Imagine three different, yet connected scenarios with me, a student who just had his first glimpse of Mormonism.
First, imagine flying into Pleasantville. As you walk down the street men wear nicely pressed suits and women neatly laundered dresses, their children behaving wonderfully at their side dressed in miniature.
Imagine the city in which they live being one of the safest places on earth, where children walk the downtown streets at 11pm with no fear of a harm. On Sunday, all the families walk to church and seem to listen intently, believing every word they hear.
It’s because of their religion that the city is so safe; it’s because of their belief that the children are so kind; it’s because of their rigor that they believe every word.
But all of that belief, religion and rigor is Christ-less, God-less and Spirit-less. You’re in Salt Lake City.
The words of Donald Grey Barnhouse ring eerily true, “If Satan took over [a city] all of the bars would be closed, pornography banished and pristine streets would be filled with tidy pedestrians who smiled at each other. There would be no swearing. The children would be saying, ‘Yes, sir,’ and ‘No, ma’am,’ and the churches would be full every Sunday… where Christ is not preached.”
I had the privilege of spending three days talking with and listening to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (more commonly known as Mormons) expound upon their beliefs and sat dumb-founded at the extent of their beliefs. We had no idea that a place like this existed in America.
Of course, our team had heard of Mormons before and some, had previously had extensive interactions with them (so they were less dumbfounded) but a few of us, myself included, had never talked to a practicing Mormon before this trip. For me it was heartbreaking to do so.
Salt Lake City is the most unreached city in America with 98% of its inhabitants living without the understanding that Jesus Christ is both fully God and fully man. He is Lord and Savior. Let’s break that number down just a bit: 70% of the population would consider themselves Mormon while another 28% have no religious affiliation. With more than 2.6 million people, there is one Southern Baptist church for every 43,000 people.
And that’s in the middle of America.
How does this happen?
“This is what happens when Christians don’t take hell seriously.” Dr. Travis Kerns, the SEND Salt Lake Coordinator, said while standing in the midst of the Mormon Temple, the Mormon Church office building, the Joseph Smith Memorial building and the Mormon Church Headquarters.
Now, imagine sitting down and talking with people about their Mormon beliefs and being beyond befuddled about how they can believe a religion that is based on works; that worships one god (sort of) but where all men can become gods; where perfection is demanded and, if unattained punished; where leaving the LDS Church can mean excommunication from family and community; where the script of how to answer questions about the Latter Day Saints church is followed at all times and in all places.
Inside this faux reality, the SBC has church planters working diligently to take the gospel to these unreached people. It is unimaginable to be submerged in a society where suicide and prescription pill addiction are considered better alternatives to converting to Christ and being ostracized by family and society, but this is their reality.
Lastly, imagine growing up your whole life as a Mormon. Being taught that like god you will become, being baptized for your dead relatives, going on mission, receiving your “Temple recommend card” and serving your calling as diligently as you possibly can. Then you spend your whole life convinced that truth is found in Mormonism. Then comes the last days of your life and you die.
There you stand before God utterly baffled and hopeless that you never knew, never even heard, that there was a different Jesus than the Mormon Jesus, a different God than the Mormon god. And the words you hear are, “Depart from me, I never knew you.” Matt. 7:23
It will take the mighty hand of the Triune God to work in this city to save it from itself. Here are some ways to pray for the people of Salt Lake City and our church planters:
- Pray that God would pour out His Spirit on the people of Salt Lake City and Utah (John 16:8-11)
- Pray people recognize the difference between the teachings of Mormonism evangelical teachings.
- Pray for Dr. Travis Kerns as he recruits church planters to reduce lostness.
- Pray for the church planters to endure the difficult nature of planting in this environment.
- Pray for those wishing to convert from Mormonism, that they would believe the gospel, be filled with the boldness of the Spirit and throw off the old life.
Personally, this trip has served to teach me the necessity of speaking rightly and truthfully about our Christian faith. The differences of our beliefs come out in the definitions of our words. While the Mormon dictionary contains similar words to the Christian dictionary (grace, atonement, heaven), the definition of those words is starkly different. So we must speak rightly about our faith.
But the beauty of Christianity is that it’s not for the perfect. “While we were still sinners Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8) We don’t need to clean ourselves up for the gospel; the gospel comes to us in our grave and raises us to life in Christ. Therefore, we are completely free to love unconditionally, to speak unreservedly and to serve unflinchingly.
*This article comes from a student here at Southeastern who recently went on a CGCS mission trip to Salt Lake City.
Mike is an Assistant Professor of Church Planting and Evangelism, the Associate Director for North American Church Planting for the Center for Great Commission Studies, and a National Missionary of the North American Mission Board (D.Miss., Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, M.Div., Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary)