Why don’t Mormons tell it all up front?

This comment, from another post, is typical of what I have heard from other people:

In 1839, Joseph Smith was asked to describe the difference between his religion and the other religions of his day. Smith replied that the primary difference was primarily in mode of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands (HC 4:42). However, Smith neglected to mention that he believed that his visions were contrary to classical Christianity. He needed to tell them that, “God the Father and His son Jesus Christ, appeared to Joseph Smith in the spring of 1820. Joseph revealed that the Father and the Son each have a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s,” (D&C 130:22). Smith’s answer is obviously evasive. He neglected to explain his view of God as in the form of a man, the importance of works, temple ordinances, polygamy and deification.

Another way this same basic question has been phrased in the form of a statement is “Mormon missionaries only teach the stuff that appeals to mainstream Christians and then once they’re baptized they throw all the stuff at them like baptism for the dead and man > God doctrine after it’s too late.”

There are at least two reasons why Joseph Smith didn’t mention these other things in the situation above, and why Mormon missionaries don’t teach certain things.

One reason is because there is limited time and space. Joseph Smith was being asked by a newspaper reporter what the “primary” difference was between the LDS Church and other religions. Surely the questioner didn’t have time for and wasn’t looking for Joseph to sit down and take 30 hours to answer him. Even if Joseph spoke for 30 hours straight there are still things he wouldn’t be able to cover and people could still say “See? He’s being evasive!” Just because something isn’t mentioned doesn’t mean it’s being hidden. When people ask me how I’m doing I generally just say “Good” rather than giving them a five-minute explanation of all the good things going on in my life.

A second reason for stating certain things first and other things later is for the same reason certain things are taught to elementary school children and other things are taught to high-school aged kids. You could hardly say that school administrators are sneaky in how they teach kids basic math in elementary school but then throw calculus at them in high school when it’s “too late”. Although I will admit that I did feel a bit betrayed by my upper math classes. There is a progression of ideas in the gospel as with anything else, and it only makes sense to start by teaching those things that are more basic and fundamental, which of course includes those things that are generally understood by the majority of the population.

But aside from this, it’s simply not true that all Mormon missionaries teach is non-controversial ideas that are easy to accept. Traditionally, Mormon missionaries teach about Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon in the very first meeting with someone who wants to learn more about the LDS Church. If modern-day prophets, Joseph Smith saying that he saw God and Christ appear to him as two distinct being, and scriptures in addition to the Bible aren’t shocking enough for a first introduction to the LDS Church then what is?

Mormon missionaries simply can’t teach it all, and there’s a logical order in which to teach things. Nothing is hidden from those who want to learn about the church, and frequently things like temple garments, baptism for the dead, man > God, and other things are discussed between missionaries and investigators of the church. To me, it seems that no matter what missionaries teach the enemies of the church are going to try and find fault with it, and saying that Mormons are hiding things is an easy target, since there’s so much Mormons couldn’t possibly cover even if they tried.

By the way, in case you’re interested, the LDS Church publishes the entire missionary manual online for anybody to read. If you want to know what Mormon missionaries teach and how they’re taught to teach it, you can read the book and find out for yourself.


  1. Time and space? Many people who investigate the church sit down with missionaries for hours and hours before being baptized; it is not a matter of time and space. Your second explanation hits the mark more appropriately; Mormons believe that investigators are simply not ready to receive all of it up front. It is a well planned gradual indoctrination. As investigators 'invest' more and more time of themselves, they are less likely to ask questions that could endanger this investment.

  2. Seems to me as time goes one they would be more and more likely to ask questions that would "endanger" the investment.

    The thing is, an investigator could sit down for 100 hours with missionaries, and still just scratch the surface. I've been a member of the LDS Church for 35 years and still feel like I'm just scratching the surface in many ways despite countless hours of study and research. I'll probably still feel that way when I'm 90.

