Advice to Mormons from a Non-Mormon

By: hawkgrrrl
November 5, 2013

I was hoping for a little more whoop ass, but the book was very sweet and sincere.

I had a different post prepared for today, but Mormon Heretic’s post about Mormons and proselyting reminded me of a book I just finished a couple months ago called To Mormons, With Love by Chrisy Ross.  She blogs here and gives a quick overview of her book here.  You can buy her book on Kindle here.  Chrisy and her family are nondenominational Christians who live (voluntarily, not because of Witness Relocation or anything like that) in Utah County – and even enjoy it mostly!  I’m not sure I know many Mormons for whom I could say the same, but I might live in the opposite of a Mormon bubble.  Chrisy and her family are very happy with their religion, and they also share most of the values of their neighbors (although it was endearing to read about her disappointment that she couldn’t form a nice wine-tasting group in her Utah County neighborhood).

Toward the end of her book, she gives some advice to Mormons when dealing with non-Mormons.  Are we ready to hear it?  Here are some of her key points, summarized:

  • Know Other Religions.  People almost always assumed she was Catholic, as if that was the only other alternative to Mormonism, and when she would tell them she was nondenominational Christian, they simply had no clue what that even meant.  Given that 10% of the United States goes by this term, you would think that we Mormons, weighing in at a meager 1.7% of the US population, would not be flummoxed when we meet one, even in Utah County where Mormons constitute maybe 98% of the population.
  • Referring to “the Collective.”  She found it unsettling when neighbors would use “we” to refer to members of the church:  “We all just love you, Chris” or “We can’t believe how well you fit in,” spoken by one person with no one else around.  Creepy habit that promotes the feeling of being the “other.”  It also seems to always be used to express surprise that the non-member isn’t scary or bad.
  • Elusive Non-Members.  Chrisy pointed out in the book two different issues with other non-members.  First, when she was introduced or referred to other non-members, they were often a huge mismatch.  As she says in the book, “Don’t just introduce me to the drunks.”  She also wanted to steer clear of the non-members who were actually ex- or lapsed Mormons as she never found much common ground there.  Beyond that, she said she found it strange when people would be deliberately vague about where the other “normal” non-members were, as if there was a fear that the non-members would form a secret cabal to bash the Mormons.  She pointed out that while she does drink both coffee and alcohol, her entire life doesn’t revolve around it.

“It would be tremendously helpful to know that my member friends are supportive of introducing me to others I might connect with.  And not just the drunk people.”

  • Friends Don’t Proselyte.  So much for the idea of Every Member a Missionary.  Chrisy rightly points out the basic flaw in this premise.  It sets the tone for the entire friendship if the basis for it is to win a convert.  She says she expects this from the missionaries because they are there for that purpose (and she does invite them in, knowing that’s the nature of the relationship), but when so-called friends see you this way, it means they are not your friends.

“Long-lasting friendships can be tainted by an early effort to proselytize.  A new family in an LDS neighborhood does not want to feel like the first thing everyone wants to do is change who they are and what they believe.”

  • Where is the Fun?  She talked about loving to be invited to ward activities because that’s the equivalent of neighbor activities like block parties in a Mormon community, but she wanted to be clear when she was invited what the nature of the activity was going to be:  purely fun, socializing, kid-friendly, or more religious, devotional, and so on.  Ward members often don’t require these types of clarifications, but non-members do.  She also talked about the weirdness of going to a ward activity for one of the first times and feeling as if she and her husband were in a reception line because everyone wanted to talk to them and already knew lots of personal details about them.  It raised her radar to realize how freely they had been talked about.  Yikes.
  • Take No for an Answer.  She kindly points out that “Maybe later” also means no, something I learned on my mission that was immortalized in an Operetta called “Hoy No Puedo” (Today I Can’t) written by a couple of fellow missionaries.
  • Follow Your Own Rules.  She found it unsettling when Mormons would do the things she was led to believe Mormons didn’t do, such as mow their lawns shirtless.  It makes it hard to know how to fit in with a foreign culture when the rules are constantly changing.

Guy on the left looks like he doesn’t want to be there, but guy on the right kind of has crazy eyes.

