Beliefs

Mormons and Baptists compete for converts

RNS photo courtesy the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (RNS) Jake Pulsipher's first day as a working missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints began at 6:30 a.m. with prayer and exercise, followed by breakfast and study.

Then he put on a black suit, white shirt, and red tie, along with his official name tag, and headed out to knock on doors and tell people about Jesus. In doing so, he became the latest of 20,000 Mormon missionaries in the United States.

Mormon Missionaries — The Church's missionary program is one of its most recognized characteristics. Mormon missionaries can be seen on the streets of hundreds of major cities in the world as well as in thousands of smaller communities.

Mormon Missionaries — The Church's missionary program is one of its most recognized characteristics. Mormon missionaries can be seen on the streets of hundreds of major cities in the world as well as in thousands of smaller communities.

In Knoxville, Tenn., Southern Baptists Kevin and Kristi Cabe quit their jobs and sold their cars and most of their belongings. They're moving to Brooklyn, N.Y., where they'll spend their two years as — two of the 4,000 who the Southern Baptist Convention's North American Mission Board placed nationwide.

Every year, the Southern Baptist Convention and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints spend tens of millions of dollars to spread their takes on Christianity. They rely heavily on thousands of faithful volunteers willing to spread out across the country to share their faith.

The two groups are among the four largest denominations in the United States — Southern Baptists are second and Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints fourth, according to the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches from the National Council of Churches. The Catholic Church is No. 1 and the United Methodist Church is No. 3.

They are also competitors for converts, says Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

''Methodists are not out knocking on doors. Mormons are,'' he said.

For the Cabes, who are newlyweds, the decision to become missionaries started two years ago. Kevin Cabe was on an airport layover in Newark, N.J., returning from a mission trip to Poland. Instead of hanging out in the airport, he took a quick trip into New York and felt a calling to spread his faith there.

The Bay Ridge community that the Cabes will serve has 70,000 people and one Southern Baptist church. As a missionary, Kevin Cabe will help lead worship services and neighborhood outreach. His wife will work with children and women in the church.

''We are going to live on faith,'' he said. ''We believe God is going to provide.''

The Cabes are among the 1,037 volunteers of the Mission Service Corps. Most decide on their own where to go and what kind of work they will do.

The Mission Board, which has a $110 million annual budget, has been evolving in recent years. They've cut more than 100 staff from their headquarters in Alpharetta, Ga., and began spending less money in the South and more in the Northeast and Western U.S., where there are few Baptists.

The cuts allow more money to be spent on start-up churches. In 2011, the board spent 28 percent of the budget on new churches. That number went up to 42 percent for 2012 and eventually will be half of the budget.

Instead of the national office deciding where new churches go, Southern Baptists rely on local congregations to make those decisions.

Richard Bliese, associate professor of mission and president of Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minn., said most denominations used to plan their outreach and missionary work from a central headquarters. But they've found that approach doesn't work for them anymore.

''It used to be that there were these three-ring binders and everyone did evangelism the same way,'' he said.

The main exception is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For Mormon missionaries, from what they wear to where they will serve comes from the church's headquarters in Salt Lake City.

That gives Mormon missionaries tremendous brand recognition, said Elder David Evans, executive director of the missionary department.

Anyone who sees two young men in black suits walking down the street will likely think they are Mormon missionaries, Evans said.

Evans said that Mormons' mission work started with missionaries going door to door with copies of the Book of Mormon back in the 1800s. They still do that today, but also use modern technology. The church is currently running an ''I'm a Mormon'' advertising campaign, featuring the stories of everyday church members. When someone responds to the ads, a text message is sent to a missionary, who then hand-delivers church materials.

Mormon Missionaries — The Church's missionary program is one of its most recognized characteristics. Mormon missionaries can be seen on the streets of hundreds of major cities in the world as well as in thousands of smaller communities.

Mormon Missionaries — The Church's missionary program is one of its most recognized characteristics. Mormon missionaries can be seen on the streets of hundreds of major cities in the world as well as in thousands of smaller communities.

The Mormons' missionary system also relies on thousands of young men and women who say yes to the call to become missionaries for two years at a time. Most are 19 or 20 years of age. Each of them works for free and pays $400 a month for housing and utilities while a missionary.

For some Mormons, the call comes later in life. William McKee, 57, is president of the church's Nashville mission, where he oversees about 140 missionaries. McKee, who served a missionary in Sweden when he was 20, said coming to Nashville was an act of faith.

''When the prophet calls, you go,'' he said.

(Bob Smietana writes for USA Today. He also reports for The Tennessean in Nashville.)

 

About the author

Bob Smietana

Bob Smietana is a veteran religion writer and editor-in-chief of Religion News Service.

5 Comments

Click here to post a comment
  • Having spoken to a few Mormon missionaries about their church’s excommunication and harrasment of Annalea Skarin, author of several books, and receiving absolutely blank stares in response to my question, I was not really that surprised, while waiting in line for a friend to get on a bus in Reno, Nevada, some 20 years ago, when I encountered a buxom redheaded frecklefaced middle-aged woman who shared with me that she was going to a well known “ranch” to provide services to men, for the second time. She unapologetically declared that she did this to raise the money for her sons’ missions. She claimed to be married to the same Mormon man for many years, who worked hard, but they needed the extra money so their sons could fulfill their duties as Mormons to pay for their missions, and that this was the most expedient way to get the money. She therefore believed that she was serving Jesus in this way. Apparently some devout Mormons do not share the wealth of folks like the Romneys, but will sacrifice to spread the word and gain converts.

  • Annalea Skarin was excommunicated for teaching doctrine as official which was contrary to the official doctrine of the LDS church. In this case she claimed that she could enter Heaven alive without following the commandments as stated in the Bible, rather she could do it through meditation. She than disappeared, leaving behind her clothing as if translated. Her husband shortly disappeared in a similar fashion.

    Her payments for her book publications did not disappear. Instead they were forwarded to a new address in Oregon and then California. The translated Skarin then died a real death in California where she was buried in Corning.

    The policy of the LDS church in handling incorrect teachings of doctrine is a several step process. The first is to inform the person what the actual doctrine is. If they continue to intentionally persist in teaching incorrect doctrine they can then be subject to a disciplinary council. If they continue then they can be excommunicated.

    The church helps with the cost of a mission, so the story of a person who would commit acts that the church teaches are so serious that it could also result in excommunication is most likely false. If someone did tell this to you they were most likely lying.

  • The two biggest purveyors of Mormon theology were themselves polygamists, so that will forever be connected with the cult. Joseph Smith’s “revelations” themselves are dully documented farces that have no bearing in reality.

ADVERTISEMENTs