Wednesday, July 15, 2009

She Said: Letting Missionaries in the Door

Latter-day Saints have a strong missionary tradition that commenced from the very first days of the Church. We are known in many countries for our proselyting missionaries. For a long time I only knew of one other denomination that sent proselyting missionaries around, and that was the Jehovah's Witnesses. But in the past few years my door has been knocked upon by various Christian missionaries. When we lived in Vernal, there was even an evangelical group who went around specifically to convert Mormons away from their beliefs.

I have always enjoyed my discussions with these proselyting missionaries. Once I met with a set of Jehovah's Witnesses for several weeks. Through studying with them, I gained a greater understanding of the use of the Tetragrammaton in the Old Testament. I was privileged to be invited to their worship service, and I observed with interest their unique procedures in partaking of the Sacrament. Christian missionaries have provided wonderful examples for me in charity and being personally involved in projects to benefit the underprivileged. And Fundamentalist missionaries, while rare today, helped me appreciate our unique restoration heritage when they stayed with us for a few days in the early 1980's.

Since our Church consists of so many converts, myself and Dr. B. among them, it is obvious that if these members hadn't been willing to entertain the missionaries--to let them in the door and listen to them, they would never had had the opportunity to hear the restored gospel and join the Church. But now that they are baptized members, should they shut their doors to missionaries of other faiths?

I am of the opinion that one should always hold an open mind when it comes to matters of religion. If we honestly seek the truth, we must be open to any conclusion. Our scriptures urge us to look for truth and knowledge wherever it may be found. I think that this includes in discussion with and examination of other faith traditions. People are generally afraid of uncertainty. They hesitate to challenge their secure world view, a view which is supported by the other members of their religion. But speaking with others with different paradigms and challenging our own assumptions is important. Religion is a search for truth, not a search for security, pleasure, friendship or approval.

That is why, when members of other religions knock on my door, I invite them in.


  1. "When we lived in Vernal, there was even an evangelical group who went around specifically to convert Mormons away from their beliefs."

    This sounds a bit derogatory, but I think this is actually all missionaries' purpose - including Mormons, who go around specifically to convert people away from Catholic beliefs and Baptist beliefs and Muslim beliefs and into Mormon I wrong?

    Speaking from the point of view of a Buddhist, I generally do not let missionaries in the door. I don't feel that we have a lot to offer each other right now. Missionaries go around to teach people and not particularly to learn. That really isn't their stated purpose. They might hope that I would learn something from them, but I already know their teachings since I used to be a believer. They aren't interested in learning my beliefs unless it's to turn them back on me to try to show me the error of my ways.

    Recently an evangelical manual for converting Buddhists was passed around teh interwebs. It was quite an interesting document. It outlined the general belief system of Buddhists (if it can be called a belief system) and pointed out "weak spots" in Buddhist "doctrine" where evangelicals might be able to get a foot in the door to "save" the hapless hell-bound. Certainly there was no sense of a pluralistic desire to learn, share and grow together, and indeed that point of view has never been demonstrated by any missionary I've ever met. Indeed, I believe that viewpoint would be counterproductive to The Work.

    Reading over this it sounds pretty negative, and it's true that I feel a little sour when missionaries come around (of whatever stripe). Perhaps someday I might open my door, hoping to learn a little something and share a little something, but for now I simply feel semi-hated.

  2. Hmm. I think some missionaries have the purpose of converting others away from their beliefs, but probably most want to present what they believe to be "a better way." You're right though, there isn't often a pluralistic desire to learn together. If you're not in a place where you are interested in other viewpoints, it is probably counterproductive to let them in the door. I know Dr. B. is going to address that side of it tomorrow.

    On a personal note--loved some comments of yours I recently read on vegetarianism. I think you've converted me on several points!

