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"You know they're just trying to convert you, right?"


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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.

Sound familiar?

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.


8 Responses to “"You know they're just trying to convert you, right?"”

  1. Anonymous Ben S. 

    It's my thread over there, so thanks for the comments. I'm not sure how we attract our particular readership, but...

    I think you make some excellent points. If we knew what the discussion questions were that were being handed out, perhaps the discussion could move somewhere more significant. For example, if one of the questions was "How does Aslan's death demonstrate that Joseph Smith was a vile adulterer?" then accusations of bad faith or entrapment, etc., might be a little more accurate. Frankly, I'm not sure how Narnia can be divisive at all among LDS/EV's since it's essentially an extended atonement metaphor, and we have no problems with the atonement.

  2. Anonymous D-Train 

    Ben,

    I hear you. It seems that LDS and Evangelicals would take pretty much the same message from the Narnian metaphor. The only thing I can think of that might be problematic is the Emperor Across the Sea. Evangelicals would of course maintain that he and Aslan are one and the same, while LDS might disagree.

    I always find your posts interesting and informative. There are some of the M* permabloggers that I'm not real fond of, but none that I think are outright nuts or wacko. Everybody that blogs there has a head on their shoulders and I think it's a shame that many of the nuts gather over there.

    Of course, the more "liberal" blogs have some folks that are as crazy the other way. I'm just sorry that so many M* discussions get thrown off track by people that are so far off the beaten path.

  3. Anonymous Kristian 

    12 years ago, the first thing the Elder Utley said was "Don't take our work for it. We'll tell you what we know and you'll have to discover for yourself if it's true." After that our discussions went on for hours, went sideways ten miles tangent and overall was a great experience. One of the reasons I was anti-Christian in those days was because of the prevalance for "hell-fire and brimstone" preaching, "Convert or be Damned to Hell!".

    Recently I had the opportunity to have a series of religious discussions between myself, the Elders and a good friend who is as strong a Catholic as I am LDS. He was interested in knowing more about our beliefs, and he asked some really hard questions. We both deeply enjoyed our time together and I feel that his questioning helped to strengthen my testimony of Joseph Smith and the Resoration. The thing that made it work, as it did for you, was a mutual respect for our ideals and working to find common ground.

    My buddy may not joint the Church, and I'm not about to become Catholic, but each of us is a now a friend to the other religion. I know that Steve will defend our Church against persecution and falsehood, and I'll do the same for him.

  4. Anonymous Artemis 

    I'm with you D-Train. Why can we not, as a whole, wrap our minds around the concept of mutual respect? If we want those of other faiths to respect and be interested in our beliefs, we need to show the same respect and interest to theirs.

    I recently talked with my bishop about the possiblity of doing an interfaith Christmas service with Christmas music and talks/sermons from each of the participating communities. The short story is that he was concerned that members of our ward, if listening to a sermon from another faith with other details of doctrine, might like what the other faith said better, lose their testimonies of the gospel, and join the other church. He was also concerned about "associating" with other religions, despite my citing examples of the church's interfaith efforts. Shortly after hearing me talk up the commonalities between our faith and say, the Baptists, whose local congregation I had visited a couple of times (and the fact that I occassionally visit yet others), he brought up the temple recommend question regarding whether one supported or affiliated with anti-church persons or groups. He even looked up the list of questions. Suffice it to say, there are no plans (yet) to have such a service, though I did get the feeling he was suspicious of whether I really ought to have been given my recently renewed temple recommend. Sigh....

  5. Anonymous pdmallamo 

    Well that's the risk, isn't it Artemis, that we'll find something in the Raelian or Hare Krishna programs we'll like even more. Your biship realizes that in the marketplace of ideas & religions this is the dynamic. We Mormons think more along the lines of monopoly. Really, in many ways, we are the New Catholics.

  6. Anonymous D-Train 

    Thanks for the great comments so far.

    Kristian, I think this is the "unsung hero" of missionary work: the non-convert that comes away with respect. I'm not all that convinced that eternal progression happens forever (or at least a really long time), but missionary work either passes or fails in one instance. Good job!

    Artemis: That sickens me. Not that the bishop wouldn't have the program, since that could get him into some hot water, but that his justification is that we can't compete on the open market. I often criticize the Church in certain areas and don't find that I fit in well with most members, but darn it, I've got a LITTLE pride. If we might "fall away" at the thought that there are actually other churches, isn't there the chance that those of other faiths might like ours, too? Associating with other religions IS missionary work. That's the whole of it. As an institution, we need to get over the phobia already.

    pdmallamo: I don't know that we're the new Catholics. I think a better description is that we're a bizarre combination of the best parts of Christianity and the worst parts of East Germany (oh, wait, maybe that is the Catholics......) Seriously, though, things like what Artemis' bishop said indicate to me that we're having a sort of freak-out about people even knowing about other faiths. Nothing worth having will fall in the face of a closer examination.

    (unfounded speculation alert)

    This tendency is probably worse in backwoods places like Oklahoma than in more intellectual wards.

  7. Anonymous pdmallamo 

    I have to tell ya, D, I have not noticed much difference between wards in the sticks and wards in the cities, even university wards. Key words: dumb it down. Maybe it's all since correlation, I don't know, or since the challenges to BofM historicity got deadly serious or charges of polyandry became credible, etc. But as a culture we seem to be circling the wagons and letting very few new things in. How many thousand times have you heard the same Sunday School lesson or the same conference talk? We don't even let anything new in from those few LDS thinkers we have, let alone from anywhere else. It's amazing and very depressing, like a culture imploding. Two Baptist women knocked on my door early this evening, gave me a pamphlet and invited us to church. We just might go. They're our cousins, you know - one big Christian family. Sometimes it's not polite to say no.

  8. Anonymous D-Train 

    pdmallamo, I see a lot of the same things you do. In one sense, I'm not that worried about it. The basic principles of the gospel are very simple, when you get right down to it. The complex application is largely a job for us as individuals to take care of. I don't expect Boyd K. or Gordon B. Hinckley to do my thinking for me. Where I get a little upset is when they try to do so or say things that could be interpreted that way and other members get judgy.

    What I do worry about is a parochial attitude that can hurt our missionary program and the potential spiritual growth that we can have in meetings. The way we deal with inactives (in my ward) is just plain ineffective. Do I have answers? Not really, although see my "The Visitors" post for some of my thoughts on that. Does the way we think of leadership encourage anyone else to have any answers? No, and herein lies the problem. As long as we insist on doing things a certain way, we're going to get certain results. I believe the gospel is true and that these true principles are why we attract converts in still-astonishing numbers. I also believe that the Christmas program Artemis never had, the stuffed-shirt EQ visits, and the unwillingness to demand good content from our speakers don't help our missionary work or our members.

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