The apostles have been out among the people, talking about Jesus and sharing what they believe with others. And now, they've come together to give Him an accounting of their labors.
Jesus asks them, "Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?" They tell Him that some say He is John the Baptist, and others Elijah, and others Jeremiah. Then He asks them, "But whom say ye that I am?" And Peter says, "Thou art the Christ."
You know what question is missing from this conversation? This one: "Whom do men say that YOU are?"
Do you wonder why? Why doesn't Christ bother to find out what people are saying about His servants, His followers, His friends? Oh, sure, He's going to warn them that folks will misunderstand them. He'll teach them that at some point every one of them will have to take up their cross and follow Him. He'll even promise them that if they endure everything that is coming, without losing faith or denying Him, they'll be saved.
But He never asks how others have chosen to define these men or the work they're doing.
Interesting, huh? As Jehovah, He makes it clear that "woe" comes to those who call good things evil, and evil things good. It's not as though labels don't matter to Him.
But the last commandment He gives before He effects the Atonement is that His followers love one another. "By this," He explains, meaning love, "shall all men know that ye are my disciples."
Consider what the Savior is telling his apostles. He's not saying, "By your ability to win an argument, by the number and type of callings you hold, by the way you dress or raise your kids or earn a living - will you be recognized as my disciple." It will be by one thing only: The love they show one another.
And isn't it interesting that He's telling these eleven special witnesses of Him that all men will know that they are His disciples because of the love they have for each other. And yet, of those eleven men, ten will be martyred, and one will be banished for years, all because of their testimonies.
They will love each other. All men will know that they are Christians. And they will be ridiculed, falsely accused, tortured, brutalized, and eventually killed.
Almost any time someone says, "I'm the kind of person who...", I am tempted to mentally insert a little 'not' between 'I'm' and 'the'. Often, experience has shown that if someone has to tell you what kind of person they are, it's because their actions aren't adequately saying it for them.
So, when the question of whether or not Mormons are Christians comes up, as it seems to do umpteen gazillion times a week any more, I know that the temptation is to shout, "You betcha! I'm a Christian, and I'll take on anyone who says I ain't!"
Now, I'm not here to tell anyone whether or not to engage in these kinds of discussions. Rather, I would like to offer a bit of counsel, to be taken for what it's worth, on how to handle such situations. Keep in mind, it is only love that defines a true disciple of Christ, and even that will not convince those who refuse to acknowledge what they, as part of that group of "all men," should know.
- Know your own religion. Antagonists of this church are becoming more and more sophisticated in their attacks. It's been a long time since anyone accused Mormons of having horns or literally baptising dead people. Someone may cite a doctrine that sounds questionable, but be careful about refuting it before you've gathered the facts for yourself. Along these lines, the more we have studied and learned about the gospel of Jesus Christ, the more able we will be to withstand the otherwise potentially enticing or confusing arguments of the adversary.
- Be prayerful in any response you give. Don't forget that even those who hate us most are loved by God. If your purpose in responding is retaliatory, walk away from the discussion until you can contribute charitably.
- Don't take things personally, and don't make things personal. I know, it's harder than it sounds. But personal attacks always fuel the fire, without leading to any significant understanding.
- Learn the difference between sincere inquiry and rabble rousing. Honest questions deserve honest answers. Be respectful. If you're unsure, err on the side of kindness. On the other hand, when it is apparent that someone is just trying to stir up contention, leave it alone. There is no winning an argument like that, because your opponent isn't looking for answers. He's looking for a fight. He feeds off of your righteous indignation. Your hurt feelings are a feast for his insatiable appetite for pain. As difficult as it may be, just let him starve.
- Answer just the question being asked. A good example of this is one that I've asked my Institute students at the beginning of the semester: "What is the Book of Mormon?" Oh, my goodness, how the answers drag on! Yet, why not say, "It is a record of a fallen people," or, "It is another witness of Jesus Christ." If you can't answer someone's question in one or two sentences, you're probably trying to answer more than you're really being asked. And if the questioner wants to know more, they'll ask.
- Don't take it upon yourself to call everyone else to repentance. While it is true that we are called to preach repentance, that is not the same thing as having the right or authority to condemn others. "Where are those thine accusers?" the Lord asks the woman taken in adultery. "Hath no man condemned thee?" This exchange comes after the Lord has reminded a mob of so-called 'covenant' people that no one but He is without sin. And then even He says, "Neither do I condemn thee." They both know she needs to repent. But that's between her and the Savior.
- Above all, let the fruits of your life be all the evidence anyone needs that you are a disciple of Christ. Christians are as Christians do. Call it Forrest Gump philosophy if you like, it's a pure and simple truth. President Hinckley told a gathering of religious leaders that "our people are the symbol of our faith." I'm going to go out on a limb here and say: No one can claim to be a Christian, regardless of their religious affiliation, unless and until their life is a reflection of His.
Who are we? Let others fuss over that one. The only question of any lasting consequence is, "Whose are we?"
And that can not be settled by debate.
DeNae Handy is an editor for and contributor to Mormon Mommy Blogs. She has served for twenty years as a Gospel Doctrine, Seminary, and Institute instructor.
Photo courtesy ldsclipart.com