I sat on the other side of a very interesting table Valentine’s night. I got proselytized to at a dinner party by a member of a local protestant church. I realized that it’s been a long time since someone tried to put the sell on me, because most of my non-Mormon friends are either not religious, or just openly and non-controversially a happy member of some other religion. I know about it, but it’s not a thing. Anyways, back to the somewhat surprising dinner party. I think the episode was a bit jarring to me, because the motivations were so so transparent, and so clunkily executed. I came away annoyed. Mission not accomplished.
It was a progressively more aggressive three pronged approach. She started with the relatively innocuous “shiny happy people” prelude. During the pre-dinner mingling, she introduced herself and another woman as fellow congregants of our mutual friend. She dropped a couple stories about super fun church activities. References to nice people from church. I think it was an attempt to sweeten up the deal for the future sale. Kind of a scene-setter, but all in all pretty innocuous.
Once we sat down to dinner, it got serious with the “I’m super committed, I promise!” offense. There were six of us sitting at the table, and the inevitable “what are you giving up for lent” conversation began. A few funny stories, and then her friend from church said she was giving up shopping for lent. “What? Why are you doing lent? We’re Presbyterian!” The unashamed lent-practicer said “well, everytime I’m tempted to go shopping, I’ll just think of Jesus instead.” The proselytizer kind of looked at her and said “I think of God all the time without lent.” Silence. Awkward silence. Then she attempted to walk it back a bit. “Ha, just kidding.”
Someone next to me tried to change the subject to travel but during a pause in the conversation, my persistent neighbor brought out the big guns–establishing a denominational hierarchy. “You know, my sister actually joined the Episcopal church. She called me yesterday and said that it was ash Wednesday, and she didn’t know if she was supposed to go get ashes. Can you believe that? She joined a church, and they didn’t explain to her what their practices were. So I just told her it is a non-biblical practice. It’s not important. It’s just a nice symbol, and so it doesn’t even matter if she does it because it’s not biblical. I explained that the most important thing was to be born again and that salvation…” At this point the table revolted and someone just out and out cut into what she was saying. She tried to talk over them a bit, but we moved on to discussing our favorite airports. At that point, I would have happily discussed the history of library science or the anatomy of a hedgehog. Please, for the love, someone change the subject and don’t stop talking. Don’t give her enough of a pause to start up again….
Other than enjoying the unexpected little Valentine of awkward fun, I’ve actually thought quite a bit about the dinner. I think the thing that bugs me the most is that I felt like a prop. Having been on the receiving end of exhortations that “every member” be a missionary, I can understand why someone would feel obligated to try and actually drum up some interest in God. However, what was so easy to see when I was on the other end of the equation, is that I had no interest in what she was selling because she clearly had no interest in me. It was a self-gratifying exercise for her. “I witnessed today.” Check the box. “Maybe someday those people will question their non-biblical practices because of my explanation.” Check the box. “Missionary moment accomplished.” Check the box. I’m not really in the market for a new church, but if I were, this would not be the thing to draw me in.
With the new influx of sister missionaries, I’m sure most of you will get pressured to give up referrals, or even spend more time with the missionaries. How do you all handle this? I won’t lie. I didn’t like proselyting when I was on my mission. I don’t know if you could pay me money to do it now. But if you do engage in member missionary work, how do you keep it real? (Hint: don’t try to out-righteous the Episcopalians.)