Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are facing more scrutiny about the church, its history and its doctrines. In this "Mormon Moment," the interest in the LDS Church is making it increasingly important for us to share our faith, respond appropriately to the questions posited, and to live the gospel as we best know how. Along with this increased interest, there will be a continuum of criticism that will inevitably cross our paths and we need to stand our ground to respond to such criticism. How can members of the church respond to such confrontation? To answer this question, one can rely on the encounter between Zeezrom and Amulek in Alma 11: 21-46.
Answer according to the dictates of the Spirit
The dialogue from the encounter opens with Zeezrom saying to Amulek, "Will ye answer me a few questions which I shall ask you?" Amulek responds, "Yea, if it be according to the Spirit of the Lord, which is in me; for I shall say nothing which is contrary to the Spirit of the Lord." Amulek establishes how he will answer.
The key to accomplishing this is:
- Consistent scripture study
- Consistent cultivation and reliance on the Holy Spirit
- Consistent daily prayer
- Consistent study of and reflection on teachings
When we have engaged in these basic principles, the answers will be given to us, even in times when we are confronted by our critics. We will be able to "lean unto the Lord and not our own understanding" (see Proverbs 3:5
Quid pro quo — If you will then I will
The Latin term "quid pro quo" means "this for that" and is the tactic Zeezrom employs by offering Amulek "six onties of silver" if Amulek will publicly deny the existence of God. In our day, critics often ask a Latter-day Saint this question: "If I can prove to you that Mormonism is wrong, will you deny it, Joseph Smith, and the Book of Mormon and embrace the Jesus of the Bible?" It is a quid pro quo line of questioning that can soon undermine a member’s testimony — unless that member is prepared and equipped to engage in that type of conversation. Undeterred, Amulek responded with boldness, truth and exposed Zeezrom for who he was. It is recognizing the attempt the critic makes and exposing that attempt.
Engaging the critic, defending the faith, and standing on the truth
The conversation between Zeezrom and Amulek moved to a question and answer session. The conversation contained in Alma 11:26-46 shows a typical twisting of something that is said. In this case, Zeezrom poses a question for Amulek and after Amulek answers, Zeezrom responds by attempting to show that Amulek did not understand his own words.
This is important to understand because Amulek called out Zeezrom on the deception. While the critic may take offense to it, the proof is in the very words that have been spoken or published for all to hear/see. Amulek calls Zeezrom a liar and then goes on to show the context in which Zeezrom had lied. Amulek then expounds further on the question and the answer provided.
Amulek stood up for himself, stood up for the message of the gospel, boldly corrected the false assumptions of Zeezrom, and boldly called Zeezrom on his lies and deceptions. Today, when we engage in conversations about the church, answering questions about our faith, critics will come with their well-prepared questions, their lists of "unanswerable questions" that no member of the church has ever answered. The problem is that many of those criticisms and questions have already received adequate responses. Like Zeezrom, the critics seek to exploit worldly pride and arrogance.
The Zeezroms of today want to break down and destroy testimonies of the faithful. They want to plant seeds of doubt; they want to create confusion by using the devices and tools of the adversary. Even our Savior, Jesus Christ, had to deal with Zeezroms in his day. These people were the religious leaders who held to the notion that they were the sole purveyors of truth. They were well-educated, taught by the best, and held lofty thoughts of themselves compared to the rest of society around them.
We should engage in the conversations, we should do our best to understand the gospel ourselves, and we should prepare ourselves for the times that we will face our own Zeezroms.
This can be accomplished using some key principles of truth:
Maintain civility in conversation
Do not be afraid to be bold and assertive when moved upon by the Holy Spirit
Speak to and answer the criticism, do not focus on the critic posing the question
If necessary, expound and provide greater understanding in answering the criticism
Stand on what the scriptures say and teach
Do not be afraid to share your testimony — even if the critic responds that your testimony is, for a lack of a better word, worthless
Call out and expose the error of the criticism without insulting the critic
In the case of social media conversations — link to pertinent talks and teaching resources to help those who actually may be interested in learning more
Speak simply and forthrightly and with conviction and truth
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Criticism of our faith will not go away. Such criticism is designed to take our hearts and thoughts away from the validity of the truth one finds in the message of the atonement of Jesus Christ. The words of Christ provide the foundation for us to build upon and as we build upon that foundation we not only strengthen our testimony in the gospel, but we also are able to faithfully proclaim the message of the gospel to all who are willing to hear and give heed.
We should not be afraid of the criticism because it is through the criticism launched against the Church that we will find the greatest opportunity to stand on our convictions and testimony in a darkening world.
Timothy Berman is a columnist for the Marysville LDS Church Examiner, Marysville Parenting Examiner, and Newsvine. He also maintains a blog at www.mormonapologeticstudies.org.