Every six months (April and October) the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a special weekend conference where Mormons and other invited guests come and listen to the words of Mormon “prophets.” The words of these men are considered by many Mormons to be modern day scripture. Christians have used General Conference as an opportunity to preach the gospel to Mormons for many years. Some can be quite loud as they publicly preach to the crowds while others quietly have one-on-one conversations. Some carry signs and some do not.
Becky (my wife) had an idea for a General Conference outreach and since we have never attended, we decided to go so that we could get a sense of what actually happens during the conference. We observed how the crowds move, what times are the busiest, which intersections are more congested with people and where we can legally stand so as not to disrupt the flow of foot-traffic. It was a very successful trip and we now have a better idea of what we can do in the future.
Along with the street preachers and those having conversations with Mormons, there was one other group of Christians who were offering “free hugs” to anyone walking nearby. We encourage Christians to be friendly to the Mormon people and have no problem with hugs. The issue I have with these Christians was that they were offering hugs, but no real hope. They absolutely refused to witness to the Mormons and are very critical of those who do. Charles Hill, the pastor of One Community Church, was the man behind this “hugging campaign.” He wrote an interesting blog post regarding this “outreach.” I am going to focus on certain things he stated as well as quotes from an online article which is supportive of this type of ministry. Here is the link to Hill’s blog post. http://chazzdaddy.com/2011/03/31/dragging-the-book-of-mormon-on-the-ground-you-mormon-whores/
The first thing that stands out about Hill’s post is the title, “Dragging the Book of Mormon on the Ground, You Mormon Whores.” This is an obvious attempt to grasp the reader’s attention. (I wonder how that is any different from those he criticizes.) Hill provides a link to a YouTube video which shows some street preachers preaching, dragging a Book of Mormon on the ground with a string and making various offensive remarks. Hill claims that these Christian men, “yell, scream, spit, and cause a scene, even with many of the people who attend being young children. The words, prostitute, whores, etc. are thrown around.” This explanation is curious because nowhere in the video does anyone spit or use the words “prostitute” or “whore.”
Referring to the actions of the street preachers, Hill states, “Read all the way to the end to see what our response will be this weekend.” He then explains that Christians are to love the lost. He alludes to a few Bible verses about loving our neighbors and then states, “Jesus didn’t scream and hold signs at the Samaritan well. Read the Bible, thugs. [In love I say that].”
I can understand Hill’s dislike for the actions of the street preachers. Years ago I personally witnessed some street preachers at the Hill Cumorah Pageant say some pretty mean things to Mormons. I do not advocate that, but I am equally uncomfortable with Hill’s apparent careless, condemnation. I would be interested to hear what Hill thinks of the various actions of some of the Old Testament prophets or even some of the choice words of Jesus Himself. Let’s start with the Old Testament prophets.
The first one who comes to mind is Jeremiah. In his first sermon (chapter three, verse 1), Jeremiah likens faithless Israel to a harlot. In verse two Jeremiah proclaims that the land is polluted by Israel’s whoredoms. Jeremiah’s sermons are written down for us. They were loudly proclaimed in his day. Is it possible that children heard those sermons?
Elijah is another example. Of the many exploits of this prophet, the most famous is his confrontation with 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of the Asherah on Mount Carmel in 1st Kings 18:19-40. Before Elijah calls the consuming fire from heaven, he continuously insults the false prophets in verse 27. Does that fit into our politically correct paradigm for a prophet of God to insult those he is about to execute? If Hill was in the crowd of people who witnessed the events on Mount Carmel, would he call Elijah a “thug?”
If the street preachers use words like “whore” and “prostitute” (although the video does not show that), and they cast insults at people, then it looks like they have a Biblical precedence for it. Let me be clear. I am not approving of the alleged use of these terms or insults by the preachers. The point I want to make is that in doing so, they could make a case for following Biblical examples.
Speaking of which, let us be thankful that these street preachers do not follow the examples of Ezekiel or Isaiah. Ezekiel publicly baked bread over cow dung (Ezekiel 4:10-15) as a sign to Israel and Isaiah preached naked for three years (Isaiah 20:1-3). While there are plenty of people who already think that temple square on a conference weekend is a zoo, it could be a lot worse. Think “stinky” with a much less pleasant view.
Yes, the Old Testament prophets did some pretty crazy things. Jesus Himself did also. On two occasions He cleared money changers out of the temple and overturned their tables. The account in John notes that Jesus did it with a whip (Matthew 21:12-12, Mark 11:15-17, Luke 19:45-46, John 2:14-17). He also had some rather unflattering things to say about the religious leaders of the day. In Matthew 23:15-17 He called them, “hypocrites, sons of hell, blind guides and fools.” It gets worse as the chapter progresses. Verses 27-33 contain such words like, “white-washed tombs, lawlessness, sons of murderers, serpents, brood of vipers and sentenced to hell.” Did Jesus lovingly articulate these words or was He… offensive? How does one hug with a whip?
