Responding to common mission objections

(I am entering the MTC on Wed September 8th and so this will likely be my last in person post. I will try to have a friend perhaps update this blog when she receives letters from me but I don’t know how that will work since I don’t have supportive family etc. If this is my last post for two years I want to thank everyone that has ever read my
Blog, commented and all the great writers on the bloggernacle that I have yet to meet that have given me spiritual nourishment and guidance.)

Since I’ve received my mission call to Novosibirsk Russia I’ve had to go through the unenviable process of informing friends and relatives ( most of whom were not very supportive when I joined the church in the first place) of my mission call. I’ve heard many objections to my decision to go and I’ve noticed they typically are very similar in nature. I’m going to respond to the five most common objections I’ve heard though in no particular order.

1)You are pushing your religion on other people! That’s wrong!

I firmly believe that I cannot push my faith on anyone. No one will suddenly be swayed by my powers of reason or speech (In English let alone in Russian) to drop a faith that satisfies them and join another faith My goal as a missionary is to share something that has given me much meaning and purpose in my life with those that are seeking with an open heart. My words are but a conduit for the Holy Spirit to touch the lives of those around me.

People do not just stumble upon a religion on their own I know that I never would have considered this church had I not had a good friend that is Mormon and been exposed to its profound teachings. I take the Great Commission of Jesus Christ seriously as he commanded his disciples to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:18). For me, missionary work is an obligation. As someone that has been given much I must share those abundant blessings with those around me.

2) Russians already have had Jesus since the 11th century you should go to somewhere that does not.

I deeply revere and respect the Russian Orthodox tradition. I think that many of our theological views on Deification and Exaltation have beautiful analogues in Orthodox Tradition. I look forward to attending Orthodox services and to learning more about this veritable tradition. However, I do believe that our church is the true church of Jesus Christ or else I would not be going out as a missionary. More importantly, however, today so many people—Even if nominally Christian—are lacking purpose and meaning in life and so I think that our clear message of the atonement and plan of salvation can resonate. I believe that wherever a given person is spiritually, that his or her life can be enhanced by the power of the priesthood and the blessings on the temple. Moreover, in a country with an incredible amount of deaths to alcoholism and the effects of such substances I think that our Word of Wisdom is something that people need to hear.

3) Your crazy to be going to the middle of Siberia! If your call were to Hawaii or somewhere nice I could understand

Latter-day Saints believe that mission calls are given through inspired leadership and in the name of God. Therefore, I know that my mission is the one in which the lord sees me doing the most good. My faith in the inspired nature of the call is enhanced by three things

A) It now seems to me that my choice to study Russian in university rather than the far more practical Chinese or Arabic is a form of at the time unrecognized divine providence. At the time everyone told me to do one of those other languages and yet I ended up studying Russian for some reason.

B)) My father was actually conceived in or around Novosibirsk as his parents left a work camp in Siberia and proceeded back to europe. While my father was born in modern day Kazakhstan which is part of a different mission, the family history connections are striking.

C) I almost applied for a study abroad program that would have had me spend two months in St Petersburg and two months in Irkutsk near Lake Baikal which is in my mission territory. This program was cancelled due to lack of student interest so I ended up going to London instead. I was hesitant to do the program and leaned towards London anyways because I was a budding Investigator at the time and knew that the small church in Irkutsk would be a challenge to my tentative faith. How appropriate then that I should be called to that part of Russia to help the church grow!

4) You should be giving your time and money to stop world hunger instead! You are responsible for the death of starving African children

I think this criticism comes form a lack of perspective. For some, the possibility that spiritual nourishment can be more important than physical nourishment seems impossible. Yet, Jesus described himself as the Bread of Life and said “He that cometh to me shall never hunger and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35) This argument implies that those that lack are necessarily more miserable than those that have much. It does not seem to me that all the worldly goods we possess in America make us happier than those living on far more modest means. I firmly believe in the transformative power of the atonement to bring peace and self confidence to the lives of individuals.

Moreover, individuals joining our church are taught practices of self-sustainability and live life styles that encourage honesty and integrity. These are the values that are needed in the countries that are most desperately gripped with poverty. These values rather than donations of money and food will be the force that transforms nations and helps to build Zion on the earth.

