Agreeing Not to Disagree
Neither of these men expected to form a lasting bond that night, but that’s exactly what happened. With the passing years, they continue to stay in touch. When Israel comes to Utah for general conference, Hall opens his home to him and lets him stay free of charge.
“Over the years of going to Salt Lake City, I’ve stayed at Bryan’s home,” Israel says, “even though he knows I get up in the morning, and I’m going to be out in front of the conference center preaching against his church. Even after conference, we’ll go to their house, and we’re up until one o’clock in the morning talking about the Bible and scriptures.”
All those late night discussions have taught them that they have a lot in common—more than they ever thought they would. And those commonalities have led them to have a sincere respect for one another.
“First of all,” says Israel, “we both like the King James Bible, and I think that’s unique. I believe that the Mormons have a lot of things that I think Christians lack. I think Mormons are very strong on family; I think they’re very strong on patriotism; I think they’re very strong on living holy.”
But even when they might disagree over the doctrine, they’re able to value the satisfaction of being friends over the satisfaction of being right.
“Because I disagree with Bryan doesn’t make him a neighbor that I can’t spend some time with,” says Israel. “I know that he’s still a Mormon, and I’m not going to change him. And he’s not going to change me. But we do actually get along.”
“I disagree with Ruben in doctrine and in method,” says Hall. But despite that, he has come to admire Israel for how dedicated he is to what he believes, even if he doesn’t approve of Israel’s methods. But even that hasn’t kept him from learning from his former nemesis.
Learning from Each Other
“I know this sounds crazy,” Hall says, “but I’ve definitely learned how to improve my own faith by listening to his little sermons. He’s a walking database of great little one-liners and sermons. And he’s got this faith that is just really crazy, genuine faith.”
Hall never expected to find that he and Israel both have an enormous amount of respect for Joseph Smith and all that he did for the early Saints. “Ruben has this reverence for Joseph Smith,” he says. That was one commonality that definitely took Hall by surprise.
“Do I agree with Joseph Smith?” asks Israel. “No. But you know what? He actually went to jail for what he believed in.” Israel may not agree with the doctrine that the Prophet Joseph taught, but he does admire the fact that he was ready to take a bullet for what he believed.
The two men talk about more than just religion, though. Israel, a California native, happens to be a huge fan of the Lakers, a team that Hall can’t stand. Needless to say, they never tire of teasing each other over the rivalry.
“We’ve had some throw downs in sports for sure,” says Hall, “since I’m much more anti-Lakers than I am pro-Jazz.”
“I know where he stands on religion,” says Israel, “so it’s not like we’re going to go after each other all day long on that stuff. Sometimes I’ll send him an email about the Lakers beating the Jazz, and he’ll respond with something in kind. And so we do kid around a little bit. He does have a sense of humor, and I—believe it or not— do have a sense of humor myself.”
Strangely enough, these two always have a great time whenever they get together. Hall never would have thought that one day he would be laughing and joking around with the man who once inspired such anger within him. And all it took was one courageous act of brotherly kindness.
“I have absolutely no bad feelings towards these people anymore,” he says. “I no longer refer to them as ‘Anti-Mormons.’ They are street preachers who spend their time and money traveling the country trying to share their version of the gospel. I disagree with the approach and would argue against its effectiveness, but I admire their dedication and courage.”
Hall feels as if he finally understands what Christ meant when He said, “Love your enemies.” It was a long journey, and definitely not an easy one, but he’s realized that once you come to love your enemy, that person isn’t your enemy anymore.
“Once you experience genuine love for someone who is not of your faith,” he says, “it ought to change your life forever.”
Watch his journey in this documentary, Us & Them. Check out the trailer.
Angered by the barrage of attacks on his faith and desperate for answers, Bryan Hall, a devout Mormon, travels into the heart of the Bible Belt to discover for himself what it means to be a "Christian." The world he discovers is more terrifying and heartwarming than he ever could have imagined.