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How I Became Friends with a Conference Protester

Bryan Hall - October 01, 2013

One man's story of how he came to understand the true meaning of Christ's commandment to love your neighbor and turn the other cheek.

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If you would have told me ten years ago that it was possible for me to form a genuine, lasting friendship with one of the protesters outside general conference, I would have questioned your testimony and standing in the Church.

Perhaps I would have nodded my head and agreed that Jesus would have us love our enemies, but it wouldn’t have registered in my mind that actually doing so was possible or even expected. Instead, I would have likely argued that it was a greater sign of righteousness to courageously stand against them and refute all their lies.

As a young boy, I vividly recall the protesters shouting at us as we tried to enter Temple Square during conference weekends. I remember seeing them at the Manti Pageant with all their propaganda, while many well-intended Mormons fruitlessly argued with them.

In hindsight, I now recognize how these people had a significant impact on my spiritual development. Their antics are legendary in Mormon folklore. I can’t bring to mind even one active Latter-day Saint who isn’t at least fairly aware of their reputation.

About six years ago, I found myself watching all sorts of YouTube videos that various Mormons had posted, documenting a number of these “Anti-Mormons” who were allegedly persecuting us during sessions of general conferences. I found myself furiously focusing on one particular protester: Ruben Israel. Ruben encompassed every negative memory and impression I had of these protesters growing up. He was loud. He was intentionally provocative. He was extremely in-your-face. And he was adamantly “Anti-Mormon.”

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As I dwelt on this, the anger inside me swelled to an almost unbearable level. I began to hate these people—but in Ruben I found my nemesis. It is sad to relate just how deep this anger grew within me. Perhaps even sadder is how readily I lumped so many other Christians in with people like Ruben.

I’m not sure exactly what happened to jolt me out of this destructive cycle, but one day I was discussing this issue with a close friend, and the radical thought came to me that maybe I was the one in the wrong. Suddenly on that day, it was incredibly clear to me that the greater sin lay with me.

Here I was, a member of the Church, married in the temple, actively engaged in my callings, demanding that the world recognize me and other Mormons as Christians, and yet it was clear that if I died at that moment, I would not be completely clean.

Now, I would be lying to say what happened next was the natural result of my immediate repentance. Rather, it was born out of a sincere attempt to find closure and move on. 

At the suggestion of my friend, I considered tracking Ruben down at the next general conference and offering to take him to lunch. I clung to this idea as an impossible possibility until it became clear that I would do it. As the day grew closer, I sensed much more of those warm tones swelling up inside me. I genuinely felt that such a gesture would be a sufficient offering to God. 

But I forgot to leave room in my plans for God’s will.

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To make a very long story short, Ruben accepted my nervous offer to buy him lunch and then offered to treat me (and a couple of my friends) to dinner that night, compliments of him and all his traveling street preacher friends.

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 to deny. I felt the love of God for this man, and I can only give credit to the grace of Christ.

I have absolutely no bad feelings towards these people anymore. 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.

Now when Ruben travels to Utah at conference time, he stays at my home (yes, I still have a temple recommend). He prays with my family and me. He knows my kids, and my kids know him. We have lengthy, honest, and sincere conversations about the realities of our doctrinal differences, but we always show each other friendship and respect.

*To find out the rest of Bryan and Ruben’s story, watch Bryan’s new film Us and Them: Religious Rivalry in America (trailer above). Get the film at DeseretBook.com or see it at select theaters in Utah. Bryan Hall is also the CEO of The World Table, an organization that seeks to increase respectful discourse in the social media by encouraging open and honest communication between trustworthy people.

Comments 13 comments

mtnight said...

08:46 AM
on Oct 01, 2013

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I had an acquaintance many years ago who struck up a conversation with a conference protestor, later met him for lunch, and developed a long-term friendship that eventually led to him leaving the church and taking his family and about ten others with him. We need to love our "enemies," but must be wary of their motives.

colbycook said...

01:40 PM
on Oct 01, 2013

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mtnight, sounds like they didn't really have a testimony of the gospel. But I agree with you about your statement to love our "enemies" ... I think this movie can give us some understanding as to how to approach such a topic. Can't wait to watch it and go to the screening on Wed.

day0 said...

02:01 PM
on Oct 01, 2013

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In 1968, I turned 17 and my little brother turned 8 years old. He was the first person I ever baptized after I was ordained a priest. As we got older I went on a mission and after that I went into the USAF and got to travel all over Europe. He got involved with a group called the Utah Lighthouse Ministry run by Jerald and Sandra Tanner. He left the Church and requested that he be excommunicated. He has spent his whole life fighting against the Church. He will go to the Mormon Miracle Pageant or to Conference to hand out anti-Mormon hate literature but won't come a extra 100 miles to visit his own family. When my son was waiting for his mission call, my brother phoned him and tried desperately to convince him not to go on a mission for the Church. Thankfully my son was not persuaded by his lies. Later my brother sent me a crate of anti-Mormon hate literature trying to convince me that our Church is the Church of Satan. It was the most vile literature I have ever read. I burned it all. I love my brother but I would not leave him alone in a room with one of my children or now with one of my grandchildren. I don't trust him not to try to fill there young minds with his hatred of our Church and our way of life. Be very, VERY wary of your new "friends" intentions. As church members we tend to trust people entirely too much. We tend to think they are playing by the same rules we do. They do not respect our rules, our faith, or our trust. They don't play by the same rules that you play by.

troyowens said...

