Better than Orange Juice

In the October 2000 General Conference, Elder Robert C. Oaks compared our reluctance to invite people to join the Church to a person’s reluctance to share orange juice with a guest:

Consider that you are invited to a friend’s house for breakfast. On the table you see a large pitcher of freshly squeezed orange juice from which your host fills his glass. But he offers you none. Finally, you ask, “Could I have a glass of orange juice?”

He replies, “Oh, I am sorry. I was afraid you might not like orange juice, and I didn’t want to offend you by offering you something you didn’t desire.”

Now, that sounds absurd, but it is not too different from the way we hesitate to offer up something far sweeter than orange juice.

This has always struck me as a particularly poor analogy. It trivializes what I think are very real concerns we might have about sharing Mormonism with our friends.

Offering someone orange juice differs from offering them the Church in a number of important ways. First, accepting a glass of orange juice requires extraordinarily little effort and no ongoing commitment. By contrast, joining the Church requires making a lifetime commitment with potentially many lifestyle changes. People are understandably more reluctant to accept something that requires so much of them.

Second, people can and do drink many different fruit juices without feeling they have to commit to just one. To offer a guest orange juice is not to ask them to forsake apple or grapefruit or pineapple juice. But to ask someone if they want to be Mormon is to implicitly ask them to not be Catholic or Baptist or Hindu anymore.

Third, offering someone orange juice is offering them something they have probably already had before. Asking someone to join the Church is almost certainly asking them to do something entirely new. Doing new things is typically more difficult than doing things we’ve already tried before.

Fourth, because it asks them to do something new, the offer of Church membership carries with it the strong potential for implied criticism that the offer of orange juice does not. Your guest has had orange juice before; she won’t feel if you offer it that you are trying to correct some deficiency in her life. She has not had Mormonism before, though, and because it comes with such potential lifestyle changes, offering it suggests that her life has previously been deficient.

Okay, it’s easy to criticize. It’s another to offer alternatives. So here are a couple of attempts at alternative analogies that I think better capture the complexity of inviting people to join the Church.

Asking a friend to meet with the missionaries is like getting to know someone as a friend and then asking them out on a date.

I like this analogy for several reasons. First, it acknowledges the fact that we are likely more reluctant to share the Church with people we have an ongoing relationship with. We have more to lose if an ongoing relationship goes sour than we do if someone we’ve just met turns down our offer. (As an aside, I wonder if the prototypical “sharing the gospel” story where a GA gets someone to join the Church after sitting next to them on a long flight isn’t difficult to generalize for precisely this reason. When you meet someone on a plane, you’re going to go your separate ways when you land, and there’s very little to lose by asking them if they want to hear about your church. When you have an ongoing relationship with someone, though, you have a lot to lose.)

Second, when you try to make a friend relationship into a romantic one, or try to make a Mormon friend out of a non-Mormon one, it can go very well or very badly. You might date someone and marry them. You might date and break up under bad circumstances. Your friend might not want to get involved romantically at all. Similarly, when you invite someone to meet with missionaries, they might love it and join the Church, they might hear a little and then decide Mormonism is a fraud and you are similarly suspect, or they might not want to hear anything at all. Whatever happens, though, once you’ve made the dating or church invitation, you have altered the relationship irrevocably. Sure, the other person can turn you down and you can mutually agree to pretend it never happened, but things will always be different between you. I think this is because once you make the offer, your friend has reason to reinterpret everything you’ve ever done in the relationship as perhaps being based on different motives–either romance or proselytizing–even if your original motives were simply friendship-related.

Third, I like that this analogy captures the fact that asking someone if they want to possibly join the Church is asking them to potentially make a big commitment. It’s like dating in that regard. People know from the beginning that it could lead to something more serious.

Okay, here’s one more.

Asking a friend to meet with the missionaries is like sharing your most beloved parenting technique with them (assuming they already have kids).

What I’m trying to get at with this analogy is the implied criticism that comes with an offer to a friend to become a Mormon. To say this to a friend is to implicitly criticize their religious or spiritual life, just like offering parenting advice to someone who is already a parent is to implicitly criticize their parenting.

