Sharing the gospel with friends and neighbours is usually difficult for most members in the British Isles. Missionaries often struggle to find people who are interested. When they do find someone our worship services either fail to speak directly to their concerns or they fail to inspire the forms of devotion that are congruent with their previous religious heritage. For local members there are a variety of social costs that come with being Mormon; our theology, history and praxis are quite alien to many Europeans (as Tresa Edmund’s Guardian column demonstrates). As Mauss has outlined, being a member of the Church in Western Europe is not easy. Within this network of dispositions, doctrine and our past, Embarrassment serves an unusual role in inhibiting the Church’s growth.
Although Britain, as we have been memorably reminded recently, is a Christian country it is a vicarious form of Christianity. For Grace Davie (a major voice in the Sociology of Religion), European cultural life is punctuated with key events which are mediated through religious institutions; such as marriage, birth and death. In short the religious minority, who make such rituals possible, receive implicit approval from the inactive majority through (infrequent) participation in these events. Christianity, as a particular form of religious discourse, is increasingly becoming less-relevant as alternative forms of spirituality are becoming more popular. Admittedly this process is affecting many Christian denominations. Yet while this process deepens, Mormons, who are also devout Christians, are further marginalised within this community; not only as Christians but also because they do not have the same level of vicarious support that other Christian faiths experience .
This marginalisation reinforces a sense of chosen-ness. LDS peculiarity then serves as an important identity marker which brings with it a feeling of divine favour. However, this marginalisation also means that speaking about our faith inherently involves a sense of embarrassment. The conversation about family values is fine but the one about Joseph Smith, Angels and Gold Plates is not. Sharing your faith, particularly your Mormon faith, with a co-worker will be awkward at best; and it is this very awkwardness which simultaneously confirms this marginalised status. Thus embarrassment both incentivises faithfulness whilst it inhibits proselytizing.
‘Seeking the second harvest’ in Western Europe requires that, rather than focussing specifically on resolving the costs of Mormonism, we need to be more conscious of the ways in which these costs are situated within a broader religious culture.
1. As an aside, Mormons must have a civil marriage before they receive their Temple marriage. As such there have been some who have tried to prohibit the use of LDS Chapels for the performance of civil marriages if the couples are not intending to go to the Temple after the ceremony. Because marriage is one of those events where people offer this vicarious support of religion in Britain this seems like a sure fire way of further alienating the Church from local people.