Janis Hutchinson: Escape from Fundamental Mormonism, Part II
Welcome! Today we’re continuing with Part II of our interview with former mainstream and fundamentalist Mormon, Janis Hutchinson. You can catch Part I here. Learn about some major fundamental differences between Mormonism and Christianity as well as how to witness to the Mormon Missionaries who seek to convert you! Also, be sure to stop by Janis’ blog and follow her on Twitter and Facebook!
DMM: Would you mind telling us about your other book The Mormon Missionaries: An Inside Look at Their Real Message and Methods?
JH: This book examines the Mormon Missionary program and what they don't tell upfront--from its unorthodox theological and political beliefs to its carefully planned strategies to win converts. Written like a novel, the story is set against the backdrop of a Christian Bible College where I taught for a short time. Two Mormon missionaries venture onto the campus and Susan, a student, falls for one of the handsome Mormon missionaries. Believing she can convert him, she agrees to take their lessons and soon finds herself in over her head, torn between her romantic feelings and her Christian faith. A concerned teacher on campus, a former Mormon, accompanies her to the missionaries' lessons, counsels Susan about their false claims, and discusses the Mormon material and their beliefs in her Comparative Religions class. The book also describes the LDS Church's present evangelistic manual, Preach My Gospel, that outlines the missionaries' lesson material, enabling Christians to be prepared ahead of time when conversing with them.
DMM: What are some main methods Mormon Missionaries employ to gain new converts?
JH: The first role of the missionary’s manual is to convert the missionaries, since many have never studied the church and its doctrines and do not have a strong testimony. Their testimony, the church explains to them, is the major tool in converting prospective members.
The church, after studying marketing techniques, how people behave, and have scrutinized how sentences should be worded to make people respond more readily, pass these strategies on to the missionaries.
The missionaries focus on four objectives.
Make the Investigator “feel emotion.” Good feelings are what will accomplish conversions. Therefore, they are to strive to have the person:
Feel a good spiritual relationship with the missionaries, more than casual friendship.
Feel good when the missionaries bear their testimony.
Feel good in believing that the missionaries are uplifting them spiritually.
Feel good about keeping the commitments they are invited to make.
Missionaries are taught how to use persuasive logic to bring about various commitments, and use Christian terms that have different Mormon meanings. For example, the word “Gospel” means something entirely different. This subtly leads unsuspecting Investigators into non-Biblical doctrines.
Missionaries are cautioned not to have Investigators check the Bible against what they are saying (otherwise contradictions will appear); however, they do use Bible scriptures that are general in nature, such as God’s love, prayer, etc.
Gradually, Bible scriptures are replaced with more Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants scriptures, explaining to the person that the Bible is untrustworthy due to faulty translation, but the good news is that the Book of Mormon is the pure word of God. It is the old “bait and switch” strategy, meaning you are sold one thing, then delivered another.
DMM: In my experience with Mormons, why is it that whenever someone starts asking them “hard questions” about their doctrine, they always have to pass you off to someone else who knows more than them?
JH: This is because the majority of young missionaries are unfamiliar with their church’s deeper doctrines. This is because many of them:
Were previously living a contrary lifestyle and sent as a last ditch effort by parents and bishops to straighten them out.
Accept a mission call only because it is expected of them (a rite of passage).
Have never studied the church or its doctrines.
Do not have a testimony about the LDS Church's beliefs or its claim to a divine origin.
Are LDS leaders aware of this? Yes. When these young men and women arrive at the Missionary Training Center and leaders tell them that it will be the power and fervor of their personal testimony about the Mormon Church, Joseph Smith, and the Book of Mormon that will influence potential converts to join, without which they will never bring in converts, how do you think that affects these young missionaries? Panic is putting it mildly. Missionaries respond with:
What if we don't have a testimony?
How are we supposed to get one?
Won't it be dishonest if we fake it?
Since the church claims that a testimony is given to members from the Holy Ghost, these young men and women plunge into a quandary on how they can grab hold of the Holy Ghost in the time allotted.
Addressing the missionaries' dilemma of "how to get a testimony," Apostle Boyd K. Packer provided a surprising answer, albeit a deficient one. In a speech to Mission Presidents, he said: "A testimony is to be found in the bearing of it!" A clever strategy well known in psychological circles. The principle is that if individuals verbally declare something often enough, they will grow to believe it. It is a kind of self-brainwashing that works for any declared affirmation regardless of the beliefs involved. This reveals why the church programs young children in the Primary organization are told to "memorize" the required testimony about Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, and the LDS Church. Their continual recitations of it eventually become a conditioned response, producing an inner conviction that Joseph Smith was really a prophet and that the Book of Mormon and the LDS Church are true, which leaders hope will carry into adulthood. Leaders know that their repetitious, rote-like declarations will soon have them believing it. Unconverted missionaries are expected to use the same method. Soon, they too will have a “testimony” and come to believe it is from the Holy Ghost.
