For the last couple of weeks I've been wondering how I would respond to someone not of our faith who learns that when Joseph Smith asked the Lord which church to join, he "was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.” Now I find myself needing to respond, and yet I'm still not quite sure what more to say.
Recently I've engaged in a dialogue with a Presbyterian Pastor in my home state of Oregon. It's really been quite intriguing trying to understand where we each are coming from. See for example some of the back and forth in the comments sections of "Why don't Mormon Elders Answer My Simple Questions?" and "I met an honest Mormon today"--two posts that have provided the opportunity to have a open and honest discussion. I'm glad I came across the conversation and joined in.
However, the only thing that has me "stumped" is the abomination quote above, which appears to be quite a public relations challenge. Especially among those who won't let it drop! Moreover, I recall Elder Marlin K. Jensen admitting that one of the toughest sells we have is the claim to be the "only true church". We're held accountable for these statements (and other harsh/brash statements by past LDS leaders) by other churches who take offense at them, and with good reason. And quite frankly, I feel for them. So I ask for your help. I personally feel humbled, grateful, and blessed by my testimony of the restored Church and the restored Gospel. So naturally I find myself frustrated with trying to reconcile my sincere desire to simply have a christian conversation with those not of our faith, and yet having to account for past quotes that don't really come across as very "neighborly". I know, I know, "The Lord said it--they're his words". Problem is, I feel he would say things a lot differently if he were to sit down with some of his sincere followers no matter what church they belong to today.
So how would you respond? President Hinckley has no doubt tried to reach out and work with other faiths and we definitely teach that we ought to be good neighbors and reach out and treat each other as Christ-like as possible. Yet I can empathize and see how it might come across to them when they learn about this claim, as well as the fact that the Lord in revelation said that this was "the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth" (see Doctrine & Covenants 1:30).
I don't feel the need to prove anything. I just want to be better about how we come across to people who think that they're just encountering a pleasant facade when we try to converse with them but have reason to suspect that we "really" think bad of them (or that we're somehow better than them)--which is, at least in my case--not true. I believe we have much truth to share with each other, and much to learn from each other, so it's my natural reaction to flinch when words like "abomination" are thrown out there. There has to be a better way to address this little dilemna. Any ideas?