Every exmember a missionary.

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These days, I don’t talk religion that much with people offline that much, and even when I do, I keep my religion/lack thereof cloudy until someone asks outright (it’s amazing how many people will talk and talk presuming you’re Christian and never ask you if you feel otherwise…but maybe that’s just because I go to school in Texas.)

Anyway, I had a story about telling people I’m Mormon recently…it was interesting, because while I was comfortable saying, “Yeah, I’m Mormon” (and if it came up, I’d be just as comfortable saying, “Yeah, I’m atheist.”) I intuitively expected and realized I’d have to do damage control. The first damage control: so what kind of Mormon am I? Of course, I pointed out that I’m a nonbelieving Mormon, and so asking me if I believe (x weird belief of the church) is fruitless.

But…at the same time, I felt I was in a unique position. When I considered myself a member, I mean, I still didn’t really believe it, but I felt obligated to speak party lines about the gospel and theology. Now, I realized that I didn’t feel constrained. I felt I was ok to raise some controversy or spice to my answers…but it wasn’t enough. See…what I also felt was that even though I felt like I could speak my mind, I felt strangely protective of the church. I know I don’t want to be one of those antis who use terrible lies to try to smear the church (I mean seriously, if all you have are lies…give up. I happen to think that there is a lot of factual positions about the church that can be found unpalatable)…but even if I’m not an anti-, I recognized that I should treat the church differently with nonmembers than I would with members. Chanson wrote about it when she had a Southern Baptist roommate, and this exactly what I mean. You can’t make fun of my family — only I can do that!

So, I didn’t really know. It seems that while I was a member, I hated the idea of “every member a missionary,” but even as an exmember, I still am a missionary. I have a lot more leeway because ultimately, I don’t bind myself to the LDS rules of the game, but at the same time, I recognize that as soon as I say I’m Mormon (or even if I say I’m a former Mormon), I become — in the eyes of nonmembers — a representative of the church. So they will see my behavior and think, “Hmm…based on Andrew, are Mormons good or bad? Kind or mean? Intelligent or slow?”

Is this just me, or do any of you guys feel like that? I imagine that the farther you can get away from the Mormon part of the identity, the easier it becomes. After all, if I don’t blurt out, “Yeah, I’m Mormon” — which I sometimes never bring up — then I don’t have any obligation. After all, the people who know I’m atheist may not know I was Mormon, so I can freely speak about the church and it doesn’t have any special weight.

But what if I recognize that I do keep some LDS identity here?

11 thoughts on “Every exmember a missionary.

  1. It seems that while I was a member, I hated the idea of “every member a missionary,”

    Me too. Not out of embarrassment or protectiveness though, just because proselytizing all the time is a good way to lose friends and annoy people.

    As an ex-member, the subject rarely comes up. With colleagues, I always feel like it’s not professional to bring up religion at all in any context, and even with friends, on some level I feel like bringing up religion is not polite.

    This may be a reaction to how I felt about having to wear Mormonism on my sleeve when I was younger…

  2. I don’t think you should worry too much about it. Here’s how I think of it:

    1. You were raised to think that “the world is watching you” and that whether people join the church depends largely on your own behavior. That’s possible, of course, but I think the majority of people is capable of saying “I knew a mormon once – he was a real jerk” without presuming that, therefore, all mormons are jerks.

    2. Most people belong to some religious tradition, but a lot of them don’t take their religion seriously. Given that, every knows a “jack baptist” or an “inactive hindu” or a “new order evangelical.” Even most mormons are inactive. Most people know better than to expect everyone to be really orthodox.

    3. Given the above, I think it’s pretty bad manners to ask salacious questions about official religious doctrines. Can you imagine sitting around at lunch, finding out that someone was raised episcopalian, and saying “do you really believe that the apostolic succession continues through the anglican church, even though it was basically started by Henry VIII for political and personal reasons?” No, that would be extremely rude (perhaps incorrect – I’m not much of a theologian).

    Anyway, what I’m trying to say is – you think everyone cares and that your behavior reflects on the church, but it probably doesn’t.

  3. I didn’t mean for that last sentence to sound so dismissive. I’m not accusing you of taking yourself too seriously. I’m just saying that I really don’t think you should worry about it.

  4. re 1: chanson, I think that is some of the case too. But that’s why now, I feel cautious about the answers I give. I don’t want to piss off my current Mormon friends, but I don’t want to give people the wrong idea, but I don’t want to parrot standard answers.