DMM: In high school, I had many LDS friends and I noticed that they all attended church at their stakes before school each day. What is this meeting and what is its purpose?
JH: For High School students, it is called “Seminary.” For college level, it is called “Institute of Religion.” It is a course for students to study the literature of the church, e.g., The Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price, basically to strengthen their faith in Mormonism so they’ll remain converted during the age when statistics show that most become disinterested in their religion. Since the church launched its big PR program years back to start emphasizing Jesus Christ and sound more Christian, the official description of the Seminary program’s objective has now changed to read:
“To help youth understand and rely on the teachings and Atonement of Jesus Christ, understand the doctrines and principles of the gospel as found in the scriptures (meaning the Book of Mormon and other church literature considered ‘scripture’) and the words of the prophets (from the Book of Mormon and early church presidents), and to learn how to qualify for the blessings of the temple, and prepare themselves, their families, and others for eternal life with their Father in Heaven. Also to prepare them to teach the (LDS) gospel to others.”
DMM: Utah, which contains a population of about 51% Mormons (~81% in Utah County), “boasts” some of the highest divorce rates in the nation as well as high rape, incest, depression, and suicide rates. From your own experience, can you tell us why that is?
JH: Suicide: In 1999, Utah health officials ranked the state's suicide rate as 10th highest in the nation and the leading cause of death for males between 15 and 44, exceeding the national rate by 30%. In 2012, Utah was the 7th highest in the nation for suicide, still higher than the U.S. rate and the fourth leading cause of death among Utahans ages 24 to 64. Since 2010, an average of 501 Utahans each year have died by suicide and another 3,968 were hospitalized or treated in emergency rooms from injuries due to suicide attempts according to the Utah Department of Health. Utah and other states in the Rockies consistently have the highest suicide rates in the country aside from Alaska. In 2014, the region became known as the "suicide belt." An even more concerning statistic is that the state is ranked fifth for youth suicides.
Why so many suicides with the males, especially the youth? I can give you a real live example. In St. George, where my mother lived, a youth who had just come off a mission committed suicide. He left a note explaining that he just couldn’t live up to the code of perfection demanded by his bishop. This was not an isolated case. Some of the males, too young to have yet gone on a mission who committed suicide may have been victims of incest. Many have testified to this (including females), and reporting it to the bishop does no good because if the father holds the priesthood, allowances are made. Some youth may commit suicide because they have committed some sexual sin such as experimenting with masturbation, done innocently at first due to their young age. They are reprimanded so harshly and made to feel extremely guilty, with the bishop using the leverage of their never making it to the Celestial Kingdom nor being with their family for eternity, they feel all hope is totally lost and they will never measure up to the standard of perfection demanded by the church. Some, after coming off the restrictive lifestyle of their mission also experiment with smoking and drinking. Coupled with all this is the sense they have let their family down and caused them great sorrow. Older men may have committed adultery and also feel all is lost, plus do not want to face their bishop.
Depression: 2014: Utah is the No. 1 state for antidepressant use. Among adults in Utah, 10.14% experienced a depressive episode in the past year and 14.58% experienced serious psychological distress. Among adolescents in Utah, 10.14% experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. Individuals in Utah reported having on average 3.27 poor mental health days in the past 30 days.” I have read that the depression exists mostly with the women because their husbands are so controlling. The latter become this way because of the doctrine and their temple experience which states they will become a God, and their wife is to be totally subject to them. “I am your God; therefore, do as I say.” A wife of a member of the bishopric, who was close friends with my mother, told her that she went to the bishop and showed him all the bruises on her body from her husband’s abuse. Absolutely nothing was done. Interestingly, Perry Renshaw, a neuroscientist at the University of Utah blames the “altitude,” saying it is because high altitude oxygen decreases as altitude rises and thus effects the brain making it go through metabolic changes, and while some people can adapt, others can’t, based on their DNA. He claims scientific research bears his theory out. However, knowing what goes on behind closed doors in the Mormon culture, I don’t think this theory is going to carry much weight as explaining the suicides and depression.
DMM: I’ve noticed a pattern with people who leave the Mormon faith: the Mormon Church almost always tries to assassinate their character. Can you tell us why that is and have you had any experience with this?
JH: Fortunately, the only experience I had was when I requested my excommunication. My friends in the Ward were told by the bishop that I was now in the “devil’s territory” because I had apostatized from the truth. They all rejected me; even literally turning their backs on me and crossing the street should they see me coming down the same sidewalk. That really hurt.