  3. I can understand you saying it is a gradual process and to hear everything at once would be overwhelming as well as take a considerable amount of time. But in my personal experience I was approached by missionaries, learned the six (I believe) lessons, visited with them almost daily, attended church, visited with church leaders for about 4 months. I was not ever told about the more controversial issues such as God had been man, the idea of a sexual conception, heck, not even about the undies. Believe me, there was plenty of time and opportunity to educate me but they did not want to. I started to find out some concepts while in church and putting the conversations together with the reading material but I was not told this information up front in the least. During this time they (the missionaries as well as the president of the local church and his family) were insisting we be baptised into the church. Now if they wanted us in so bad should they not be willing to freely offer all beliefs to us? That seems very deceptive to me and I don't even understand why they would want members that may not believe the same as they do once they are finally exposed to it.

    Consider this analogy…You and me meet at the local library, we begin dating and fall in love. We become engaged with plans to marry THEN I tell you I have 7 children at home each from a different father. I explain that I did not feel you would be able to handle the information until until we knew each other well enough to make a solid lifelong committment to one another.

    I have no problem with what you want to believe but it is not right to withhold important information about an organization until someone has joined the organization. Surely you can see how unfair this is?

  4. Before anything else, the idea of a sexual conception of Jesus (I assume you're referring to Jesus' conception) isn't taught by the LDS Church, as has been debated extensively here, and that's why missionaries don't teach about it.

    As for the rest, you can only accuse someone of withholding information if you ask them a direct question, they have the answer, and they refuse to give it. I would wager that 99% of missionaries know little about the Church beyond what they teach. Many members of the Church don't know much more than the missionaries, especially since so many members of the Church are recent converts themselves. This is one reason someone looking into the Church may not be taught about something in particular.

    Another reason is that what seems controversial and like a "big deal" to you may not seem that way to a member of the Church. When I started wearing garments it didn't seem that weird to me. Ok, maybe a little weird, like how it was a little weird when, as a kid, I switched from briefs to boxers. I was taught that the garment was intended to serve as a constant reminder of what I believed, and that wearing it would protect me. It didn't seem like a big deal to me then, and it doesn't seem like a big deal to me now. I sometimes wonder if those who think it is a big deal are trying to find something which they can make into a big deal. Anyway, the point is it's not reasonable to expect someone to know what will be a big deal to you if it's not a big deal to them.

    The last point I want to make is that there are things that are important but which don't change anything. If God was a man and we are children of God, created to become like Him, that's a big deal, that seems pretty important and yet…how does knowing that change what you'll do tomorrow? God was once a man and so…then what?

    On the other hand, if the Book of Mormon is true, then that means Joseph Smith was a true prophet, that the LDS Church is God's Church on the earth and the only church authorized to administer sacred ordinances like baptism, and that this is the place for those who want to do God's will–all of it. And thus the focus of the Church is to teach and emphasize those things that are of greatest importance. If someone thinks something else is important for them to learn, the information is not withheld from them–they can go find it by asking their bishop, a friend at church, reading books, or doing research online. Everything is freely offered, but that doesn't mean it is equally emphasized or promoted.

  5. Disclaimer *I'm not saying the garments are weird or a big deal but they are a committment and a part of the theology.

    As far as I know other religions are upfront about their beliefs. Baptists for example with tell you that you must accept Jesus and be saved. Catholics make you go through intruction and confirmation before you join the church…the point being you find out what the entire belief package is before you are baptised or before you are expected to practice and live the religion. There are many beliefs but to not fully explain them before one is an active member of the church is very misleading. Mormons approach you with the idea that they believe typically as another other Christian group but you know they have controversial ideas that many Christians to not agree with, that they even feel go against biblical teachings. I'm sure there would be people out that being exposed to the entire truth would choose to believe it and feel that it is the correct path, people practice many ideas. To not tell the entire theology until after one is already expecting to be living it is wrong, no matter how you look at it especially since before the internet is was not information that was easily found. It seems like delibrate trickery and I think most would have more respect if not belief in your church if it didn't seem as though you were trying to get people to join without being completely honest. In this case you cannot use that it is not a big deal because you as well as your church members do know it is different and unlike they typical Christian belief.

