On The Motives Of Missionaries

I just sent the following email to the host of a radio medical show I often hear, The Dr. Dean Edell Show:

Dear Dr. Edell,

I often catch your show here in Las Vegas on KXNT 840 AM, and enjoy all the common sense and research-based information you share. Yesterday, though, you remarked about a caller’s comments regarding religions that seek to convert others, suggesting that they are “insecure,” and implying that people who attempt to spread their beliefs are, perhaps, infringing on others.

As a member of a religion which is famous for assertively reaching out to others with our beliefs–The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormon church–I’d like to explain why we do so. I only hope for us to each understand where the other is coming from.

Our primary sacred texts, the Bible and the Book of Mormon, both speak of the joy of conversion. You’re probably familiar with the Bible, so I’ll share some insights from the Book of Mormon.

After one great leader has taught the gospel to his people, they respond: “Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth….whereby we do rejoice with such exceedingly great joy.” (Mosiah 5:2-4)

This happiness is not only reserved for the new believer, though; the teacher gets to enjoy this feeling, also. One of the most fervent missionaries in the Book of Mormon narrative reflects on his work and exults: “My joy is full, yea, my heart is brim with joy, and I will rejoice in my God….We supposed that our joy would be full if perhaps we could be the means of saving some.” (Alma 26:11, 30)

After being confronted by a materialistic sophist, another great Book of Mormon leader responds to an accusation of ulterior motives for serving God by explaining this mutual joy: “And now, if we do not receive anything for our labors in the church, what doth it profit us to labor in the church save it were to declare the truth, that we may have rejoicings in the joy of our brethren?” (Alma 30:34)

This prophet, Alma, knew all about being on both sides of the conversion experience, himself having reflected upon and practiced the message and having had his heart changed: “And now, behold, when I though this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more. And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!” (Alma 36:19-20) ¹

This, then, Dr. Edell, is ultimately why many people, including Latter-day Saints, are so eager to share the message of their faith with others: because we know it brings great joy into the lives of all involved with the conversion. It is a beautiful experience that helps, heals, and builds us all up together in love.

As the quotes above suggest, Latter-day Saints are able to maintain their signature enthusiasm for sharing our message because we have strong evidences that demonstrate to our minds and hearts that our beliefs are objectively true, that they are an accurate description of reality. This may sound odd to a man of science at first, but as a convert myself of more than 17 years, I can attest that these experiences are not just emotional whims based on blind belief–they are solid, thoughtful, and rational. Frankly, the thoroughly mental dimension of conversion actually infuses the conversion with even more intense joy–it’s wonderful to find a belief that can be trusted because it’s understandably true!

So I hope you won’t begrudge others their efforts to share their beliefs with others, because it has nothing to do with insecurity. Rather, it’s quite the opposite: our confidence in the factual nature of our beliefs and our powerful witness of their effectiveness motivates us to reach out and help others have the opportunity to have the same experiences we have had.

Dr. Edell, especially if you’ve never done so, I’d invite you to read and study the Book of Mormon, a miraculous document whose very existence is a persuasive declaration that God lives and loves us. How so? Read it and you’ll see what I mean. It is not something that can be lightly dismissed with intellectual integrity.

Thank you again for your great career of public service. Your radio show has educated me and my family many times, and I look forward to enjoying it for many more years to come. All the best to you, sir.

¹ UPDATE: At this point, I could well have also shared a verse from later in the same chapter, that bears on this theme: “Yea, and from that time even until now, I have labored without ceasing, that I might bring souls unto repentance; that I might bring them to taste of the exceeding joy of which I did taste; that they might also be born of God, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.” (Alma 36:24).  That might be the best quote yet about the motives of missoinaries, and the joy that both teacher and convert feel!  Of course, my letter was probably already too long…

2 comments on “On The Motives Of Missionaries

  1. I won’t listen to Deam Edell. He comes on locally just about time to take care of the dishes after dinner. He’s supposed to be presenting a medical/ health and wellness talk show, but his tangents on political issues are a total turn off. His views are so outlandish that I tend to doubt his medical advice.

  2. Floyd, I sympathize. A month or two ago, he went off on the crusades (as a rant about the violence inherent in Christianity, or in Western Civilization, I think), and passionately endorsed a book showing just how bloody and aggressive our side was in those conflicts. I checked it out of the library, only to find that it wasn’t some scholarly tome; it was a novel. Historical fiction. His airtight source was an obscure story that he liked. It wasn’t even written by a historian.

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