This post is in response to a lot of frustration being expressed on our Facebook page regarding what missionaries should know and what info they should share. It’s easy for us to look at things from the perspective of a member or even a missionary, but so hard to step into the shoes of someone who doesn’t know anything about the church.
For that reason, I want you to imagine that you’re not LDS. Instead, just pretend that you’ve never really been part of a specific religion. Yes, you’ve always called yourself a Christian and believed in God, but never really thought too much about which religion God would want you to follow. In recent months, you’ve started feeling like there’s something missing in your like. Are you in your make-believe character yet? Good, let’s move on.
You’re in a dentist office like any other, happy to have a few minutes to yourself. That is, until the next patient wanders into the waiting room. It’s a Catholic priest with his distinct black clothes and white collar.
Hoping not to be accosted by some religious person, you are sure not to make eye contact. He gives you a pleasant “Hello” and sits down, keeping to himself. The longer the silence, the less worried you are that he’ll force you into a conversation so instead you engage him. “So, you’re a priest, huh?”
“What gave me away?” he jokes. The ice is broken and you begin a friendly conversation, starting with the weather, but dancing safely around anything religious. You think to yourself, this guy sure seems nice, but it feels like there’s something more than that. You feel… good, but you can’t explain it.
What’s really keeping you away from asking about his faith has nothing to do with being shy or averse to talking about God. It’s that all you’ve ever heard about Catholicism is pretty dark. Specifically, you can’t turn on the news without hearing about another Catholic priest who abused a child and the ensuing coverup.
Your curiosity gets the better of you and you decide you want to know more about what Catholics actually believe. To your surprise, it’s not all that crazy. He talks about God, Jesus, and the importance of faith and baptism. You start to really feel something good, but something’s holding you back. The more you talk, the less you hear because all you can think about are the church sex abuses getting so much media attention. No matter how nice it sounds, you could never be part of a religion that condones or hides that sort of behavior. You say, “I really don’t want to offend, but I have to ask: Why have there been so many sex scandals within the church, specifically those against young boys?”
This is the make or break moment for the priest and he knows it. This answer will either be the conversation ender or just the beginning. The priest has three options:
- He could say, “The accusations are lies fabricated by enemies of the church.” Unfortunately for him, you know that they’re not all lies and that the Catholic church has even confirmed many of the stories. In your mind the priest is at best uneducated and at worst a liar. The small chat may continue, but your interest in his religion is gone.
- He could say, “You know, rather than talking about all of the church’s bad press, I would rather talk about what the church is really about – faith, love, and following Jesus.” You think to yourself, well if he’s going to avoid that question, there must not be a good answer. You leave that day assuming that the truth is as bad as the accusations.
- Here’s what he should say: “Yes, there have been a lot of horrible atrocities committed by members of my faith, even leaders, and there is no excuse for that.” At that point he should explain the difference between men and the religion itself and maybe what the church is doing to prevent further abuse.
The only answer that opens the doors for future conversation and possible conversion is option 3. Honesty is the only way to go. Anything else, even if it’s just avoiding the question, causes mistrust.
The very same concept applies to our own missionaries. If you, as a missionary, are asked a tough question, it’s your duty to answer them. It’s the only way you can ever expect someone to trust you. To be able to answer truthfully, you need to know the truth. That’s why we created FutureMissionary.com.