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Abusers: Denigrating the Gospel in Salt Lake
October of 1984. That
was the first time folks from Alpha and Omega Ministries
handed out tracts and shared the gospel with people attending
the semi-annual General Conference of the LDS Church in Salt
Lake City, Utah. There were only three of us, and at one
point in the afternoon we actually had lines of folks waiting
to speak to us! It was an amazing experience.
But times change. The Mormons have changed,
actually. Fewer Mormons believe in any kind of objective
truth, hence, fewer are liable to stop and do anything more
than bear their testimony to you. But we continue to
trust the Lord to bless our outreach and the tracts that we
Of course, we developed some very firm convictions
concerning our work in Salt Lake City and the proper way of
approaching the task in a God-honoring fashion. There is
a vast difference between the Mormons and say, the Watchtower
Bible and Tract Society (Jehovah's Witnesses). The
Witnesses will not, generally, take literature from you, nor
will they be seen by other Witnesses standing on a sidewalk
talking to "active opposers." Hence, holding signs
outside of the District Conventions of Jehovah's Witnesses
would be most appropriate (especially in light of their own
history of carrying sandwich signs outside of Christian
churches back in the early decades of the 20th century).
But Mormons are of a completely different
mind-set, especially when attending General Conference.
They are well dressed, serious in comportment. That is
why we dress well and do not seek to stand out in any way by
making excess noise, or by carrying signs. Mormons do
not respond to such things. Many of them are returned
missionaries, and hence expect of others some semblance of
respect before they will consider entering into a discussion.
That respect is communicated to them in two ways. First
by deportment, secondly by demonstration of knowledge
regarding their beliefs. Comportment includes one's
demeanor, the clothing one wears, the way one passes out the
tracts, the speech one uses in conversation, even when
provoked. These are vitally important.
The second means is likewise vital. I have
often commented that conservative Christians would not give
much credence to a person who approached us and said, "Your
entire religion is a fable. The Bible is completely
false" but who, upon cross-examination, confessed he had never
bothered to read the Bible at all. Such a person would
have no credibility in our eyes at all. And yet, many
will approach LDS people with an attitude of arrogant pride in
the fact that they have never read the Book of Mormon,
Doctrine and Covenants, or Pearl of Great Price, and have
never invested time in learning LDS theology, the ever
widening spectrum of variations on that theme held by Mormons,
etc. Why does anyone think they should give us a
hearing? Simple consistency and honesty requires some
level of preparation. Likewise, the materials we
present, the statements we make in the witnessing encounter,
must be accurate and fair. That is not to say we can
avoid all charges of misrepresentation (many Mormons pick and
choose their theology these days just like many
evangelicals!), but we should be consistent in our
presentations. Many, many times I have had the
opportunity of sharing with a Mormon person while keeping full
control of the direction and content of the conversation due
to my knowledge of LDS theology and the general directions the
Mormon is going to go in responding to the message of grace.
Very often the Mormon will be somewhat surprised to meet a
Christian who "speaks their language" and shows them respect.
That is when you get to really have an impact.
Given these things, the reader
will understand our consternation, disappointment, and
righteous anger at the events that took place during the
General Conference April 6, 2002. When we arrived prior
to the beginning of the first session, we immediately saw that
the situation was a little different than normal. First,
the crowds were huge. Evidently the church chose to
funnel everyone into a single entrance, resulting in a line
that snaked from the Conference Center across North Temple to
the North Gate of Temple Square, around Temple Square to the
West, down to South Temple! It was a huge line.
But, the other prominent feature was the presence of a large
of "street preachers," such as the man in this picture.
You will note a few things immediately. First, this
young man stands out since he is, quite simply, very casually
dressed. Secondly, he is carrying a sign that simply
does not communicate to Mormons. It reads, "Turn to
Jesus or Burn in Hell." While that is hardly written in Mormonese, it likewise says little to the average LDS person.