    And I think it is true that as people become more professional, things like that are brought up less and less.

    Re 2: Chris, I guess many of the points are true. Although, I have seen *much* of my share of people who WILL say exactly, “I knew a mormon, he believed/said/did this, so I extrapolate that to all mormons.” Probably just confirmation/selection bias (after all, people who don’t do this aren’t usually vocal about this.)

    I agree completely that most people are generally apathetic about their religion, whatever it is. But then again, there’s a bit of a difference between being apathetic about your religion (which implies perhaps an apathy about the way you *practice*), and being relatively serious about *practice* but not caring about the belief/spiritual part. So, people who are apathetic about religion would not understand why an exmormon has that mormon in the title (even if it’s ex-). The religion doesn’t become enshrined as culture, so it’s easy for some people to drop it.

    3) I don’t necessarily think it’s bad manners (but in the way it happened in this situation, the questions were definitely directed in a way to be piercing — kinda like Mike Huckabee’s “so, do you guys believe Jesus and Satan are brothers?”)

    regardless, it’s not that I necessarily think everyone cares…but I do have enough pieces of evidence to suggest from VARIOUS facets of my life (not just the church but from other things), that people *do* see others as representatives (whether they should or not) of that group.

  5. Re 3:

    oops, I started writing before getting to this one.

    I think the problem is…even if you don’t worry about it, the idea is that it still happens. So not worrying about it is instead just ignoring actual experiences and actual reactions.

  6. It seems that while I was a member, I hated the idea of “every member a missionary,”

    I hate that too. Basically, I feel like religion is almost too personal to talk about. Needless to say, that made for a lot of discomfort on my mission. 😉

    But I also find it annoying when people constantly get nuances of Mormon beliefs wrong on the internet. I always want to correct them (although usually I don’t bother, because I’d just be talking to myself anyway).

  7. Andrew –

    Of course some people will judge the group based on individuals behavior – the fallacy of composition is quite common. I have a friend with some strong preconceptions about everyone from the midwest, for example, because of some experiences with a handful of people. People stereotype based on race, gender, age, etc. But that doesn’t mean you should spend time thinking “what will they think about Texans (or whatever) if I say this or that?”

    But I think that thoughtful people will attempt to separate the individual from the group. Other people will judge, they will look for things that confirm their preconceived biases against groups (like mormonism), and they will look for ways to discriminate among people. I don’t think they’re worth worrying about.

    I disagree that people don’t understand the religion/culture relationship. I know a lot of people who are Jewish, but I can never predict which will eat pork or work on Saturdays. They participate in the holidays and the traditions and I think that most of the Jews that I know are secular Jews only (though not all of them are), with really no belief in the religion. I think catholicism is similar – a lot of people call themselves catholic, but that doesn’t mean you can predict where a person will be on Sunday or her stance on birth control.

    Really, I guess we just need more data points, though. When I’ve told people I was “raised mormon” (or something along those lines) no one has batted an eye. It would be really interesting to know what experiences other people have had.

    As far as the piercing questions, I was referring to your discussion on your own blog post. There’s a difference between asking probing questions and using interrogatory voice to mock religious dogma. It’s one thing to have an open discussion about temple worship. It’s another to be put on the defensive about polygamy or sacred underwear or whatever (institutional racism, in your case).

  8. I dunno, Chris…on the one hand, I can kinda see your reasoning.

    but on the other hand, I don’t see a vital connection. I don’t see the jump from, “There will be people who will stereotype and group people based on a fallacy of composition” to “you shouldn’t spend time thinking about how your actions will affect perceptions of the group.”

    Because it seems to me that at least partially, you have to be aware of how your acts affect others. Whether intended or unintended.

    It’s true we need more data points.

    And definitely, I can see now what you meant about the difference in questions.

  9. When I’ve told people I was “raised mormon” (or something along those lines) no one has batted an eye.

    Yeah, that definitely works. Just the subtle difference of saying “I was raised Mormon” — as opposed to saying “I am Mormon” gets the “cultural Mormon” idea across with no confusion.

    Of course, in my experience, most people don’t ask about religion except in a relaxed social situation. So when I’m in a position to respond “I was raised Mormon,” I’m generally already holding a glass of wine or a martini, which completes the effect. 😉

  10. And speaking of stereotypes, I realize that my response plays right into the stereotype that ex-Mormons only quit the church because they’re loud-laughing party animals who just aren’t sober enough to hack it as faithful Mormons.

    But the funny thing is, I don’t care. 😀

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