Outreach, ur doing it wrong

Yesterday I attended a meeting at which Gary Lawrence spoke about the research he conducted which forms the foundation of his book, How Americans View Mormonism.  His firm contacted 1,000 randomly selected Americans and asked 55 questions.  The answers given by the respondents clearly demonstrate that we are doing a poor job of communicating.

I have written a post about Lawrence’s research previously at BCC, so there is no need to go over it again here. Suffice it to say that more people view us unfavorably than favorably, and that the only religion more disliked than Mormonism is Islam. The remainder of this post is a transcript of the rough notes I took during the presentation.

When asked to describe Mormons, people use words like honest, friendly, kind, strong family values, patriotic, and willing to help the needy. This is the message we are trying to send, so it is gratifying to see that it is being received. Unfortunately, people also use some other words to describe us: self-righteous, out of touch, insular, narrow, fanatical, and brainwashed. We must ask ourselves why people are also getting this second message we do not intend to send.

Much of the problem is because we seldom associate with people who aren’t LDS. The simple fact is that we are insular, and this insularity inevitably produces unsatisfactory and dysfunctional interactions and conversations about religion.  We literally do not know how to talk to other people about our faith in ways they understand and find useful, and we are so clueless about our own cluelessness that we don’t even realize we are talking past them.

Lawrence gave an example.  Many Americans believe that LDS people practice polygamy.  We have expended lots of time, effort, and money to try  to persuade them that we don’t, and we get our noses out of joint when people confuse LDS with FLDS, for instance.  But he then asked the group how many of us understand the differences between the Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod. Nobody raised a hand, to us, they are all Lutherans.  Until we are willing to understand others, we have no standing to insist they understand us.  [I was reminded of the wise aphorism from St. Francis R. Covey, that we should seek to understand before we seek to be understood.]

Another example involved the way we explain the central message of The Restoration:  The gospel has been restored.  Pretty straightforward, right?  Wrong.  When our neighbors hear ‘gospel’, they think Matthew, Mark, Luke, John.  And when they hear that something has been restored, invariably they think of a physical object, like an classic car or a piece of heirloom furniture.  We use familiar words, but in an unfamiliar context and consequently our listeners are unable to grok what we are talking about. Lawrence suggests that we say something like this:

We believe that Jesus established a church while He was on the earth, and that people later made unauthorized changes to that church.  We believe that our church is the re-establishment of Christ’s original church.

Lawrence’s research found that many people are intensely curious about Mormons.  He calls these people curiositators, to distinguish them from investigators.  When somebody asks us a curious-type question, our strong tendency is to think it is an investigator-type question.  We tell them that there are two young men in our congregation who would be glad to answer their questions, so the friend says “OK, send them over”.  We give ourselves brownie points for being a good member-missionary, the missionaries think that they have been handed a golden investigator — after all, aren’t member referrals solid gold? — and they try to get a baptism commitment on the first visit.  In the meantime, our (former) friend is wondering what is going on, he was expecting some kind of Q&A session.  This scenario is very easy to imagine, I’ve done it myself, and it is also easy to see how our popularity numbers wind up in Al Quaida territory.

Here are some suggestions Lawrence made as to how we can improve the way LDS people are perceived:

1.  Actively seek to befriend people who are not LDS.  NEVER BRING UP THE TOPIC OF RELIGION.  They will find out soon enough that you are LDS and ask you about it.  When they do, answer the question as simply and briefly as possible, then change the topic.

2.  When speaking with others, speak English instead of Mormonese.

3.  Respond to curious questions with short, direct answers.  Resist the urge to drop the whole ton of bricks on somebody who asks you a simple question.

4.  Use the missionaries judiciously, and make sure to set appropriate expectations on both sides.


  1. “St. Francis R. Covey” FTW.

  2. If we dont want people to see us as self-righteous, maybe we should stop being so self-righteous. Just a thought.

  3. The Evangelical Lutheran vs. Lutherans, Missouri Synod is a really apt example. Some of us get upset that many don’t get the difference between LDS, FLDS, RLDS, etc., but we often have even more ignorance about other faiths. I encouraged a good friend of mine travelling to SLC to go on the Temple Square tour. She reported that the sister missionary who was leading the tour kept peppering her with questions, and she replied that she was Lutheran. The missionary said she didn’t know anything about the Lutheran church and my friend felt kind of dissed. Maybe MTC should include basic instruction on other faiths that missionaries will encounter in their respective areas–young LDS people certainly don’t learn anything about that in seminary or sunday school.

  4. Iirc the Missouri synod is the one that practices polygamy.

  5. Someone on the last post about this same topic nailed the “reason” for the dislike on the head: we have no natural allies. Liberals don’t like us bc we’re grossly conservative, sexist, homophobic, etc… (or are at least perceived that way, and justifiably so). Conservatives don’t like us bc we’re a non-Christian cult. With that set up, who are our friends?

    Given that that is the reason for the low-popularity, I highly doubt that any of the suggestions on how to change things can ever work. We’re never going to convince the liberal world to like us (largely bc we’re never going to make the concessions demanded by that world) and we’re never going to convince the conservative world to like us (though the possibilities there are much greater). Basically, w/o changing who we actually are, no other popularity efforts will be worth anything.

  6. You have inspired me to study more Lutheranism.

  7. Mark Brown says:

    Jay, my personal experience tells me that you are mistaken. There is nothing in our religion that requires to act like arrogant pricks. Friend-making is a skill that we all need to practice, but I know for certain that it can be done, with people of all backgrounds.

