Mormons need to work to increase favor

Published: Friday, Aug. 6 2010 3:00 p.m. MDT

"And we make friends, not because we are trying to lead them to the waters of baptism, although it would be wonderful if we could do that, but simply to be their friend," he said.

Doing so, Mormons are apt to find people from a wide variety of backgrounds who are looking for truth, Lawrence said.

"I say that any church that can have Glenn Beck and Harry Reid as active members is a big-tent religion," he said.

The immediate goal of church members should not be referrals and baptisms, Lawrence said, but rather spreading information, correcting distortions and improving others' understanding of Mormonism.

In doing so, Mormons need to "cut the jargon," he said, adding that people don't know where to find the truth "because we have not told them in words they can understand."

"When we say something, we think we're communicating, but it's not the case until the person understands what we understand," Lawrence said.

He cited a stock statement church members often use: "The gospel has been restored and the keys of the priesthood are again on the earth."

In focus group, Lawrence found that the word "gospel" only conveys the same meaning to about 15 percent of non-Mormons that it does to Mormons, that is, the totality of Christianity, including its authority and doctrines.

Instead, he suggested these words: "Jesus Christ organized a Church; men changed it, and it has been re-established."

"If we can get that simple set of phrases across, we will have accomplished a great amount of work," Lawrence said. "If you want to put it in one sentence, 'We claim to be the re-established, original Christian church.' Even an atheist can understand those words."

He said Mormons should say "we claim" instead of "we are" because it carries less tension, pressure and implied threat.

"People can dispute our claim, but they cannot dispute the fact that we make the claim," Lawrence said.

He suggested that church members replace the traditional three-step paradigm of conversion (find, teach and baptize) with a more realistic six-step model: awareness, awakening, curiosity, interest, investigation and conversion.

Regarding correcting distortions, Lawrence said people have a right to their own opinions but not to their own facts and that "differentiating messages motivate; similarity messages do not."

"When somebody criticizes our church, or any church, it's American fair play that they will expect you to defend your religion," he said. "It's going to be welcome, or at least it will be tolerated."

Lawrence suggested some responses to a couple of false assertions such as "Mormons aren't Christians." Lawrence said, "Why don't we give them a differentiating piece of information, something they can think about for a while: 'How can we claim to be the original of something if we are not at least the something?'"

To the assertion that Mormons don't believe the Bible, Lawrence suggested this response: "Of course we believe the Bible; our members wrote it."

"If that strikes you as being from the Orrin Porter Rockwell school of diplomacy, you can simply say, 'We claim to be the followers of the same religion as those who wrote the Bible,'" he said.

Regarding the charge that Mormons practice polygamy, he suggested the response given by a friend of his. "If I wanted to be excommunicated from the church, I would practice polygamy; the other sins take longer."

e-mail: rscott@desnews.com

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