Offending Fish- A Response To The Partnership Between The Mormons And Mariners Church

Offending Fish

Have you ever gone fishing only to decide that you will not cast your line or even use a net for fear of offending the fish? This may sound like a ridiculous question, but it is a situation that we have recently faced— not it the realm of the great outdoors, but in the spiritual sense in which Jesus told his disciples that if they would follow Him, they would be fishers of men (Matthew 4:19).

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints hosted an open house in Newport Beach, CA July 23rd through August 20th for their 122nd temple. Some time before the open house the Mormon Church approached Mariners Church— a non-denominational mega church of more than 10,000 members— to ask if they could use their parking lot for visitors parking during the open house. The Mormons expected 185,000 visitors during the open house and since their parking lot cannot accommodate large groups, they needed additional parking.

The leaders at Mariners agreed. If this is not unbelievable enough, Mariners also forbade Christians, even their own members, from coming into the parking lot to pass out educational literature explaining the differences between Mormonism and Christianity or to witness to the Mormons.

When Evidence Ministries heard about this partnership, we could not believe our ears. We decided to call the church and ask some questions as to how and why they made their decision. Rather than making hasty judgments, we wanted to see if there was more to the story. Our intention was not to try to change their decision or challenge their reasons, but to understand why Mariners decided to help the Mormons in recruiting the unsuspecting public and possibly even some of their own members.

In a phone call to one of the pastors at Mariners, Jeff Brazil stated that the leaders of the church talked about the Mormon’s request and decided that they could express love toward their new Mormon neighbors and to the community by allowing the Mormons to use their parking lot. Numerous questions were asked during our 50 minute conversation with Pastor Brazil in order to try to understand why Mariners made this decision. We are sad to report that the answers were not well thought out, Biblical, or even logical in some cases.

No fishing Allowed

On Monday, August 15th Bill McKeever, Director of Mormonism Research Ministry, and I (Keith Walker) took a tour of the Newport Beach Mormon temple. When we arrived in the Mariners church parking lot and saw all the Mormons standing in line waiting to be bussed to the temple, I had a sinking feeling in my stomach. I asked Bill, “How can someone see so many fish and not cast a net?” We both knew the answer, but could not fathom Mariners reason for not taking advantage of a God-given opportunity.

When asked why Mariners decided to forbid Christians from educating the public and evangelizing the Mormons on their property, Pastor Brazil stated that since people are media saturated, they do not want to contribute to the deluge of data. He also said that they would not want people to feel uncomfortable because they are their guests.

I am concerned that Mariners’ pastors view a newspaper that contains the gospel and vital information detailing the differences between Mormonism and Christianity as information overload. Christian ministries who have experience in temple openings were not the only ones forbidden to enter Mariners property for purposes of evangelism. Members of Mariners church were also prohibited. The Mormon temple was only open for a few short weeks. To waste this opportunity is to allow your fishing license to expire. This is especially sad, since the Mormons were on their church property.

Befriending Fish

Throughout our conversation, Pastor Brazil mentioned building bridges and relationships numerous times. According to Brazil, Mariners is a relational church and does not practice or condone “confrontational evangelism.” (His use of the term made me wonder if he thought that being confrontational was somehow unloving.) Mariners’ leaders hopes that by extending the kindness of allowing the Mormons to use their parking lot, people will be curious and want to know more about Mariners.

Pastor Brazil asked if I had been on their campus. When I answered that I had not, he began to tell me how their facilities do not look like church buildings. Brazil was confident that if I saw the buildings, I would be impressed. The leaders of Mariners is so proud of their structures that they are convinced that once people are on their campus, they will be curious as to why the buildings do not look like a church, and will ask questions. Brazil said that people will be so taken with the act of love and kindness of allowing their parking lot to be used, that it will help them come to Christ. Brazil is pleased with the fact that Mariners members have had their neighbors ask about the church because of the buildings.

If the Mormons needed to use the parking lot for a private function, then by all means, love thy neighbor. The temple open house, however, is not a private affair. It is a meticulously planned event designed to strengthen the faith of members and to recruit unsuspecting new ones. In short, it is a proselytizing opportunity for the Mormon Church. The July 21, 2005 L.A. Times states;

The public tours of the temple are designed, in part, to help dispel misconceptions about the LDS church, church spokesman Mike Judson said. The structure is the latest entry in a worldwide temple-building campaign by Mormon leaders.

