Most Thursdays I meet with a half-dozen other pastors from Tigard for mutual support and prayer. We meet for an hour, and usually the time flies by. As with all things, some weeks are better than others.
This morning was one of the better discussions we had had. While the mix varies every week, this morning’s variety of ministers was typical: We had a Presbyterian, a retired Lutheran (and his wife), an Episcopal priest, a Vineyard pastor, an independent charismatic and me. (Since a number of you read this blog–"The rest of you…you know who you are…where were you…!?")
But Glen (the Vineyard pastor) was asking about Mormons and how we interact with them. It seems that each one had a unique perspective. The Episcopal priest had lived for quite a number of years in Utah. Everyone had some really helpful comments and no one person dominated [which is a bit unusual for this–or maybe ANY group of Christian leaders]. While we often get into some pretty heated debates (but all genuinely within the context of mutual respect and–dare I say it–love), today there was pretty much a unanimity of opinion. Some even ended up taking notes.
But a question I had, brought an answer that surprised me. We have a woman (a senior citizen) who sometimes attends our congregation with one of our older church men. I am not certain if it is a romantic interest or just good friends, but that is really besides the point. She is Mormon. And one time I was preaching a sermon on something where it seemed relevant to mention Mormon beliefs. What Mormons teach was significant different from what the Bible taught in that text. I don’t really remember what it was. But I have had negative letters from her, negative phone calls and negative conversations. She feels that I am always bashing her religion.
I generally don’t find it productive to mention other faiths or religions in my sermons. But Mormons are both pretty thick here as well as very active proselytizers. Because Mormons take biblical teaching and use the same terminology, but redefine it, and are not public about several of their core doctrines, I think it is important that I forearm my people by explaining (when it is appropriate to the text) how the Bible differs from what they will hear from the Mormon missionaries.
I was surprised that everyone present disagreed with that approach. They felt that it was inappropriate to mention ANY other group in a sermon in a negative light. They said it might be appropriate for a special class, but not for a sermon. What surprised me was that this was the consensus all across the theological spectrum represented in the room…except me. They stressed the importance of only preaching the truth (the old illustration was used about the FBI–they ONLY train them on legitimate bills, not on counterfeits. Therefore, when they see a counterfeit, they can easily spot it because they are experts in the real thing).
I am going to have to think that through. I don’t make it a practice to negatively mention other religions (although I will freely admit bringing up the Mormons more than any other individual group). Many of our people will not get into a special class on cults and false religions. And yet they will interact both with their Mormon neighbors as well as the boys on bikes (I refuse to call them "Elder" when they are 19-20 years old. It just seems like a choice teaching moment lost. I don’t go out of my way, but if it fits, I have not hesitated to mention how they differ from orthodox biblical teaching.
What do you think? Do you mention cults or cult-like groups and differentiate them from historic Christianity in your preaching? Do you reserve it for a special class? I legitimately would like to hear your perspective.