Hi and welcome back! Recently, we’ve been talking about The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience. In it, Ronald J. Sider tried his level best to convince evangelicals to start following their own rules. I suspect that one reason for his failure on that count was that he was asking evangelicals to do a lot more than pursue Heaven to avoid Hell. Among my other criticisms of the book, I’ve asked what following their rules would even give them that self-preservation alone would not. And well, that led me to the memory I’m sharing here today. Years and years ago, some Mormon missionaries tried to sell my then-husband Biff on a Heavenly upgrade. And his reaction flummoxed them completely. Today, let me show you how those missionaries’ efforts backfired on them.
(Related posts: Questions About Heaven I Never Thought to Ask; Heaven Is (Not) For Real; NDEs Don’t Prove the Afterlife Exists; Alex Malarkey’s Shocking Reveal About Heavenly Tourism; Shane Hayes and the Pursuit of Happyness.)
Set the Wayback Machine for about 1990. That year, a pair of Mormon missionaries unilaterally decided that Biff would be their conversion project.
We were newlyweds living in a cheap apartment very far from both the college and the church we attended. Our life tended toward the hardscrabble. Biff’s profligate spending, complementarian sexism, and general life philosophy of instant, complete self-indulgence didn’t help matters much at all.
The important part here for this story is that we lived in a very, very large apartment complex. That meant that salespeople often knocked on our door — what an easy way to knock out a quota of doors-knocked! I barely even remember most of them; we batted them away with ease.
One day, however, a pair of Mormon missionaries stood on our landing. I was ready to send them away, but Biff decided he wanted to talk to them.
“Invite them in,” he commanded, with a malicious twinkle in his eyes.
I had stuff to do, but if he wanted to waste his afternoon then that was his problem. I showed them in and then retreated to our small study to finish whatever actual work I had going on that day. In the background, the Mormons began getting flipboards out of their packs and making small talk as they set up their presentation.
Those poor guys, I thought. They have no idea.
See, these bright-eyed missionaries thought that Pentecostals like us were going to Heaven, sure. We just weren’t going to the ultra-special, rarified Mormon Heaven. When they saw me dressed head-to-toe in Pentecostal kit, they probably figured Biff would be an easy shoo-in for them. They likely thought we were already halfway to conversion.
Biff, very similarly, saw Mormons as being very close to being TRUE CHRISTIANS™. We both considered the founder of their religion to be a conjob and the religion itself a shameless scam (unlike our founder and our religion, LOL). But Mormons themselves seemed like they were already fairly Pentecostal in outlook and behavior.
As silly as this sounds to me now, we thought if we could just make them see the truth about Mormonism and Joseph Smith himself, if we could just make them see that the Bible’s clear-n-simple commands contradicted what Mormon leaders taught, then gosh, they’d both swan-dive on into our church’s baptismal tank lickety-split.
I don’t know why we thought that. We’d both already discovered that it was utterly impossible to persuade even a fellow evangelical that one of their doctrinal beliefs was erroneous.
Unsheathing His Sword.
Biff and I even had inexpensive Bibles that we’d pre-tabbed with verses of interest to various evangelistic targets. My Mormonism-related tabs were colored purple so they’d be easy to find.
(For the curious: Red indicated verses related to speaking in tongues. Yellow meant plan of salvation, I think. Blue was definitely water baptism in Jesus’ name alone — none of that filthy Trinitarianism stuff, thenkyewverymuch. And so on and so forth.)
Notably, our church at the time was situated directly next to a large Mormon church (not one of the big temples, one of those smaller ones, but its congregation was about as large as our own). We even shared parking lots on our respective big-attendance days! Our respective leaders had told all of us not to try to evangelize each other and to be polite neighbors.
Biff and I had always followed that rule. Young adults from both churches often mingled to talk and wrangle about doctrines, but nobody tried to poach. However, this situation was different. They’d knocked on our door.
That made them fair game, in Biff’s eyes.
Now that I think about it, they probably didn’t even attend that church (it was pretty far away) and also probably had no idea we attended the one we did. If Biff had thought of that back then, it’d only have emboldened him further.
He already held his specially-tabbed evangelism Bible in his hands as he watched them get ready.
Once they’d gotten a couple of flip charts ready and spread some tracts and brochures on our coffee table, the Mormons plunged into their presentation. They must have practiced it for a very long time; it flowed smoothly, like a mountain creek’s water.
