I was having dinner at Cynthia L’s house tonight, and she pointed out something that I’ve noticed as well: our Mormonism makes us more interesting to other people. People like inviting us to social events and chatting with us because we have that one weird thing that makes us distinct—a built-in conversation starter. “This is my friend Kyle…he’s a mormon!”
Of course, the chatting is easier lately, what with the “Mormon Moment” we’re enjoying. The stranger who just found out I’m mormon has a million ways to break the ice—BYU’s newly improved football visibility, the Broadway musical, the presidential candidate(s), the crazy polygamists, The Jimmer. The conversations can start in any number of ways, but they always seem to follow the same well-worn path:
- “Why aren’t you drinking?”
- “My best friend in high school was a mormon.”
- “What’s it like?”
- “I went to church as a kid but…”
I love these conversations, and I have them all the time. One of the many benefits of being a mormon is the heightened potential to form very strong personal bonds very quickly. Have you noticed this? Frequently, within a short time of meeting someone, I’ll be wrapped up in a personal discussion of our faiths. That level of unguarded intimacy can take weeks or months to attain in normal friendships.
Elder L. Tom Perry addressed this phenomenon during the Saturday afternoon session of General Conference last weekend, and gave us some good pointers on how to handle such situations. To quote from him at length:
“In the course of our everyday lives, we are blessed with many opportunities to share what we believe with others. When our personal and professional associates inquire about our religious beliefs, they are inviting us to share who we are and what we believe. They may or may not be interested in the Church, but they are interested in getting to know us at a deeper level.
“My recommendation to you is to accept their invitations. Your associates are not inviting you to teach preach, expound, and exhort. Engage them in a two-way conversation—share something about your religious beliefs, but also ask them about their beliefs. Gauge their level of interest by the questions they ask. If they are asking a lot of questions, focus the conversation on answering their questions. Always remember that it is better for them to ask than you to tell.”
I love this quote. Don’t preach, talk; and even better, listen. These are the basic standards of good conversation, but they’re too easily cast aside when we detect an opening—any opening—to barf our testimony all over an otherwise potentially enlightening and friendly discussion. Elder Perry says we should be conversing instead, and paying attention to social cues (which involves being aware of legitimate opportunities to testify according to the Spirit).
The next passage is my favorite from Elder Perry’s talk.
“We should approach such conversations with Christ-like love. Our tone, whether speaking or writing, should be respectful and civil, regardless of the responses from others. We should be honest and open and try to be clear in what we say. We want to avoid becoming defensive or argue in any way.
“In speaking about the Church, we do not try to make it sound better than it is. We do not need to spin our message. We need to communicate the message honestly and directly. If we will open communication channels, the message of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ will prove itself to those who are prepared to receive it.”
I have nothing to add to that, except to say “Amen.”