When I headed off to my first meeting with the missionaries, my good friend (who comments here on occasion as Lager Jager) warned me:
"You know they're just trying to convert you, right?"
My response: "They're MISSIONARIES, Lager Jager. THAT'S THEIR JOB."
Fast forward three years: We're both Mormon. Well, shoot.This discussion at M*
makes me wonder why in the heck I bothered. Obviously, that's an exaggeration. A big one. But I think the discussion exemplifies a larger unwillingness to consider missionary work as a dialogue rather than a lecture. And I know that if the tone present in this discussion had been directed at me, I never would have come anywhere near the baptismal font.
(I'd like to add at this point that I probably read M* more than the other big blogs, with the exception of FMH. Their reputation for conservative craziness has a lot more to do with a few nut job commenters than their permabloggers and I mean no disrespect to their blog.)
Think about what we ask people to do: we ask them to invite missionaries in suits into their homes, come to ward activities with a hundred Mormons and one nonmember, accept a life-changing set of values and beliefs, and all this with little other than a faith in the goodwill of the members/missionaries to treat one properly and with respect.
Then, people offer up a movie deal that's designed by an evangelical group to get Mormons to come to a movie with them, and the response is "AMBUSH!" Why is it an ambush?
Why, because they're trying to convert us.
I'd love to write it off as a few idiots on a blog. Seriously, I would. But I can't.
For example, I was teaching FHE a few months ago (lesson on prayer) and I mentioned a class assignment that required me to visit a place of worship of a different faith. The class was a qualitative methods class in which I would be doing an ethnography of the meeting. So, I went to a jumah meeting at a local mosque. A couple of the gentlemen there discussed Islam with me for an hour afterward, showed tremendous respect for my beliefs, and taught me some things that I found very helpful in the application for my own faith. I mentioned the sincere prayer that had brought this gentleman such a great faith in God.
Let me tell you, the temperature dropped faster there than I've ever experienced. And I live in Oklahoma.
This attitude is way too pervasive in our community: do missionary work, invite people to come out to stuff, and never, ever regard any other invitation as anything other than a trap. If you want anyone to take you seriously, you've got to engage their beliefs. You don't have to be looking for a new religion. You just have to give people the respect of listening to their views if you expect to be able to present your own.
I'll be blunt: I was not looking for a religion when I took those discussions. I was half curious and half being polite to my friend (Mike, our esteemed co-blogger). Instead, I found a great influence in my life, complaining aside. I felt like the missionaries and Mike respected my views, such as they were, and never felt dismissed or removed from the conversation. Because of this, the Spirit and their influence led me to believe that baptism unto repentance was the only path for me.
I'll be even more blunt: Folks like the Mormons can't get folks like me to taste of the most white and delicious fruit of the gospel unless they respect the deeply held beliefs that are held by nonmembers. These differ dramatically between atheists, evangelicals, Muslims, Catholics, and others. But these beliefs are held as deeply and as strongly as those of the Mormons.
Bluntest: If you expect your friend to go to sacrament meeting, he can expect you to go to jumah, mass, or revival. If you won't do that, you're either a lousy missionary or simply not ready to minister unto that friend.