5) You Will be destroying families and creating tension and strife! I thought you believed in the importance of families!

I will admit that this criticism stings me the most strongly. My conversion has caused a lot of tension between my family and myself. Yet, I would join again in a heartbeat were I asked to do so. Jesus didn’t promise that joining his church would be easy or painless. Instead he said,

“Think not that I am come to send peace on earth. I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10 34-37)

Ultimately, it is up to the individual to make decisions for themselves. The people I will be teaching have to make a choice to join and the families have to make a choice on how to respond. The message that we preach is one of pure love. I love my family deeply and yet also know of the importance of the gospel.

Moreover, as a Latter Day Saint I do not believe that family is a temporary thing. I believe that family is instead an eternal unity. Thus, though my actions may be temporarily hurtful in the long run they are necessary. The conversion of many begins with the conversion of one. I do not believe that those I love will be judged for their ignorance about the gospel or their lack of opportunity. Instead, I believe that may actions will in the short term or long term lay a foundation for growth and allow us to be an eternal family.My conversion may awaken down the line ( maybe after this life) in the minds of those I love the possibility of converting or looking into Jesus Christ with an open heart. Those I teach may likewise be called to be pioneers in a difficult and at times lonely enterprise. Yet, the rewards are great and the joy the gospel brings is immeasurable.

Proud of senator Hatch’s leadership on the mosque!

It was very heartening to see Senator Orin Hatch (R-UT) take a strong stance in support of the right of the Muslim community of NYC to build a community center in lower Manhattan. Hatch’s remarks also strongly defend Islam as one of the world’s ‘great religions’ He is the first and likely only senator of his party to speak out in support of his party. His position is also in stark contrast to fellow Mormon leaders such as Harry Reid whom have come out against the mosque.

I agree with the comments of several bloggers. Given our church’s history of persecution and the difficult legal battles that always tend to bog down our temple building, we should be the first to stand out in favor of the right of another group to build their religious sites.

Most of the opposition to the Community Center has come in regard to a few out of context statements from the Imam that will run the Community Center. These arguments seem disingenuous to me. So long as there is no concrete evidence of direct ties or financial support to or from groups identified as terrorist organizations, there can be no legal grounds to oppose the construction of the mosque. Our governments decisions must be content neutral in regard to issues of belief. We can not favor a liberal protestant church over a conservative one or a liberal mosque over a conservative mosque. Zoning laws and regulations must be neutral and can not explicitly try to block construction of religious buildings (having exceptions for religious spires seems to me a point of typical and reasonable religious accommodation). I spoke to my father recently who is strongly against the Community Center and asked him whether he would be as opposed to the building of a church or synagogue in that same site and he said ‘Of Course Not” for me that tells me what I need to know about the opposition to the building of Park51.

Of course, protesters have a variety of motivations and I am not implying that everyone is acting from anti-Muslim animus. In a free society I respect and honor their right to protest. Yet, when candidates for office suggest using eminent domain or other government functions to suppress this center I become more and more concerned for religious tolerance in our nation. This incident is just part of a series of protests and even acts of arson at mosques around the country.

All of this is of course enhanced by the fact that the Community Center is named after Cordoba a city of peace and relatively tolerant flourishing, that the center will have public facilities such as swimming pools open to the public and that there will be a 9/11 memorial inside the building. Also significant is the fact that the Muslim community desperately needs more prayer space in lower Manhattan and that they have already been using this abandoned site for prayer since 2001. Yet, none of these factors matter in any significant legal fashion.

Some have suggested that the big difference between the Imam hoping to build this Community Center and the LDS Church is that our church is typically willing to do everything in its power to accommodate concern and this imam is not. This is a bit disingenuous considering that the imam did everything in his power to get the Community Center approved through the proper channels. Moreover, while our church is especially sensitive to criticism, in the case of the LDS temple in Belmont, MA we see that it is also willing to go to court to defend its rights when needed. Moreover, this imam may decide to move the center in order to ameliorate concern and to avoid harm to Muslim reputation in America, but he has no obligation to do so.

Kudos to Senator Hatch for unambiguously coming out in favor of our nation’s strong tradition of religious freedom. For a Senator that will likely face strong right wing challengers in two years, this stance is especially brave.