By Dennis Gaunt
My companion and I were knocking on doors one day, when a man answered who seemed thrilled to see us. He was literally rubbing his hands together with glee that the Mormon missionaries were on his doorstep. He greeted us warmly and immediately invited us inside. Right away, I was suspicious. In all the time I had been in the mission field thus far, no one had ever reacted this way to us. Something was up with this guy, but we went inside anyway.
My suspicions turned out to be right. No sooner had we sat down, but the man’s pleasant smile disappeared. He then launched into an angry tirade condemning the Church, its doctrines, Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, and us personally for being stupid enough to believe in them. The longer he went on, the louder his voice got and the redder his face became. Every time he paused to take a breath, my companion and I would try to say something to counter one of his arguments, but that would just set him off even more. It was like trying to reason with a barking dog. We quickly realized we weren’t going to get anywhere with this man, so we excused ourselves, bore a simple testimony that we knew the Church was true, and left.
Well, the man didn’t like that scenario one bit. It was obvious he had been waiting a long time for a good fight with the Mormons, and now he was going to be denied that. He followed us out to his front porch, where he continued yelling at us as we walked away up the street.
Every member of the Church will encounter some form of similar opposition at some point—whether in person or online—and that’s to be expected. There will always be people who have nothing better to do than to bark away angrily in an effort to tear down what you believe. How we choose to react to such attacks is important, and can even be an opportunity to demonstrate Christ like love.
Elder M. Russell Ballard said, “If we want to be respected today for who we are, then we need to act confidently—secure in the knowledge of who we are and what we stand for and not as if we had to apologize for our beliefs. That doesn’t mean we should be arrogant or overbearing. Respect for other’s views should always be a basic principle for us—it’s built right into the Articles of Faith (see Articles of Faith 1:11). But when we act as if we are a persecuted minority or as if we expect to be misunderstood or criticized, people will sense it and respond accordingly.”
We have no reason to be ashamed or afraid of what we believe. But there’s a difference between supporting your beliefs with a sincere testimony and debating them angrily. Arguing over the scriptures or points of doctrine doesn’t work, and neither does becoming defensive and angry. Anger and debate lead to contention, and when there’s contention, the Holy Ghost leaves. Jesus taught, “He that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another” (3 Nephi 11:29).
Elder Robert D. Hales said, “By arguments and accusations, some people bait us to leave the high ground . . . and join them in a theological scrum in the mud. These few contentious individuals are set on picking religious fights, online or in person. We are always better staying on the higher ground of mutual respect and love.”
One of the best things I ever learned from my mission was how to act in these sorts of situations. When the Spirit prompts us, we can defend our beliefs in a respectful manner. But other times it may be better to simply walk away. After all, you cannot reason with a barking dog.