The temple building campaign brings positive publicity and new converts. When Mormon leaders talk about dispelling misconceptions, what they really mean is blurring the lines of demarcation. Why else would the Mormons cry “persecution!” when Christians offer the public a newspaper that describes Mormonism’s real beliefs? The less the public knows about Mormonism’s actual worldview, the more acceptable this heresy becomes.

Now that I have been on the Mariners campus, I must agree with Pastor Brazil on one point. It looks more like a medical center than a church, but that fact alone is not going to lead anyone to Christ. If the leaders at Mariners is trying to win a “building competition” against the Mormons, they will lose. Besides, Mariners has overlooked the fact that if being in their parking lot will bring people to Christ, then is it not also true that getting people into a Mormon temple will bring some into Mormonism? Regardless, the leaders at Mariners is happy to have them bussed from their property into the domain of darkness.

It is one thing to allow Mormons to use your parking lot for a private function, but to aid them in their proselytizing efforts is criminal. Why would a Christian church assist in this Mormon proselytizing activity? I understand and applaud the desire to show love to Mormons and the community, but this, I must say, is not the way. This is not to be understood as a criticism of the relational approach to evangelism. What I am concerned with is the misapplication of it and the refusal to confront.

In an e-mail from Pastor Brazil, he said;

This striving to build relationship — at least for us, in this set of circumstances — is our best effort at trying to be consistent with the spirit and method in Jesus’ not-of-this-world approach to the Samaritan Woman, the tax collectors and countless other people Jesus reached out to with a barely comprehensible depth of compassion and love.

It is interesting that Mariners wishes to follow Biblical examples in evangelism, yet fails miserably in practice. In the example given, Brazil conveniently ignores that fact that Jesus confronted the woman at the well with her sin. Apparently, Brazil has a different opinion.

In our phone conversation, he said that Mariners does not tell people that they are wrong or false. It doesn’t make any difference to him if you are “an atheist, adult bookstore owner, bank robber, or a Mormon or anything in between.” They want to love people into the family of God by showing Christ’s love. Brazil wants to let God do the discovering for people. According to Brazil, people will realize that they need the gospel on their own. One could easily come to the conclusion that Mariners believes that the fish they are trying to catch will be grateful that Mariners refuses to use nets or hooks and will cheerfully jump into the boat. That is a nice thought, but unfortunately for Brazil, it isn’t Biblical. There must be a confrontation. Notice what Jesus says in John 4:17-18.

 17 The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus *said to her, “You have correctly said, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; this you have said truly.

Jesus began his relational conversation with this woman in verse seven by asking her for a drink of Water. Notice that the discussion did not remain on a relational level. Jesus cared enough about the woman to confront her about her sin. He didn’t condone or excuse it. Those who rely on the relational approach alone have missed the point. It is not the relational approach to the exclusion to the confrontational style, it is both. Jesus lovingly used both methods when the situation called for it. The example of the Samaritan woman illustrates this.

There is one other crucial point to consider here. This may sound somewhat controversial to those who have never participated in a Mormon temple outreach, but evangelism is not our primary objective. The main goal in a temple outreach is to educate the community about the differences between Mormonism and Christianity. Experience has shown that once someone understands the basic world view of Mormonism, that is usually enough to inoculate them from joining the Mormon Church. The second purpose of temple outreaches is to evangelize. Even though the majority of the information distributed during these outreaches explains the theological differences between Christianity and Mormonism, this does give the evangelist an opportunity to springboard into the gospel.

In recent years there have been a few critics of the “confrontational style” of ministry used at temple openings. One such critic is John Morehead, the associate director of Neighboring Faiths Project. On August 13, 2005 Morehead made mention of the Mariners situation in his Blog, MoreheadsMusings. His comments can be found at http://johnwmorehead.blogspot.com/2005_08_01_johnwmorehead_archive.html.

One of Morehead’s concerns is that when Christians participate in temple outreaches, we make the Mormons defensive and less likely to listen to our message. He states;

It might be helpful for us to step back and put ourselves in the shoes of the Latter-day Saint. Imagine that your church has just completed the building of a new chapel or worship center. You have just left the dedication ceremony, a time of celebration and fellowship for your Christian community, and as you return to your car in the parking lot you see Mormons standing on the sidewalk passing out literature stating that your chapel is part of a false church and your doctrine is corrupt. Would this warm the heart of the average evangelical to the message of the LDS Church? Hardly. We would rightly be upset, we’d become defensive, and we would not be in any frame of mind to listen to any possible merits in the LDS message. What evangelicals fail to understand is that Mormons feel the same way when we pass out tracts and hold up signs at their temple openings. In fact, considering the significance of temples to LDS culture, their reaction is even more severe.