I bring out these points not to agree with the methods of the street preachers or to give license to their actions. I realize that Jesus did these things and yet was without sin. That means that He had the right heart, passion, pure motives and correct attitude. The prophets probably did too. I mention these Biblical accounts because I want people to consider that we have some pretty radical examples in scripture of speech and conduct that is ordained of God, yet is not within the accepted norm nor culturally sensitive. If God can call men to do such “unacceptable” things like this in the past, how do we know that God has not called these men to do what they are doing at general conference?
One difference I would like to see in the street preachers is more of a sense of compassion and less meanness, but at the same time, we need to be careful before we become too quick to condemn their behavior. For in doing so, we may actually be bearing witness against ourselves. Did the Biblical prophets hear condemnation from the people in their time that was any different than what Mr. Hill heaps upon the street preachers at General Conference?
The next troubling part of Hill’s blog that I want to address is when he states, “Read all the way to the end to see what our response will be this weekend.” The end part of the blog reads, “Our brand new church is going to go down this Saturday [want to come join us? hit me up on my e-mail] and give out some love, Jesus style. “HUGS not THUGS” will be our marching orders. We will be handing out free hugs to those who need a boost after walking past our brothers and sisters in Jesus who just gave them an ear full. We will give them an arm full.” The context of his statements are that he wants to do something different than the street preachers, in response to their actions. Did I read that correctly? Mr. Hill wants to do an “outreach” in response to the street preachers? Let me get this straight. Is he really saying that the Gospel isn’t enough to motivate him? He needs to throw other Christians under the bus in order to gain favor in the sight of the Mormons? If that is the case, then His purpose isn’t to reach the Mormons at all. It is to make himself and his congregation look better than other Christians. I seriously doubt that Hill would agree with this assessment, but that is what he is communicating. I have had numerous Christians express similar concerns about this campaign.
A passage of Scripture comes to mind. Paul notes in Philippians chapter one that certain ministers are preaching the gospel out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives (Philippians 1:15-18). Paul correctly identifies the impure motives, but what is his response? He rejoices because the gospel is still being preached! Is this the same with Hill’s type of “outreach?” Would Paul still rejoice? I think he would… if Hill preached the gospel. The problem is, Hill purposefully does not do that.
On April 5th 2011, The Christian Post wrote an internet article about Hill’s “outreach” titled, “Christians Counter Hate, Offer Love to Mormons.” This article mentions that Hill has, “built relationships with many Mormons. He often opens his house up to his neighbors, almost all of whom are part of the LDS Church. But again, he has clarified that he’s not out to convert them to his Christian faith, but rather to simply love them.” The article goes on to say that Hill disagrees with treating Mormons like a “conversion project.” When I first saw the folks holding the “Free hugs” signs, I wondered what they were doing. When I asked, one gentleman stretched out his arms and asked, “How about a hug?” I initially declined because I wanted to talk. I asked again. The explanation I received was that they just wanted to “love on” people. “We don’t want to yell at you. We just want to offer you a hug.” In this short video clip you’ll see a young lady come up to one of the Christians to get her free hug. Note that there was absolutely NO attempt on the part of the Christian to witness to the young lady.
When a free hug was offered to me, there was no effort to engage me in a spiritual dialogue and absolutely no mention of Jesus. I was told that the people in the hugging campaign were not there to start conversations. It was said that we can’t argue people into the kingdom. They are right. You cannot argue someone into the kingdom of God. I’m just curious as to why they evidently think they can hug them into the kingdom.
Another problematic part of Hill’s blog is when he states, “Jesus didn’t scream and hold signs at the Samaritan well. Read the Bible, thugs. [In love I say that].” I couldn’t believe it when I read that for the first time. If Mr. Hill can insult these men and call them thugs, then why does he question the motives of people who use words he does not like? The street preachers are more honest in that they will call someone a thug to their face, not just on a blog post. Does Mr. Hill, have the courage to call these men thugs to their faces? If so, did he? Would it be right to do so? If not, then why do it from behind a keyboard and computer screen?
What Hill seems to misunderstand is that most evangelists are not at general conference to make friends anymore than the Old Testament prophets were in their day or Jesus was when He wielded the whip. There is a time for friendship evangelism and there is a time for public warning. Jesus understood this and that is why He didn’t preach judgment at the Samaritan well or start a relational dialogue with the money changers in the temple.
Interestingly enough, the Book of Mormon has a character within its pages which is very similar to the street preachers at General Conference. The children’s area in the Church History Museum across the street from Temple square has an exhibit dedicated to him. The sign next to the exhibit says, “Samuel the Lamanite told the people that Jesus Christ would soon come into the world. He warned the people to repent. Some people believed what he said, but many people did not listen. They even tried to kill him. Like Samuel, we can stand for truth, even if it seems that no one is listening.”
Samuel the Lamanite was a Book of Mormon prophet who was charged by God to preach repentance to the Nephite people. Because of his past exploits among the Nephites, he was not allowed to enter into the city. That is when he decided to preach from the top of the city wall. Helaman 13:4 states, “And it came to pass that they would not suffer that he should enter into the city; therefore he went and got upon the wall thereof, and stretched forth his hand and cried with a loud voice, and prophesied unto the people whatsoever things the Lord put into his heart.” I find it interesting that, even though Mormonism has within its scripture characters who resemble the Christians at general conference, the Mormons have almost no tolerance for their activities. The difference between Samuel the Lamanite and the street preachers at General Conference is that the street preachers do not climb walls.
