A ConfessionPosted: November 11, 2011
For the past month or so I’ve been hosting weekly Mormon-Evangelical conversations at my house. It started when Elder Smith and Elder Harris (these are pseudonymns)–the missionaries in my Institute class–asked if I would like to receive “more in-depth lessons.” Well-versed in Mormonism as I am, I knew this meant they wanted to have the standard missionary discussions with me. I’d never actually done this before, so I decided it would be a good learning experience. Plus, I’d been frustrated that, after attending Institute for several months, I had had very few conversations about the class material. Apparently an hour and a half of class is enough religious talk for most people, and the post-class snacks are an enticing diversion, but I missed the kind of real conversation I’d gotten to have during my Utah trip this spring.
So I excitedly prepared for my first missionary “lesson.” I warned the missionaries that I wasn’t at all interested in converting, but that I’d love to hear what they had to say. I studied up in my I ❤ Mormons book about the best ways to welcome missionaries. I added both lemonade (in case it was hot) and hot chocolate (in case it was cold) to my grocery list, determined to be hospitable without violating the Word of Wisdom.
Then came the first discussion–if you could call it that. Elders Smith & Harris arrived with Alex, another Insitute classmate (and required chaperone, since I was a woman at home alone). After a healthy amount of small talk all three guys sat down in a row on one of our couches. I, realizing that our living room layout is not the most conducive to comfortable dialogue, sat alone on the couch across the room. They launched into their lesson, asking me about my religious background and why I don’t believe the Book of Mormon is inspired scripture. Throughout the lesson I felt very uneasy. I sensed that the missionaries considered themselves in a place of spiritual authority over me; their patronizing remarks about how I was on the right spiritual “track” were irritating, and I wondered if my gender had anything to do with their tone. Even if I were to convert to Mormonism, I wouldn’t be able to hold the “priesthood” (think “of all believers,” except for women). Overall, I was disappointed that the thoughtful discussion I had anticipated turned out to be little more than an opportunity to proselytize me. They didn’t even accept my considerate drink offer!
So the next week I invited my friends Julia and Brad to join us. The conversation was much more satisfying: I didn’t have to be so defensive because I had others on my “team,” and we actually got to talk about real theological issues. I was greatly encouraged, and wrote this (awesome) essay about how participating with the Church in these conversations makes me a better “missionary” in my own right.
This Sunday Brad and I are doing a church exchange with the Mormon guys. At 11 AM we’ll all meet at the El Camino Young Single Adults Ward chapel in Goleta, and then at 5 PM we’ll attend Santa Barbara Community Church. I’ve been looking forward to this ever since we planned it two weeks ago. Last night at my weekly prayer home group (made up of a bunch of us recent Westmont grads who can’t figure out our lives), after Brad invited everyone to attend SBCC with us this weekend, some of our friends expressed interest in coming to the LDS church, too.
You’d think, for all my glowing advocacy for participation in the Church as missional, that I’d welcome these new participants. They’re good friends, and I should be excited that they want to enter in with me to this particular and unusual ministry, right?
Wrong. I went home grumpy and irritated.
I do have good reasons for being uncomfortable leading a huge group of Evangelicals who are otherwise unfamiliar with Mormonism to an LDS Sacrament Meeting. I know, because I interrupted my dear roommate’s practice GRE (sorry, Danielle) to make sure. “Showing up en masse would be weird, right? Like we just want to watch how the weird Mormons do their weird church services?” (I’m not very articulate when I’m angsty.) I’ve been attending Institute for five months now, and Brad tagged along for many of those months, so we have context within the ward, relationships (however stunted) with its members. Danielle agreed, even after I disclosed the following not-so-noble motivations, so I’m gonna push for keeping the group just me, Brad, and the Mormons this Sunday morning.
But then there’s this big part of me that wants to be exclusive for the sake of exclusivity. I’m petulant because this “Mormon thing” has been my thing. Especially during a season when I feel like very little about me stands out, like I have little to contribute to the world outside the confines of a classroom, I’m threatened by those members of my Christian community who are more gregarious, better able to connect quickly with strangers. What if my friends start developing their own relationships with my Institute classmates? I should probably rejoice that they’d be able to do so, but instead I just worry about my fears that I’ll, once again, be pushed to the sidelines. I won’t be needed to mediate the two communities. I might not–heaven forbid–even keep my status as the resident expert on Mormonism.
I think my emotions are at least partially justified. Right now I’m reaching for anything that will make me seem “special.” As much as I hate to fall into the stereotype of the insecure woman, that’s kind of what I am right now. It has been a really rough six months, and finding my place within this particular group of people that make up my home group has been especially tricky.
But I hope that I can move beyond these issues to be able to welcome all willing partners in this “ministry.” I pray that God will make me confident enough in my own sense of personhood that I can extend a kind of hospitality to those who so lovingly want to support me, or even those who are just curious about the weird Mormons (although, obviously, I’ll always have to be careful about how to do that!).
Ultimately, it’s not about me.