  8. Mark Brown says:

    Smb, it’s called the Missouri synod because that is where the garden of Eden is located. Or so I’ve heard.

  9. Mark, I completely agree with you on an individual level. I’m an active Mormon surrounded almost exclusively by the two groups I described, and I experience very little, if any, personal animosity. People are cool. We all get along just fine.

    But on a more macro level, I wonder whether the same principle can apply. Maybe you’re right, maybe it can. Maybe it’s gotta just be the result of a lot of individuals getting better at being friendly. But I’m just not sure. It’s very easy to separate “the church” from it’s component (member) parts.

  10. How about we make pass-along cards with these four guidelines on them, and give them to Mormons. Perhaps with a question like “Have you ever heard of not being obliviously self-righteous? Would you like to know more?”

    I first realized what a HUUUGE problem this is on my mission, when I went on splits with an Elder and a woman to whom we were teaching a first discussion asked what our church services were like. His answer went something like this: “You know, the normal three hour block. We have sacrament meeting first, then Sunday School, then the women have Relief Society, and….” And as he continued, and responded to further questions from her, I realized with horror that we was operating on the assumption that Mormons went to Mormon sacrament meeting, primary, and relief society just like Catholics went to catholic sacrament meeting, primary and relief society, and Methodists went to Methodist sacrament meeting, primary and relief society.

    We can’t even say something as simple and universal as “congregation.” Would it be so hard to say that instead of explaining to somebody what a “ward” is?

  11. It’s also a good idea not to conflate Islam with “Al Quaida territory”.

  12. waterspout says:

    It would help a heap if we would try to be genuine followers of Christ more than followers of the institution or corporation.

  13. Mark Brown says:

    Breena, that is a good point, and one that I thought of when I wrote the post. I thought there was sufficient distance between the two references to prevent people from making that connection, which I certainly do not intend or believe. But maybe I am wrong.

  14. Thomas Parkin says:

    It seems to me there have been some unfortunate unintended consequences surrounding things like … praying to know which of your neighbors is “being prepared” to join the church. I don’t doubt this works when the stars align, but – It sets us up to act in bad faith; creates situations where it is difficult to be forthright about our motivations. I personally think that the Spirit coalesces around truth – as in telling the truth. We’ve got to put ourselves in situations where we can completely frank. In _most_ cases, that means becoming friends for the sake of friendship – which is a mighty fine principle all alone. If at some point, through the natural or supernatural course of events our friends gain a curiosity abut the gospel, great! If not, that’s great, too, because we still have a friend.

    My friends come from many walks of life and degrees and varieties of righteousness. Generally, my best friends are people who I feel have little or no duplicity. I try hard to be the same for them. They know I’m a Mormon. I could stand to deepen some of my friendships. There it is.

  15. kentslarsen says:

    “grok” – nice touch.

  16. namewitheld says:

    “self-righteous, out of touch, insular, narrow, fanatical, and brainwashed.” = The six reasons I’ve hidden many of my LDS facebook friends.

  17. John Mansfield says:

    The failures to communicate that we have here are very interesting and worth learning from, but I am skeptical on many of the other points. Suggestion #1 pretty much describes my life, yet the folks who want to know some detail about the Mormons from me are few and far between, perhaps a question every three years. We love the idea that our radiant beings will spontaneously draw people to us, thereby most effectively making the Church and its teachings known, but it must take far more radiance than I emit. I think its mostly a self-justifying delusion.

  18. John Mansfield says:

    “When speaking with others, speak English instead of Mormonese.”

    Yes, what we say has to be comprehendible, but curious people likely want a hint of the flavor or fragrance of Mormonism, and aren’t simple asking “In what way is your church just like everything I’ve already experienced?” For example, an office mate asked, “What do the spires on the Mormon temple by the D.C. beltway symbolize?” The words Melchizedek and Aaronic ought to show up in an answer to such a question. When I asked a neighbor about the Palm Sunday mass he had just returned from, he had some interesting, unfamiliar things to describe to me, some of which I knew I misinterpreted and asked for clarification on.

  19. @Mark, great post. One problem that I see with the suggestion that people speak English rather than Mormonese is that MANY Mormons DON’T EVEN KNOW that they speak speaking Mormonese. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had Mormon and non-Mormon friends over at my house for a party or gathering. Inevitably, the Mormon people (the women especially) cluster in the corner and start talking about their “callings,” “Relief Society,” the last “Enrichment activity,” “visiting teaching,” you get the picture. I often try to bridge the gap by jumping in to explain all the terms to the non-Mormon folks, but it gets pretty tiresome.

    So I think the suggestion is great, but don’t know how it would work in implementation.

  20. Chris Gordon says:

    I take a bit of issue with the ”never bring up religion” advice and the adamant way in which it’s given. I think an extension of the advice to learn how to communicate our religion better is to learn how to bring up religion better. If your religion is a part of who you are, then we need to learn to communicate it with as much casual comfort as we describe what we do, or whether we like sports, or certain restaurants, etc.