Has the church tried to assassinate me because of my books and blog articles on Mormonism? I know they are aware of me because every time I post a new article on my blog, one of the email addresses checking the article out is “BYU Studies.” However, I have had no accusatory repercussions directed to me from the church nor mention me in their list of anti’s.
I think there are 3 reasons:
My articles don’t “bash” the Mormon Church like a few Christian writers do.
I quote LDS leaders accurately.
I just present what Mormons believe in a respectful manner, despite showing the biblical perspective that opposes their beliefs.
DMM: You mentioned blood atonement in your tale. Can you explain what this is in Mormon terms?
JH: Blood atonement is the belief that if you apostatize from the truth, Jesus’ sacrificial blood is not enough to cover that sin; therefore, it is the leaders’ responsibility to shed your blood for you to save your soul. While this is no longer practiced in the modern-day church (although they favor state executions by shooting so that blood is literally spilled), it was practiced in the early church.
Brigham Young said:
This is loving your neighbour as ourselves; if he needs help, help him; and if he wants salvation and it is necessary to spill his blood on the earth in order that he may be saved, spill it. (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, vol. 4, p. 220)
Joseph Fielding Smith said:
Joseph Smith taught that there were certain sins so grievous that man may commit, that they will place the transgressors beyond the power of the atonement of Christ...Therefore their only hope is to have their own blood shed to atone. (Doctrines of Salvation, vol 1, p 135)
DMM: Is blood atonement still actively practiced today? If so, how often is it carried out and who by?
JH: A rare few Fundamentalist groups practice it. I was fearful of this after I escaped the group I was in. I was afraid to walk by my window at night for fear someone was outside in the dark intending to shoot me. I also had nightmares, thinking that even though they may not kill me, they might kidnap me and take me back to the cult to be punished. The only group I became aware of was Ervil LeBaron’s Fundamentalist group.
He murdered opponents as well as disobedient family members in the name of blood atonement, including his own 17-year-old daughter Rebecca, who was pregnant with her second child and who had hoped to leave the group. He also had members carry out his murders. Caught and sentenced to life, he continued to order murders from his cell, which his faithful followers committed. He died in prison in 1981. An excellent 5 minute video featuring LeBaron’s daughter before she was killed, can be seen here.
Today—and this is just conjecture—I do not doubt there may be some unexplained murders that are committed by some of the groups. As late as 1989, former members of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (renamed in 2001 the Community of Christ) killed in cold blood the five member of the Avery family on April 17, 1989, and buried their bodies in the floor of a barn. Unless one reads it in the news, it’s difficult to know about them.
DMM: What advice would you give someone like me trying to witness to Mormons? Does it differ depending on which Mormon sect they belong to?
JH: Yes. It depends. Witnessing to a mainline Mormon is different than witnessing to a non-Christian; and witnessing to a Fundamentalist is also different from witnessing to a Mormon. Since there are too many facets in the differences between witnessing to a mainline Mormon, a missionary, a Fundamentalist and a non-Christian to list here, I’ll just address the mainline Mormon, although other strategies are answered in the next section. Here are a few pointers:
I have found the use of the word “blood” (as in saved by the blood), with reference to Jesus’ death on the cross, too bloody and gross for mainline Mormons to handle, so avoid that word.
Don’t come on like gangbusters with every negative thing you can think about their church, telling them how all their doctrines are wrong. Since they’re trained in defense mechanisms, you are not going to convert them--at least while they’re on their mission. You’ll only get into a heated argument. Think more about planting positive seeds that may sprout later. Don’t underestimate the growth potential of a seed. After their mission there is a chance they may convert to Christianity, even as my daughter did.
If you are a former Mormon, tell them about your LDS background and positions held. The more impressive, the better. This leads to questions.
Don’t try to take on the Mormon missionaries in a theological debate until you’ve dealt with the average Mormon, and don’t take on the average Mormon without a thorough understanding of Mormonism.
When backed into a corner unable to provide an answer, the missionary will revert to his “testimony,” which he claims is given him by the Holy Ghost, because how can one refute a personal testimony. They will give something similar to the following:
“I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus is the Christ, that the Book of Mormon is true, and I know this the LDS Church is the only true church upon the face of the earth, and Joseph Smith and President Thomas Spencer Monson are prophets of God.”
Their use of “I know” indicates (supposedly) the Holy Ghost has given this to them. Therefore, you need to be prepared by memorizing a Christian testimony. The following is an example, emphasizing the word “know:”
“I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus is the Christ and Savior of the world…that he died for my sins, was resurrected, and that I have forgiveness of all sin, not just some; that I am saved by grace and not by works and will inherit the highest heaven upon that principle because the Bible tells me so. I also know God hears and answers prayer and know all this, not only by the feeling I have of the inner witness of the Holy Ghost (not Holy Spirit, as they believe they are two separate entities), but also by the reliability of God’s word, the Bible, which declares it to be so. And I also know that because of my relationship with Christ he has changed my life, continues to bless me, and answers my prayers.” (You might want to give an example of the latter.)