This advice reminded me of a post I did several years ago when I read a non-member account of visiting Kirtland.  Some of those observations that were cringe-worthy related to how uninformed our guides were about the history of the site (what drew non-Mormons there in the first place) yet how eager to proselyte and bear testimony.

In case you are wondering, author Chrisy Ross also outlines some great advice for non-Mormons living among Mormons, which reminded me a lot of what it was like living as an ex-pat in Singapore.  IOW, any time you are the visitor (or permanent resident) to another culture, this is some good advice to consider:

  • Don’t believe everything you hear.  You’ll hear weird rumors, crackpot conspiracy theories, and disgruntled stories full of bias.  Believe your own experiences first and foremost.
  • For some, the bubble is real.  Realize that for some church members, the Mormon bubble is very real; they have few if any non-Mormon friends and really don’t know much about the world outside of Mormonism.
  • Give people second chances.  Or more than that.  Be patient in building friendships.
  • Accept where you live.  The reason most of your neighbors live there is because they like it, so fighting it isn’t going to win friends.
  • There is diversity if you look.  When you only see people as “LDS” you fail to grasp the complexity of the person beneath that label.  (This made me think of the TBM label many like to affix to others).
  • Read the BOM.  Chrisy felt this was important to understand what people believed.  She told an LDS friend she had read the BOM twice, and her friend laughed:  “That’s two more times than most Mormons.”
  • Ask questions.  Most members won’t take this as a green light to proselyte (although a few will).  Most of them don’t mind answering your sincere questions about why things are the way they are or what terms mean or what is the norm in the culture.
  • Lighten up.  Don’t be offended when someone does try to proselyte.  Don’t waste energy on negative feelings.
  • Follow the rules.  Don’t flaunt your alcohol / coffee-drinking / shirtless lawn-mowing if you want to make friends.  It makes people feel awkward.

Interestingly, I thought her advice to non-members living in Mormon areas was great advice to those members who have undergone a faith crisis or feel like they have doubts, although it’s harder to see yourself as outside the culture.  In reality, though, you probably are.  You are, for maybe the first time ever, observing the culture as an outsider rather than a devotee of that culture.

  • What do you think of this advice for members?  What would you add or change?
  • What do you think of the advice for non-members?  What would you add or change?
  • Do you think this advice applies to those who have doubts who are seeing the culture from the outside?  Where else does it apply?
  • Who bears the greatest responsibility in these situations?  Those who belong to the majority culture or those who feel like minority observers?  How much of a mix is the responsibility?

Discuss.

 

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28 Responses to Advice to Mormons from a Non-Mormon

  1. rk on November 5, 2013 at 7:56 AM

    Great post. It sounds like a good book. I have some advice I would share with both sides: Make sure that you speak respectfully of those not of your faith around your children. I grew up in a Mormon community with a small minority of Baptists and Catholics.I remember a couple of girls telling me in the first grade that they wouldn’t play with me because I was a Mormon. At that point my 6-year old brain got defensive and didn’t look on these girls and potential friends and I began to look upon all non-members with suspicion.

    Clearly they were mirroring attitudes they heard at home and at church. I bet it was hard to live as a minority in this community, however the parents probably unknowingly made their children’s social life harder by passing down their antagonism toward the church. Years later I gained the maturity to put the ridiculous and childish event in perspective. It is a shame that the time was wasted on “us vs. them” thinking.
    I hope to teach my children that many around them have some different beliefs than we do, but they are good people that sincerely love the Lord.

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  2. nate on November 5, 2013 at 8:56 AM

    Great post! Good advice to keep in mind in missionary efforts. In the past I’ve hurt friendships by being artificial and having an agenda with regards to missionary work. An in-law of mine was sued by his secretary for being a pushy member missionary! But friendship has no agenda. It’s good to let your light shine (if you happen to have any in your soul) but that light, originating from God, if it goes out to do any good in the world, it won’t be exclusively there to get people baptised. Baptism is just one tiny step among millions one takes in their eternal journey. Maybe God wants us to be a friend, to set an example, to love others, not so they will get baptised, but to help them in one of these other myriad of steps in eternal progression, not baptism. Or maybe they actually have something for us, maybe we need them. This lady seems a lot further along in her walk with God than many Mormons I know.

