believe in yourself. Then look for an opportunity to share your beliefs.
Pray to your Heavenly Father to guide you and bless you with patience.
Penny Horan, 16
Livonia, New York
They attack the Church because they don’t fully understand what it’s all about. So keep smiling and invite them to church.
Kimberly Gandolph, 13
I recently returned from the Texas San Antonio Mission. I learned while proselyting and running into those kinds of accusations that debating the matter never works. I found that a simple testimony worked best. I would usually say something like “I’m sorry you feel this way, but I know that jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.” They can’t debate with your testimony. Also remember that our Savior affected many people with his example, and that this is a great way to show people you are a Christian.
Kevin Cundick, 21