  21. Jennifer says:

    I am a TBM, who lives in Utah. I sent my kids to a Lutheran school because I felt they offered the best academics around. I never discussed my religion, unless someone asked me. After a few years the pastor came and offered me a job as a teacher, because he felt that that my values and the way I lived my life was exemplary. In the classroom, students would come in and start bashing on Mormons, to which i would respond, “You might want to be more careful about what you say. You never know when one could be standing right next to you.” They were floored when they learned about my faith. Even though my ward sort of shunned me, I thought it was the perfect form of missionary work. I am known amongst the Lutherans as the unusual Mormon. Besides, at 8 years old, how can I expect my children to know which church is true, unless they actually know about other churches. Having them at the Lutheran school, allowed me the opportunity to highlight exactly how our beliefs were different.

  22. John Mansfield says:

    Last month, I attended a funeral at a former co-worker’s synagogue. Something that came up in several of the rememberances, and which I had experienced with her, is that this former Brooklyn girl loved Yiddish and sought to enrich the lives of all around her by exposing them as plentifully as she might. Her husband read to us notes from her neurologist from an early visit regarding her fatal brain tumor. Paraphrasing, “All cognitive functions are normal. She keeps speaking to me in Yiddish. Her husband says this is normal.”

  23. Mark Brown says:

    Even though my ward sort of shunned me, I thought it was the perfect form of missionary work.

    Sorry to hear about your ward, Jennifer. It is uncomfortable to admit that when a person actively seeks friends outside the church, we often see it as a sign of apostasy.

    I take a bit of issue with the ”never bring up religion” advice and the adamant way in which it’s given.

    Chris, I understand your point, and I agree that over the long term, your approach is best. If I understood Lawrence correctly, the first thing we need to learn is how to stop annoying people. “First, do no harm”. It is humbling to realize that for many of us, the best thing we can do for the church is to simply shut up.

  24. I love a post that affirms my life choices, and makes me totally self-righteous about being an unusually likable Mormon. Thanks, Mark!

    I know lots of people think it’s weird that I drag my kids around to local church services, but this is why I do it: to learn how and what other people believe and practice. Recently, a youth Sunday School class from a local congregation attended our Sacrament Meeting for this purpose, and I thought that was spectacular, but not something that Mormons would ever do, frankly.

    “I didn’t know a Mormon could be like you” is my favorite compliment.

    BTW–I think some commenters are confusing two goals we may have: this post is not about converting other people, but about allowing them to like us.

  25. Mark Brown says:

    John Mansfield, (22) that is an interesting contrast. According to Lawrence, Jews are looked upon very favorably by other Americans. I wonder how we can account for their popularity and our lack thereof? A couple of reasons I can think of, off the top of my head:

    1. Jews don’t actively try to proselyte or evangelize others. No matter how much we sugarcoat it, there is an element of arm-twisting and high pressure salesmanship to our missionary approach. My personal opinion is that this, more than anything else, accounts for the negative reactions.

    2. It is possible to be a non-religious Jew. Is is much harder to be a non-religious Mormon.

  26. Thomas Parkin says:


    I think I agree with you. We should be able to talk about our religion. I’m not sure about casual, though. To me, saying ‘I’m a Mormon’ is casual, kinda like saying ‘I love my wife.’ But to speak deeply about religion is not a casual thing, like talking sports, as describing more intimate facts about your love for your wife would not be casual. I’m not saying that we have to light candles or even put on the testimony hat. But I don’t think it’s casual conversation.

  27. Mark Brown says:


    very perceptive, and thank you. Yes, at this point, at least in Br. Lawrence’s opinion, conversions are a secondary consideration. The goal for now is to figure out how to quit offending people around us. My guess is that once we learn that lesson, the conversions will come as a natural consequence. Our faith does have a lot to offer.

  28. John Mansfield says:

    Mark Brown, a third reason could be added. Not liking Jews is considered a social pathology. No sane person not sporting several prison-suitable tattoos is going to say “I don’t like Jews,” even if for some reason he generally doesn’t.

  29. Casey Jones says:

    Our children attend evangelical preschools and elementary schools. Many of my Mormon “friends” sharply criticize this move and are constantly trying to get us to join them at the neighborhood school. I won’t. Why? Because I like the Evangelical Christians and the schools are better. Do they know I am a practicing Mormon? Not yet. And that is because I want them to get to know ME. I need friends in this new home of ours and I think that if it comes up in the next year or so, I will out ourselves. Until then, I am working on building friendships with my neighbors and it feels great to step out of the Mormon circles. It’s quite freeing.

  30. Jews in the U.S. tend to be liberal, so liberals like them. Jews in Israel are highly regarded by conservatives (for whatever reason), so conservatives like Jews. And, as stated above, almost no one wants to be viewed as a Nazi…

  31. 25.
    Mark, it’s easy to be a non-religious Mormon. ;)

    26. Saying I am a Mormon IS casual. The point being made here is that when someone asks a question about the church, sometimes it IS casual. We need to use to know when a casual response is more appropriate than to speak deeply.

    I really like a quote from a Robert Kirby column in the 90s.
    “When Jesus said let your light so shine, he was not giving the parable of the bug zapper. Neither was he talking about the gospel equivalent of poaching deer with a spotlight.”

  32. Left Field says:

    So Tom Lehrer’s satirical line,
    “And Eeev-rybody hates the Jews!”
    is no longer accurate?

    Maybe he needs to substitute “Mormons” in there. Because, to quote another Lehrer line, “It don’t matter if you put a couple extra syllables into a line.”

  33. I like the concept of, if living in the Mormon belt, sending your kids to a school where Mormons are a minority. I spent my junior high and high school years without one real non-LDS friend; my high school had very little religious diversity. I had more non-LDS friends at BYU. And I contrast that to now, where most of the friends I attend graduate classes with have no LDS friends other than me.