  6. "There are many beliefs but to not fully explain them before one is an active member of the church is very misleading."

    I've been an active member of the Church for 36 years, have probably studied my religion more than most, and I don't feel like I'm anywhere close to being capable of fully explaining our beliefs. I think it would take me another 1,000 years of study to get to that point…actually, maybe even that wouldn't be enough.

    "Mormons approach you with the idea that they believe typically as another other Christian group but you know they have controversial ideas that many Christians to not agree with, that they even feel go against biblical teachings. "

    We do indeed build on common beliefs, although we certainly don't portray the LDS Church as just like every other Christian religion. When missionaries teach someone, the first point is establish what we have as common ground. Do you believe in God? Great, so do we. Do you believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior? Great, so do we. If someone is already a Christian we can skip over those things quickly, because we're in agreement and get down to the things that set the LDS Church apart from other Christian faiths. If the missionaries are teaching someone who doesn't believe in God or Christ then more time may be spent on those basics. But in teaching someone who is Christian, the discussions pretty quickly go to the biggest differences between the LDS faith and other Christian churches, and that isn't garments, men becoming Gods, etc., it's Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. If those things are true, everything else follows. If a person learning about the Church can't be convinced those things are true, there's little point in teaching anything else. If someone knows the Book of Mormon is true and that Joseph Smith was a prophet, nothing else in the Church is going to seem like a big deal. Things might seem strange, but to someone who has a testimony of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith the response to anything strange will be "Well that's weird, but I'm sure there's some plausible explanation for it."

    I can certainly see how people might feel manipulated or feel like things are being hidden. In some cases people certainly are being manipulated, and there might be individual members who are hiding things. However, this is not the intention of the Church, but a result of Church members and missionaries being imperfect. Good heavens, these missionaries are mostly 19-year old boys, many of whom are struggling to overcome a fear of speaking out loud to an adult. It's a miracle anyone listens to them.

    The Church is run by imperfect people, so of course there is always room for improvement. The Church recently came out with a new missionary teaching program that replaced the discussions you may have received. Missionaries are trained to respond better to individual needs and questions on a customized, spontaneous basis, rather than sticking to a memorized set of lessons in one-size-fits-all fashion. 10 years from now the Church may come up with something even better.

