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?
- 16 March 2009