When our family moved to Salt Lake City in 2012 to help plant Gospel Grace Church, we discovered a culture of extreme contradictions. The “Happy Valley” between the mountain ranges may have a reputation for family, religion, and the blessed life, but underneath the surface, many people are anything but happy.
The purported family values of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter–day Saints (LDS) seem oxymoronic in light of Utah’s skyrocketing porn consumption, widespread anti-depressant usage, and prolific plastic surgeries (breast implants for high-school graduate gifts, tummy tucks for middle-aged moms, and facelifts or Botox treatments for anyone seeking that youthful boost). Despite its projected perfection, Utah has one of the highest suicide rates in the nation.
My husband, a reserve chaplain in the Air Force, was hired in 2013 to provide counseling at the local base because of a cluster of suicides in the civilian sector. Confidentiality prevented him from sharing information with me, but his disturbed soul confirmed all the statistics. I am haunted by the vacant eyes and empty laughter of all the sad people in Happy Valley.
If you know Latter–day Saints, you might assume they have it all together and don’t need you. They give the impression that “the best are blessed.” Most are obedient to their system of religion because of promised reward, but when suffering comes instead of blessings, they can become disillusioned. This is just the moment a Christian can share gospel hope with them.
If you want to speak loving truth to your LDS friend, here are some factors to keep in mind:
Listen to their lives, not just their beliefs.
I have learned more from my friendships with LDS women than any book on Mormonism could teach me. Most are exhausted from a fundamental error in their salvation system: they are forever working for approval, striving to be worthy.
One verse in the Book of Mormon spells out their twist on salvation: “It is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23). How can my friends possibly know when they have done enough to merit the grace needed for salvation? They don’t know, so they continue to run the hamster wheel of unattainable perfection.
It’s so important to listen to what is going on in their lives instead of just quoting Bible verses that contradict Mormon doctrine. One LDS person I knew went through a financial trial. Instead of charging her for music lessons, I asked if I could give lessons for free. Through this visible picture of grace, I had an opportunity to share that salvation is “by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—not from works, so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2:8–9).
Seek to love them, not just convert them.
A direct approach to evangelism is certainly appropriate when there is one chance to share the gospel, but loving relational skills are necessary when seeing LDS friends weekly at soccer games or in the grocery store. Loving my neighbors means learning how to ask questions, how to listen to their answers, and how to bring these people into my life. As I approach conversations this way, the gospel is not simply a flaming sword but a warm campfire we keep visiting.
While Mormonism produces a high-octane culture of “do more, do better” super saints, it doesn’t produce spiritual confidence. When you really know an LDS person, you will often find deep insecurity. Imagine if you believed your eternal destiny and daily success depended solely on your personal choices. You wouldn’t be very confident either.
When you really know an LDS person, you will often find deep insecurity.
To counteract your friends’ insecurity, provide a safe friendship. If you show unconditional love, they will be more open to the gospel.
Stand next to the suffering.
When Mormons struggle, they may not know where to turn. No one likes feeling judged, especially when in pain, and the temptation for anyone trapped in a legalistic system is to judge others. Like Job’s friends, the LDS can be quick to assume that one who suffers must have done something to cause the suffering.
In Unveiling Grace: The Story of How We Found Our Way out of the Mormon Church, Lynn Wilder writes of a time when her son was extremely sick for more than a month. She felt ostracized by her LDS community and abandoned by God. Through suffering, Lynn became more open to religious thought outside of Mormonism.
Like Lynn, your Mormon friend might be asking this question: If the LDS are promised blessing for keeping the commandments of their church, why do obedient Mormons suffer? When an LDS person is at this point of questioning, a Christian friend can become a place of stability and truth.
Suffering is a gospel bridge into sharing how God suffered, the “righteous for the unrighteous,” that he might bring us to himself (1 Pet. 3:18). For those who come into relationship with God by faith, the experience of suffering isn’t punishment but fellowship with Jesus.
Share your struggles.
The more years I have ministered to LDS people, the more extreme my difficulties seem. I know that only comforted people can comfort others, but I confess I have wondered if it is worth sharing “abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too” (2 Cor. 1:5). But the comfort of Christ is worth it! Though it’s humbling, I try to be honest about my failures and trials.
Many of the LDS are not used to someone discussing struggles with sin, and they seem disarmed by personal admissions. Frank discussions about sin and suffering provide a safe place for them to reveal their failures.
When my LDS friends admit their sin and realize they can do nothing to atone for it, the gospel finally makes sense. Jesus died in our place to pay for our sins by his precious blood. The free gift of salvation transforms us, allowing us to have a confident relationship with God, a relationship that sustains us through all the difficulties in this life.
When my LDS friends admit their sin and realize they can do nothing to atone for it, the gospel finally makes sense.
So, are the best really blessed? Absolutely not. What a relief for all of us who never seem to meet expectations! Because of God’s grace, the worst of us find forgiveness and blessing. This is the message the striving LDS need to hear: it’s not the best who are blessed, but rather those who trust in God’s sufficient grace.