Friday, August 14, 2009

Mormon Missionaries and Missions

I saw them, white shirts, black ties, black nametags and back packs, on my left as I walked through the park for my evening exercise.  I didn’t think much about them until I heard them call after me as I was going down the hill.

“Hi,” the very early 20’s something redhead said to me, sticking out to shake my hand, “I’m Elder Brown and this is Elder Jones.”

“You look awfully young to be an elder,” I replied as I noticed this kid didn’t even have peach fuzz on his face. 

“Yeah, well, that’s just our title,” he admitted.

For the next twenty minutes I indulged them as we exchanged our pedigrees.  One of them was from Utah (big surprise) the other from Washington.  Elder Brown had been in the area for about six months; Elder Jones was new, but was sent to the area to work with the Hispanics in the area as he was given an intensive Spanish class before his assignment. 

I told them that I, too, was a missionary, a Baptist, who worked with evangelical colleges and seminaries around the world.  I asked them if they knew what an evangelical was and they said, no, they never heard the term before.  I also told them that I had a friend in college who use to be a Reformed LDS.  Though the RLDS church broke from the Utah Mormons 150 years ago, these kids have never heard of them. Strange, I thought.

Our meeting was cordial.  I actually liked these young men, but had no desire to engage in a theological discussion.  As I started to leave Elder Brown said that if I had any questions about their church they would be happy to talk with me.  I politely declined and continued on my way.

What struck me about my conversations with these two adolescent “elders,” was how similar they were with most evangelical missionaries I teach around the world.  I knew a whole lot more about the LDS than they knew about me or my faith.  They, like so many zealots, have an agenda to deliver their message, follow their talking points, refute common arguments, but have no clue, or interest, about those they talk to.  

In my class I spend considerable time on epistemology, i.e., the science of knowledge – How do you know what you know and how do you know what you know is right?  If LDS missionaries are successful in gaining converts it’s because they capitalize on the ignorance of cultural Catholics, Baptists or any other person who has a cultural faith.  These two young men are truly cultural Mormons.  They believe what they believe, not because they are convinced, but because it’s all they have ever known. 

As I continued my walk I thought, again, of the words of our Lord, who said that in the last day He will tell many, “I never knew you,” even though they said they worked on His behalf (Matthew 7: 21-23).  God deliver me, and those I teach, from serving Him through my own cultural blindness.  May I be convinced, not because of a cultural bias, but through the constant challenge of knowing what I know through intellectual and spiritual growth.