We’ll bring the world his truth

Book of Mormon Youth

Whether or not it was my family’s version of mormonism, or I was actually taught it as being part of mormonism – I somehow got the message that I could influence people’s choices and decisions. If I said “if you just thought about it this way…” someone would rethink their stance and agree with me. I remember one particularly poignant episode in fifth grade where I mentioned the book of mormon to my teacher as “another version of how the native americans” got to this continent. She let me down gently.

I’m not sure what I was expecting. I knew that it was important that (even as a 10/11 year old) I share the good news about the LDS gospel. How people responded was their business. And, if they decided not to talk with me about it, it was their loss.

Yet I found myself oddly disappointed that she brushed me off. And oddly responsible for her reaction. Maybe I didn’t have the spirit.

Now, of course, I look back on that conversation thinking – I was incredibly arrogant. Did I really think I could change my teacher’s mind? The assumption I made was that she had never heard or mormonism or studied it herself. And that she wasn’t currently satisfied with her own spiritual beliefs.

In my own defense, I was only reacting to constant messages I was getting to mention mormonism to a friend – to share the good news a.k.a “the gospel”.

I’m not sure now that I agree that these are good or healthy messages to send to children. Not the message that they are important and can make a difference. The message that their beliefs are right and that they (even as children) have a responsibility to influence others (even adults).

As an adult, I’m working on the process of unlearning this. I have no control over another adult’s actions or reactions. I have no control over what decisions they make.

I can share my opinions and engage in a discussion. But in the end, the only control I have is what I choose to do and how I choose to respond. And is it really good/fair to encourage children to try and convert adults?

25 thoughts on “We’ll bring the world his truth

  1. Aerin:

    Where would you draw the line between sharing belief versus trying to convert others?

    I think most children are encouraged to be good examples for their friends. I’m not sure how much the church encourages children to try and convert adults, but there certainly are some precocious children out there. 😉

  2. A couple years ago our ward’s Primary started a program wherein they would “call” children to serve week-long “missions” in their neighborhoods/communities, and they were to report on them the following Sunday. The mission-call letter said you could share the gospel in any number of ways, including the ever-popular “being a good example,” but I think most children took the call to share the gospel more literally.

    My daughter was rather anxious about it and when she did get up the nerve to (try to) give a pass-along card to her friend (whose family was not religious) and was rebuffed (albeit gently), she was upset and crying about being a failure. I had told her all along that she didn’t need to give a pass-along card or anything of the kind, and actually tried to (subtly) persuade her against the idea, as I didn’t think it was a good one. (My daughter has Asperger’s Syndrome and is a bit iffy on the social skills, and I was afraid proselytizing to other kids might further handicap her friendship endeavors. Yes, I’m one of those people.) Fortunately, there was no lasting damage done to the friendship, just an extremely awkward moment and my daughter’s temporary disappointment and insecurity. I, on the other hand, was severely annoyed.

    I don’t think the church intends for kids to get stressed out about this stuff, but it’s kind of hard not to feel pressured to do “missionary work.” Even the pressure to “be a good example” is a bit much at times (though I guess I prefer it to having NO pressure to be a good example). It’s a problem I have with Christianity in general, not just Mormonism–this idea that correct beliefs are what’s essential, rather than, say, ethical behavior.

  3. JB: That’s a classic story, friend.
    there are So Many subjects that Mo culture ‘docturine’ causes angst-dissonance AND family break-ups.
    Some people want to use ‘the gospel) (gag) as a cutting knife/delineation among friends & family… BARF-A RONI.
    While there May be a Slight diminution of the “I’m – We’re BETTER THAN YOU ARE”
    mentality, (IMHO) it’s still not very far below consciousness.

  4. Every group of people experiences angst, guilt and dissonance. Atheists, Mormons, Evangelicals, Buddhists, Wiccans, whoever.

    No matter what group you go to, you are going to find examples of messed-up or unhappy people. But it takes a little more than anecdotes and bare assertions to say anything systematic about the institution.

  5. I remember quite well having the message that being born L.D.S was a privilege, I don’t think is was just my imagination. Being a good example was supposed to lead to gaining converts. Think about that primary song “I’m a Mormon”

    I’m a Mormon, through and through
    And if you think that I am peculiar in the things I say and do,
    Remember I know the rules, the do’s and don’ts
    For happy, happy living
    I’ve learned to say “I will,” “I won’t”
    I try to be forgiving.
    Maybe you’d like me to tell you about the things that I know are true–
    Then you can be a Mormon too!

    Maybe it wasn’t an official primary song, I do remember singing it there.

    As a kid, I would have loved to make converts, but people who wanted conversion were difficult to find in Provo Utah. Instead, my kid brain was busy sorting out the good people from the bad. Very easy, the two families that did not go to church in the entire Utah county area were easy to spot. Because they were working in their yards on Sunday and drinking colas.

