Saturday, October 6, 2012

I don't believe in missionary work... of any kind

I didn't believe in trying to convert people TO the church when I was a member, and I don't believe in trying to de-convert people now that I've left.

A few years ago, I was working very closely with my bishop. In one of our meetings, Bishop C asked about my friends. One of my best friends is Jewish. At the time, we talked on the phone almost every day... And our conversations were not short, nor were they surface-y. We talked. We listened to each other cry. We shared our struggles and our victories. We REALLY talked. When I told him about her, his response was, "Wonderful! What a great missionary opportunity!!!"

I felt disgusted. Here was this amazing person who loved ME, and who was SO supportive of me and my journey. How could I possibly THINK about trying to convert (change) her? I love her for who she is, and I didn't (still don't) want her to change. I would never DREAM of taking away her family traditions, culture, and beliefs. Being Jewish is a big part of her, and I love HER. (Of course, if she decided she didn't want that to be a part of her life anymore, then I'd be there to support her. I love her, and I want her to be happy, and I trust her to know her way.)

When I started questioning, she was one of the only people I felt like I could talk to. Her perspective was SO refreshing. She helped me to see I wasn't bad for questioning. She helped me by just listening. There was never any judgment, or even really any advice. She was always supportive and safe to talk to. I am still so so so grateful I had her to turn to...

I know many missionaries love the product they sell... and I'm not against telling people about something you love. By ALL means. I love when Amanda tells me about her traditions and holidays. (I like it when she tells me about just about everything - the traditions and holidays are just things that she loves that are different from me.) Last week, my family listened to me talk about the Book of Mormon Musical for thirty minutes. Do you think they cared about it at all? No. They listened because they care about ME. And I hope they know I wasn't trying to sell them on anything. I was talking about it because I like it, but I don't expect everyone to like what I like. The trouble I see with missionary work is that people believe their way is the ONLY way. Missionaries believe that other people are incomplete/broken/need to be changed if they don't believe the same way that they do. (Atheists are just as guilty of this sometimes, and I don't like their missionary work either.)

To those of you who love the church, how would you feel if I told you that the Truth was outside of the church... You can never find happiness as long as you are a member... If you have prayed, and you still believe the church is true, it's because you are not praying right, or haven't studied enough, or you need to repent. It HURTS. It feels shitty and invalidating, and it's not okay. (Those of us who have left get this kind of stuff all the time... And I've heard missionaries telling potential converts things like this. I imagine it hurts less coming from a naive eighteen-nineteen year old stranger than it does coming from family and friends, but still...)

In the book The Good Heart, the Dalai Lama he tells Christians NOT to convert to Buddhism. The Dalai Lama said that... WHY? The only reason I can come up with is that it is more important to him that people make peace with themselves and their own roots. Conversion of any kind is painful. The religious stories we were told growing up are a BIG part of us. In my case, I had to leave because I couldn't make peace with the church and much of it's teachings. It hurt. It is hard. Even though it has been two years, and I am definitely MUCH happier than I was, I feel like I am still in the process of finding ME outside of the church. It seems like asking someone to convert TO the church would be just as difficult.

I HIGHLY value accepting others and loving them as they are. If I had a cause, that would be mine. If I wanted to convert anyone to anything, it would be, LOVE YOURSELF!


  1. I totally agree to so much of this, especially to what you boiled it down to, LOVE YOURSELF! Learning to love yourself is one of the greatest victories that we can achieve in this life. And when you learn to love yourself it frees you to love others. And that kind of love is not what a lot of people around here say that they practice, it is a true/whole/complete love. It is a love that loves people for who they are without any expectation for them to be anything but what they are. Anyway, I agree, stop telling people how to live their lives and just love and accept them for who they are.

    1. I've been thinking about this since last night... and John's question on facebook. (I may just write a whole post about it...) But I liked Justin's friend's take on missionary work. "I'm looking for the person that this church is the right fit for. No one else."