Be prepared that the missionary will probably fudge through it well, may even smile and say something to the effect that they accept your testimony. Nevertheless, say, “Well, since we both have testimonies about our own religions, how are we to determine which one is correct?” That’s when you say, the Bible has to be the yardstick, and take it from there. Also point out that the Bible is not faulty through mistranslation (as Mormons believe).
DMM: What would you say to someone enthralled in the Mormon faith?
JH: Here are 4 options I have used with individuals:
You can say: “Do you believe that God’s truths are eternal, the same yesterday, today and forever?” (They usually say yes.) “Well then, how do you handle the idea that the church used to teach that, but now teaches that truth is changeable—that each president of the church can change revelations issued by past presidents who were considered prophets? How, then can you rely on a present truth being taught by the church, knowing a next president may change it?”
I often use this when I bump into missionaries because it plants a seed of doubt: “I understand the Book of Mormon is supposed to contain the “fullness of the gospel.” (They give me an excited yes.) “Well, if that’s so, if you can show me in the Book of Mormon where it teaches the same concept of God the Father as is taught in the church today, I’ll join your church.” (They usually say, still excited, “Well, we can’t put our finger on it right this minute, but give us your telephone number and we’ll call you with the answer and reference.”) Of course, I never receive that call because the Book of Mormon teaches the Christian concept of God (Joseph Smith hadn’t yet started teaching his more bizarre doctrines about the godhead). The Book of Mormon, in Alma 18:26-28, teaches God is a Spirit; Mosiah 15:1-4 teaches Jesus is God; and Alma 11:26-31 teaches against a plurality of gods, all of which is contrary to what Joseph Smith later taught and what the LDS Church believes today—which is: God is not a spirit, but a resurrected man from a previous world who earned his godhood; Jesus is not God, but a separate and distinct third member of the Godhead who was a literal offspring of God and one of his wives; and there is a plurality of gods consisting of all those in worlds past who earned their godhood.
Actually, the best witnessing method is sharing what God has done in my life. Now, it cannot be a general statement like, “God blesses me every day” but something specific that resulted from a specific prayer.
When my daughter was on her LDS mission (she’s now a Christian), she and her partner kept running into, as she called them, “those crazy, born-again Christians” who excitedly testified to specific things God had done in their lives. While she and her partner would give a polite response, inside their heads they were confused, thinking, “How can God be in this lady’s life when she doesn’t belong to the only true church?” That kind of witness by Christians, plus a few other things observed on her mission, brought my daughter out of the LDS Church.
I ask a converted member: “Did you pray about the Book of Mormon?” They will say, “Oh yes. I know it’s true because I received a good feeling in my heart about it.”
“Well, I answer, did you pray about its “contents” or its “origin” about Joseph Smith receiving it from an angel?” Their answer is “on the contents.”
I then explain that there’s no question that the principles and concepts in the text of the Book of Mormon are true, because Joseph Smith plagiarized the United Presbyterian's Westminster Confession, used names influenced by the Book of Genesis, quoted over 18 chapters of Isaiah, the Ten Commandments, and portions from Deuteronomy, Malachi, and other parts of the Old Testament; also borrowed from Matthew, Mark, and Paul's writings, paralleling New Testament stories. Therefore, naturally the contents will ring true to your spirit and give you a confirming feeling. Therefore, it is not the content you should pray about, but the origin. And to be sure your own feelings won’t interfere, before you pray you should objectively research the Internet on the origin.
I also add: “Did you also know that according to the early church’s records, it wasn’t Moroni who was in charge of the plates, but a “toad” who changed itself into a “bloody Spaniard? His story was because he and his family relished pirates' tales that were prevalent in that day. Later, Smith said the messenger of the plates was not a toad, but "Nephi," (not "Moroni). (The first edition of the Pearl of Great Price states Nephi.) Later, Mormon officials became embarrassed by all of Smith's discrepancy, so changed both the History of the Church and the Pearl of Great Price to read "Moroni."
If you missed Part I, you can catch it here!
- Pride and Prejudice: Racism in the Mormon Church
- Ex-Mormon Shares Testimony: 'Jesus Was All I Needed'
- 13 Shocking Similarities between Islam & Mormonism
- Salvation is a FREE GIFT: An Ex-Mormon Missionary's Testimony of Freedom
- Are Mormons Christians? Part I
- Are Mormons Christians? Part II
- Are Mormons Christians? Part III