There’s a lot of buzz about our missionary work lately. The most obvious change, of course, is the age-requirement, and more specifically in allowing women to serve at 19. More has been written on the possible benefits of this change than I can touch on here, and it’s not my gist anyway. I want to talk about something else: I want to talk about the subtle shift in emphasizing not our unique Mormon-ness, but rather our basic similarities with broader Christendom.
On one hand, the impetus makes sense- we are the church of Jesus Christ- it says so on our name-tags, buildings, temples and all of our printed materials. We worship Jesus Christ as the Savior of the world, and we take the Sacrament each Sunday in his name. But here’s the thing- we aren’t like every other Christian church out there, and when we specifically de-emphasize our very unique and substantive differences, we are short-changing ourselves and even the possible converts who are waiting for us.
Finding souls and converting their hearts and lives is the entire impetus of our missionary program. I’m a convert. I’m an adult convert, was married and had a child when I was baptized, and I’ve remained active for more than ten years. I hold a temple recommend and have a testimony- for the sake of argument, let’s say that I’m pretty much the Golden Ticket. I am a Mormon Success Story ™.
But here’s the thing— if the missionaries had spent their time trying to convince me how much like other Christian faiths Mormonism was, I never would have joined. I had looked into dozens of churches in my search, and they left me feeling as though something key, something really important, was lacking. It’s why I didn’t join any of those other churches. I am not assuming everyone is like me, but it’s safe to assume most people who might be entertaining taking the discussions know a little something about Christianity.
The cost of entry to every other Christian church is dramatically less than the cost of entry (and maintenance) of membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. If all I was looking for was a belief in grace and in the comfort of Jesus being my Savior, any number of Protestant churches could have satisfied my seeking. It was the unique parts of the Restoration that actually made the rest of what I knew about Christianity finally make sense.
The gospel of progression, of choice and agency from the beginning, the idea of a deeply personal relationship with God the Father, the idea of Eve being a necessary agent of change and not a fool, the Savior being the literal Son of God, an open canon where change is a normal and healthy part of the religion, a cannon where God can still speak to his people, and where life didn’t end (or start) here… Those are the pieces that made the rest of Christendom finally fall into place for me, and made the high cost of joining this church worth it.
Without those things, I could ditch the restrictive clothing, grab an iced mocha and uncork a bottle of Zinfandel for dinner tonight. I could hold onto ten percent more of my earnings, not spend three hours every Sunday in church, and forget about pestering women every month who don’t want me to come by with a message. But… because of what I know, because of what I have experienced at key moments in key places, ditching those parts is simply not an option.
I worry about the people out there who are seeking, like I was. If we focus on ourselves as just another Christian religion and downplay the very vital and significant differences, then the cost of entry to this faith becomes a very real barrier.
Let’s embrace our Mormonism. When we downplay the parts that are different, we run the very real risk of alienating those who have expressed interest in us, making them feel like we pulled a ‘bait & switch’ carnival trick. Converts and those curious are going to find out we’re different. Let’s just own who we are, colorful parts and all. Yeah, it might seem a little odd at first, but what’s more odd is our reluctance to embrace openly our truths. We know we’re peculiar; we don’t need to be coy. We don’t have all the answers- but that’s the beauty of having the windows of heaven flung open…
It’s why I’m raising my children here, and why I wrestle with challenging obstacles and ideas. It’s why I don’t head to Starbucks on Sunday morning, and why my wardrobe looks provincial. It’s what I believe my God expects of me, and it’s why I stay.