This blog is no longer being updated. About this blog.

Resistance is Futile

I didn’t really want to be there. The Mormon missionaries had called me and asked if I could visit a young woman with them. I felt obligated to help despite being on the verge of leaving the Mormon church. I hadn’t come out of the closet to anyone except my wife, so I had no good reason to refuse which wouldn’t out me. Besides, I was trying to be as faithful as possible to try one last time to receive a witness of God’s existence.

The urge to leave only got stronger as I sat listening to these two young men pressure and manipulate the young woman. She was obviously reluctant to commit to a religion that was so new to her. Her reluctance to disappoint the three men sitting at her kitchen table won out in the end. She agreed to work toward baptism into the Mormon church within a few weeks.

As we left, I’m sure the missionaries were expecting me to be excited to have participated in introducing someone into God’s church. I was instead feeling the pangs of a conscience struggling to be heard.

It wasn’t long before I had sent in my letter to resign my callings and ending my active participation in the church.


Chris Hedges over at TruthDig attended a seminar where he was taught how to convert people to Christianity. He then wrote an insightful article about the manipulative methods which in many ways resemble Mormon missionary tactics. I kept thinking to myself while reading the article, “So they’re finally taking a page from the Mormon missionary play book.” I think most former Mormon missionaries will recognize the tactics known in my time as the Commitment Pattern: prepare, invite, follow up, resolve concerns, build relationships of trust, etc. Just change some of the argot in the article and it becomes a story about Mormon missionary efforts.

I highly recommend reading the article which lays out how religious converts are often made: identifying the susceptible, building false friendships, promising to cure (sometimes nonexistent) fears and shames, smothering the prospective convert with attention, weakening or cutting ties with old friends and family who don’t belong to the group, introducing new rules which function as tokens of membership, imbuing a sense of group superiority, emphasis on an emotional experience rather than thought or reason, peer pressure, and deconstruction of individual identity in favor of a new group identity. I’ve never seen a more concise summation of exactly how missionary efforts are carried out.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Jonathan Blake said,

    May 6, 2007 @ 1:33 pm

    If anyone is curious, I never saw that young woman at church.

  2. Anna said,

    May 7, 2007 @ 2:37 pm

    So, I have a question. If you share your faith, is that considered the same thing as trying to Convert someone?

  3. Jonathan Blake said,

    May 7, 2007 @ 2:58 pm

    In the context of this post, I would say the difference between “sharing your faith” and “trying to convert someone” is in the methods used. We can talk about our religion, sharing what we find meaningful, what we believe, how it has helped us, why we don’t choose to follow other religions, etc. all day long without ever trying to convert someone in the pejorative sense we’re using here. That would be sharing your faith. Trying to convert someone involves emotional manipulation, taking advantage of personal weaknesses, creating false friendships, and so on.

    I can’t really speak for any other religion other than Mormonism. My only exposure to someone trying consistently to influence me to become born-again Christian has fallen into the sharing your faith category (e.g. inviting me to bible study, family picnics, etc.) with no sleazy tricks. Although now that I think about it, they baited the hook with their daughter… :) The article that I cite might be representative of only a fringe element of evangelical Christianity.

    The article does, however, reflect the methods that I was trained to use in the Missionary Training Center and while serving in the New York Rochester Mission.

  4. Sadie said,

    May 7, 2007 @ 2:58 pm

    The answer is “no”. Share your faith with anyone. Just don’t expect them to change and don’t share your testimony with the desire for them to change. Share your faith because the Bible tells you to. If the person has needs–address them. Beyond that–God is responsible for converts–not you.

  5. Jonathan Blake said,

    May 8, 2007 @ 7:47 am

    I would like to add that, in all fairness to Mormon missionaries, they are generally doing it with good intentions. If I felt uncomfortable using tactics that felt not quite right, I assured myself that it’s all in God’s name. What’s the harm if the end result is that God’s children are brought into his true fold?

    That’s obviously an attempt to justify the means by the end, but it’s often hard to recognize that in the moment. It’s only in hindsight that I can see the problems with my semi-conscious justifications so clearly.