    I worry a bit about sending my kids to any kind of religious school, however, as I want them to be taught the so-called controversial subjects (such as evolution), and many religious schools fail at that (although I’m sure a number of them do an excellent job). I know of one non-religious private school in Salt Lake that has a religiously-diverse student body–and I’m sure more like that exist. That, I think, would be my ideal (assuming we were living in Utah).

  34. Thomas – I understand what you mean if you’re talking about saying things like “I believe Joseph Smith was a prophet.” But whether discussion about church is casual depends on what you are talking about. “I went to church yesterday” or “Do you want to play basketball in my church league?” are things I think I say quite casually.

    I would put “I’m a Mormon” in this latter category. Often, when people see the BYU diploma on my wall in my office, they ask me if I am a Mormon. Of course, I answer them. This exchange is entirely casual.

    Chris – I agree with you and would add that I also take issue with “answer the question as simply and briefly as possible, then change the topic.” That just sounds weird and kind of secretive to me. If someone wants to know something about us, we have to be willing to have a normal, honest conversation with them. How else will they be able to understand us better?

  35. Bro. Jones says:

    #29 I applaud your bravery and hope things go smoothly for you. Free anecdotal data is worth what you pay for it, but in my own experience working at an Evangelical school, once people learned I was Mormon they immediately shifted into proselyting mode to “save” me from the “cult” I’m in. They truly were doing it out of love and concern, but it was infuriating. It gave me a very stark insight into how people must view many Mormon missionary efforts.

    #32 Well, the line before talked about Hindu and Muslim animosity, so I think it was kind of a global observation. It’s still okay to hate on Jews in some overseas quarters.

  36. I Googled his book and found that I could only buy it from LDS bookstores. It wasn’t even available on Amazon. I realize this isn’t actually significant, especially considering the target audience, but given the assertion that Mormons should be less insular, ha.

  37. although beginning a the topic of religion is indeed awkward for many people, i find that when i’m asked what my plans are this weekend, i can not just tell them about what i did on saturday, but sunday too… cause, hey, they asked :) questions are usually next and not awkward at all – i agree with keeping simple answers and instead of looking for missionary moments, i’ve tried more to look ways i can be a better friend.

  38. MikeInWeHo says:

    The assertion that everybody likes the Jews would certainly comes as a surprise to the Jews. I live near dozens of synagogues, and many of them have security guards quite visible on Saturdays. Maybe it’s just hard to be a minority faith in the U.S., unless it’s a cute harmless one like the Amish.

    It used to be that Evangelical Christians were the primary group that loathed Mormonism, due to the Church’s (extremely) heterodox theology coupled with highly visible proselytizing among other Christians.

    Now, post Prop-8, etc, the Church is perceived as an implacable foe of gays (and liberals generally) as well. Combine these activities with an insular religious culture that prevents most Americans from getting to know their Mormon neighbors and voila, you get the unfortunate status quo.

    So in a sense, the Church finds itself in a situation just the opposite of how Tim describes the Jews in comment #30.

  39. proud daughter of eve says:

    You really are being insular if you think Mormons everywhere have to work to make non-LDS friends. Toronto and D.C. are just bursting with LDS folks, really I don’t know how I managed to be the only Mormon in my school through all 12 years of public education.

  40. Mark,

    As far as likeability is concerned….

    How do you think the poll results would have been historically? 1900, 1940,1970,2000 when compared to today?

    I would argue that Mormonism has ALWAYS polled badly. So this is not exactly an earthshaking revelation for me.

    I also agree that currently we are disliked by huge portions of the liberal population for largely secular reasons and by huge portions of the conservative population for religous reasons.

  41. I had a released time seminary teacher that served a mission in the South so he had a soft spot for Evangelicals. Every year he would take a large group of seminary students to a Wednesday night church meeting of various churches. Usually he picked the ones that were the most virulent anti-Mormon. One pastor was even a former member of the church. Of course he would call the churches and ask permission to come. We had fun clapping and singing to the guitars and drums. We brought along our scriptures and followed the sermon. It was unquestionably a good experience for everyone involved.

  42. #37 I would bet that there are a lot of people besides mormons who spend a portion of their day at church, so mentioning that you go to church on Sunday may not be that peculiar sounding after all. The key would then be to talk about spending the rest of the day having a good time hanging out with the family, instead of perhaps talking about all the things we aren’t suppose to do to keep the sabbath day holy, and maybe even (gasp) change out of our sunday clothes and quite being such nerds.

  43. Bitherwack says:

    Please, please, when discussing the temple, don’t say, “Its sacred, not secret.” Wordplay is wordplay, and this is a cheap evasion. I had trouble answering some very honest questions of my best friend, and when I referred her to a temple worker, that was the reply. Needless to say, my friend was offended by the silliness of the answer, and I felt betrayed by my church for this intellectual dishonesty. (.. of pretending it was an answer made in good faith.)

    I’m also interested that the poll didn’t turn up the key words associated with gay bashing homophobia or racism. That seems to be the prevalent impression of people in my circle. Needless to say, member missionary zeal is hitting minus numbers. I’m not even sure I want to send my sons on missions anymore. (Certainly not if they have to perpetuate Elder Packer’s brand of intolerance.)