Although the above sounds reasonable, the example is a weak analogy. Christians do not conduct public celebrations of their new buildings only to purposely withhold central tenets of their beliefs. Before the Mormon temple in San Antonio opened in April 2005, we sent a letter to the temple president informing him that if they would explain the idea that men could become Gods to every visitor, we would pack up our gear and go home. Since the Mormons declined, we were obligated to educate the community about the differences in our faiths.

Christians do not deceive the public into believing half-truths and misrepresentations of their faith. During the Houston, Texas temple opening in 2000 my wife Becky was talking with a female Mormon missionary about basic Mormon beliefs. The missionary responded by saying that they were instructed not to talk about doctrine. Becky inquired about this and the missionary replied, “We were told to be vague and smile a lot.”

Christians do not avoid telling the truth when asked direct questions about what they believe. During the San Antonio, Texas temple opening I (Keith) was invited to be on a secular radio station to discuss our activity around the Mormon temple. A Mormon public relations official was invited to be on the program as well, but refused to go on the air with me. He agreed to appear on the program only if he was allowed to come on 20 minutes after I did. One of the things I was able to bring out on air was that Mormonism teaches that men have the potential to become Gods. The talk show host directly asked the Mormon P.R. official if that was the case. His response was, “We don’t have a lot of time to get into that today.”

What Morehead and other critics fail to understand is that our primary objective for temple outreaches is to educate the community about Mormonism. One of the key reasons Christians use these venues is that it is easier to keep people from joining Mormonism than it is to get them out. Temple outreaches have become a type of “preventative maintenance.” If Christians are consistent with these kinds of outreaches, we will be saving ourselves a tremendous amount of time, work, and effort in the long run. Morehead has addressed which methods Christians should not utilize when witnessing to Mormons, but he does not speak to how Christians should educate and warn the community of the dangers of Mormonism.

Fish Trap

The misapplication of the relational style of evangelism leads to an interesting “catch 22.” Once the relational evangelist befriends a Mormon, they often refrain from preaching the gospel to their Mormon friend for fear of offending them. If the friendship is lost, then what chance does the Christian have to share Christ? If you cannot preach the gospel until you have a trusted relationship, yet shy away from it because you may lose the friendship, what good has been accomplished? We may want to meditate on what the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) does not say;

Go therefore and build relationships with all the nations, befriending them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, encouraging them to observe your Christian behavior; and lo, I am with you always, building bridges to the end of the age.

Befriending Mormons at the expense of warning the community about the dangers of Mormonism or protecting your own flock is negligence. If we refrain from preaching the gospel to our Mormon friends in order to maintain our relationships, we have turned the Great Commission into the Great Omission. When asked if Mormonism is a part of Christianity, Pastor Brazil laughed and said, “You have the wrong theology guy.” He also said that his biggest theological questions are from his son when he asks why God created rocks. He refused to answer “theology stuff.”

When asked if there was a plan for evangelism to the Mormons in the future, Brazil was confused by the question. He reiterated that they are only extending love. They have no strategy to reach out to them. Mariners believes that through just opening up their parking lot, Jesus’ love or message through the gospel will touch lives. There is no more detail, no more to it.

Aside from reiterating their desire to love people, he mentioned that there was a possibility of having Craig Hazen, a professor at Talbot Theological Seminary, come and speak to those who are interested in Mormonism. According to Brazil, Hazen is very supportive of Mariners’ decision to allow the Mormons the usage of their parking lot. Brazil went into some detail about how Hazen told Mariners that they were treating the Mormons in a way that they were not used to and that this would give them some leverage in the future. Brazil was pleased that things had happened the way Hazen said they would.

Now that the temple open house has ended, Mariners finds themselves in the above “catch 22.” How will they be able to effectively protect their flock without offending their new Mormon friends? Christians need to know and understand that Mormonism is counterfeit Christianity. If we do not understand that, there is no reason to preach the gospel to them. Any clear presentation that contrasts the errors of Mormonism with the truth of God’s Word will bewilder Christians and anger Mormons. It will bewilder Christians because they will be shocked when they discover the differences between the two world views of Christianity and Mormonism. It will anger Mormons because they will be seen as non-Christians in need of the Savior.

