Upon my agnostic brother Dooby’s second marriage—this time to a non-Mormon—my dad dutifully sent their address to the missionaries. I understood why my dad sent the missionaries, but I failed to share his optimism that my sister-in-law, Kato, was a golden contact. As I pondered Dad’s actions, I saw no chance of Dooby suddenly deciding that Mormons who had failed him during his youth had the only true gospel. Joining the church her husband had abandoned would create unnecessary conflict in Kato’s life.
And what benefit could either Dooby or Kato receive from church activity? They are both truly compassionate people, the kind their neighbors don’t hesitate to call on for help. As far as I can see, they don’t need to sit through lessons and talks about service and being a good neighbor because that’s the kind of people they are. They have a great many friends, so the social contact of a ward family is not something they miss. Their meditation practice gives them grateful hearts and peace in dealing with adversity—they don’t long for assurance of life with family members beyond this one.
I not only failed to think of any way Dooby and Kato’s lives would be enriched by Church membership, I could think of some ways their lives might be negatively impacted. Becoming active Mormons would add financial stress to their lives if they felt compelled to donate a prescribed amount of their income. Church callings would take time from worthwhile activities which they currently enjoy.
While I failed to recognize any benefit to Dooby and Kato from joining the church, I did recognize that it would have benefited my dad. Dad carried guilt from not protecting young Dooby from unpleasant situations. He may have blamed himself for Dooby leaving the church and for his subsequent divorce. Seeing Dooby and Kato as active members of the church would have assuaged guilt and given Dad peace of mind.
But Dooby and Kato could not be expected to change their religious beliefs only to benefit our dad. People change religions because they believe the change will improve their lives—or because of an experience which provided a spiritual resonance.
Emotional experiences often work for a time, but have the downside of being easily misinterpreted. “How will it benefit me?” is a logical question to ask before making any change in life. And asking how my church will benefit a person is a legitimate question to ask before attempting to share religious convictions.