  6. dpc – I may have been sharing my belief at that time – but I question how much a ten year old really knows about the book of mormon. I don’t think I had read through it myself by that point. There are many times that parents encourage their children to bear testimonies and share beliefs. I think that it is just borrowing or sharing on the parents’ testimony. All I’m saying is that I’m not sure that’s a good policy. What is the point of a four year old getting up and saying that they know the church is true and Joseph Smith was a prophet while their parents’ are whispering in their ear? Did I have any idea what I was saying? Honestly, I didn’t. btw – I feel the same way about any other religion or belief system.

    madhousewife – Thanks for sharing. I do feel like there was a constant pressure to talk about being mormon, how happy/blessed I was. While it may have been precocious of me, I believe it was a message sent by repeated primary lessons.

    Jonathan – thanks – that’s what I was trying to say. I never really got the message that it wasn’t my responsibility. “Ask yourself what are you doing – and then if you could be doing more” was what I heard. My own salvation doesn’t depend on whether or not anyone else agrees with me – or if that one soul joins. And most mormons may have heard that – but if everyone already understands that – why say “what more could you be doing?” Why not acknowledge that everyone is really doing the best they can.

    Seth – All I’m saying is that it’s one thing for adults to share their belief systems – it’s quite another to encourage kids to share their own beliefs/their parents’ beliefs. Yes, each religion has this to some extent. And you think about all the different doctrines and varieties of christianity and mormonism (or any religion/belief system)- what exactly everything means – it’s a lot more than a ten year old can comprehend.

    Wayne – I remember singing that song – often. It was/is by Janice Kapp Perry.

  7. aerin, I sympathize somewhat. I’m not really a particular fan of the kid-hour-at-the-lectern routine that goes on in some Fast and Testimony Meetings.

    But you know… I can’t even rake the leaves in my backyard without my kids wanting to pitch-in.

    A couple months ago. I felt I had some things to say and got up to bear testimony in Sacrament Meeting. While I was sitting up front waiting my turn, I suddenly felt a presence at my elbow. I looked down and there was my five year-old daughter standing there. I asked her what she was doing and she said she wanted to bear her testimony too.

    So what was I supposed to do? Thoughts?

  8. Seth,

    I would let her say what she wanted to say without much prompting. Feeding her things to say like “I know Gordon B. Hinckley is a prophet” (just a common example – I’m not assuming this is what happened in your situation) is just indoctrination using the saying-is-believing principle: say something in public often enough (especially when there is little incentive to do it) and you begin to believe it.

  9. Thing is, she got up there and then looked at me for some help.

    So I fed her “I love my family” (because she does), “I like church” (because she does), and “I’m thankful for all my blessings” (because who isn’t?), and “I love Heavenly Father” (again, she does).

    The role of a parent in life does not consist of spiritually hanging your kids out to dry and then justifying it by claiming you are “letting them choose for themselves.” Kids look to mom and dad for guidance. If you don’t provide it, they’ll end up resenting you just as much as if you’d been heavy-handed about it.

  10. What you did seems perfectly reasonable to me.

    The kind of guidance that I’m giving my daughters so far (I’m making it up as I go) involves helping them think about their beliefs and why they believe something. For example, my daughter said “I don’t believe in ghosts.” Instead of immediately saying “That’s right” or “I don’t believe in ghosts either” I asked her why she didn’t believe in ghosts. She said that she had never seen any, and the conversation went from there. On another occasion when she said “I believe in Heavenly Father”, I didn’t launch into arguments of why I think that’s wrong. I asked questions designed to help her think about her beliefs. I’m not as interested in promoting a particular set of beliefs as I am in teaching them how to think critically.

  11. I think that it was wise to avoid the term knowledge, Seth. I am less sure about the family language.

    A fairly common bias among many Mormons is that gentiles have a horrible family life. Actually, that’s not quite what they think. The Mormon stereotype is that one cannot have a good family life without the one true Churchâ„¢.

    I am wondering if that bias results from misattributing our debt to our parents to the Church. The association of family with knowledge claims about Mormonism suggests as much to me.

  12. Following up on Hellmut’s comment:

    While I reject the postmodernist philosophy in terms of assessing truth claims, I’m willing to see the parallels in terms of behavior and effects:

    There are good and bad people in and out of Mormonism, thus those who blame Mormonism for all of their family’s dysfunction are just as wrong as those who give Mormonism credit for everything their family did right…

  13. “Where would you draw the line between sharing belief versus trying to convert others?”

    as in most things, it’s all about intent.