What will happen to the bridge building relationships then? Will Mariners’ members feel duped once they learn that Mormonism teaches that no other church has any authority to act and speak for God or that their Christian baptisms are invalid? Will Mormons feel betrayed by a church that allows them to park in their parking lot and then teaches their members that Mormonism is not Christianity? The chances are that none of the above will happen. It would be surprising if Mariners ever did any church wide teaching about Mormonism. There may be too many “friendships” to lose.

Fishbowl View

Throughout this article the effort has been made to help the reader understand that both the relational and confrontational approaches of evangelism are needed. Unfortunately, not everyone agrees. Morehead comments on the confrontational approach,

These activities are actually counter-productive. While evangelicals might feel good about engaging in such activities, they appear to have little positive long-term impact. http://johnwmorehead.blogspot.com/2005_08_01_johnwmorehead_archive.html

Before we address this comment, let us assume, for the sake of argument, that Morehead is correct. Let us follow his argument to its logical conclusion. If we are to avoid the confrontational approach and rely on relationship building, how long will we be able to practice this approach? Human beings can sustain only a limited number of deep relationships. If we are not to preach the gospel until we have succeeded in creating these trusted relationships, how long will it be before we exhaust our resources? Once one has attempted to share the gospel with all of their unsaved family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers, who should they talk to next? Do they abandon relationships that are deemed unproductive in order to create new relationships with those who may be receptive to the gospel?

There is one other important factor that Morehead is not taking into consideration. Mormonism is not just a culture, it is a cult. Reaching out to those ensnared in a cult is a different matter altogether. From our observation, Morehead’s criticism is mostly targeted at how Christians reach out to Mormons. How would he apply his relational approach to those involved in other cults?

Let us use the Jehovah’s Witnesses as an example. Once one becomes a Witness, they are “encouraged” to sever relationships with those who are not Jehovah’s Witnesses. They are not permitted to have relationships outside of the Watchtower organization unless they believe that there is a possibility of recruiting the individual. Once the Witness realizes that there is little chance that the person will join, they move on to another prospect.

Is Morehead’s observation correct? Is there little positive long-term impact made through the confrontational approach? Even asking that question is not entirely appropriate. We know of no ministry that relies solely on the confrontational approach to evangelism. While ministries vary on how much they use relational and confrontational techniques, using both methods is imperative. Relying solely on the relational or confrontational approach is short-sighted and unrealistic.

Morehead’s question must be answered in the affirmative. Confrontational efforts have made a long term impact. The vast majority of testimonials from former cultists who have come to Christ reveal that at some time they were confronted with the truth in opposition to their error. These former Mormons relate that at times those confrontations made them furious and that relationships were broken. The good news is that once they understood truth in the light of God’s Word, their anger was turned to joy and their relationships were mended.

Christians also benefit from using confrontational approaches. Every year Evidence Ministries leads a mission trip to the Mormon Miracle pageant in Manti, Utah. Since 1967 the Mormon Church has presented a pageant every year in Manti, Utah (pronounced man-tie) at the temple grounds. This pageant is an outdoor play that depicts the beginnings of Mormonism through the trek out West and up to its present day. This highly professional drama is approximately one and a half hours long and includes scenes from the Book of Mormon. Average nightly attendance for the last six years is a little more than 12,000 people. The temple grounds open at 6:00 PM, but since the pageant does not start until after dark (9:30), Mormons will typically walk around town and visit vendor’s booths and local stores. The streets surrounding the temple grounds are closed to traffic so this gives Christians a wonderful opportunity to stand in the streets, give out tracts to passing Mormons, and engage in fruitful witnessing conversations.

This short-term mission trip is unique in that before you can share your faith, you must be able to defend it. Evidence Ministries equips team members to be able to give a reason for the hope we have as Christians with gentleness and respect. (1st Peter 3:15) The comradery and fellowship one experiences on this mission trip is worth the price of the trip itself. The spiritual growth that team members undergo on this trip is amazing to see.

Former Mormons and maturing Christians are just two examples of how the confrontational approach has positive long-term impact. In light of the above, one must ask what positive long-term impact has been made by using the relational approach alone. How many Mormons will come to Christ through family and friends who never confront them with truth? Using the relational approach alone is limited in scope. God does not call us to restrict our evangelism to our own little fishbowl. That is a good start, but there is a whole sea of people who need to hear the gospel.