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  3. Jeff Spector on November 5, 2013 at 9:42 AM

    Ironically, my wife and I just watched “Mobsters and Mormons” last night and this is on display in spades. And, part of the reason we’ve never been inclined to move to Utah. We are clearly “mission-field” Mormons because we are converts and carry our previous experiences with us. We have many friends outside of the Church because we don’t see every non-members in a “baptismal clothing vision.” Which puts us somewhat at odds with the “every member a missionary 24×7 to every person we meet” program. Especially now when there is a renewed emphasis on gaining new converts because we cannot seem to keep the ones we have….. :) So, while a can appreciate the message of the book, it may not apply outside of the Mormon belt. I hope ti doesn’t.

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  4. The Other Clark on November 5, 2013 at 11:31 AM

    So, Elder Ballard and the presidency of the seventy trained the local mission presidentl ast week, who immediately sent a letter to the stake presidents, who asked the bishops to hold a special meeting on Sunday for all the returned missionaries in their unit. The objective is to secure a written commitment from each RM that they will find someone who will accept the missionary discussions between now and Christmas.

    I want to support and sustain my leaders, but this feels so counterproductive. Similarly, I want the FT missionaries to be successful in their efforts, yet I feel that finding people to teach is their duty, too. Ugh. /end rant/

    Anyway, this post confirms to me that missionary work should be a natural extension of friendship, and that it can’t be forced.

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  5. Will on November 5, 2013 at 5:26 PM

    Interesting post; I agreed with some of her comments, but disagreed with others.

    I really appreciated her comments on ‘the collective’. It is counter-productive and makes the person feel like a project. I disagree with her on the idea of ‘every member a missionary’, but do agree with her that some of the tactics used by members are counter-productive.

    The savior’s last directive to his disciples was to preach the gospel. There is definitely a wrong way and a right way. The right way is defined in the D&C section 4 – faith, hope, charity & love with an eye single to the glory of God. It is to be genuine; and, to practice the virtues in this same section – brotherly kindness, patience, temperance, humility and knowledge.

    I also disagree with her commentary that Mormons need to ” learn other religions”. I think we do. I think we as well informed on other religions, on average, than most religions.

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  6. hawkgrrrl on November 5, 2013 at 8:18 PM

    Will – I wonder if her comments regarding ignorance of other Christian sects in the US was more geared towards Utah county members than anything else. I was also thinking that while we often have exposure to other faiths due to mission service, Catholicism is probably the biggest one (many places in Europe and pretty much everything south of Texas), which could be why she said most of the Mormons assumed she was Catholic if she was Christian but not Mormon. Not sure.

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  7. Lonicera on November 5, 2013 at 9:39 PM

    Regarding learning about other religions, when I went to college in Texas, our institute had a once-a-week program featuring a cleric from another faith. I always enjoyed these. The preacher/pastor would give a presentation on his religion and then would field questions. There was always a respectful atmosphere, with sincere questions from the audience. Sounds like Utah County could benefit from such a program.

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  8. tristin on November 5, 2013 at 11:17 PM

    “Follow your own rules.”
    Hmm, I would counter this with suggestion that Chrisy accept that there are individual differences between members of a homogeneous group and it is unfair to expect them all to adhere to the same behaviors with the same consistency. I would be more worried if my Mormon neighbors stopped mowing the lawn shirtless to avoid confusing the nonmember neighbors than I would be if I saw them sipping a latte on their back deck. Artificial piety is never a better option than heartfelt blasphemy.

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  9. Zara on November 6, 2013 at 1:51 AM

    I came to the comments section to say exactly what tristin did. The last thing Mormons need is more conformity or more worry about how they look to the outside world. If you feel like shirtless lawn mowing, do it. Don’t worry about what the non-Mormon neighbor is thinking. Nobody’s going to join the church because you wore a shirt to mow the lawn, and you don’t exist to make sure people around you understand “the rules.”

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  10. hawkgrrrl on November 6, 2013 at 5:49 AM

    Tristin and Zara: As a Mormon, I tend to agree with you. Author Chrisy confesses to some amount of scrupulosity in the book, which is probably 1) why Utah county is a fit despite not being Mormon, and 2) why she is disconcerted when people don’t follow the rules.

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  11. will on November 6, 2013 at 9:04 AM

    “If you feel like shirtless lawn mowing, do it.”

