I returned to work this week after having taken Holy Week off. I don’t have any pictures from Holy Week. But, I did remember that I took a few pictures this past summer during a day trip that I took with my roommate when we realized that we had both randomly selected the same week for vacation.
We both have a fascination with Mormonism. And not just from an apologetics perspective. Knowledge of Mormon history and belief sure comes in handy when the missionaries knock on your door. But, it goes beyond that. We both share a love of reading about Mormonism just for the fun of it.
Anyway, when we realized that we had the opportunity we decided to head up to Kirtland, Ohio – to the site of the first Mormon Temple. The Temple was constructed in the 1830s. It is currently owned and maintained by the Community of Christ, a Mormon splinter group formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS). The Community of Christ had just opened up a brand new visitor center next to the Temple a few weeks before we visited.
It was an impressive place. There is a gift shop and even a movie theater. The tour guide plays a short movie on the history of the temple at the start of the tour. After the movie is over the screen is raised revealing a window which looks out on the Temple itself. And then the group heads over to begin the actual tour.
I took a few pictures outside of the Temple (photographs are not permitted inside). Unfortunately I did not bring a camera. So, these were taken with my phone. Click on them for larger images.
The inscription is a little difficult to make out in these pictures. It reads:
HOUSE OF THE LORD
BUILT BY THE CHURCH OF THE
LATTER DAY SAINTS A.D. 1834
Pictures of the inside of the Temple are available on the Kirtland Temple Historic Center website and a short video featuring images of the Temple is available on the Community of Christ website.
It is an impressive building with an impressive history. I would like to tour it again some day. But, the Temple itself isn’t really the reason I am writing this. It just serves as a backdrop to the events of that day.
Our tour guide that day was a young woman, a member of the Community of Christ, who had a great deal of knowledge about the history of the Temple and the people who built it. Her passion for the topic was quite obvious. On the tour the religious affiliation of everyone there came up. I think there were a couple of people who were members of the Community of Christ, A Catholic (myself), a lapsed Lutheran, (my roommate), and a dozen or more people who belonged to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS). But, she did not ask our religious affiliation in order to try and convert anyone that day. It was in order to help her to explain the services that were conducted in the Temple in terms we could understand. She compared and contrasted the Temple services to modern day Catholic, Protestant, LDS, and Community of Christ services. It was all very non-confrontational and I believe that it helped each of us better understand what happened in the Temple.
But, then we left the Temple itself and things changed.
We drove just a couple of miles away to the Historic Kirtland Village. Here, the Mormons (and it must be emphasized here that they are LDS and not Community of Christ) have recreated many of the buildings as they existed in Kirtland at the time of the construction of the Temple. There is a short movie (much like before the Temple tour) and then a guided tour of the buildings.
We ended up on a tour with an LDS family that had met on the Temple tour. Our tour guide was a young LDS woman who was full of enthusiasm and little knowledge. After asking the religious affiliation of everyone on the tour, proceeded to use the information in an attempt to evangelize my roommate and I. Every single bit of actual useful information that she gave us seemed to be followed with something along the lines of “and I testify to you that I know in my heart that Joseph Smith is a prophet and…” It got annoying very quickly.
Towards the end of the tour I was walking alone with the tour guide. Everyone else was a short distance behind us. She asked me for my opinion of Joseph Smith. I politely declined to share it as I did not wish to offend her. She kept pressing the issue. So, I finally told her that I believe that he is one of the greatest frauds this world has ever seen. She, of course, wanted to know why I felt that way. And so I shared my reasons.
She seemed stunned for a few moments. When she finally spoke she said “I testify to you that I know in my heart that Joseph Smith was a prophet, the Book of Mormon is true, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is the true Church of God on earth”.
You should have seen the look on her face when I responded “I testify to you that I know in my heart that Joseph Smith was a fraud, the Book of Mormon is false but is an interesting read, and the Catholic Church is the true Church of God founded by Jesus Christ on the Rock of Peter.”
She stuttered for a few moments, searching for something to say. And then, before she could respond, I explained to her that my testimony about the truth of something doesn’t make that thing true any more than her testimony does. What you need are facts. She agreed with that and then said that it is “a fact the book of Mormon is true.” I told her that I disagreed and then proceeded to ask her a few questions about the origin of the Book.
When she could not answer any of these questions she waved over a few Mormon missionaries who were standing around talking. I now repeated my questions about the origins of the Book of Mormon – this time to 5 missionaries instead of one. I received no answers other than “I testify to you that…”
Eventually, rather than answer my questions they decided to turn the tables around and ask me questions about Catholic doctrine and history. But, when it became apparent to them that I actually had answers to their questions they very quickly ended the conversation and went inside.
My experience with the LDS missionaries that day could not have been more different than my experience with the Community of Christ missionary. They were pushy, rude, and ignorant whereas the woman with the Community of Christ was helpful, friendly, and knowledgeable. My experience at the Temple was the kind of experience that makes you want to go back. I can’t say that about my experience at the Historic Kirtland Village – although I will most likely return there when visiting the Temple again just because I found the recreated village to be fascinating.
And a note to any Mormon missionaries who might be reading:
In my experience this seems to be the way all Mormon missionaries operate. And that is not the way to “win converts”. I am not saying that there is any chance that I will ever convert to Mormonism. But, my experiences have left me with a great deal of respect for the way the members of the Community of Christ handle themselves in religious discussions and with absolutely no respect for the way LDS missionaries handle themselves. The experiences of others may, of course, be different but from my perspective I think that maybe you should consider taking a page or two on evangelization from the Community of Christ.