  6. Anna said,

    May 8, 2007 @ 9:38 am

    Really, my opinion, before my question, was similar to Sadie’s. There is a song that says, “when you have a wonderful secret,” you want to share it with everyone. In this case. This is how I feel about my beliefs, that they are so wonderful, and a part of who I am, that I can’t help sharing them. (Think about like this: you are proud of your kids and you talk about them all the time.). I’m not doing it just to convert people. If my faith sparks someone’s interest, then great, I’d love to discuss it but if it doesn’t, that’s ok too. It’s not my job to change people, in fact, I know that I can’t change anyone but myself.

    Christians do offer classes on effectively sharing your faith. We have two such classes right now at my church. However, I would say the difference is in perception.

    For some Christians it’s difficult for them to share their faith. They know they should, they just don’t know how without coming off as pushy. (Ask Lacey about my idea of sharing my faith when I was at B&T…) That’s why these classes are so popular. For non-Christians, or former Christians, however, this could look a lot like a brain washing class. (I’ve never had anyone refer to non-Christians as recruits, though.) I do sometimes see things that make me think it’s more about the process than anything else. I have friends who could have benefitted from such classes, because their idea of sharing their faith is to take the biggest, heaviest Bible they can find and beat the unsuspecting over the head with it.

    I’ve sent a query to Coral Ridge about this seminar and asked for a response. I didn’t find any particular seminar that exactly matched what the author discussed, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t exist.

    As for the author’s conjecture that the higher authority that we’re asked to submit to is the pastor and not God; I’d say that’s the farthest thing from the truth in most churches that I’ve attended. Most pastors, save 1 or 2, that I’ve experienced, are not the higher authority. They’re lucky if they even hold a sway in the church. Most churches are set up to be governed by the members, not the pastor. If the pastor gets cross ways of the congregation it’s good bye pastor.

  7. Jonathan Blake said,

    May 8, 2007 @ 11:18 am

    I must confess to feeling a bit evangelical about atheism in a way that I never with Mormonism. I knew that I had an obligation to share my faith, but I never really felt a desire to share. Perhaps some of my reluctance was that I felt vulnerable to the rejection of my religion. My identity was so tied up in it that I took that rejection personally. I think in a perverse way, I avoided sharing Mormonism because it was so important in my mind that I was afraid of screwing it up and ruining someone’s perception of Mormonism, and therefore ruining their chances at receiving the fullness of eternal blessings. That’s a lot of pressure! I think the real reason that I lacked missionary zeal was that I had never been truly changed by Mormonism the way atheism, humanism, and naturalism have transformed me.

    Now, I feel so good having left the Mormon church and religion behind that I’m happy to share that experience. I wish more people could share that experience. Sometimes that leads me to be a bit heavy handed, but I’m trying to hold back, I really am. :)

    I have no problem with classes on how to share your faith as long as they don’t advocate manipulative methods. Learning how to effectively articulate your beliefs is an important part of belonging to a free society’s discourse. Let’s all just agree to lay off on the methods that prey on weaknesses in human nature.

    Of course, I just realized that there is a problem with this. Belief systems that have survived through history have probably done so because they take advantage of human nature. Christianity takes advantage of the desire to be loved unconditionally and the fear of death. Socialism takes advantage of the desire to make everything equal and fair. Libertarianism takes advantage of the human desire to be free and unencumbered by forced social obligation. Conservatism takes advantage of our reluctance to rock the boat, especially if we think we’re going in the right direction. So ultimately, even sharing the content of our belief systems may be manipulative at some low level. I think that’s something that we’ll have to live with, otherwise we would shut down all discourse. That’s too high a price to pay.

  8. Kullervo said,

    May 8, 2007 @ 2:21 pm

    I know my brother mentioned many times that he felt that the official missionary-trained methods were uncomfortably manipulative, especially due to a culture clash with the Japanese people he was trying to teach. By the end of his mission, he had pretty much abandoned the official methods and was just doing what he thought felt right. At the time, he thought he might be being disobedient and not having enough faith (the two biggest missionary no-nos), but now years later having left the Church, he feels like he ultimately did the right thing.

    For my part, Germans were notoriously resistant to the commitment pattern, and I never really had it in me to be super-manipulative.

    I remember one time though when Gene R. Cook (my absolute least favorite General Authority- he bothered me even before I left) came to our mission and he taught us all these “new methods” that were, in retrospect, obscenely manipulative. We tried them for a day or two, but then most of us slid back into our normal patterns. Of course, this gave the hyper-righteous another reason to show the rest of us how much more spiritual and faithful they were…


  9. Jonathan Blake said,

    May 8, 2007 @ 3:16 pm

    It makes me wish I had spent more time with the slackers in the mission. In retrospect, I think they kept things in a better perspective than I did. I don’t think I was hyper-righteous, but I wasted a lot of energy on my mission. I could have had a lot more fun, learned more, and been more compassionate. Regrets.