Toward the end of Sunday afternoon’s conference, me and Chip Thompson of Tri-Grace Ministries were listening to Lonnie Pursifull, one of the most notorious street preachers, preach to Mormons as they were leaving the conference center. We listened to him for a good amount of time and I can honestly say that he never said anything hateful or inappropriate while we were there.
Sometimes the Mormons would cast insults in his direction or say something derogatory about his preaching. When that would happen, Chip and I would declare, “He sounds like Samuel the Lamanite to me.” Sometimes the Mormons would sneer at us, but every once in awhile, a surprised Mormon would look at us with a thoughtful gaze. One time our comment prompted two Mormon missionaries to stop and talk to us for about half an hour. Chip had the senior of the two and I was able to talk to a guy who was raised Methodist, but was baptized into the LDS Church a year and a half ago. We both had good one-on-one conversations.
We talked about the nature of God, how to obtain forgiveness of sins, James 1:5 and testing the spirits. I did not pull any punches with this young man and told him that he was deceived, unforgiven and needed Jesus. Once our conversation was over, he thanked me for being kind and caring. That may sound contradictory in the light of the things that I said to him, but this young man understood my heart. He knew that I was not trying to offend him or be rude for the sake of being rude.
Sometimes Mormons need to hear hard things and because of that, I want to make sure that if they are offended, that they are offended because of the gospel and not because of my behavior or attitude. Thankfully, these guys were not offended by anything we said and were actually appreciative of the fact that we were honest enough with them to tell them what we believe about their position before God. At the end of our conversation, the missionary to whom I was speaking did something that completely shocked me. He hugged me. HE initiated the hug. Wow. I didn’t even have a “free hugs” sign.
My purpose in sharing this last story is to make the point that we are not dealing with an either/or situation here. From reading Hill’s blog it is easy to get the impression that there are only two options; you either hug/love the Mormons, and refrain from using the hugs as a witnessing tool, or you accept the label of a Christian thug. I reject both extremes.
Ephesians 4:15 tells us to “speak the truth in love.” This verse does not give us one commandment, but two. It tells us what to do and how to do it. First, we are to speak the truth. The street preachers are good at that. Does the LDS Church follow false prophets? Yes. Do Mormons need Jesus? Everyone does. Will Mormons go to hell if they remain in their unforgiven position before God? There is no doubt about it.
Second, we are to preach in love. That is the trick, to preach the message that Mormons are in eternal danger without coming across like we are happy about it. If you were to ask the average Mormon who makes them feel more loved, the street preachers or Mr. Hill’s group, I would be willing to bet that they would chose Hill’s group. But if a Mormon stands before the Lord in condemnation and the street preachers and Hill’s group is present, what will be harder for the Christians to hear, “You didn’t hug me” or “You didn’t tell me the truth?” The point is, truth and love need each other. Truth without love can be too abrasive, too hard. Love without truth is too soft. If love is devoid of truth, is it really love at all? While it is possible to speak the truth without love, is it possible to love, to really love and not tell the truth?
Romans chapter 10 tells us of the unmistakable need for preachers. How would it read if we changed a few words to make it fit into this “hugging ideology?” Starting at verse 13, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they believe without a hugger? And how can anyone hug unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the arms of those who bring good hugs!” That is a bit silly, but then again, that is the point.
Lastly, I would like to address Pastor Hill directly. I recognize that some of what I have written is not easy for you to hear. Please accept this blog in the spirit in which it is intended. I mean you no harm and have no malice towards you. I simply want you to reconsider some of what you have said about your Christian brothers and done to them publicly. Posting a picture of a friend of mine on your twitter account which calls him a “thug” even after he apologized to you for some of the things he said to you? Not cool. Having your people yell “Free hugs” in an attempt to drown out his preaching of the gospel? Really not cool and certainly unchristian.
I don’t know if you realize this or not, but every media outlet that has reported on the “hugging campaign” has made reference to your “Hugs not thugs” quip. Is that how you really want to be known, by giving the “thugs” their name? Regardless of your intent, that is now how people know you. If you want to give out free hugs to all the Mormons at General Conference, I have no problem with that. Just please don’t denigrate your Christian brothers and sisters in the process. It comes across like you are standing together with the Mormons and pointing your finger at all the other Christians. Again, not cool.
I want to encourage you to do something contrary to what your blog states. You signed off on your “hugs blog” by saying, “Anyway…back to safe living for Jesus now. Thanks for stopping by.” You don’t strike me as the type of guy who really wants to “live safe for Jesus.” Hugging people is safe, but sticking your reputation on the line for the sake of the gospel? That is not safe living. Risking friendships for their eternal good is real love, but it is not safe living. I dare you to abandon safe living. Keep hugging people, but do so while embracing the preaching of the truth to the people God has called you to reach. At this point it looks as if you want to be know by your hugs, I’d rather be known by radically speaking the truth in love.