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To Mormons: Take care - you just might be someone's 'Mormon friend'

There’s no shortage of pronouncements on what Mormons believe, ironically from people who aren’t members of the LDS Church; many who have skewed information. It has become evident that Mormonism is a trending topic and there is amplified interest in all things Mormon. This provides a great opportunity for members of the Church to set things straight.

There’s one thing I’ve noticed that contributes to the problem . . .

Some nonmembers feel like they have a solid grasp of the material—LDS Doctrine—if they’ve had a question answered by a member, an insider, a real Mormon. Someone they refer to as their “Mormon friend.”

One innocuous question + One acquaintance who happens to be LDS + One heavily weighted answer = One nonmember’s perception of the entire faith. The answer to ONE question can define Mormonism for a person; paint a vivid picture in someone’s mind—sometimes in the right palette, but often not.

For example, last year while I was in a casual conversation with acquaintances in another state, the topic shifted to the fact that I live in Utah. Predictably, things segued to Mormonism. Comments were benign until one woman said, “Mormons don’t celebrate Easter.” The implication was that Mormons don’t acknowledge the resurrection story. Naughty! How did she know this titillating factoid? Her reply was, “I asked my Mormon friend.”

I’ve had a handful of similar conversations. From my limited vantage point, I bet that the “Mormon friend” has no idea they’re referred to as such, nor are they likely aware that a simple comment like, “Our family doesn’t color eggs for Easter,” is heard as a doctrinal statement. When I’ve prodded someone about his or her “Mormon friend,” the relationship sounds more fringe or token than actual. (This isn’t to say that interfaith friendships aren’t genuine. Not the point of this piece.)

Nonmember confusion continues to surround LDS weddings (sealing ceremonies versus receptions), a nonmember’s ability to attend a sacrament meeting versus visit the temple, and the length of Sunday services. I’ve heard, “Only Mormons can attend their weddings,” “You have to convert before you can visit an LDS Church,” or “They go to church ALL day on Sunday—like eight hours.” A simple comment made by someone’s “Mormon friend” taken out of context has fueled these misconceptions.

People talk. Politics and religion are the topics right now. I’ve heard amusing as well as insulting comments from nonmembers as they attempt to share their knowledge of the LDS Church beliefs and practices. And, yes, I do my part to correct a misunderstanding or encourage someone to dig a little deeper for bona fide information.

I’m not a Mormon scholar, nor are most of my LDS friends. Although I’ve received a lot of great—and accurate—explanations from my LDS friends, occasionally I’ve experienced slightly different or conflicting answers to the same question from different people. That’s how I found and researched LDS.org and Mormon.org. I know I’m preaching to the choir when I compliment the approachability, ease of use, and tremendous information source these sites provide. For all—members and nonmembers. 

The way I see things:
1. Mitt Romney, John Huntsman, and numerous mainstream celebrities who are members of the LDS Church are all contributing to heightened interest in Mormonism. The spotlight is growing.

2. Now more than ever, nonmembers are curious and comfortable asking questions. This is THE TIME to dissolve myths and misunderstandings.

3. If a nonmember—even a person you know very casually at the office, or who lives three blocks away in your Midwest, Protestant neighborhood— asks you a question, recognize that they are listening. (No pressure!)

4. Tell someone about the safe (free, anonymous access), informational websites, that even members visit (not everyone is a religious scholar).

5. An authentic interfaith friendship, where conversation flows, is not what I’m referring to. Someone whose name you may not remember, might reference a forgettable (for you) conversation you had with them, and proudly proclaim that they know the “real deal” about Mormonism because . . . they asked their Mormon friend.

It’s time to bone up on your facts, or graciously admit you’re not sure and will look something up when asked a question about the Church. Or refer people to the terrific websites. You just might be someone’s Mormon friend.

For more of Chrisy's articles about experiencing life as a non-Mormon among Mormons, click here.

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Chrisy Ross is the author of To Mormons, With Love (A Little Something from the New Girl in Utah), available at deseretbook.com. To learn more about her, visit chrisyross.com
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