The second reason I like this analogy is that, at least to true believers, you can belong to only one school of thought on parenting at a time just like you can belong to only one religion at a time. So to offer a friend advice on parenting is in some sense an attempt to convert him to your way of thinking and give up his old way of thinking, just like offering your religion.

I also like this analogy because I think our religious beliefs are like our belief in parenting methods in that our positions are often strongly held, but based on little evidence. (In the case of religion, we may feel we have strong evidence, but it’s typically not evidence that’s accessible to other people.)

So what analogies do you think capture your experience when (considering) sharing the Church with your friends? And what flaws do you see in my analogies?


  1. Your dating analogy is spot on. So totally apt, I have nothing to add or detract.

    I think it’s possible to offer parenting advice in a very gentle way so that the recipient doesn’t really view it as advice. It’s a lot harder to do that with missionary work. The closest thing might be inviting someone to something totally secular, like the ward Halloween party or fun run. We sometimes do this in hopes that a desire to know more will rub off on people during the trick-or-treating, but knowing that it probably won’t.

    I’m likely to invite people to only non-threatening events like that, but if my intent is to not to really invite an investigation into the church, I don’t think it counts as missionary work. Under the right circumstances with the right person, I could see myself potentially sharing the gospel with friends, but just like I only met someone I wanted to marry once, I don’t think this will happen many times in my life.

  2. I don’t know, Ziff–offer someone fresh-squeezed orange juice after they’ve been drinking Tropicana or Minute Maid all of their life, and they’re never going to be able to go back to the crap that is processed orange juice.

    Not that that’s either here or there—the actual point of your post is, I think, spot-on.

  3. The parenting analogy is perfect—how could anyone improve on that? The implicit “you’re not as good a parent as you could be”, the vulnerability that if your friend declines your advice he’s essentially saying “You’re not such a great dad either.” And the evidence issue is just the icing on the metaphorical cake!

    Okay, but let me try to offer an analogy that fits my situation a bit more closely: just about everyone I work with is an atheist…or a devout atheist. Inviting them to hear the discussions is like inviting a strict vegan, Organic-with-a-capital-O, Thai food crazy friend over for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. “What? You don’t want any potatoes? But I followed Grandma Memma’s recipe!”

  4. The dating analogy works better, I think. The parenting analogy would be more accurate if it was all of my parenting advice, including some I believe in theory but don’t follow myself.

    An added element is the oddness of having my friends learn about my religious life through the teaching of two strangers from another state or country whom I don’t know very well and with whom I have little in common. To use the orange juice analogy, it would be like saying, ‘Would you like some orange juice? I squeezed this myself, but it would be better if someone I sort of know came by with some official orange juice.’

    OK, maybe that’s a little extreme.

  5. Now, that sounds absurd, but it is not too different from the way we hesitate to offer up something far sweeter than orange juice.

    Let this be a lesson to all people coming up with analogies. If you have to follow your analogy with “now that sounds absurd…” then the analogy probably sucks. Even if the people listening are not prepared, as Ziff, to articulate the stupidity of the analogy, they will know in their hearts that it is crap.

    Ziff, I love your suggested replacements. I will have to use these in a talk some day. BrianJ’s is pretty good too.

  6. And let’s not forget that our particular orange juice has done some pretty shadey things in the past-“Here, have some orange juice, which has treated women and minorities badly and has made me sick in the past.”
    “Um….well, thanks.”

  7. Emily, good point about the parenting advice. Certainly it’s possible to offer it more gently. Heck, there are even lots of circumstances where we seek it out from one another, and that’s much rarer (I think) for religion.

    Also, great extension of the dating analogy. I’m sure this is the last thing the missionary department would want to consider, but perhaps when members only introduce a few friends to the Church, they’re picking the people most likely to be interested–the low hanging fruit. If members increase our invitations by some factor, the second round of invitations will be less effective than the first, and the third less effective than the second, and so forth.

    Sam, thanks for fleshing out Elder Oaks’s analogy. I didn’t even think about the substance of the analogy in that depth–I’m not really a connoisseur of orange juice.