      In that way, I think we all are missionaries... I write a blog about the harm the church has done to me and about abusive relationships, and part of my "mission" is to just be here in case someone else feels like I do. I'm not trying to "de-convert" anyone, but I want to be a help to someone if they are already on that road and need support.

      I believe in that kind of missionary work...

  2. I did not serve a formal mission. I was married a week before my 18th birthday, mostly because I wanted to get as far away from my father as possible. Over the years I have had a number of friends, boyfriends, husbands, who joined the church. I had known almost all of them for more than a year before they ever asked me about the church. The exception is my current (and last) husband and his sister. His sister was already looking for a church, and when she came to live with us, she wanted to find out why I was happy despite all of the challenges in my life. For everyone else, they were the ones who came to me to ask about the gospel, when they were ready.

    I certainly shared my life with them, they were my good friends, and it would be impossible to know what is going on in my life and not know about my faith. It is not the only thing I write or edit or blog about, but if you are a regular reader, you won't be confused about whether I am Mormon, and whether I believe in the gospel. I don't believe that the church is perfect.

    My Mormon Moment Series looks at issues from all sides. TBMs think that I am very liberal but usually fair. Post-LDS readers feel I am definitely believing, but fair to them as well. I see myself as someone who can and should be building bridges, but building them does not mean that I have lost my testimony. For me, it actually builds my testimony in both Christ and people. I do believe that there are many ways to come to Christ. For me, LDS doctrine and the scriptures are the best way to find my way to christ, but that doesn't mean that I can't understand and support those who are on a different path. My friendships are never about missionary work, but instead are about making friends, sharing my love for them, and answering questions that they have.

    In all of the cases of friends joining the church, I waited for them to decide they were ready to learn more. Several friends who decided to learn more took the discussions, attended church for a few months, and then decided that they didn't not want to become members, or were not ready to. It didn't change our friendships, although they oftentimes get the insider Mormon jokes now. One, who took the discussions when we were in our 20s joined the church 11 years later, and surprised me by inviting me to her baptism. (I knew she had been rereading the Book of Mormon, and had answered a lot of questions for her, but I didn't know she had take nthe discussions or was going to church. She lived about a two hour drive from me at that point, and we still saw each other when she came in to town, but I was pretty shocked when we had dinner when she was here for a shopping trip, and asked me to give one of the talks at her baptism in two weeks!)

    Comment 1

  3. All three of my husbands were not members when we were married. I didn't want them to feel pressure to join the church, or that dating or marrying me was tied to church membership. In all of the cases they chose when to invite the missionaries for discussions. My only requests before we got married were that our children be raised in the church, that when have family prayer, and that they support me in being active in the church and filling whatever callings I might have. None of them had been active in another church before we met, so those requests seemed reasonable to me, and were not hard for them to agree to. The only real missionary work I did was what I would have done anyway. Read my scriptures, say my prayers, pay tithing on my part of our income, attend church and church activities, and invite them to come if they wanted to.

    I truly believe thaat the best way to be a "member Missionary" is to be a good member and a good friend. The opposite would be true for someone of another faith, or someone who does not have a faith. If you are true to the things you believe, and a good friend to others, then if you have something they want, they will know they can approach you, without being afraid they will risk your friendship, if they decide the gospel isn't for them.

    Sorry I rambled a little. Does that make sense?

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    1. It makes a lot of sense... I also realize that I didn't like being a member of the church, so trying to be a member missionary made me really crazy. Besides the feeling that I don't believe I should try to change another person... trying to get a person to love something that was harmful to me created some serious cognitive dissonance.

  4. I love your message - love yourself. That is such a gift, a gift I am still working on giving myself. Thank you for always listening to me and respecting me, even when our thoughts and traditions varied so widely. This post really made my heart feel warm; it meant a lot for me to be able to read it.

    1. I'm glad you liked it. I've wanted to write a post about how grateful I am for you for a long time... but it's hard to write something like that publicly. I am very grateful for you, and I love you a lot.