This is a post written by my friend Sarah. I met Sarah on BYU London Study Abroad. (The Study Abroad that every famous blogger goes on, apparently. You hear that, Sarah? We are famous!) Anyway, Sarah is a Republican, an active Mormon, owner of a home in Utah County, and my friend.
Currently, Sarah lives in Thailand with her two daughters and her husband Rocky. When I wrote my last post, I knew I wanted her to write a response, and her post reminds me of a need to be kinder and more loving. Maybe even to swear less. Thanks for your post, Sarah, and thanks for being my friend.
In Defense of Your Believing Friend:
Mormons aren’t perfect, far from it. We’re just like everyone else, building our careers, raising our families, and living our lives. We’re just doing it with different beliefs and rules. Sure, we screw up. Sometimes we are hypocritical or offensive—but the truth is, we’re just trying to do our best. So next time you talk to your Mormon friend and they say something that you disagree with or find hurtful, cut them a little slack. They don’t mean to upset you.
Steph asked me to make a list to correspond with her list, “What not to say to your faith crisis friend,” and here is what I have. Really, it could be titled, “In defense of your believing friend” but to make it a response to hers I’ll call it, “Things to keep in mind when talking with your Mormon friend.”
1. Don’t be offended if they try to talk about the gospel. The gospel is very important to us. It’s like when you meet someone who’s never read your favorite book. (Middlemarch by George Eliot and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, thanks for asking.) You love that book so much, it’s so important to you, it may have changed your life or shaped your way of thought, when you recommend it to someone you do so hoping they have a similar experience. This is the way we feel about the gospel—the happiness and the peace it brings our lives.
This is why we talk about the church with our inactive and nonmember friends. We aren’t trying to save your souls in an attempt to gain some kind of celestial advantage. We are only trying to help you find the happiness the gospel has brought us.
If you don’t want to talk about it, just tell us, we’ll stop. We can’t read minds. We won’t know it bothers you unless you tell us. Politely please, because it is very special to us. We’re your friends, not the vacuum salesman at the door. We have other things in common, let’s hold onto those things and stay friends.
2. Your believing friends are not naive, ignorant or brainwashed. My testimony is a personal thing. I don’t have a testimony of the gospel because I don’t know better or because “I didn’t get out when I had the chance.” I have a testimony because I prayed about the Book of Mormon and received confirmation that it is indeed another testament of Jesus Christ. I have a testimony because I see the change for good the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints brings to my life and to the lives of the people around me. My testimony is not based on lack of knowledge—it’s based on faith and knowledge. Don’t patronize me by acting as though you know more than me because you’ve left the church.
3. Don’t trample the things they think are sacred. In Thailand, I am surrounded by tiny temples, raised on stilts, filled with daily offerings of food and juices. All part of living in a Buddhist country. I would never affront the people around me for worshiping idols. I would never insult Buddha, Confucius, Hindi gods or Muhammad (I know what a fatwa is). I don’t agree with their teachings but I will not make crass comments about the things they believe are holy. Religion is sacred and personal. Lack of religion is sacred and personal.
If you’ve been a Mormon, or close to one, you’re more familiar with the things we believe are sacred—temples, covenants, religious leaders—don’t throw mud. I’m not saying you shouldn’t disagree, you’re welcome to, I’m just saying you can disagree without being offensive and tactless.
4. Don’t think your friend sees only sunshine and happiness. I see the crap in the world today. I see the man sitting cross-legged at my train stop, holding a tin can with stubs that don’t reach his elbows. I’m torn between giving him money and the knowledge that chances are, he was maimed as a child and placed there to collect money for the mafia. I studied Polish history, further evidence that I understand pain. We know life is awful for many people. We have seen sadness, death and lives lost for inexplicable reasons. But we still believe in God.
We keep smiling. That doesn’t mean we don’t mourn. I live by the Tolstoy quote, “God sees the truth but waits.” God sees the baby stretched out on the beggar’s legs. God saw the people pushed into the cattle cars in Poland. He will give them their reward. He sees me. Born to a stable family, in a developed country, at the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and He expects more of me.
This is what keeps us happy. This is what strengthens our faith. We know in the end, all wrongs will be right and in exchange for our advantage in this life, we will be expected to have helped others in theirs. Don’t assume our happiness is born from oblivion to the pain in the world. Some people’s happiness does indeed stem from ignorance and oblivion but being Mormon does not make you unaware of hardship.
5. All Mormon women are not repressed. We aren’t held captive by some evil, restrictive patriarchy. Sure, in our church the roles for men and women are different. WE’RE OKAY WITH THAT. If we weren’t, we’d leave. It’s that simple. You may have been repressed or offended with patriarchy—this does not mean we have. Accept that we are okay with the church as it stands today. This does not make us less of a person or a woman.
It’s the twenty first century—roles between men and women are aligning and becoming more equal than ever. I applaud the advantages made for gender equality while accepting God has a different plan for women than he does for men. I don’t know why women don’t have the priesthood or the answers to any of those other hard questions. What I do know is the church is true—it is true as it stands today. For me that is enough.
Basically, this whole list could be summed up with—agree to disagree, respectfully.
And a quick note to Mormons who have friends struggling with the gospel:
If you have friend who going through a faith crisis, don’t shut them out. You don’t need to save them; you just need to be their friend. Your friendship probably has some rooting outside the chapel doors, find that and keep being their friend. (Steph and I share a love of celebrity biographies, all things British and Ronald Reagan.) And to be honest, I hate that Steph’s going through this. I hate when the people in my life don’t make the choices I want them to. Chances are very good I will die of a nervous breakdown when my kids are teenagers.
People are always going to like different things, act different ways and make different choices. Diversity makes things great. Diversity makes the church great. Accept that your friend is challenging something personal and sacred to you but they are still your friend. The last thing they need is for you to stop talking to them. Apostasy isn’t a contagious disease. Your testimony should be founded in Jesus Christ, not in your peers. Besides, if anything, maintaining a friendship and talking about the gospel will only make your testimony stronger. Keep them in your prayers, love them. That is what Christ would do…is doing.