The Jellyfish Gospel

Since when did fishermen concern themselves with how comfortable the fish are? Are we afraid of offending the fish? Romans 9:30-33 is very clear that those who pursue righteousness by works will stumble over Jesus— a rock of offense.

30 What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; 31 but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. 32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33 just as it is written, “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, And he who believes in Him will not be disappointed. (NAS)

The gospel of Jesus Christ is about grace, not works. Ephesians 2:8-9— For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (NAS) Mormonism is in opposition to this message.

“One of the most fallacious doctrines originated by Satan and propounded by man is that man is saved alone by the grace of God; that belief in Jesus Christ alone is all that is needed for salvation” (12th President Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, p.206).

If we are to preach the true gospel, the gospel of grace and the insufficiency of good works, Mormons will be offended.

It is obvious that Mariners has allowed itself to be polluted by the post modern culture that dictates what is polite and acceptable. They feel the need to just, “love everyone into the kingdom” while ignoring the Biblical mandate to preach the gospel. A social gospel is devoid of any saving power. Being as loving as possible does no good unless people have the opportunity to hear and accept the Biblical gospel.

The gospel is not about subscribing to a “feel-good” message that promises health, wealth, happiness, and a solution to all the problems of those who slip up their hand in an evangelistic service. It is a confrontation. There must be a confrontation. Not necessarily between the believer and the unbeliever, but between unbeliever and God. God is right and we are wrong. Your sin and mine put Jesus on the cross and we need God’s forgiveness. Unless we come to Jesus with our sin problem, we will die in our sins and spend an eternity in hell. That is not a happy message. The unbeliever must understand this or the good news makes no sense at all.

The good news is realized when one discovers that God has made a way for us to escape His wrath. Jesus Christ is the only solution. Unless one accepts forgiveness on His terms, we are wasting our time. Making all the relationships in the world with unbelievers, yet not telling them the bad news is a gross dereliction of duty.

Fish Fry

Love does not build relationships only to sit back and watch people go to hell. It is a disgrace that Mariners neglected to educate the community or reach out to the Mormons for Christ. According to the LDS Church News (Saturday, August 27, 2005) 175,165 people attended the Newport Beach Temple open house. This article goes on to say that nearly 8,000 requests for family history kits and nearly 1,000 missionary referrals were received during the open house. Although some temple visitors parked in other places and walked to the temple, the vast majority of these visitors were bussed from the Mariners church parking lot. Mariners should be ashamed that they have assisted the Mormon Church with these numbers.

During the above mentioned phone call to Pastor Jeff Brazil, I asked how he felt about the Mormons using the temple to recruit people, people who had just come from Mariners parking lot. He stated that he didn’t have any feelings, thoughts, or fears about it. He believes that he is called to love people to the best of his abilities. According to Brazil, Jesus was our model for “going relational and not being worried about the rest of it. We are trying to do what Jesus would do.” It is difficult to imagine Jesus organizing the parking of camels outside of the temple in Jerusalem so that pagans could visit the new alter to Baal that happened to be down the street.

In an e-mail from Brazil he stated;

If I could summarize things in a sentence, the decision to let people visiting the LDS temple use our west parking lot for overflow parking on weekdays for a three-week period comes down to our simple, uncomplicated belief we can possibly reach some people in this situation by being radical, Christ-like lovers of others. We just think there may very well be people impacted by this situation who don’t know Jesus, and in some way may experience God’s love and truth, through a conversation or some other method God’s Spirit chooses.

It is obvious from his statement that there is no pro-active strategy to reach the people on their property. Brazil was quick to affirm that there had been conversations between Mariners members and some Mormon neighbors. One such conversation has lead to the possibility that a Mormon lady may attend Mariners M.O.P.S. program (Mothers of Preschoolers). While this is potentially good news, it pales in comparison to the nearly 1,000 missionary referrals the Mormon Church received. It would be interesting to know if any of these referrals are from members of Mariners who like what they saw on their temple tour. We pray this is not the case. Of those 1,000 referrals, how many of them would have shown interest in Christianity if someone would have been permitted to speak with them?

Mariners desired to be a light on a hill and they succeeded. Unfortunately their light is not pointed towards Jesus Christ. It is pointed towards the Mormon temple. Mariners sees the action of allowing the Mormons to use their parking lot as a radical expression of Jesus’ love. It is nothing more than an irresponsible proselytizing partnership with the Mormons that will lead the unsuspecting to hell.

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