    Especially if you are female

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  12. will on November 6, 2013 at 9:04 AM

    “If you feel like shirtless lawn mowing, do it.”

    Especially if you are female

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  13. Kullervo on November 6, 2013 at 10:20 AM

    Will and hawkgirrl, I think Mormons think they are informed about other religions, but in reality this is not the case at all.

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  14. rk on November 6, 2013 at 11:53 AM

    #13
    I don’t think many people are informed about other religions in general, not just Mormons. I’ve had a change to spend time in other parts of the world where one branch of Christianity is dominant. Each branch sees itself as the authentic Christianity, they seem unaware of the wide variation of beliefs and practices outside of their sphere. For example an Evangelical Christian would be very surprised and shocked at the beliefs, worship and practice of an Eastern Orthodox Christian.

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  15. Naismith on November 6, 2013 at 12:33 PM

    Even a lot of Mormons have a hard time fitting in when they move to Utah Valley, for some of these same reasons, actually.

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  16. Will on November 6, 2013 at 1:34 PM

    Kullervo,

    I can’t speak for others, but I lose interest in learning about other faiths when I start seeing the holes or flaws. I see what I have and think it provides the clearest picture, the best set of answers and is the most consistent with what Jesus taught in the Bible. I guess I’m saying I have little interest after the flaws (what I see as flaws anyway) have been exposed.

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  17. Jeff Spector on November 6, 2013 at 1:43 PM

    Given that President Hinckley invited those of our faiths:

    “To these we say in a spirit of love, bring with you all that you have of good and truth which you have received from whatever source, and come and let us see if we may add to it.”

    If we don’t know anything about what they believe, what truth they have, them, how do we know what to add?

    Seems obvious to me.

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  18. hawkgrrrl on November 6, 2013 at 1:47 PM

    As someone who has lived more or less outside of anything truly resembling a native culture, the one thing that really jumped out at me is that the people who choose to live there like it, so knocking local culture doesn’t win friends. Even if local culture is stupid. And BTW, local culture is always stupid in one way or another.

    Living in PA, there were certain assumptions my classmates and neighbors had that I disagreed with. Living in TX, I disagreed with about 90% of the local values and things people said. When I went to BYU, it was a huge culture shock, some good and some bad. Very different from what I knew to that point. Living in AZ, I encounter opinions that make me cringe. Living in Singapore, I didn’t even understand the culture for a while, and then I still disliked aspects of it, like the materialism and racism. But all these cultures were preferred to the locals. This was their home, and I was the visitor.

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  19. ji on November 6, 2013 at 5:52 PM

    When we look at others, we shouldn’t look for their holes and flaws. If we look, lets look to understand and appreciate, not to find fault.

    I think both sets of advice (advice to members and advice to non-members) are good!

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  20. brjones on November 6, 2013 at 9:57 PM

    I’m the one that liked your “shirtless” comments, Will. Both of them. I literally lol’ed

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  21. Rigel Hawthorne on November 7, 2013 at 5:49 PM

    A friend that I knew in California (Jewish) moved to the SLC area and had some interesting observations, that I took with a grain of salt.

    1. LDS neighbors on her residential street were either a. proselytizing or b. would not look at or talk to her. (She attributed that response to her living with her fiance)
    2. Zealous Mormon acquaintances would try to strike up common ground with her Jewish culture by saying ‘we are just like YOU!”. (Um, no you aren’t, she would think).
    3. Single female LDS teammates on her community soccer league team declined to hang out with her (for dinner/etc) after the games (which she attributed to their fear that friendship with her would lead them astray…or in other words, they were better than her).
    4. Her response to the culture shock was ‘these people’ (SLC area LDS) are nothing like you! (And you could say ‘you’ plural, since she had a chance to meet California LDS singles when I took her to a couple of activities.