We talked to this young man later for quite some time (I was
joined in my effort to reason with him by Jason Wallace,
pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Salt Lake City).
He and one other young man were the only ones of the
group who listened to us at all and showed any semblance of
willingness to reason with us on a Scriptural basis. He
admitted he needed to learn more about
but continued his street preaching anyway. This picture
shows him standing on the south side of North Temple, facing
the line of Mormons waiting to get into Conference. Here
is another one of the preachers, this time standing right
outside the Conference Center with his sign after the big rush
In the third picture you see the reverse
of the sign held in the first picture: again, it has nothing
to do with Mormonism per se. "Study and Obey the Bible"
and "Judgment is Coming" are both true statements. But
again, all the thousands of people walking by would believe
both statements and would wonder why in the world this young
man is standing there with a sign preaching at them when they
already agree with what he's saying! This was one of the
major problems with all of the "street preachers." Given
their manifest ignorance of the people to whom they were
preaching, they could not begin to tailor their message so as
to make it meaningful (even if they knew enough about
Christian theology to be able to do so). They could have
at least made meaningful statements to the crowds as they
passed by that would have caused some level of thinking to
take place. They could have said things like "There is
only one true God who can save" and quoted relevant
Scriptures. They could have focused upon particular LDS
beliefs and provided biblical replies. They could have
contrasted the LDS concept of grace as found in passages like
Moroni 10:32 and 2 Nephi 25:23 with the biblical doctrine.
Instead, the loudest of the group chose to engage in
what can only be called "street abuse." This was not
preaching. It was rank abuse of LDS people, nothing
One man, shown here in his red cap, had been "preaching"
outside the Easter Pageant of the LDS Church in Mesa, Arizona
the previous week. In fact, he had been arrested twice,
once for trespassing and once for disturbing the peace (no one
from Alpha and Omega Ministries has ever come close to
being arrested in eighteen years of ministry in Mesa at the
Pageant, and this man managed it twice in the space of one
week the first year he was there!). I walked down to
listen to him "preach" in Mesa (thankfully, he stayed away
from the main corner most of the week). Using the same
plastic "megaphone" seen in this picture, he harangued the
passing crowds with, "Mormonism is a cult! Joseph Smith
was a whoremonger! You are headed to the pits of hell!"
And if anyone replied to him, or laughed, or even shook their
head, he would focus upon them. "What's wrong, mister?
Don't you read your Bible?" These words were not spoken
with compassion or love, I assure you. They were
spoken--no, yelled--in true KJV Only fundamentalist style.
The vast majority of Mormons simply shook their heads at the
Sadly, Mesa was quiet in comparison with the show put
on in Salt Lake. Seemingly the presence of the other
street preachers made the worst of the group all that much
bolder. You will note that in this picture the man is
holding something in his right hand. Those are LDS
undergarments. Yes, these street abusers would pull out
sets of LDS undergarments and wave them about in front of the
lines of Mormons while mocking them over their megaphones!
That is what is going on in this picture. The man is
standing barely ten feet from a line of Mormon Conference
attendees, waving the garments about while mocking them.
Now do not be confused. I own a pair of the
garments and have used them in classes to explain the temple
ceremonies, the connection with Masonry, etc. The temple
ceremonies are not Christian--indeed, they mock the true
faith. But there is a time and a place for everything.
If you are seeking to communicate with Mormons, you do not
start out by making sure to offend them to the core of their
being, raise every possible emotional wall you can, soak them
in a flood of hatred and disrespect, and then say, "Now, let's
talk about the gospel." As I later said to them
personally, that's like walking up to me and saying, "Your
father is a drunkard, your mother a whore, your sister is
ugly, and I love you in Jesus." The contradiction is
just too strong to overcome. More on this below.
It is one thing to explain the garments in the context of a
class of believers: it is another to wave them around outside
the General Conference in front of thousands of Mormons.
One is necessary education, the other foolish mockery.