    “I remember quite well having the message that being born L.D.S was a privilege, I don’t think is was just my imagination.”

    i don’t think it was, either. i remember being told by the missionaries that it was important for mormons to have many children so that waiting souls would have the good fortune to be born into “the best kind of family”.

  14. I don’t share the bias that gentiles have sub-prime family lives.

    But I do consider being born Mormon a privilege that I have to live up to.

    It’s just a matter of being thankful and giving credit where credit is due. I appreciate that you are concerned with not giving credit where it is NOT due. But just have a care that those concerns don’t cause you to be stingy.

  15. This has been a thought provoking discussion for me.

    Seth – I think it’s great that your kids want to pitch in. With that said, there are some things where children can understand and participate in, and other things where they can’t. Jury participation, for example. And as a society, I think that makes sense.

    I’m just not sure that the dynamic where it’s accepted or tolerated for children so young to make public statements about beliefs is healthy.

    In my mind, that’s not spiritually hanging them out to dry. It’s encouraging them to search for answers themselves – without worrying about approval from their parents (or ward members) whatever they discover.

    I agree with Jonathan that the conversation between parents and children is very important.

    As a teenager discussing mormonism with my parents, I would bring up things I had learned in primary or sunday school lessons. This was when I had reached the stage where I realized mormonism was not right for me. My parents were, frankly, shocked. They responded – “well we don’t believe that” or “that’s not right”. They mentioned that I should have brought those things up to them at the time and they would have explained their differences then.

    As a child though, I wasn’t able to see those differences in belief. The message I always received was that if you were in church or hanging out with church members, you were in the right place and getting the right message. Everyone agreed. The same yesterday, today and forever.

    Just as chanson brings up – obviously there are good and bad people everywhere. And these issues (like the ones I bring up with my parents) were not helped by some of the messages I received growing up. How do you explain to a child (under 12) that a teacher, an authority figure, is right about some things and not others? You can trust them about some things (like christ’s love for everyone) but not others (whether or not you should only date mormons and not people from other races).

    My point in this is that there isn’t one right answer or solution. Parenting is difficult. But I believe parents should attempt to find out what their children are learning and discuss it with them. And to counteract any pressure or peer pressure they may be feeling at church to make up their minds or hold particular beliefs.

  16. aerin:

    That’s why Mos think of being a ‘one size fits all’ religion, precisely what they’re ANot likely to accept (that it’s NOT).Orgs need to fit their msg & presentation to its people, Mormonism won’t. Its only message is: the church is True, JS,BY,BoM,GBH, etc. Notice that VALUES (Christ-Like living, etc.) are missing?

  17. I enjoyed this because it underscores how the church can be so controlling without the members even knowing that it is.

    Seth is right. Five year olds get up in Sacrament meeting on their own. They do so because children have a huge desire for their parents to be proud of them. This is true regardless of everybody but the church makes it very clear to children what is needed to achieve that pride. this continues through adulthood. one of my mission companions told me his mother would rather see him come home in a coffin than excommunicated. this is not an unusual sentiment and it is creepy. Mormons parents are gravely disappointed when their children follow leave the church. This is understandable on the part of the parents but it puts huge pressure on children to get up and talk about what they “know.” I have seen the church divide more families than it has brought together.

  18. Are you sure that’s primarily due to the Church influence on these families?

    Or is that just the way families are in general, no matter what belief system you’re talking about?

  19. I don’t think other churches/belief systems find it acceptable for four/five year olds to get up in public and talk about their beliefs or knowledge.

    **I could be totally wrong about this**.

    It’s just not what I’ve heard of before, in catholicism, judaism, mainstream christianity, islam or buddhism. If someone has another experience or knows of another religion where this happens – please feel free to share.

  20. Well, I’m not talking about the “chin-ups-at-the-pulpit-hour”. I’m talking about oppressive parental expectations of children in general.

    I don’t think THAT is unique to Mormons at all. I’ve seen it just about everywhere.

  21. Seth, while I agree that “oppressive parental expectations of children of children” is not a trait enjoyed by the L.D.S. church alone. Kids do mimic their parents practices, without question, whether they are right or wrong.

    Some religious practices are closed to children; they are too young to understand, question, or sit still.

    Anyway, I thought what you did with your five-year-old was a good thing. I mean you have to start somewhere with examining beliefs, why not during Testimony meeting?

  22. re above:

    Mormonism is Very much more specific about the outward appearances than other faiths-cultures that the pressure referred to above is more palpable. IF there was more distinction – differentiation between the cultural aspects of the LDS experience AND the ‘pure’ Gosple experience (doesn’t exist at all now, IMHO), it would bring more spontaniety and thoughtfullness to the Gospel experience. As it is now, leaders teach ONLY to follow. IMHO this is somewhat due to the stress between ‘Mainstreaming’ and (the current) retrenchment.
    ‘The times, they are a-changing…’

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