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An Afternoon Visit With the Mormons
At approximately 1:37pm on Thursday afternoon, June 3, 1993, a nice Mormon couple walked in and sat down in my living room at the Parsonage. They were probably in their mid-60s. New to the area, they had called twice before, and had even come to the door once, asking to visit. Finally, I agreed.
Once seated, I mentioned that the two of them hardly fit the stereotype image of Mormon missionaries, i.e. two young men in white shirts on bikes. They told me that in some circumstances, the Mormon church opts to send a more seasoned team.
Then suddenly Mrs. Hopkins* cleared her throat and got down to business. She pointedly asked me just what I thought of the Mormon church. I said that I’d be glad to answer her question by, in turn, posing a few questions of my own to the two of them. They agreed.
“Would you concur with the fact,” I began, “that a man who makes a false prophecy — even one — is, by definition, a false prophet (Deut. 18:22)?” They both nodded.
“Then,” I proceeded, “if I could demonstrate to you that Joseph Smith made even one or two false prophecies, you would agree that he was a false prophet?” Again, a bit more reluctantly, they agreed.
I said, “So if the Mormon leader Joseph Smith was a false prophet, would you agree that this would make Mormonism a false religion?” “Well, yes, we suppose that would be the case”, they said, “but you cannot do that, because he was not a false prophet.”
“Well, would you mind reading to me a portion of your own Mormon Scripture: The Doctrine and Covenants, 84:3-5, 31?” I asked. “And please read it out loud.” Mrs. Hopkins consented, and proceeded to read a prophecy Joseph Smith had made on September 22-23, 1832, in which he stated by “the Word of the Lord” that a Mormon Temple would be built on a lot in Independence, Missouri, within the generation of those then living. When she finished reading, I asked the Hopkins if this was not clearly a false prophecy, since no such temple was ever built in that place at that time. They had no answer, except a quiet, “Yes, I see your point.”
We repeated this same sort of exchange with two or three other similar false prophecies. At one point, I specifically asked Mr. Hopkins why Alma 7:10 says that Jesus would be born in Jerusalem, not Bethlehem. He immediately shot back, “Jerusalem is only 8 miles west of Bethlehem. And it is far larger. When people ask me where I’m from, I don’t mention the name of my little home town. I say, ‘Salt Lake City’, because that’s a name they’ll recognize, as was the case with Jerusalem. I think your point is pretty weak!” “On the contrary,” I replied, “you’re telling me that the ‘god’ of Mormon Scripture is only accurate to within eight miles? I’m telling you that the God of the Bible is eight miles more accurate. Read Micah 5:2. It seems to me that you’re the one who is trying to explain away another glaring discrepancy in Joseph Smith’s writings.”
When I directed the Hopkins to Galatians 1:6-9 where the Bible warns against giving any credibility to “another Gospel,” even if it comes via an angel (i.e. Moroni), Mr. Hopkins said, “Well it all depends on what you call the Gospel.” I said, “Well, the heart of the Gospel is that we are saved by God’s grace, not by our works (Ephesians 2:8). But your Mormon Articles of Faith (Number 3) tell us that “mankind may be saved by obedience to the laws and ordinances.”
At this point I turned to the Hopkins and said, “You know, you folks are gracious, moral, well-intended people. In fact, I’ve never met a Mormon who wasn’t. But let me ask you something. How objective can you be at this point in your lives? If Mormonism really was a false religion, how would you know it?” Mrs. Hopkins said, “Well, I once asked God to show me the truth, and I got this warm feeling from my head to my toes.” Mr. Hopkins added, “Yes, and I know many men who have lived and died by Mormonism. One man once turned away, but in his hour of death, he came back to it all. I’m personally very convinced that even if there are a few minor mistakes, the most of what is here is very accurate and profound. There are many, many truths in the Book of Mormon!”
I said, “Mr. Hopkins, if you went to McDonalds for lunch and they told you that your sandwich was only 3% contaminated, would you eat it?” There was a long moment of silence. And then Mrs. Hopkins, smiling, looked at Mary and said, “You have a very smart husband.” Whereupon she stood up and prepared to leave, her husband following.
I wasn’t trying to be smart, or even to just win an argument. I was, and am, interested in winning the Hopkins (and anyone else) to the simple, eternal truth of God’s Word, just as it is revealed in the 66 canonical Books of the Old and New Testament. For that reason I’m glad that the spirit was still fairly cordial when the Hopkins left. I hope that they will reflect on what was said and act accordingly. And I certainly respect their zeal in communicating what they believe to be true. Unfortunately, zeal alone does not make a belief true.
* Actual names changed to assure anonymity
** Credit on approach and some content to Dr. Robert A. Morey, R & E Foundation