Meeting the Enemy
As Hall approached Israel on that fateful Saturday morning, he watched with interest as Israel gave his fellow protesters a pep talk and organized the day’s events. It really struck him. “It didn’t seem as crazy as I thought it was. When I saw him in person, he wasn’t as terrifying as he seemed online.”
The next thing Hall knew, he was pouring out his apology to Israel, a man he had hated for years, yet never met. “I found myself instantly saying, ‘I’ve hated you my whole life. And I’ve come to apologize and figure out why I couldn’t reconcile it in my heart. I wonder if we could just have lunch.’”
Hall was certainly taken aback by Israel’s response. “He was so cool about it,” says Hall. “He said something along the lines of, ‘Well, brother, I don’t hate you. Make no mistake; I’m concerned about your doctrine. But I don’t hate you, and neither does Jesus.’ And in seconds, we were off and running. It was wildly different than anything I thought it would be, or anything I’d ever heard anyone else warn that it would be.”
As surprised as Hall was, Israel wasn’t surprised at all. To him, Hall was just another Mormon trying to understand why he and his friends were there. What surprised Israel was hearing a heartfelt apology from a man he had never even met.
As Hall and his friends sat around a table in a diner with Israel and his friends in downtown Salt Lake City, he was amazed to find out that these “protesters,” as he previously knew them, didn’t consider themselves protesters at all. They called themselves “street preachers.” It struck Hall that they seemed to be just as dedicated to sharing their view of the gospel as any LDS missionary might be.
Israel talked openly and honestly with Hall about why they do what they do—and why they do it so loudly. “Everything that he thought about us was a little bit different,” says Israel. “What he saw on the sidewalk versus who we were at lunch was different than he expected. And that’s what took him a little bit by surprise.”
Hall learned that Israel lives in Los Angeles and travels all over the States to preach at various religious conventions. Once Hall realized that Israel didn’t especially hate Mormons and didn’t specifically oppose only Mormon doctrine, his perception of them began to change.
Finding a New Point of View
“You realize that their life’s mission isn’t to spread anti-Mormon propaganda,” Hall says. Their life’s mission is to teach the word of God as they see it from the Bible. That was news to him.
“It’s not just Mormons,” says Israel. “We’re outside the Muslims’ gatherings and the Jehovah’s Witnesses’, and the Catholics’. What we’re trying to do is just remind people not to outgrow the God of the Bible.”
“It had never ever once occurred to me that they could be sincere followers of Christ trying to help me,” says Hall.
And so after a very pleasant lunch together, Israel invited Hall and a few of his friends to come to dinner with him and his fellow street preachers that night after the general priesthood session. As is customary in the LDS culture, Hall decided to bring something to dinner as a contribution and as an act of friendship—cookies and drinks would have to do.
Hall was a bit nervous as he walked up the driveway and knocked on the door. “I thought to myself, street preachers. Whoa. But they were also just people, just like me. They were praying, and they were all so thankful for the food that had been provided.” He was astounded at how grateful they were to the Lord and how gracious they were to him.
From Israel’s perspective, Hall seemed to be genuinely interested in making a connection with him and his friends. He was also very impressed that Hall had the guts to even come to dinner with a group of street preachers who looked a little rough around the edges.
“For Bryan to come to dinner took a lot of faith,” says Israel. “We could have spiked his food; we could have given him something bad to drink; we could have had guys waiting in the closet with clubs and knives and who knows what. But he went there. It took courage, and I appreciate that.”
As the evening evolved, so did Hall’s perception of these people he had once viewed as the enemy. They had come from all over the States to be there at that one gathering in order to preach the word of God according to how they felt it should be preached. And they were doing it all on their own dime.
“That’s where everything changed,” Hall says. “It was surreal because it was as if I was eating with the enemy. But they weren’t the enemy anymore. To my utter astonishment, I didn’t just find closure that night, I found a friend. Like that impossible moment in middle school when your archenemy suddenly becomes cool, something happened that would be spiritually irresponsible for me to deny. I felt the love of God for this man, and I can only give credit to the grace of Christ.”