  7. Just from my personal experience I went through the lessons and read the book of mormon. I figured out from conversations at church that there was more books, no one ever mentioned this to me. I asked the missionaries for them and they seemed hesitant but finally brought them to me. Keep in mind during this time I was being pushed to be baptised. After reading the other two books I was sure this was not what I felt in my heart to be the truth so I was honest with them. They immediately left my house. About two days later they returned and asked for the d & c and the pearl of great price back, telling me that they were not really supposed to have given it to me before I was a member. LDS missionaries (others have came to my house since so I am speaking from experience) are upfront about the book of mormon only. They know they have two other books that are part of their doctrine so why do they not give people these as well? It is not common knowledge to outsiders but mormons know these books exist, are part of their doctrine and referred to often so shouldn't they be upfront about these BEFORE they try to baptise a person? The missionaries basically admitted to me that they were something to be given ONLY after baptisism. Let's say it wasn't common knowledge that the Catholics liked the Pope, the believed in confession to priests, priests and nuns couldn't marry, etc. etc. etc. and I approached you by saying "Hey, we believe in God, Jesus, forgiveness of sins through Christ. Then as a group we tried and tried to baptise you. You agreed since you believe in these things too. Only after we baptise you we say "Hey, by the way, there's this guy in Rome who's a really big deal, you need to go into that booth and confess pretty darn often, the Catholic bible has some extra books (Apcryopha), etc. etc etc. There are many things a Catholic does that the typical Christian doesn't do. The thing is they tell you upfront and let you decide if you agree with this belief. Methodists, Baptists, etc. do the same thing. They tell you the basic belief system then let you decide if you feel that is true in your heart and soul. Mormons do not do this. They only tell you the part you have in common. Would you not feel betrayed and misled if a Catholic or Baptist did this to you? And you can't use the excuse that everything is open to asking because how does one ask about things that they have not ever heard of? Obviously you love your church and believe wholeheartedly in it. This is one of the biggest problems I have with it and I'm sure many will agree. Being honest, fully honest, shows intergrity and if a church cannot show that it casts suspicion upon on it. My soul is important to me, God is the most important part of life, He is life. If I would have been baptised into the mormon church based on the information I had been given I would have been devastated because once I found out about it I would have felt as if I betrayed my God because in my opinion it goes against what I feel the Bible says. My beliefs are as important and as real as yours, neither of us can prove who is right but each of us has the right to live as we feel as right. Your missionaries (and the president of the local church here) are guilty of trying to take that right from me by omission of the truth. Please tell me you can see that? In my eyes it is wrong to believe I can become as God, that God was once as I am. To the typical Christian I'm pretty sure this was what Lucifer's sin was, to desire to become as God. By withholding that belief and trying to convience me to be baptised into the LDS church (and being baptised into a church is a very big deal to me) your missionaries and church leader would have led me to commit one of the biggest sins against what I believe to be God that I possibly could. The book of mormon is not that alarming in itself, alot of it seems to be rewritten or paraphrased biblical text, it is the other two books that really stand out in my opinion and they are not freely offered. Your big belief is that we can be as God or a god, I think most of you know, espcially in times of the internet, that this goes against typical Christian belief as we believe we can worship God, that we can join Him for eternity but not ever be as Him, period, not even close. Heck, if you told a Baptist they could be as God they would pass out from the blasphemy (no offensive Baptists but I can imagine that getting my Baptists' friends hair on end!)

    We do indeed build on common beliefs, although we certainly don’t portray the LDS Church as just like every other Christian religion.

    This is your statement above…and in my experience it is a lie. I dealt with the missionaries and church for 4 – 6 months. During this time I was constantly told standard Christian beliefs (God, Jesus, salvation, Bible is Word of God). I was not ever told any of the things I've read since about your beliefs. I was not even told about the d & c or the pearl, I overheard a conversation accidently. I did hear about the pre existance during the women's class but as I was a guest of the president they assumed I was a visiting mormon and the conversation was cut short with the announcement that I was a guest….odd, isn't it? I have no reason to lie to you. I have no problem with what anyone believes, I don't really care. But I do care when people are mislead and I can't see how you can justify that I wasn't. It was not just the missionaries, we ate and visited and had lessons and discussions with the local president, I could give you his name and the name of his wife and kids if needed. They only told me what they wanted me to know, period. Fine, that's fine, if you don't want to discuss your beliefs with those outside it but that makes it wrong to try to bring others in under false pretenses (milk before meat, lying for the lord, the missionaries stumbled around this when I confronted them with it after finding out more).

    I hope you can read this without anger and really think about what I'm saying. For the sake of a church you love and believe in encourage others to tell the truth upfront. To allow people to know what you all are about BEFORE

  8. trying to baptise them into the church. If they believe they will join. Remember, it is people's souls you are fooling around with, it's the most important decision a person could make so even if you think you are doing it for the good of them it is not your decision to make. Think of how you would feel if something like this was done to you by a religion you do not believe. How horrible you would feel committing your soul and life into a church and THEN finding out things that feel so wrong to you. If your church wants respect and is tired of the anti mormon message then encourage your church to be fully honest (much like you are doing on this blog), I think that would really help. As I said, it's not your beliefs that offend me, it's the deception I experienced and I can't imagine I'm the only one that this has happened to.

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