When Bill McKeever launched his Mormonism Research Ministry, regular gasoline was 86 cents a gallon, the Dow Jones peaked at 907, and a first-class stamp cost 15 cents.
More than two decades later the cost of living—and doing ministry—in California has dwarfed those 1979 figures. That reality is one of the factors that prompted McKeever and Tamar, his wife of 28 years, to seek plusher pastures elsewhere.
“We were always open to relocating,” said McKeever, a California resident since 1957. “California is so expensive. We began to think, is this a good use of God’s funds?”
Their search, quite naturally, took them to Draper, Utah, a suburban community 20 miles south of Salt Lake City.
“The only one (location) that made any sense was Utah,” he said.
It’s a fertile habitat for McKeever, a born-again believer who has dedicated years to the study of Mormonism and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. According to McKeever, seven of every 10 Utah residents are Mormon.
“Naturally there are many more opportunities for ministry, that’s for sure,” he said. “It’s closer to where the action is.”
That action includes a variety of Christian and Mormon functions, which McKeever sees as a missionary minefield, much like his new neighborhood. But for now, the relocated missionary is laying low until he gets a chance to establish relationships.
“I’m breaking the stereotypes right now,” he said. “There is this stereotype of evangelicals being the angry, hateful, bigoted people who hate Mormons.”
McKeever should know. Over the years, he has gotten up-close and personal with Utah, where he has attended the annual two-week Mormon Miracle Pageant held every June in Manti, a central state community that is home to one of the oldest Mormon temples in the world. During the pageant, McKeever and his team of researchers and evangelists work with Mormons, sharing the gospel in its entirety.
He was also there, as were other missionary agencies such as the Southern Baptist Convention, in 2002 when Salt Lake City hosted the Winter Olympics.
While many missionaries were roundly criticized for using the international sporting spectacle as an inappropriate proselytizing tool against the Mormons, McKeever said the 65,000 Temple Square Visitors Guides his organization produced and distributed actually targeted non-Mormon visitors.
“It was preventive maintenance, we were not trying for conversions,” he said.
Now tap dancing full time on Utah soil, the domestic missionary said he realizes that the nature of his move, while it may produce divine dividends, does come at a personal risk. He frequently is the target of hate mail from members of the Mormon church, an on-the-job hazard that he said comes with the territory.
“It’s not like moving into a Muslim country, where they might kill you,” he said. “I’ll probably be shunned.
“I came up here expecting that, but I didn’t come up here to a make a big splash, either.
McKeever said he believes, given the chance, he can disarm any hostility with the love of Christ.
“If nothing else, it lets them know you can disagree with the Mormon theology and can still respect the Mormon people,” he said.
An early curiosity
Although the evangelism arm of Mormonism Research Ministry now incorporates about half of the ministry’s emphasis, it wasn’t so in the early days.
“It started as an apologetics emphasis to better help Christians understand the specifics of Mormonism,” he said.
That emphasis has morphed into a well-respected national ministry. In addition to his books and research posted on the Internet, McKeever is an oft-sought speaker.
The entire thrust of his ministry emerged out of McKeever’s childhood curiosity of the Mormon faith, since many of his classmates were Latter-day Saints. McKeever, after accepting Christ in the early ’70s, began to research the difference between his faith and those of his childhood friends. His research of Mormon history and doctrine led him to the late Art Budvarson, who with his wife, also now deceased, founded the Utah Christian Tract Society, one of the first of many missionary efforts dedicated to evangelizing members of the LDS Church. A long-term friendship ensued and, in 1990 as the Budvarsons entered retirement, the society merged with McKeever’s organization, which he started in 1979.
Funding for the ministry and ongoing research is mostly derived from individuals who share McKeever’s desire to spread the gospel among a population that is well respected for its sense of ethics, family and values, but which is embracing a false religion.
A lot of churches don’t really see Mormonism as a mission field and they don’t see a need,” he said. “Obviously, if they don’t see a need, they are not going to give funds.”
Looking ahead, McKeever said he is equipped for the challenge that moving the ministry to Utah will bring. He said progress is on the horizon with the Mormon church reporting 40,000 fewer baptism conversions last year.
“Something’s happening here,” he said. “Something big is going on. I want to be here when they bring their doubts.”
For more information about the ministry, log on to mrm.org.