Apologetics and Dialogue
John Smith was claiming that I had never been excommunicated, that I was really still a closet Mormon, really just leading people astray and pretending to be a Presbyterian. He demanded to see my excommunication letter, which I had. I told him that if my word were not good enough for him that the letter wouldn't change his mind or attitude on anything. I just wasn't going to play ball with him and while I had a couple of contacts or confrontations with him, he had no interest in learning anything about Mormonism.
Another experience not too long ago that I hope never to repeat again -- I was invited to participate in a debate in Salt Lake City by a minister who was the pastor of an Orthodox Presbyterian Church. The person that he wanted me to debate was James White, and I said, "I won't debate." Well, he said that it wouldn't really be a debate, just a discussion of perspectives. And finally with a great deal of reluctance I agreed to participate.
When I got there, I found that he had simply lied to me; it was a debate. James White was constantly on the attack from a Calvinistic standpoint. Having been a Presbyterian, I know something about the Westminster Confession of Faith, and so at least had some foundation and ground upon which to comment on some of this. As I was talking they were actively selling copies of his anti-Mormon book at the back of the room.
Frankly, it was a terrible experience. Usually I like to hang around and interact with folks. I just couldn't wait to get the heck out of there, frankly because the Spirit was so absolutely absent. One woman, a Latter-day Saint, came up afterward and told me how much I had helped her testimony; maybe I was there just for her. I don't know, but in terms of anything productive really happening, it was impossible for the Spirit to bear witness to truth.
Now I think the best apologetics setting in which I have ever participated was in the context of serving on the committee that evaluated The God Makers in 1984-85. The God Makers arrived in Mesa and I went to see it with a Latter-day Saints friend. About 2,000 other Christians came to see that film wanting to find out what their Mormon neighbors believe; unfortunately they left thinking they knew. The day after the film, I wrote an article that appeared in the newspaper in which I called the film religious pornography. Ed Decker, who made the film, called me the next day wanting to know what I meant. I told him that if he didn't know I surely couldn't explain it to him.
At any rate, the National Conference of Christians and Jews, which has been renamed the National Conference for Community and Justice, became involved. I was on the regional board of the NCCJ and we felt that this was an issue that they needed to address because it was dealing with interfaith dialogue, the attack of one group upon another, and other sorts of things. A committee was appointed, headed by Eddie Basha, a Lebanese Catholic. It was a committee made up of persons who were not LDS, and we spent a year looking at the film, talking to people who made it, talking to people who sought to distribute it, inviting Truman Madsen to come down (who at the time was holding the Richard L. Evans Chair of Religious Understanding), and getting his input on it from an LDS perspective. In the end, the NCCJ issued a statement about the film.