  44. Swisster says:

    Our ward boundaries just changed, and now we drive further to church — 45 minutes. I now have 5 people to visit teach. I am sure I’ll feel better once I get attached, but right now, this commitment to people and things so far outside my community makes me feel insular and fanatical!

  45. I like to treat my religion just like I would treat other aspects of my life.

    For instance, if you asked me about law school, I wouldn’t just assume you wanted to talk to an admissions rep. “There are two young men from admissions that would be more than happy to answer all your questions, let me send them on over to your house.” If you were seriously considering law school then I might point you in the right direction: “Save your money, don’t go to law school, silly.”

    I treat my religion the same way. I’m going to be open and lighthearted about it because I’m open and lighthearted about just about anything you would ask me about. You may even get a joke about how hard it is to take care of all my wives at home. But unless you are really interested in finding out about it I’m not going to send missionaries racing to your door. Also, if you ask me about my religion, I get to ask about yours. I feel like we need to learn how to ask better questions about other faiths. Not the leading questions that are designed to allow us to talk more about our own faith. It’s OK to be ignorant as long as you can carry a conversation.

    On that note, one church practice that needs to come to an end is asking for reports of “Missionary Moments.” I wish we would replace that with “Service Moments” where people can talk about helping someone that they came in contact with. That way the individual’s focus is on doing good, rather than racing to talk about the church no matter what.

  46. Bitherwack says:

    If the gospel makes you self-righteous, you’re doing it wrong.

  47. John Mansfield says:

    “self-righteous, out of touch, insular, narrow, fanatical, and brainwashed”

    A problem I keep mulling over is that there is a strong basis for “the world” to view disciples of Christ in the terms above. There are teachings that pure religion involves keeping unspotted from the world, that Jesus called his disciples out of the world, and therefore the world hates them. Discipleship contrasted with “the world” over and over. There is almost no level of consciously seeking after righteousnness that won’t strike many as self-righteous. Some small number of socially astute disciples will be able to pull it off while being so cool, suave, debonaire, whatever, that their otherness never chafes anyone. Most won’t be able to.

  48. Chris Gordon says:

    Maybe I’ll replace “casual” with “comfortable” a-la Mike A’s approach. What I’m trying to avoid in my own life and have been evangelizing as much to folks in EQ, is to avoid prefacing every instance of talking about church with an inner monologue that goes something like this:

    “Okay, Co-worker asked a question that gives me the opportunity to talk about church. Focus! Don’t blow this! Deep breath. Don’t come on too strong, but be bold! Boldness, but not overbearance. You can do this! Don’t be ashamed of the gospel of Christ! You may never get this chance again. Come on, we’ve been praying for this.”

    Annnnnnd, awkward response!

    I see nothing wrong with missionary moments per se, as long as we’re taking time to encourage people to learn how to converse comfortably. To be fair, we’re attempting to unwind more than a century and a half of isolationism mixed with persecution. It’s tough.

  49. #28 You can’t dislike Jews because of their history of persecution- well, disliking and body of people is horrid but I mean to say this is why it is socially unacceptable.
    My mother was always very vocal about the persecution that Mormons had faced historically. We were Bahai’s and she had no fondness for LDS theology but she was very insistent about Mormons not being made fun of in our home because of “everything those poor people went through before they got to Utah.” It’s also true that she made us turn off the movie Raising Arizona because, “the Lindburghs lost their baby that way- kidnapping a child is NOT funny.” So she may have a mind more naturally sympathetic to history than most…

  50. Did Brother Lawrence mention Prop 8? He was a major force in the church’s efforts. If we’re talking image problems….

  51. How come no one has said it?

    Culty cult acts cultish

    That is the #1 reason why Americans have a low view of Mormons. The culture as a whole still views Mormonism as a cult. And I’d be willing to wager that Jehovah’s Witness are less likely to be viewed as a cult for one very simple reason. Their missionaries don’t look all alike. (and JWs are MUCH more cultish than Mormons have ever been).

    For those unfamiliar with me, I am not saying that Mormonism is a cult. It’s not. But it does some cultish things and for a time was most definitely a cult. Until the LDS church takes some active steps to clean that stuff up out of its culture that perception will remain.

    Perception is the reality that you must deal with. The problem is that at it’s core, Mormonism really likes tight, neat, clean control.

  52. The Lutheran analogy is very apt. When my oldest was homeschooled his Latin class took place at a Lutheran Church that belonged to the Missourri Synod. I was chatting with the Cantor one day and mentioned a friend of mine, Reverend Sarah X who led a Lutheran congregation across town. He looked confused and said, “you must be mistaken, Lutheran’s don’t ordain women- maybe she is a Methodist?” He knew very well that my friend was an ordained Lutheran minister- I thought his response was tacky and mean. I have since thought of it though when non-Mo friends comment on FLDS/LDS affiliation.

    I don’t mean to be offensive and I don’t have a hard-line answer but your assertion, Mark that, “We must ask ourselves why people are also getting this second message we do not intend to send,” may be wrong. Or wrong a significant amount of the time.
    I am thinking not only of the generic, church-wide pride in being a “peculiar people,” but specifically the number of times I have sat through sacrament meetings, SS or RS and heard the view expressed that if the world likes you- you are doing it wrong.
    I don’t think that is unique to the LDS, but we may not all be starting from the same position of thinking it is worthwhile to have people like us. Like you, I mean. You know what I mean. gah!

  53. MikeInWeHo says:

    “I also agree that currently we are disliked by huge portions of the liberal population for largely secular reasons and by huge portions of the conservative population for religous reasons.”