Again, I was busy. I had actual work to do. So did Biff, but let’s ignore that; he sure did whenever possible. Eventually, though, I realized what they’d settled on as a topic of wrangling.
They wanted to sell Biff an upgrade to Heaven.
As mentioned, they already believed that Pentecostals would go to Heaven.
It just wouldn’t be the awesome Heaven that they were sure they’d be getting.
Instead, Biff would get the streets of gold and the huge mansion and the ticket to the wedding feast. And sure, those were nice.
But didn’t he want to rule his very own planet with an eternal bride by his side to populate it?
My then-husband’s reaction frustrated them so much, because he said no, he didn’t!
Despite many hours of wrangling they couldn’t tempt Biff with a potential heavenly upgrade.
He just laughed at them! At one point he told them, “I don’t care if I’m scrubbing toilets in Heaven — as long as I get there.”
That blew their minds.
That homemade “Fly or Fry” button he proudly wore wasn’t just his marketing slogan. To him, the goal was avoiding Hell, not achieving the very BESTEST afterlife possible. And those Mormon boys just kept throwing themselves against his brick wall of assumed safety.
They couldn’t get over how crazy he sounded. Wait, Biff didn’t want to be the god-king of his very own planet instead of just some filthy casual in Heaven?
How was this even possible?!?
I seriously don’t think they’d ever met anybody who just didn’t care about the thing that motivated them so much.
The Problem of Superfluity.
At some point I felt moved to join the discussion. The missionaries seemed quite pleased; apparently they preferred to evangelize a couple together than just half of the couple, probably for the same reasons that Amway recruiters prefer the same thing.
Obviously, the idea of popping out heavenly babies to populate a planet held zero interest for me. They probably knew it too, because their tactics changed as soon as I entered the living room with my own tabbed Bible in hand. Instead of stressing the populate-your-very-own-planet angle, they just stressed how much nicer and better and wonderful-er the Mormon top-tier Heaven was.
I interrupted their efforts as politely as I could to explain what the problem was here.
Mainly, I told them, Biff and I saw their product way differently than they did. To us, it was either the worst kind of heresy or utterly superfluous. Christians didn’t need it to get to Heaven, and if Mormonism was indeed heresy it might eradicate the safety from Hell that Pentecostalism granted both of us.
Either way, nothing these missionaries offered was actually worth the risk to us to pursue.
They really had no answer to give to that.
Eventually, they left. Neither side had budged.
Returning For More.
As they left, Biff invited them to return. And they did, several times.
Every time, the same thing happened: they’d laser-focus on him, trying their darndest to persuade him to upgrade by adopting Mormonism. In response, he’d shrug and say anything past walking through the gates of Heaven was just icing on a magnificent cake that he didn’t deserve in the first place.
Meanwhile, I’d stress superfluity and the sheer lunacy of risking one’s entire eternal fate by being greedy, and hammer hard at what I saw as Biblical contradictions to their doctrines.
After a few of these meetings, Biff was sure he had one of them on the verge of deconversion. He was all but salivating over his impending victory.
But then they just never made it to our next planned get-together.
What We Found Out.
Not long afterward, another set of missionaries visited us, apparently not realizing we’d already been well-and-truly evangelized to death.
When we told them who we were and asked after the first set of missionaries, these new ones told us something mind-blowing.
That first set’s superiors had recalled them back to Salt Lake City early, they revealed. Something we’d discussed had had a seriously detrimental impact on their beliefs.
At least, that’s what those second guys said, with the implication that they’d never repeat whatever the first set’s mistakes had been. They were far more experienced with evangelism, far better prepared, and oh yes, they implied, more than ready for Biff’s antics.
It went almost exactly like this, except obviously we didn’t reply the same way. (Beverly Hills Cop (1984))
They weren’t gonna fall for the superfluity of the doctrine of exaltation.
How That Went For The Mormons, Generally.
In fact, together Biff and I went through three sets of missionaries that year. We got one of the guys in the last set all the way into our church parking lot for a baptism before he chickened out and said he had to think about it.
Then we never saw another set again while we lived there.
And I didn’t ever wonder why, either.
NEXT UP: LSP! Then, we examine how Ronald J. Sider proposed to fix the big huge problem of evangelical disobedience. See you tomorrow! Thanks for waltzing down Memory Lane with me here today!
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