But these street abusers are proud of their acidic
attitude and "in your face" methodologies. In this
picture you see the other leader, whom we believe to be local
to the Salt Lake area (the man in the red cap is from New
York) holding a sign of his own making. This one is LDS
specific. Sort of. It says the Mormons have a
false Jesus (they do). It warns of false Christs from
the Bible (so do we). But then it has a picture of
Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and Orin Porter Rockwell, bathing
in the flames of hell next to a representation of the Angel
Moroni (replete with horns). Over Young's head is the
description, "Brigham Young the Whoremonger" and Rockwell is
described as "the assassin for the LSD Church." Yes,
that is "LSD" not "LDS." The man holding the sign
admitted that he put "LSD" instead of LDS purposefully.
Yes, that's how you open up avenues of communication!
In eighteen years of ministry in Salt Lake City
we had never seen anything like this. Indeed, while the
Mormons had tried various things to silence us (and failed), a
group of street preachers managed to succeed where the LDS
Church had failed! We passed out one tract in the
morning. One! And it is no wonder. Can you
imagine the mind-set of a Mormon man with his wife and
children who has been forced to walk past this line of abuse?
Would you be open to taking a tract or talking to someone
about the gospel?
They shut us down completely. We would later pass out a
number of tracts to the crowds headed to lunch, but the only
way to get a tract out was to attempt it far away from
these people. Their attitude was so glaring, and so
thick, it hung like a cloud anywhere they would stand,
poisoning all efforts in the area.
Of course, I did not choose to sit back and allow this
travesty to go unchallenged. Many of the street preachers had
attended the debate I had done the previous evening against
Gilbert Scharffs, a Mormon scholar and author, the retired
director of the Institute of Religion at the University of
Utah. The debate had been on the fall of Adam and its
consequences. I had a wonderful opportunity to speak of
God's grace. I had likewise been in the position, if I
had chosen to do so, to truly embarrass my opponent, as he was
not really prepared for a biblical or
theological debate. But I chose to allow the message to
speak with clarity and not press my advantage. I truly
sought to honor God with how I handled the situation, and I
believe that by showing mercy to my opponent I allowed the
gospel to be heard by the many LDS in attendance. A
number of the folks accompanying the street preachers attended
the debate and enjoyed it. As a result, I had a very
small amount of "respect capital" that I was compelled to use
to try to reason with these people who were so obviously
engaged in an activity that was dishonoring to God.
Aside from two of the younger men, I wasted my time. In
these pictures you can see that I truly did make the attempt
to explain to these men that they were not only destroying the
work of preaching the gospel that we had spent eighteen years
establishing (the man with the anti-Mormon sign rejected my
assertion that I had been coming up that long, though he could
not provide the first bit of reasoning in support of his
assertion), but that they were in violation of the teaching of
the Scriptures themselves. And it was just here that the
real motivations of these people came to the fore. They had no
interest in godly counsel whatsoever. One claimed to have once
been a pastor, but the rest were laymen. Yet, they had no
concern about following biblical teachings regarding the
authority of elders. In fact, I asked the man in the black
shirt holding the anti-Mormon sign who his elders were. I
wanted to be able to contact his sponsoring church to attempt
to reason with them, since he obviously was not moved by
biblical arguments. He looked at me blankly. I cited Hebrews
13:17 to him, "Obey your leaders and submit to them,
for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an
account." I asked him to identify who had the rulership over
him. "Jesus!" he replied. "That's nice" I responded, "but the
passage is not talking about the fact that Jesus is King. It
is talking about the church. Who are your elders?" "Jesus is
my elder!" he replied. I tried a few more times and finally
said, "So, evidently, you don't actually believe all the
Bible." "Of course I do!" he retorted. "Evidently not,
you have no means of answering the command of Hebrews 13:17.
How can you expect these people to listen to you when you
stand here in open rebellion against God's Word?" He was not
interested, and as you can see in this picture, went back to
yelling at the Mormons even as I spoke to the other man.
