Saturday, May 31, 2008

Stop Being Polite

I recently read an interview that occurred at Pew Forum's biannual Faith Angle Conference. The interview was with a very prominent member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Richard Bushman. The catalyst for them choosing Richard Bushman seems to be Mitt Romney’s bid for the Presidency, and the fact that all these reporters wanted to get their questions concerning Mormonism answered. All types of questions were addressed like: Would Romney be obligated to take direction from the Church leaders in Salt Lake City? What’s the deal with Polygamy? Why are Mormons so secretive about the Temple? Bushman gave some good insight, and I feel like he represented the Church extremely well.

The conversation at one point turned to how there are so many misunderstandings in the world about our beliefs. Stereotypes and clichés about Mormons exist to the point that it is difficult for people to come to a real understanding about who we are and what we stand for. The reporter asked if members were looking at Mitt’s campaign as an opportunity to break those stereotypes down, or whether we were anxious about the publicity we would be receiving. Bushman responded:

I don't think it was Michael Paulson, but someone from The Boston Globe was writing a story about how the Mormon Church is going to be affected by the Romney campaign. Exactly the question you asked. I thought it was a good question. My own feeling is it's very good to air all of the inner feelings. Sally's question was very interesting to me. You've been really influenced by Martha Beck. This image of the church as secretly ominous and oppressive is common. I think those things need to get out in the open. Mormons need to hear it, and the people who voice those questions need to talk to Mormons about it. As long as we're all polite to one another, there isn't going to be true understanding.

When I was reading the transcript, the last line rang true with me. As a missionary I often taught people who believed the core doctrine but had a concern with a specific principle that led them to start trying to avoid the missionaries. Those people who would eventually share their concern with us, would get the answer, overcome their anxiety, concern or misunderstanding and be willing to follow what they had found to be true. Those who were unwilling to share their concern typically came up with a plethora of excuses to avoid meeting with us; which would begin a game of the missionaries trying to guess what the root of their concern was. If we guessed right, we were able to resolve it and the people were able to join the Church. If we did not, we often had to move on to people more willing to have honest, open conversations with us.

I do not think that Bushman meant for people to be rude, and accuse us of such and such, but I do think that he meant as long as people are unwilling to voice their concerns, their questions, true understanding will continue to elude us. As long as people who continue to associate us with the FLDS, or who believe that we have horns, or whatever, continue to keep those misguided beliefs about us to themselves, they will never come to know the truth. I can not speak for all members of the Church, but as for myself, I would be more than willing to engage with someone who wanted to know if we had horns on our heads (we do not), or why we do not talk about what occurs within the Temple, or if we practice polygamy (we do not). But in order for that to happen, people have to be willing to ask; to start the conversation.

1 comment:

Ambibam said...

You never cease to inspire me.