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  22. Douglas on November 8, 2013 at 12:16 AM

    #4 (other Clark)…well said! This whole business of the newly-minted MP hamming the poor RMs in the local stakes to bring a ‘new fish’ by Christmas struck me as like a Kirby vacuum sales meeting. And what, pray tell, if some RM, after giving his two years to serving the Lord, now gets on with his education, and, if he’s found a young lady to marry, to starting a family, doesn’t meet the quota? ‘Fire’ him? Sheesh. In the corporate world, you can bully your sales force into meeting the goals (or they’ll quit for greener pastures). I’ve nothing against profit, but this is for the souls of our brothers and sisters. They’ve gotta want it! I should think what the MP ought to have conveyed was for each Priesthood holder to pray for the opportunity that his example will spark interest on the sheep that know His voice.
    Remember the South Park episode “All About the Mormons?”. Stone and Parker outdid themselves (dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb…). Sure, it’s obvious that they don’t buy into Joseph Smith’s testimony, and their depiction of a “typical” LDS family is a tad sickening-sweet, however…the mormon kid that gets acquainted with Stan ends up really “owning” him in the end…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dsmyzC4AkFQ

    Likewise, at times we just need to “be someone’s friend back” (or at first) and let things roll as they will. Whether or not someone joins the Church, is making a friend a bad thing?

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  23. KT on November 8, 2013 at 6:35 PM

    “Friends Don’t Proselyte. So much for the idea of Every Member a Missionary. Chrisy rightly points out the basic flaw in this premise. It sets the tone for the entire friendship if the basis for it is to win a convert.”

    I could not agree with that point more! It just seems so inauthentic to me.
    And I could also really see the point about ‘don’t introduce me to the drunks!’ If you are a Mormon who didn’t spend your whole life in Utah, then you probably already realize the distinctions between non-Mormons, but if you spent your whole life in Utah, then it’s been my experience that Mormons lump all non-mos as being the same.

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  24. Tarefic-Wheaties Nominations 2 | Wheat and Tares on December 23, 2013 at 8:28 PM

    […] Wheat & Tares:  ”Advice to Mormons from a Non-Mormon” (Chrisy Ross’s “To Mormons, With […]

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  25. […] Wheat & Tares:  ”Advice to Mormons from a Non-Mormon” (Chrisy Ross’s “To Mormons, With […]

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  26. New Iconoclast on January 6, 2014 at 8:40 PM

    For example an Evangelical Christian would be very surprised and shocked at the beliefs, worship and practice of an Eastern Orthodox Christian.

    I was raised a Roman Catholic in Minnesota in the ’70s and ’80s, and served a mission in Sicily in the late ’80s, and many American Catholics would be “surprised and shocked” at Catholicism as it’s practiced in southern Italy.

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  27. CraigHyatt on February 8, 2014 at 4:17 PM

    My wife and I are Catholic and had heard some horror stories before we moved to Utah. But we are both pretty straight shooters and I really enjoy bantering with people. So our approach was to view our neighbors as individuals, not “generic mormons”–for want of a better way to say it. So I tease my neighbor about going to services in a suit and tie, when I get to wear a Hawaiian shirt and sandals, and we laugh together. I know when my neighbors come over to offer them OJ instead of iced tea. Not a big deal, just respect. My overall advice to newcomers is: love and respect others, be yourself, don’t walk on eggshells, have a sense of humor, and see your neighbors as people, not stereotypes. Anger and resentment are so tiresome. As a wise person once said, “Holding a grudge is like taking poison and then waiting for the other person to die.”

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  28. Mike McGuire on June 30, 2014 at 3:45 AM

    Great comments all… I became a member at 28, I’m now 62..as a child of the late 60′s I am far more aware and understanding of what is outside the ‘Bubble” than most members…so I was not born into the abstinence of social lubricants like wine or coffee…I made that choice for myself, I do not make it for my friends or anyone for that matter,and never judge anyone for their choices,A very good friend of mine would joke with me about going to the smoking section in Heaven…to Craig Hyatt’s point, we need to have a since of humor, simply Love and Respect others and be yourself… as far as the “Every member a missionary” comment…friendship, at least for me has never been based on ones religion,So let your friends ask if they want to know… There are theological differences in the many sects of Christianity…many of these are minor, The important one is if you believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that he died of us…Than you are a Christian and maybe if we just went back to the basics… For member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormon is a nickname) Scripture says that the first great commandment is “To love thy God with all thy heart, mind, might and strength” and the second is like unto the first…”Love thy neighbor as thy self” and if my quoting Church doctrine offends…the how about the book “Everything I needed to know about life I learned in Kindergarten” Be kind, share…etc… or what Craig said…Love and respect others. sometimes the best way is the simplest

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