Now, it is hardly surprising that when you have a group
of people standing around berating the religion of literally
thousands of people in the same area using bullhorns and
carrying signs that some of those folks might get a bit upset
about it. That was seemingly what these people wanted. Indeed,
during the big rush in, the man in the red cap spotted a group
of five or six young Mormon girls standing together in line.
Ministry President Rich Pierce was standing close enough to
hear him yelling through his plastic megaphone: "What's wrong
with you girls? What are you, lesbians?" It is amazing he
survived such antics, to be honest. But this wasn't the final
abuse the Mormons experienced: as they walked across North
Temple a small number of LDS ushers would stand out in the
street and direct them. Another of the street preachers yelled
out to them, "I know what you guys want! You want what
Mormonism offers you: SEX!" This kind of abuse was rampant.
Not surprisingly, then, some confrontations did take
place. In this picture a hot-head gets in the face of one of
the street preachers. For some reason this young man was
carrying a sign with a huge picture of an aborted baby that
simply said, "Abortion." The police came in and separated
them, but you can see from the picture the kind of attitude
that prevailed that day.
During the lunch rush we set up shop down on South
Temple and Main Street, and succeeded in passing out a number
of tracts. That was because the street preachers were nowhere
to be seen. One Mormon came up to us, took the tract, walked a
few feet, came back and said, "Thank you for being nice about
it." We knew exactly what they were talking about.
Amazingly, despite the general rancor created by the
presence of the street abusers, we did have a few
conversations. Both of my memorable conversations actually
started as a result of their presence. The first took place
shortly after lunch. A group of three young Mormons were
talking to the kindest of the sign carriers. They had gone
around and around on the testimony, and now were talking about
the gospel. I listened in and realized that the Christian man
simply did not know Mormonism well enough to communicate with
these guys. So, at one point, I stepped in and explained what
the Mormons were trying to say to him. The lead Mormon young
man thanked me. I then informed him I am not LDS, and began
sharing with him. In God's providence he had actually opened
his LDS Bible Dictionary to the definition of grace (a
definition I have used often, and had cited the evening before
debate). I used that and moved into Moroni
10:32 and 2 Nephi 25:23, and then on to the biblical
definition of grace. The fact that I knew what he believed,
quoted from LDS Scriptures and sources, and showed him simple
respect, gave me all the time in the world to speak clearly to
him of God's truth. I wrote my e-mail address on the back of a
tract and gave it to him, offering him a copy of Letters to a
Mormon Elder if he would like to read one. He thanked me for
my kindness. As he turned to leave he said to the street
preacher, "May I suggest something to you? Learn about what I
believe before you speak out against it." The young Christian
had no reply, since we both knew the Mormon was right.
Later in the afternoon I spoke with a group who had
stopped to talk to one of the street preachers. Again the
could not get past a basic "4 Spiritual Laws" type
presentation, and the Mormon had him tied in knots over the
testimony issue (a topic every single one of our volunteers
has handled over and over again). I stepped in and ended up
having a good conversation with an entire group, as this
Eventually the day wore down and it was time to go.
Warren Smith had made his first trek to Salt Lake City with
us, and I noted that though he is a good bit younger
than I, he was looking a bit tired by the late afternoon.
Standing in Salt Lake City for all those hours is truly hard
work. So I went over and reminded him that I was feeling
just fine. You get used to it after a couple of decades!
However, after I posted this picture, Warren complained
bitterly that this was the worst picture we had of him, so I
have added this one, showing him being my brotherly "Onesiphorus"
while I confronted the street abusers.
We are already making plans for the
October General Conference. The street preachers have
told us they will be back, so, we are making plans in light of
their unwillingness to repent of their actions and attitudes.
We can't go into detail, for obvious reasons, but we plan on
differentiating ourselves strongly from them in October.
We intend to make lemon juice from their lemons, so to speak,
and continue bearing witness to the truth in Salt Lake City.
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