The United States is currently in what some have called the "Mormon Moment" – a time when the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is gaining attention due, in part, to the popularity of Mormon celebrities and politicians. Many Mormons, however, are leaving the church to embrace traditional Christianity, but such radical shifts in thought don't come easily.
The Western Institute for Intercultural Studies (WIIS), a think-tank organization dedicated to helping Christians understand and witness to those of other religions, has come up with a program which includes DVDs and a workbook that are designed to help ex-Mormons have an easier transition into Christianity.
Nearly 70,000 people left the Mormon Church in the U.S. in 2007, according to the Mormon Social Science Association via the first Transitions DVD. Some of the thousands of Mormons who have left the church have turned to Christianity, which is why WIIS created "Transitions: The Mormon Migration from Religion to Relationship," a six-part program that helps "immigrants" to Christianity address both personal and doctrinal issues.
"We created Transitions with the needs of the transitioner in mind, first and foremost...It's a resource that helps them address all of those issues so they can successfully immigrate into more traditional forms of Christianity," John Morehead, director of WIIS, told The Christian Post on Thursday.
Many similar programs in the past haven't been as effective, he says, because they were too focused on the evangelical perspective. Transitions begins by dealing with identity, relationship and church culture issues, and then works its way toward getting former Mormons to further understand Christian doctrine and worldviews.
"When someone comes out of Mormonism there is the question, 'Who am I apart from my former Mormon background?' So we help the person deal with new senses of identity, and we help them root their new identity in Jesus Christ and the Christian community," said Morehead.
"We feel that a person has to deal with those personal issues first, and get those taken care of, before they're in a place where they can address issues that are probably more familiar to evangelicals in terms of the way the church functions, questions about doctrine, and worldview and those kinds of things."
Although Transitions is designed primarily to help ex-Mormons, Morehead says that it is also beneficial in helping Christians become better ministers. WIIS offers another program called "Bridges," which helps familiarize Christians with the LDS church even further.
One of today's hot topics is whether or not evangelical Christians should vote for a Mormon, like Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Morehead says each Christian needs to make up their own mind about that, but for the sake of ministry they need to be careful about the way they interact with Mormons.
"We have to keep in mind that one of the things about being in Mormon culture is they have a history of rejection and persecution, and if we're not very careful as evangelicals, as to how we interact with Mormons, we unknowingly cause them to feel persecuted and that shuts down any sense of openness on their part to our understanding of the Gospel," he said.
"I just think we need to be careful in how we understand Mormonism, and we need to engage them in the Spirit of Christ and sometimes it calls for a reassessment of how we have engaged Mormons in the past."
A study recently released by The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that 46 percent of Mormons believe Americans are against them. Still, the majority of Mormons (63 percent) believe they are becoming more widely accepted and 56 percent believe America is ready for a Mormon president.
Today's evangelicals need to change their mindset, Morehead says, because the Christian church is no longer "the defining center of the culture" in America. He says that the U.S. is becoming "increasingly pluralistic" and, as a result, Christians need to develop authentic relationships with people of other religions if they hope to reach them with the Gospel.
Alan Sibson is an ex-Mormon who has been a Christian for about 35 years. On Sunday he began the Transitions program at The Adventure Church in American Fork, Utah, and was joined by another former LDS church member and other Adventure Church congregants as well.
"I've got to tell you, it would have been nice to have had this way back then to understand the culture shock...and understand the difference between the Christian churches," Sibson told CP.
He left the LDS church around age 15 after finding that he couldn't reconcile factual inconsistencies in the church's history.
"It was just the contrast of those [inconsistencies] with the Bible that I finally had to admit...that the LDS theology wasn't Christian," he said.
But, like many Mormons who leave the church, he didn't immediately want join another religion.
"Mormons who come out of Mormonism don't want anything to do with anything because it's so deeply drilled into you that this is the only true church, all the rest of them are an apostasy...so the last thing I wanted to do was get into another church," he said.
Although he previously believed the best way to reach Mormons with the Gospel was by being confrontational and challenging their doctrine, he says that he is learning from Transitions and other resources that simply dismissing their culture and history may do more harm than good.
"Go along with stuff that's good within that culture, and lift up Jesus in the stuff that's not good in that culture," he said.