    My least favorite General Authority had to be Hartman Rector Jr., author of Already To Harvest. Here’s my Amazon review:

    I absolutely hated this book as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was a manipulative bludgeon to bully me into working harder to convert the people around me. It only served to fill me with guilt when I was unable to fulfill its unrealistic expectations. The message that I took away was that either I’m bringing thousands to Christ, or I’m not working hard enough or inspired enough. The author seems to forget that people have freedom to ignore even the most hard working, inspired missionary. For your own sanity, don’t pay attention to this book.

    The first standardized missionary lessons were extremely manipulative:

    ELDER: I humbly declare to you from the bottom of my heart that Joseph Smith’s testimony is true. It is logical, sensible and scriptural, so it must be true. And I know that you know in your heart that it is true.… When Joseph Smith came out of the grove, who had the true concept of God, Joseph Smith or the ministers of the world?

    MR. BRADY: Joseph Smith.

    ELDER: Joseph Smith had the true knowledge of God. That being true, it follows that the churches of the world were wrong. To our knowledge, there was not a single church in the year 1820 that taught the true nature of God. Now, Mr. Brady, I notice that you have several small children in your family and I assume that you love them dearly. Is that correct?

    MR. BRADY: Of course.

    ELDER: Mr. Brady, is it not a serious thing to have your children taught a false doctrine of God?

    MR. BRADY: I suppose so, but I have never thought of that before.

    [Editor’s note: The elders invite Mr. Brady to bring his children to Sunday School, then continue:]

    ELDER: Mr. Brady, how did Joseph Smith get the true knowledge of God? Who appeared to him?

    MR. BRADY: God and Jesus Christ.

    ELDER: Yes, and when God speaks to men in this manner, they are called what?

    MR. BRADY: Prophets.

    ELDER: Exactly, and so that would make Joseph Smith a what?

    MR. BRADY: A prophet?

    ELDER: Yes, Joseph Smith became a great prophet, and I want you to know that I know with all my heart that these things are absolutely true.

    (The New Missionary Discussions and the Future of Correlation by John-Charles uffy)

  10. Fallon said,

    May 12, 2007 @ 4:14 pm

    Jon, I would have to say that if you seriously wanted to look into to Judaism, I would suggest Kabbalah, if you felt that Orthodox Judaism is not for you. The problem with Reformed is that they believe the Torah to be nothing more than a book full of stories and parables. They few it more as a Dr. Phil manual on ways that you could live your life, instead of G-d’s law. Just wanted to give you an insiders few for the future in case you become interested. I would suggest, if you become interested, to look into Orthodox Judaism as well as the other’s and find what works best for you.

  11. Jonathan Blake said,

    May 13, 2007 @ 9:33 am


    [This is a continuation of a conversation on Fallon's blog, by the way.] The funny thing is that the very reasons that you cite for why I should avoid Reform Judaism (if I were to follow any form of Judaism) are the very reasons that I’m attracted to it instead of Orthodox Judaism. Reform Judaism is willing to look at the Torah and the evidence about the Torah and acknowledge that it isn’t the literal truth or dictated letter by letter from God’s mouth to Moshe’s ear.

    Orthodox Judaism resembles many of the aspects of Mormonism which caused me to leave. There is an interesting post on some of those aspects by a former Orthodox Jew. It is possible to be a religious Jew and participate in your heritage without hiding your head in the sand intellectually.

    But to each their own. Life is too short to worry about what other people think about what we belief. Follow your conscience.

  12. Bobby said,

    March 16, 2008 @ 12:44 am

    Fare Thee Well .. Jonatham

    Elder’s Quorum Secretary, Keei Ward, Hawaii.

  13. Jonathan Blake said,

    March 16, 2008 @ 4:11 am

    Till we meet… erm, again? :)

    Aloha, Bobby.

    Human Being

  14. Bobby said,

    March 25, 2008 @ 1:49 am

    Ae, Jonathan
    A Hui Hou Aku! :grin:
    Until we meet again.

RSS feed for comments on this post