    Brian, that’s a great one! The zeal of people with strong food preferences (sorry–I couldn’t think of a better term) definitely rivals the zeal of religious believers. I like your analogy a lot.

    Norbert–good point about the divisibility of parenting advice not really mapping well onto the Church, which has to be taken or left much more as a whole.

    Also, thanks for bringing up that complication that I hadn’t even considered–the wild cards that are the missionaries. Looking back, I can’t say I would blame anyone who chose not to introduce their friends to me as a missionary. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to hope for missionaries you like to introduce your friends to, but given that they vary in personality, it can’t be surprising if not all members click with all missionaries in a way that makes the members comfortable enough to introduce their friends.

    Jacob, thanks.

    jddaughter, good point. That’s a whole ‘nother potential can of worms: if there are parts of the Church we ourselves aren’t that happy with, is it even possible to extract just the parts we like to share with others: “What do you know about Cafeteria Mormons? And would you like to know more?” 🙂

  8. You know, I’ve been thinking about these analogies and realize why the original orange juice one is still superior. The point of the analogy was not to explain missionary work, but to guilt members into doing more missionary work. Clearly, all of our analogies are FAIL.

  9. Excellent point, Brian. I hadn’t even considered that, but of course you’re right. Elder Oaks’s goal wasn’t to find the best analogy to missionary work, but to push us to do it. And the best way to do that was–as you point out–not to acknowledge why missionary work might be difficult, but to trivialize those difficulties and make it look like a breeze.

  10. The orange juice analogy is like those youth conference talks I heard growing up where the speaker says, “Won’t you feel bad when your friend is in Spiritual Prison and she says to you, ‘Why didn’t you ever give me a Book of Mormon?'”

    When I hear these missionary scare tactics, I tend to go out and ask my friend on a date (to use your excellent analogy, Ziff); it’s always been awkward at best, and it usually takes a few weeks for us both to recover.

  11. Emily, exactly! In fact, the very next line from the talk after the part I quoted is this:

    I have often worried how I would answer some friend about my hesitancy when I meet him beyond the veil.

    Perfect fodder for youth conference talks.

  12. Ziff,
    I’m teaching the 13 yo Sunday School class on missionary work today. I’ve thought about including the analogies mentioned here. We’ll just see how it goes 🙂

  13. My husband and I loved this post. We’ve talked about it a couple of times during the week. Our suggestion would be inviting your friend to join your multi-level marketing business to sell cosmetics or herbal supplements or household cleaning products. But because we flee anytime an acquaintance offers to have us over for a demonstration, we can’t really fill out the analogy completely.

  14. Jessawhy, you’re braver than I am!

    Denebug, I like it!

    Bruce, do you mean it tastes weird but it’s good for you?

  15. denebug, yeah, I was thinking that an offer to join a MLM group is a good analogy, too. Too bad we don’t have spiritual sealings anymore these days – talk about an “up line”!

    Ziff, so to extend your dating analogy, what is the missionary equivalent of the first kiss? I could see extending this analogy further and further and causing some raised eyebrows in Sacrament Meeting.

  16. I love the dating analogy, precisely because that’s been my experience. I’ve introduced extremely awkward dynamics into friendships by asking them if they were interested in having some orange juice, so to speak. And quite frankly, it’s something I regret–it really can make your motives suspect in a way that alters the friendship. It’s not easy to go back.

    And playing a bit with the orange juice analogy, I would also add that many people close to me are apparently quite allergic to orange juice, and have had extremely bad reactions to it. That makes me a bit wary of offering it to anyone else. And it probably doesn’t help that I myself don’t always find the stuff all that appealing, and sometimes only force myself to drink it because I think it might be good for me.

  17. I would distinguish between “invite to join the church” and “invite to hear more about the church” or even, “invite to ask me any questions you have about my church,” as the latter two seem reasonable and the former calls to mind John Cleese, “A kiss boy! What about a kiss? Must we go leaping to the clitoris?” In this tortured analogy, brought to you by CWC, the Mormon is the lover, and the Church, regrettably, is the clitoris.

    I don’t know why we don’t rely on analogies for obfuscating the obvoius more often.


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