Just over 30 years ago I was introduced to Evangelical Christianity while serving in the Missouri Independence Mission. Jackson County may have been near the locale of the Garden of Eden but, at times, the area was anything but paradisiacal for me. My first day in this county so famous for 19th century persecution of Mormons, my companion and I set out to tract. We knocked a few doors and then approached a home where the owner was cutting wood in the front yard. The man shouted, “Get the hell off my property!” and then chased after us with his screaming chain saw . . . we ran. Once safely distanced from the angry Missourian we gathered ourselves and I said to my companion, “Elder, that is just one more reason that I hate Evangelicals!”
Hate? Yes, hate. A little background. At that point I had been serving for 18 months. I had been verbally abused by Evangelical Christians almost every day. I did not know if the man wielding a chain saw was an Evangelical but he got credit for being one because Evangelicals were mean. It was the high point of the God Makers and we were the recipients of the bitter fruits of self-identified Evangelicals. They took as fact the contents of that anti-Mormon film. It got so bad that my companion and I knelt in a thicket of trees just outside the town’s Assembly of God church, prayed for relief, and blessed the land that the hearts of our harshest enemies—attendees at that Evangelical church—would be softened. We didn’t bless our enemies—we really didn’t want to talk to them face-to-face. I guess we hoped that the land would somehow transfer love and peace through the souls of their feet and spread from there. Frankly, we were young and naïve but our intentions were fairly pure, albeit misguided.
The principal problem was that I had dehumanized and delegitimized the world-wide movement of Evangelical Christianity. Based upon the behavior of a few, I denied their claimed status as Christians. They became the Godless cult that belittled Mormons. As a result I could, in my own mind, be justified in my uncivil and unforgiving responses to them. When I was confronted by harsh Evangelicals, I did not love them. I quickly turned from their doorstep and thought, “Good luck in hell because you just rejected the chance to hear the gospel in its purity!” I had become an abusive Mormon. I was a slanderous person, and I was willing to bear false witness against Evangelicals at every turn.
Decades removed from my mission I now love Evangelicals. How did this happen? I met Evangelicals, ate with them, laughed with them, met their wives, sons, and daughers. Simply, I allowed myself to be friends with many, many wonderful Evangelicals that deeply love the Lord. I was scarred and bruised but Evangelicals, not Mormons, provided the balm that healed me. Richard J. Mouw, President Emeritus of Fuller Theological Seminary and one of America’s most prominent Evangelicals, apologized for wrongs that his people had inflicted upon Mormons. He offered this apology from the pulpit of the Salt Lake tabernacle in front of thousands of Mormons and Evangelicals. Furthermore, he expressed this apology at the risk of being labeled a sellout by some of his Evangelical peers. I wept when I heard his words and I eventually had the opportunity to publically thank Richard Mouw for his courage and kindness. He, along with the goodness of many Evangelical friends, led me to repent for my slanderous words, and feelings that were so far removed from the teachings of Jesus.
Ultimately, I was brought to understand that the few should not govern my assessment of the many–especially if those few do not reflect the goodness extant in a religious tradition like Evangelicalism. My healing was fostered by Evangelical Christianity at its best. I am grateful for that. This is why I love Evangelicals.