In an Effort Not To Be a Hypocrite

I had to got to speak in church today.

Given the content of the talk that I gave, and since I typed it all out anyway, I’ve felt compelled to post it here.

Mosiah 18:9 Exhorts those who are anxious to come into the fold of God to be “willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as a witness of God at all times and in all things and in all places that ye may be in even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God… that ye may have eternal life.” For any of us that have been through young womens’ the phrase that jumps out at us is of course, “stand as a witness of God at all times and in all things and in all places.”  I notice it every time but I don’t think about what it means nearly often enough.

I think often our mental picture of standing as a witness looks a lot like the story of Joseph F Smith.  Where we’re willing, proud even, to admit to someone who’s threatened to kill all Mormons that they come across, that we are in fact Mormon.  I think often we hear that story and tell ourselves that faced with that choice we would make the same decision. Of course, it’s quite easy to tell ourselves that when the chance that we will ever have to follow through is very nearly nonexistent.

And I can’t help but wonder how excited we would be to reenact that story if the villain had followed through on his threat.

I also think that that’s not really what’s being asked of us in that scripture.  Indeed in most scriptures referring to witnessing we are being asked not to be witnesses of the church but to witnesses of God.  Now certainly, we ought to be witnesses for the church as well.  And we need to be aware of the fact that much of what we do, will or at least may, be viewed in the context of the church.

But in today’s world where the terms “Jesus Freak” and “religious nut” are bandied about and where those who speak publicly of their faith or of the Lord are looked at with skepticism and derision, it is becoming increasingly important that we be willing to witness of the Lord.  Too often I think we’re like the Zoramites who attend church on Sunday and then they “returned to their homes, never speaking of their God again until they had assembled themselves together again to the holy stand to offer up their thanks after their manner.  (Alma 31:23).  We need to speak of the Lord in our daily lives, not just to the Lord through prayer, and not just of the church.

I grew up in Virginia, not far from Washington DC and while I was not the only Mormon in my high school, I was in the minority.  I found it easy through those often difficult years to explain why I didn’t drink or smoke or use drugs by throwing out the phrase “it’s against my religion.”

That, of course, was true but that was not the full explanation.  I didn’t do those things because I didn’t believe that the Lord wanted me to do them.

Living here I think that distinction becomes even more relevant.  Utah is not quite populated entirely by Mormons but “it’s against my religion” doesn’t really carry the same weight when the person you’re talking to is also a member.  I think it’s important for us to remember, and to point out, that we make the decisions that we do not because the church forbids it but because the Lord forbids it.

As I was thinking about this talk I happened to mention to a friend of mine that I was speaking in sacrament meeting on standing as a witness and I asked her if she had any thoughts.

Actually, I asked her if she would write my talk for me.

She didn’t.

But she did mention an email correspondence that she’s been involved in with an old friend from high school who is now a pastor at a non-denominational church.   He began asking her questions about things like the nature of the godhead and revelation and the purpose of life.  He even asked for a copy of the B of M.  She sent him one with her testimony inside.  Not because she thought that that would somehow convert him, she doesn’t think he will ever convert.  She told me that she did it because she “felt that (she) had a responsibility to share (her) beliefs”, regardless of the ultimate outcome.

So often we talk about sharing our testimonies with non members as a missionary tool, and it is one, certainly, but we ought to share our testimonies, our belief in the Savior and in his father, our witnesses, not with an eye to conversion to the church but because we have a responsibility to talk about Him.  To talk about what we believe rather than which church we attend.

I had an experience several years ago while on a walk in the neighborhood we lived in at the time.  I passed a church of another denomination, just as a group consisting of mostly teenagers, their equivalent of YM and YW, was coming out.  The adult with them called out to me and explained that she had been teaching the teens about witnessing and asked if it would be alright if they witnessed to me.

To begin with I was a little thrown off by the unfamiliar language since I’m more used the LDS terminology of bearing testimony but even when I realized what she was asking I declined.  I told her that I had a church that I was very happy with.  “No, we’re not trying to convert you,” she said.  “I just want to give them a chance to witness.”  I refused again, I’m not sure why.  Maybe I was just trying to get away from the Jesus freaks but before I even got home I knew I had made a mistake.

The part of Virginia I grew up in can hardly be considered deep south.  It just barely qualifies as south at all but it’s not entirely without a southern Baptist influence.  And one of the things that I greatly respect about followers of that faith is their willingness to talk about the Lord in general conversation.  He’s a presence in their discussions, not just in their inappropriate exclamations and Grammy acceptance speeches.