    Just remember: When bbell and MikeInWeHo agree, the thinking has been done.

  54. So, don’t speak like you normally would, but sound normal and don’t overthink it. got it.

    off to the park with my homeschool kids to meet with the islamic, hindu, Lutheran, wiccan and catholic…and the nice lady who keeps changing churces because she has two husbands. I’ll be the weird one with the nine kids.

  55. “Mormonism really likes tight, neat, clean control.”

    Should read…

    Mormonism really likes you to exercise tight, neat, clean control. Which is really one of the strengths of Mormonism. We preach, teach, and individually strive to master various aspects of our character, habits, and appearance.

  56. Mark Brown says:

    MikeInWeHo, bbell,

    No, I think I disagree. Everybody thinks highly of the Amish who are even more conservative than LDS. And as we have already noted (in WeHo!) there is a branch of Judaism which is extremely conservative, yet not disliked the way LDS people are. I think there is a lot more going on than just a liberal/conservative divide. I think that is taking the easy way out, for LDS people at least.

  57. Whether they realize it or not, I think the biggest problem people have with Mormons is we can be normal (relatively) functional part of society, but also strongly believe God is speaking to each one of us and making his will for us collectively known to prophets and apostles.

    I think mostly everything can be reduced down to that. We believe God speaks today, we believe angels (are waiting to) minister unto individuals, and that the Holy Ghost is available to help guide us in our daily lives. Emphasis on the daily lives… the every-day, common place aspect of divine revelation is pretty far out to most people, but taken as common place for Mormons.

  58. Mark Brown says:

    Chris Gordon, (48)

    Yes, I think that is exactly right. It’s like telling an LDS congregation to sing as quickly as they can — it get the song up to the right speed, barely.

    It’s interesting that some of what we need to do is disregard the training we received as missionaries. I was taught to testify in every conversation. As an adult, that is a good way to get fired from your job. And 19 y.o. missionaries often have a hard time hitting the sweet spot between boldness and overbearance. Heck, it is often difficult for 49 y.o. people.

  59. @57 – That would be great if people knew that much about us. I suspect few do.

  60. WhereTF do you guys live that you only have LDS friends, or have to actively seek non-LDS friends? Oh I forgot: Mormon = Utahn.
    IMO solution to perception problem (if it even is one):
    1. Get out of Utah/Idaho; stop moving “back to Zion” or whatever. Try to go somewhere where LDS folks are in single digit population percentage or a fractional percentage.
    2. Get to know your neighbors; become friends.
    3. Get to know your coworkers; become friends.
    4. Be cool to them all and treat them well/Christian; take an interest in their religion/non-religion and learn from them.
    5. When the missionaries hit you up for references say “I will give you a neighbor’s phone when they ask me, and not before.” Don’t get guilted about this.

    Problem solved.
    Again, all this IMO.

  61. Mark Brown says:

    cwc (52),

    Not surprisingly, I agree with you re: peculiar people. In my previous post on Lawrence’s work, I ended with this paragraph:

    It should not surprise us that people dislike being used as a foil for our righteousness. There is more than a touch of the Zoramite to the tendency to define ourselves favorably in comparison to others. I believe that there is a limit to the extent we can withdraw from The World or see ourselves as standing in opposition to it and still do effective outreach, and I think we might be reaching that limit.

  62. StillConfused says:

    I have heard many of the most bigoted, homophobic, sexist statements come from LDS people. My general response to those that are offended is “They just don’t know any better” and that seems to diffuse the situation somewhat. But it would be nice to see the religion focus more on understanding others and being sensitive. I think that would go a long way to making Mormons look more Christian.

  63. 61 Oh I like that. And probably would have already read it had you been doing a proper job of proselytizing to us non-members…

  64. John Mansfield says:

    Do people really think highly of the Amish? If so (and I wonder), then insularity isn’t the problem.

  65. Chris Gordon says:

    You know, this really isn’t as much a Mormon problem as it is one shared by people who feel passionately about anything. Ever talk to a baseball stat geek? A hardcore fan of Lost? When you feel as passionately about something as most active Mormons do, you get tunnel vision vis-a-vis others who don’t feel that way. My mainline Christian friends are often as jargonistic as any Mormon out there and we often lose each other even in friendly discussions of scripture and practice.

    Now, our desire to do missionary work only elevates our obligation to learn to communicate well in a manner that’s different from someone who feels strongly about HTML5. But, take the criticism with a grain of salt. We’re not the only zealots to struggle with audience.

  66. Maybe this is getting beyond the scope of the discussion, but what about how our missionaries act? A “Must baptize now” mentality often leaves them pretty rude in their approach. One woman I worked with told me her only experience with my church was when she was pregnant and carrying groceries to her car. She tried to tell them it was a bad time and she didn’t want to talk and they badgered her to try to coax some commitment out of her. “Mormons seem really pushy.” Was her conclusion. I had to explain that it was an individual problem, not an institutional one and apologized on behalf of the missionaries. Why can’t we teach our missionaries that they are not salesmen who can do anything to get a sale?

    So I guess I agree with 52. Many Mormons feel their best when others dislike them.

  67. Mark Brown says:

    John, the problem isn’t just insularity, it is insularity combined with the strong effort to recruit and convert. We do that, the Amish don’t.