  3. Thanks, BiV!

    I consider myself pretty open to other spiritual/religious paths. I do identify as an atheist, and Buddhist by philosophy, not religion, but I wouldn't say that I'm uninterested in other viewpoints. I doubt that a visiting missionary would be interested in MINE, however. :)

  4. When we first moved into my husband's current ward, we got a couple of inquiries from the missionaries since we're listed as a part-member household. My answer is always pretty straightforward: you're welcome to come over, enjoy a meal, and talk with us about whatever you want, but I have zero desire to convert. I always make it clear that I have a degree from BYU and I already took the missionary discussions in high school, so I'm already well past the basic information and I've still said "no thanks." They usually aren't interested in visiting after that.

    I'm one of those people who is always on the look-out for productive interfaith dialogues, but I often feel that missionaries from other faiths are the worst possible people to have those with. They aren't looking to have an interfaith exchange of ideas; they believe they have the truth and they're looking to spread that message. There isn't anything wrong with that, and while I'm always open to hearing new ideas that could enhance my understanding of God, I'm really not on the market for changing religions. Evangelical Christianity is pretty satisfying to me.

    And that, I think, is the biggest barrier of all to missionaries. It isn't rude people who won't listen; it's people who just aren't searching. Can you really convert someone who is happy in her current religion (or lack of), who feels like her current beliefs answer life's questions for her? I don't think that you can---after all, it's not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick, right? (Mk 2:17) And I think that was the mistake made by my first LDS friends who tried to convert me. I was perfectly open to learning about Mormonism, but I was so head-over-heels in love with my new evangelical church, the thought of leaving it was just appalling to me. The LDS friend who talked me into taking the missionary discussions actually did so by telling me that it didn't have to be about conversion; it could just be about learning LDS beliefs even though I wasn't interested in joining, so I said okay. The actual missionaries must have missed the memo, because they were trying to convert me from day 1.

    One last thing. When I was in high school I was taking the JW missionary discussions at the same time as the Mormon ones. I would come home from school on Thursday afternoon, meet with the JWs, have a few hours to myself, then visit my LDS friend's house for the Mormon missionary discussions. The JWs were certainly kind and courteous and they knew their arguments for their religion well, but here's the thing about JW missionaries: once you show the slightest sign of interest, they never go away! I had them dropping in on me for visits when I'd come home from BYU on weekends and such all throughout college. They do not take polite hints; you practically have to tell them that you hate them and if you catch them on your property again, you'll release the hounds. So I usually avoid the JWs these days.

  5. I have heard people say this about the JWs but I had a really different experience. The woman who tracted me out was a young mother like I was at the time and she was interested in having gospel discussions where I shared my beliefs as well as listened to hers. We became good friends and our kids played together and we ended up going on picnics together and other activities. She seemed to bring different people from her congregation each time and they were all fun and interesting people to get to know.

    On my mission I wanted converts but I also was willing just to get to know people, give them info about the Church, learn about their beliefs, or whatever they were ready for. So I guess I believe other missionaries are in the same place and I'm not averse to giving them a chance.

  6. The main problem I had on my mission was that I *didn't* want to convert everyone. My companion and I had a standing appointment with a woman from Taiwan (this was in France) who was a Buddhist and extremely knowledgeable about philosophy. She had met the LDS missionaries a couple of years before and loved the church, loved the Book of Mormon, loved the members and missionaries, but had no desire to join. And I felt guilty about this, but I had no desire for her to stop being Buddhist. She remains to this day one of the kindest people I have ever met - if Buddhism could get her there and bring such joy to her life, who was I to try to change that? (Yeah, I wasn't a very good missionary.) From time to time our zone leader would try to get us to stop meeting with her since she was clearly a hopeless case, but we always managed to convince him otherwise. Visiting with her was always the highlight of my week, I learned so much from her.

  7. the missionaries are for to find the chosen ones the ones that will not harden their is to represent the Lord Jesuschrist and to teach that the restored gospel is back on earth and the ordinances of salvation are within their reach, and they are free of charge....that Jesus is the Christ and the Lord himself conducts and directs his own church...and the most important is to learn these things by the power of the holy spirit...and the people should know by THEMSELVES if the message its true.........even 22 years went by since my return , it made such an impact on my life that I want to teach by example and I always try to find opportunities to share what we have specially our brothers and sisters of the J.W.....