I recently returned from a mission trip to Utah where our church did outreach to those of the Mormon faith. I had to the chance to meet up with a Mormon apologist (someone who defends their faith) for lunch and a former Mormon lawyer who converted to Christianity a few years ago.
I was looking forward to a really sharp and interesting exchange, but in a matter of minutes they were yelling and calling each other names like children. All rational discussion had come to a screeching stop.
Shortly after the lawyer left, I began to converse with the Mormon apologist. I didn’t have the experience or education of the former Mormon, but I have studied the Mormon faith for years. I calmly made my case as to why their founder Joseph Smith was not a prophet of God. We talked for a good hour and whenever he would take a drink I could see his hands visibly shaking while attempting to respond. He would get confused and back pedal, and somehow I remained unusually calm, not attacking at the first sight of blood.
I truly felt as though the Lord had brought to the front of my mind all the things about Mormonism I had ever studied. Although I have studied their faith for years, this conversation was beyond my skill, and I have nothing to boast about. The Spirit was truly at work.
That day, I got a great example of the different ways a conversation can go. The lawyer used the Bible like a shotgun and fired all at once with every bit of info he could think of while throwing in personal attacks as well. Religion is something people take very seriously; it is an extremely personal discussion and has to be treated with care. You must use a scalpel not a shotgun because these conversations are surgery, removing the cancer of false teachings without pushing the person away from God altogether.
The conversation between the Mormon apologist and I was a civil duel, and we both knew that. We sat down at the table to weigh our truth claims. Like gentlemen in the past, we removed our gloves and drew our swords, knowing that certain things are worth fighting for, but that does not mean we have to fight poorly.
This is a very healthy thing to do, but unfortunately we live in a society that has become so politically correct that the friendly civil duel rarely exist. The problem with this is that once you get rid of the gentleman’s duel, all that is left is full on war. That is why everyone gets along on the surface until they turn into mortal enemies.
It seems like almost every topic today is a “hot” topic. The media promotes only two views, conform or be quiet. However, there is a third view that the Church should be at the forefront of modeling. That view is the art of the civil duel.
We must lead by example when it comes to engaging in serious discussion. We must lead with the Spirit, our heads, and then our hearts, and never reverse that order, for then we are in danger of basing our arguments upon emotion not truth.
This must begin within the Church, and yes that means even when a committee is formed to vote on a new color of carpet. A civil discussion is required no matter how passionate a person may be about purple shag.
“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Prov. 15:1).