  68. The Amish sell things that look better in our houses than we do.

  69. Nick Literski says:

    I think John Mansfield hit a major point in #18 above. Ask your friends questions about their faith, and actually listen with the intent to learn something from them. You might be amazed at what you can learn, if you’re not focused on the idea that you already have all the answers (something everyone is guilty of at times, on one point or another).

  70. Mark Brown says:

    There was one other thing about the fireside which was both ironic and discomfiting. Br. Lawrence noted that over 50% of Americans question whether we believe in Jesus Christ. He said that conversations about this are usually unproductive because we insist that we do, and tell people to just look at the name of our church, etc. As I was leaving the stake center where the fireside was held, there was a very oversized, framed piece of artwork on the wall. It wasn’t a picture of Jesus, or even Joseph Smith. It was an ornately framed copy of the Proclamation. It was probably 5-6 feet tall and 4-5 feet wide, and it completely dominated the entire entryway, you simply couldn’t look away. It was totally surreal. I didn’t conduct an exhaustive search of the building, but I didn’t remember seeing a single picture of our Savior anywhere. However, that giant proclamation will live in my nightmares forever. Sometimes people can’t hear what we say because of what we do.

  71. #2 You’re right Aaaron.

  72. 70, So if only we had more statues and pictures on the wall everyone would know we were more sincere? What we do is not hang pictures or texts on the wall. But if you’re going to decorate a wall, I think it’s actually nice to have a large ornate frame which invites people to come and read it. It screams, “important document, read me”.

  73. Dude, you are so full of crap!

  74. Mark Brown says:

    chris, please try to put yourself in the place of someone who was curious about Mormons and wondered what they think of Jesus. You muster up enough courage to walk through the door and spend an hour or so listening and trying to make sense of what you hear. It is very likely that such a person could walk out the door and still wonder what our attitude is towards the Savior. It isn’t asking to much to put a picture of Him in a prominent place.

    And I maintain that it is beyond bizarre to create a life-size document of UNCANONIZED text and put it in the most noticeable place in the building. If we are going to do something weird like that, I think it should at least be a passage of scripture.

  75. Mark #70- That is weird. I have never been in an LDS church with an over-sized proclamation on the wall. They are always covered by Harry Anderson paintings.

    Anyway, I went to this fireside last year in texas, and thought it was great. Thanks for posting this.

  76. I was trying to remember where I had posted my notes from Gary’s fireside, only to realize, It had been on your previous thread.

  77. I’ve got to say, the American flag that filled the front of the chapel from wall to wall during my first Sacrament meeting at my new Idaho Falls ward even made me, a life-long member, have second thoughts about attending church. I can imagine an investigator might come away from that meeting with the wrong impression.

  78. I would like to see a Welcome marquee, a door greeter, maybe a sitting area for visitors _ with a host.

  79. John Mansfield says:

    Can anyone beat the giant family text and the giant flag with an inflatable gorrilla in the choir seats or something?

  80. One aspect that has been alluded two a couple of times already but one that I’d like to highlight is the religious metaphor of the saints against the world.

    There is a worldview in which the world will never like the saints, and no matter what we do, we should not be trying to curry favor or be liked to even be assimilated into the world. Rather, this paradigm suggests that conflict or spiritual warfare is inevitable. Now, different people internalize this metaphor or adopt this paradigm in varying degrees, but I have a friend of mine who, in our discussions, reflects this worldview. In other words, there really is nothing we can do to make the world love or understand us, because the salvation drama that unfolds in history is that of the World pitted against the saints who are hated and persecuted and must join together in safety.

    Thus, when the saints are not liked or when there is a reaction against the saints, it isn’t because we have made an error in presentation or language or approach, it isn’t because the message simply isn’t appealing, it is because people aren’t ready yet, they are receptive, they aren’t in tune, they aren’t prepared, or that this isn’t the prophetic history of the saints. Could it be the case that there is an inherent clash between the methods and goals of social science research and apocalyptic kingdom language?

    I get the sense that there are these two paradigms at play, and I’ve come across attitudes that the saints should be seen as strange and peculiar people, that its our destiny, and if the time come that the saints are truly assimilated into American society, that it will have lost its vibrancy, uniqueness. and will have become like everyone else. Perhaps it’s worth exploring what impact this may have on how Latter-day Saints react to suggestions aimed at “improving image” or “public perception.”

  81. Fascinating discussion.

    I have bachelors and masters degrees in organ performance from BYU, and have served in several protestant churches. Currently, I play for a wonderful ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) congregation. I’m currently in my thirteenth year there, and don’t plan on leaving anytime soon. It’s taken time, but I feel like a level of trust has developed – they no longer fear I’m going to try to proselyte, and they’ve learned they can as me questions about my faith. One congregant, a former pastor, had visited Salt Lake City with his wife and they’d taken the tour on Temple Square. When he came back, he reported he was surprised at how much “Jesus talk” [his words] there was, and he said, “You people really are Christian, aren’t you?” He then asked me, considering that I am a Christian, if there were any reason why I couldn’t simply join their congregation. I wasn’t really sure how to answer. He’s to a different state now, but occasionally he’ll contact me and as for my perceptions on something.

    Associating with these folks has been a wonderful experience for me and my family. After attending a staff picnic, my wife commented how much fun it was to associated with people who were more like we are – and my twelve year old daughter said, “They were really nice. Just like Mormons – except for the beer.”

