An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Posts tagged ‘proselytizing’

The Bible Is Like a Software License

Kyle at By Common Consent has a great post on missionary Bible bashing–and I don’t think missionaries are alone in this kind of thinking–or non-thinking. Find it here.

In Their Shoes

I was surprised when I asked non-member friends for an
honest opinion about a story I wrote with  Mormon characters. I thought I had a universal  theme that would appeal to readers of any faith.    When I pushed for honest  responses, I found that although these friends liked individual Mormons, they had strong antipathy toward Mormons in general.

It’s hard for Mormons to understand how anyone can dislike
us. We’re nice. We’re friendly. What’s not to like?

Recently, a couple of friends related experiences that shed
some light on this mystery. Becca, a friend who is no longer a member, has
three children who were blessed but not baptized in the Mormon Church.
Becca is annoyed that ward members call and invite her children to Church activities.She has asked them to discontinue the practice,
but every time auxiliary leadership changes, the calls renew. Recently, the YW president asked Becca’s 12-year-old daughter, Ellie,
for her cell phone number. Ellie did not want to give her phone number to the woman, but a 12-year-old has difficulty telling an adult no.

Another friend, Rod, told of moving to Utah from the
Midwest. A work colleague welcomed him to Utah, asked where he lived, and what ward he was in. When Rod said he
and his family had found a home in Bountiful and attended St. Olaf’s Church, his colleague said, “Well, you’ve picked the
right town, but the wrong church. We’ll have to work on that.”

I’m sure neither the YW president nor Rod’s colleague had
any idea their actions and words were offensive—but how would the YW leader feel if someone from another church called her child,
invited him to activities in that church, and asked for his cell phone number? And would Rod’s Mormon colleague like having
someone tell him he had picked the wrong church?

The old saying about the need to put oneself in another’s shoes applies to more than judging. Before proselytizing,
members of any church need to consider how they would feel at hearing the same words from a member ofanother faith.

Sharing the Gospel–Sort of

I thrust my hand forward for a handshake as I was introduced to Sean, a young Jewish man wearing a yarmulke and fringes. He drew away from my hand murmuring “Religious beliefs.” I had not heard of Jewish men being forbidden to shake hands with women, nor of orthodox Jews named Sean for that matter.  The Bible study group to which our son, Wort, had invited us was off to an interesting start. Sean was the brother of a member of Wort’s church. Was Sean a convert to Judaism or was his sister a convert to Christianity? I suspected that the sister, as well as Wort, hoped this meeting would facilitate Sean’s conversion to his sister’s faith.

The study topic was Luke 7:19-28—the account of John the Baptist sending messengers to ask if Jesus was “he who is to come.” I had vowed to say nothing during the meeting, since I’m not on the same page with Calvinists, but responses lagged, so I offered my interpretation of verse 28. I have always thought Jesus was referring to himself when he said, “He that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he” (John the Baptist.) I don’t know if that’s a Mormon interpretation or if I just assumed that Jesus, out of humility, was referring to himself as the least—just as he often referred to himself as a servant to his disciples. Anyway, it made sense to me that if no greater prophet was ever born than John, that only Jesus would be greater. Calvinists interpret this verse as Jesus teaching the equality of the kingdom of God—that ordinary people who accept Jesus could equal and surpass John. I found that insight interesting. As a Mormon, I’m not an advocate of biblical inerrancy, so I enjoy other interpretations of scripture. A proselytizer, I am not. 

Wort directed the discussion to verse 23, “Blessed is the one who takes no offense at me,” and asked who was offended in Jesus. No response, so Wort offered his own example. He wondered—is he really doing what Jesus desires of him in his life? And does he really want to? Two other group members responded in a similar fashion. They value their autonomy. They don’t relish being told what to do. Then Wort asked Sean if he was offended in Jesus. “Oh boy,” I thought.

Sean explained that as a Jew, he does not accept Jesus as God.  “I haven’t read the entire New Testament, but many of Jesus’ teachings are not offensive to me.” Edison, the Chinese member of the group, asked for a definition of Israel, and Sean obliged. Then Wort mentioned his parents’ Mormon faith. Edison asked if Mormons believe in hell. I said we did not believe in the literal flames as described in Revelation—a book which was almost excluded from the modern day canon—and that we believed salvation was given to all through the atonement, but different degrees of heaven exist which have to be earned.

Cookie, our daughter-in-law, frowned. Clearly, this session was not going the right direction to convert a Jew to Calvinist Christianity, but I couldn’t stop. I told Sean that Mormons believe they are also Israelites. “I know,” he said. “I took the discussions from the missionaries for eight months.” That statement moved the study session from Luke 7 to a discussion of the differing beliefs of traditional Christians, Jews, and Mormons. The evening’s outcome wasn’t exactly what the devout members had anticipated, but I enjoyed it. I wish we humans could  enjoy sharing the wisdom from our various religious traditions without the egoist (and non-spiritual) need to prove we are right.

Proselytizing Perils

The current Sugar Beet “news story” reveals a new Church policy to send missionaries to “way cooler locales” rather than to developing countries. Places like Monte Carlo where missionaries can seek out wealthy investigators who have the potential to become huge tithing contributors.

Fifteen years ago our daughter actually had the opportunity to serve in the France Marseilles Mission—a way cooler missionary field than Guatemala or Boise, Idaho. Unfortunately, Jaycee didn’t convert or even meet any millionaires. Even along the Riviera, it’s mostly the young and the poor who take time to listen to Mormon missionaries. P-days were a lot of fun for the missionaries though—bicycling along the Mediterranean once a week compensated for six days of rejection.

A curious thing about Jaycee’s mission was the number of devoutly religious people who nodded as she and her companion explained about praying to receive a confirmation of the truths they were teaching. Then these contacts bore enthusiastic testimony of the spiritual witness they had already received in answer to fervent prayer—affirmation that the church they had previously joined was true.

Nothing at the MTC had prepared Jaycee to refute heartfelt testimonies that a non-LDS church was God’s plan for a sincerely religious person. These people had studied, thought, prayed and received a witness. Was she supposed to tell them their feelings of peace and happiness came from a source other than God?

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