Thirty missionaries from the Truth in Love Ministry are in Utah this week, knocking on doors to "talk positively about Christianity" with Mormons.
"This is our first day out on the street, and it's going really good," said Pastor Mark Cares, president of the nondenominational group based in Nampa, Idaho, which has members across the country. "People were very nice and kind as they listen to our message. Some won't agree, but 95 percent of the time they are very courteous. We have been getting into a lot of conversations."
In the past week, the privately funded group placed half-page ads in both The Salt Lake Tribune and LDS Church-owned Deseret News, 11 ads on bus shelters in West Valley City and Taylorsville and mailed out 20,000 slick brochures.
All carried the same message: Eternal life is a gift from God so believers don't have to worry about being worthy.
"You have recently been told at [LDS] General Conference that if you love God, trust him, believe him and follow him, that you will feel his love and approval," it says in the brochure. "But what if you are doing all that and still don't feel God's love or approval?"
The brochure and ads don't take direct aim at the Utah-based LDS faith, but they do subtly contrast Mormon teachings about grace and works with traditional Christian emphasis on grace alone.
Fifteen years ago, hundreds of representatives from the Southern Baptist Convention, which was holding its national meeting in the Beehive State, knocked on Utahns' doors. The Baptists had produced books such as Mormonism Unmasked and a media campaign critical of the LDS Church, so many expected hostility between the two groups.
But most exchanges then as now were civil.
"The [LDS] Church has long maintained that religious conversations can take place with a spirit of mutual respect," LDS Church spokeswoman Ruth Todd said Monday.
John Morehead, director of the Evangelical Chapter of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy, believes Cares "does a better job than many evangelicals in trying to communicate the doctrinal differences between evangelicals and Mormons and doing so in ways that may communicate more effectively with Mormons."
Cares does not run "a counter-cult ministry," said Morehead, who has produced his own video aimed at Mormons called "Transitions," "but he does tend to follow the paradigm of counter-cult ministries in doctrinal contrast."
No doubt, Morehead said, this group is "pushing back here on Mormon [door-to-door] efforts."
There are five LDS missions in the Salt Lake City metro area, including the Temple Square mission, Todd said, with between 150 and 200 full-time missionaries each.
The Idaho-based group should realize, Morehead said, that "door-to-door evangelism is not very effective, and when it takes place, the perception of the messenger is often one of hostility that blocks the reception of the message."
So far, Cares said Monday, most of their exchanges with Utahns have been cordial.
"Our philosophy is not to talk about Mormonism," he said, "but to talk positively about Christianity."
Cares said Truth in Love which is sending 30 more missionaries to Utah next week doesn't "want to debate."