To this day I’m sorry that I didn’t give those kids a chance to follow Nephi’s advice and “talk of Christ… rejoice in Christ… preach of Christ… and prophesy of Christ”.  I can’t help but think it’s significant that “talk of Christ” appears first on that list.

Certainly, there are points of doctrine on which we will disagree with those to whom we are talking, even members of the church, but I don’t believe that talking about the Lord, bringing Him into our daily life, and conversation can ever be a bad thing.

For those of you not of my faith and/or with no interest in discussing religion, don’t worry this isn’t going to turn into a Bible (Book of Mormon) thumping blog.  But I just couldn’t give a talk about bringing religon into regular conversation without being willing to bring a little religon to the blog.

PS I’m not trying to hold myself up as an example of this.  I’m really really bad at it.  But I’m going to try to improve.

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10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lisa
    Sep 21, 2008 @ 13:59:59

    Awesome. Great perspective. I love “we make the decisions that we do not because the church forbids it but because the Lord forbids it.”

    I didn’t serve a mission and have never been very good at starting up gospel related conversations with people not in other religions, but when we first moved here and I was doing some one-on-one conversational English courses on of my students kept asking questions about the church. I felt unsure of how to discuss it. I just felt insecure and uncomfortable. I talked to my husband about it and he asked if I was embarrassed about the church. Of course not! As if! But I was kind of acting that way with that guy! I hadn’t thought of that. Now I have a better perspective when talking to people about the gospel.

    And I like how you mention that we’re not supposed to be trying to convert people to the church, but to share something that is a very important part/motivator in our lives: our Savior and what He means to us.

    I realize I’m going on and on here. Sorry. I meant to say, nice talk. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Heidi
    Sep 21, 2008 @ 17:04:17

    Hey Allison,
    As you already know I am not a member of your religion or church, however I just wanted to let you know you are an amazing writer and have always enjoyed you “bearing your testimony late at night in the OR” You have never made me feel like you were converting me:)

    Miss you
    Heidi

  3. GrumpyAngel
    Sep 21, 2008 @ 23:40:38

    You make a lot of great points. I’m a returned missionary, BUT I feel uncomfortable in my after mission life to talk about religious stuff, unless someone asks me a direct question about my church or beliefs. I’m glad you posted this. It’s making me think of the reasons for my discomfort, and hopefully sets me on the right track towards correcting whatever the problem is.

  4. Melanie J
    Sep 22, 2008 @ 10:20:28

    Great post. I like it when other people tell me about their beliefs because it always comes across as sharing and I wonder why I would come across any differently to them.

  5. bythelbs
    Sep 22, 2008 @ 10:47:42

    I’m glad your friend didn’t try to write your talk for you. She wouldn’t have done nearly as good a job.

    I also like the “I think it’s important for us to remember, and to point out, that we make the decisions that we do not because the church forbids it but because the Lord forbids it” line.

    Thanks for sharing it.

  6. sallygirl
    Sep 22, 2008 @ 17:09:26

    For a long time I worried that since the church is my life (or how I live it, anyway!) and not just something we do on Sundays, I would sound like a “Jesus freak” or bible thumper. It took me until five years after I moved away from Utah to figure out that when I talk about the church, or the Lord, whatever & etc., I don’t sound any different than someone of another faith talking about the same things.

    Ok, except for some of those pesky little doctrinal points 😉

    I feel MUCH less peculiar than I used to, especially when I noticed we’re not the only church that teaches things found in the Wow.

    Thanks for sharing your talk!

  7. annie valentine
    Sep 22, 2008 @ 17:16:09

    You are fantastic. I love this. Coupled with your amazing haircut, I’m sure you had the Spirit when you presented it.

    Thanks for today, it was so good to get away from the Compound for a while. Can’t wait until next time. I’ll bring the treats.

  8. cheryl
    Sep 23, 2008 @ 09:02:52

    Loved your talk. It was so good! I keep thinking about those kids that were going to testify to you; it reminds me of my MIL’s church and the way they testify –there’s no hope for conversion, just the bearing of testimony. Which, of course, is the the whole point, right?
    I’m glad you testified to us.

  9. Jami
    Sep 23, 2008 @ 13:24:16

    I thought I’d already said something about your talk, but I must have hit the wrong button. I’m dingy that way sometimes.

    This is a topic near and dear to my heart. Obeying God. Talking about Him. Letting others talk about Him or not as the Spirit moves them. Thanks.

  10. Steph @ Diapers and Divinity
    Sep 24, 2008 @ 06:57:38

    great points, and well expressed. thanks.

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