    I wish more LDS folks could have this type of experience. While it has prevented me from serving many callings due to the overlap in meeting times, it has if anything strengthened my commitment to the LDS church, while at the same time expanded my vision and interpretation of the gospel. In my view, the Kingdom of God encompasses a very large tent.

  82. Should be: “You people really are Christians, aren’t you?” [corrected now]

  83. ExMoHoMoDon says:

    My dislike of Mormons generally and my dislike of the Mormon Church sure isn’t because I don’t know them. That aside, Gary Lawrence has managed to pass Prop 8 in CA, but in so doing he has lost the battle. All polling has shown that since Prop 8, public opinion has shifted favoring marriage equality, and the majority of Californians now view Mormons as bigots and busybodies. I’m not sure you all got your money’s worth–as Mr. Lawrence got a hefty salary for what he did here. Throw into the mix that his own son has publicly left Mormonism and ‘divorced’ his family. So much for ‘family values’–unless of course one of the family is a homosexual.

  84. CWC, It’s my understanding that the ELCA is the branch of Lutherans that ordains women, and the MS is the more conservative branch, right?

  85. I’ve been thinking about how others view us in comparison to Christians I used to be a Christian their focus was more in the present more focused on mortal life and on being saved. They worship Jesus Christ and strive to follow His example it was overwhelming framed in the positive presented with little guilt or shame and everyone is welcome. We have more doctrine more gospel but oddly we seem to straddle them we talk about following Christ’s example but mostly we focus on obedience of the law guilt and shame are prominent. Advise is given concerning our mortal lives but we are highly focused on eternal life and obtaining exaltation and we somehow believe that a perfect score on our do’s and don’ts list such as worthiness interviews will get us there unless of course we are a minority such as single or SSA.

  86. Mark Brown says:


    I think that point is worth considering, but before we go very far with it, we need to account for Islam. If the extent to which wicked worldly American gentiles hate our guts is a measure of righteousness, then Muslims are even more righteous than Mormons.

  87. “If the extent to which wicked worldly American gentiles hate our guts is a measure of righteousness, then Muslims are even more righteous than Mormons.”

    Don’t forget atheists.

  88. Mark Brown says:


    Indeed. This pie chart comes to mind:


  89. #84 – Indeed, the Missouri Synod is the more conservative branch, and the ELCA is considerably more liberal. The ELCA is the largest Lutheran body in the United States, but it came into being only in 1988 when three other branches merged. Currently a number of ELCA congregations have gatherered and are forming their own synod, in response mostly to a fairly recently position taken by the ELCA on human sexuality.

  90. #80: aquinas, I don’t buy any of that. It would mean God created a World in which 99% would fail. Their lives on earth are a waste of time. Only Mormons are God’s people. The rest of Mankind is only here to hate Mormons, or make Mormons look good.

  91. #21: Besides, at 8 years old, how can I expect my children to know which church is true, unless they actually know about other churches.

    As far as “brainwashed” goes, is anyone else out there just a little bit disturbed by the 5-, 6- or 7-year-olds who bravely stand before the ward — er, congregation — on Fast Sunday to bear their testimonies as to the fact that they know the Church is true, etc., etc.? Maybe they’ve been visited by angels or something, but I get a bit uncomfortable with the parroting of testimony bearing being done by Primary-aged children.

    Or, maybe it’s just me.

  92. #83: Gary Lawrence has managed to pass Prop 8 in CA, but in so doing he has lost the battle. All polling has shown that since Prop 8, public opinion has shifted favoring marriage equality…

    Assuming the Church leadership is inspired, I can only come to the conclusion that this was the plan all along.

  93. Mark N,

    I usually just think little kids are cute.

  94. Non-member, liberal atheist perspective:

    I think you guys have covered a lot of things that are true. That said, I didn’t know anything about personal revelation/the prophets/doctrine/spiritual conflict before I started intentionally seeking info about the church.

    Other things I think are issues:
    1) The Church is active politically, disproportionate to its size. Prop 8 is a big example of this. The Church’s influence on the Boy Scouts is another. Prop 8 was by far the time I’ve heard most about the Church. Whether you like it or not and agree or not, it’s effectively become the Church’s calling card. The fact that the Church (sometimes) wields so much influence makes it seem a bit creepy, too.

    2) Race! Haven’t seen anyone bring this up. The ban on blacks until 1978 is, in itself, enough to make me distrust and dislike the Church. The fact that the Church won’t say it was a mistake and that MANY members still defend it–big problem. Surely an even bigger problem for outreach to, you know, black people.

    (I’m certainly not the convert target audience, but I like to think of myself as pretty open-minded about religion.)

  95. I work with a lot of Indians (from South Asia) and most of them are Hindus. Speaking with non-Christians on regular basis is a good reminder to not speak Mormonese because we have very little religious vocabulary in common.

  96. mellifera says:

    Ada, thanks for that. The race issue is huge but incredibly easy for church members to overlook simply because of the fact that the church tends (like most other churches that white people go to) to be predominantly white. If you’re interested, there’s a really great set of resources put together by black Mormons for black Mormons on the church’s racial history at blacklds.org (I think that’s the right URL). They’re pretty honest about how terrible it was and the struggle of trying to build a more… er, Christian church.

    Also, there are people in the Corn belt who hate the Amish. I’m not really sure why– how can you have a problem with the Amish?– but part of that might be that they’re better at making a living on agriculture than a lot of the English with whom they compete for land. It would appear that reliance on community instead of bigger & bigger machines really is the way to go.

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