02:14 PM
on Oct 01, 2013

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A motivating story. I admire the courage and love Bryan had and developed to follow Christ's commandment to "love your enemies" and "do good to them that... persecute you." I'll be there at the screening on Wednesday night as well.

adi12982 said...

04:32 PM
on Oct 01, 2013

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We shouldn't judge them or hate them. I think it is amazing that you have befriended him. My husband actually had a very nice and civil (though never ending) conversation with him back in 2006. However, I've been there and don't believe that yelling at people and taunting them will help any of us "see the light". I'm thankful Christ more lovingly guides us.

margaret said...

07:08 PM
on Oct 01, 2013

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So really, this is just an advertisement for an upcoming movie? I wish I had known before I read this far!

jjmndz said...

09:28 AM
on Oct 02, 2013

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I truly love this film. It makes you ponder and think "Do I truly love my neighbor?"

thor said...

11:29 AM
on Oct 02, 2013

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If I want to talk to Bryan Hall about a book I authored that was published this year, how can I contact him? You can contact me on my Facebook - Scott Thormaehlen. Thanks!

adam34684 said...

11:04 AM
on Oct 03, 2013

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I think its helpful to remember that just because people disagree with your beliefs it does not equal persecution or make them your enemy. I think that is an unhealthy mindset that many LDS faithful (and other religions to be sure)hold to. In fact, our faith sends out 10's of thousands of missionaries to spread our message, and ultimately to convince people to abandon their current belief system in favor of our belief system exactly like these street preachers are doing. While the method of spreading our message is certainly very different from that of these street preachers, their goals are exactly the same. And to be honest most non-Mormons I know would probably prefer the street preachers. While they are loud and pushy, they do not come to peoples doors uninvited and interrupt them in their own personal space. My opinion is that any faith that actively proselytizes has no room to complain about others doing the same regardless of their methods. Basically, if we understand and accept the 11th article of faith, these people should never be considered to be our "enemy" in the first place.

theoldprof said...

11:47 AM
on Oct 03, 2013

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I feel sad when I read of someone trying to establish their religious credentials. Please know this: God doesn't care if you have a temple recommend. He doesn't care that you got married in the temple. He doesn't care about your "standing the church." He cares only that you admit you are a sinner and in need of Christ's grace. To claim anything more than that is pride and self-justification. There is no hierarchy within a true community of faith. Remember the parable of the prodigal son? Jesus preached this to the religious elite of his day. His point: it was the self-righteous old brother who was actually "lost." All our attempts to prove our worthiness and piety are affronts to the enormous sacrifice Jesus made for each one us. Remember, the first will be last.

jenspen said...

12:09 PM
on Oct 11, 2013

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Let's clarify: God DOES care that you come visit him in his house. Why would he command us to build temples and then "not care" if we can go in them? I agree that he doesn't care about your standing in the Church or if you went on a mission, but he wants you to come visit his temples. He definitely doesn't love you any less if you don't have a temple recommend, but it's not fair to say that he "doesn't care" if you have one.

silkworm said...

03:08 AM
on Oct 13, 2013

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I grew up with an inactive (now ex) family. As we became older I am the only one who stayed active and served a mission. I was ridiculed, mocked, made fun of, called names, you name it my ex so called ex family did it to me and the two adults who brought me into the world did nothing to defend me or stop the ridicule. I was also treated badly by a coworker of the woman who gave birth to me. This coworker was horrible to me when no one was around. And no one believed me. I never lied and still do not. The reason I never lie is because as a little kid I got caught lying and was beat so I never lied again. But I still got beat for other things. So I have a hard time with the hate mongers who hate everything LDS. I know we are to love our enemies. But it is hard when the enemy is doing everything they can to mock and hurt you. So I ignore these LDS haters. The missionaries do not do what the street preachers are doing. The street preachers could go door to door and calmly teach what they believe without desecrating other's beliefs. They choose to mock and desecrate what is sacred to LDS. How sad that bigotry is still alive and condoned when it is aimed at Mormons.

silkworm said...

03:08 AM
on Oct 13, 2013

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I grew up with an inactive (now ex) family. As we became older I am the only one who stayed active and served a mission. I was ridiculed, mocked, made fun of, called names, you name it my ex so called ex family did it to me and the two adults who brought me into the world did nothing to defend me or stop the ridicule. I was also treated badly by a coworker of the woman who gave birth to me. This coworker was horrible to me when no one was around. And no one believed me. I never lied and still do not. The reason I never lie is because as a little kid I got caught lying and was beat so I never lied again. But I still got beat for other things. So I have a hard time with the hate mongers who hate everything LDS. I know we are to love our enemies. But it is hard when the enemy is doing everything they can to mock and hurt you. So I ignore these LDS haters. The missionaries do not do what the street preachers are doing. The street preachers could go door to door and calmly teach what they believe without desecrating other's beliefs. They choose to mock and desecrate what is sacred to LDS. How sad that bigotry is still alive and condoned when it is aimed at Mormons.
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