Thursday, March 28, 2013

Dear Missionaries, Stop Asking. I Won't Be Referring My Friends

Recently, Janelle and I have talked about having the missionaries over more often.  Especially with lower age requirements for missionary service, we would like Bug and Bird to see missionaries more often and normalize their existence a little bit.  Realistically, getting them to the house more often wouldn't be difficult.  For my part, I'm hesitant to do it because I dread the inevitable conversation about how I need to be helping with the missionary effort by referring my friends.

What usually takes place is the missionaries ask if we know anyone they could go visit.  I always answer no.  They then ask if we are preparing anyone.  I always answer no.  They then launch into a dialog about how we should be praying, making lists of people we know and seeking guidance on who we could prepare to be taught by the missionaries.  When they ask if we will do this, I stare off into the corner of the room while Janelle gives some kind of answer to which I'm not actually listening (she tells me she doesn't enjoy this and wishes I would just speak up already).

Why the game?  Because I'm afraid that if I say what I actually think, we'll suddenly become the ward's next 'focus family.'1  I also don't really care to sit through the missionaries' attempts to 'resolve the concern' (that deserves a post all to itself).

Since I'm breaking my silence on so many other issues now, I may as well break my silence on this issue as well.  Simply put, I have no intention of referring any of my friends to the missionaries right now.  So next time they ask why, I'll answer:

I don't want my friends to join the LDS Church.

Okay, that deserves a qualifier.  I don't want my friends to join today's LDS Church.

The people I spend most of my time with are Catholic, Episcopalian, Methodist, Jewish, Lutheran, Unitarian, Atheist, and Agnostic. Essentially, they are anything but Mormon. They are also, for the most part, active participants in their congregations and/or communities (which is one of the reasons I enjoy spending time with them). Most of them are personally conservative and politically liberal. There are a few issues on which we disagree (the morality of homosexual relationships), but we embrace and support each other as people trying to follow God's will.

To be perfectly honest, I would be thrilled if any of these friends converted to Mormonism.  I would like this for both theological and social reasons.  But I'm not about to make any attempts at converting them because I have zero confidence that they would be fully accepted in the Church as the people they are now.  These are people that I esteem highly -- people I consider to be exceptional role models of righteous living.  They are my friends, and they are my mentors.  Yet, I suspect they would be considered incomplete converts so long as they held to some of their political beliefs.

In general, I haven't been impressed with the ability of Mormons to welcome newcomers into the fold. When we do get that occasional convert, we seem to lose perspective while hoping for a sudden, miraculous, and total lifestyle change. I sat in a leadership meeting once where an item of discussion was figuring out who should talk to the 19 year old convert of two weeks about how she really needed to stop wearing the stud in her nose. We were gracious enough to ignore her tattoos since those aren't easily removed.

I am also troubled when I hear the Mormon dialog when a recent convert resumes a smoking habit.  A common rule of thumb for a person to be baptised is that they must be tobacco free for two weeks before their baptism.  Then we are entirely caught off guard when they pick up smoking again two months later.  It's almost as if we have this thought process that if they 'break their covenant by going back to smoking,' then they must not have been truly converted.  I've never heard a Mormon suggest that maybe they were having a particularly stressful week; that perhaps we should congratulate them on having quit for two months and encourage them to start again.

So there it is: as long as I feel like our new members' conversion is being measured against their conformity to Mormon culturalism, I won't be asking my friends to consider us.  Before you can expect me to bring my friends to the Church, you need to make the Church a place that we want to be.

1 Each year, the ward leaders are asked to develop a list of families they feel are on the edge of spiritual crisis or inactivity so that they can "rescue" them before they fall away. The concept is noble and valuable, but it is sometimes poorly executed.

1 comment:

  1. Ben, you are really good at writing you know that? I agree with you 100%. One of the Primary teachers in my ward is an older lady with a nose piercing (cultural reasons).

    She has been a faithful member for many years yet until someone mentioned to me sometime ago "How is possible that this sister teaches primary with a nose piercing!?" I never noticed.

    Why? Because when I see her, all I see is this big welcoming smile she gives to everyone, her humility and eagerness to learn and so many other great qualities.

    She's amazing.