"Sharing the Gospel": A Charitable Reading
Once upon a time, I took a brief, planned sabbatical from LDS services to attend a local Unitarian Universalist congregation. During those few weeks, I had a long, heart-felt conversation with their minister. At the end of it, she said, “I so hope you continue to worship with us . . .” and then she paused and amended, “Actually, I hope you choose the path that makes you the happiest.”
I appreciated both of her statements – first, she had obviously found meaning and joy in her own worship and desired to share that with me. Second, she demonstrated regard for me as a unique individual.
I’m not a natural missionary in the traditional sense of the word. I understand the discomfort some feel with the terms “missionary work” and “missionary opportunities” for fear that it implies a problematic, impersonal binary: person = potential convert. But I am likewise uncomfortable with unqualified distrust of any attempt to share religious beliefs and experiences with others.
This is on my mind because of some of the reflexive responses to Maria’s gift idea. She didn’t advocate passing out Book of Mormon’s to neighbors she had never met. She passed along a gift idea that was 1) cheap 2) in keeping with the spirit of this religious holiday 3) distinctive and subtly reflective of her family’s background and culture.
I wonder who I would be – how much more ignorant and impoverished – if my friends and neighbors of the last fifteen years had been reluctant to let me in to their spiritual world. My four closest friends in college were, as part of their identity:
1) an orthodox Jew
2) A member of Opus Dei (a group within Catholicism)
3) A member of Campus Crusade for Christ
4) A Baha’i
As such, I’ve been to many masses and Catholic education events; Passover, Purim, Succot, and orthodox wedding celebrations; evangelical pop concerts; Baha’i services. I have been handed catechisms and prayer cards. I have read articles friends have photocopied for me that help explain their beliefs. I know that, if I had decided to join the Catholic Church or chosen to be “born again,” my friends would have been thrilled. They would have helped me through the conversion process. But I didn’t. And they are still my friends.
I take sharing as a sign of people’s comfort with their own faith. When I attended a Quaker meeting last year, several people came up to introduce themselves, to offer me pamphlets, to extol what they liked about their Meetings. When I went to an Episcopal church one Easter, my pew-mates likewise introduced themselves and, upon hearing me sing with my usual gusto, invited me to join their community choir (I was flattered).
I am grateful that I don’t view evangelicals as a monolithic block, that I don’t buy the DaVinci Code’s sinister portrayal of Opus Dei, that I have insight into the Orthodox traditions, that I know Unitarians can be as devoted to their faith as those who have more dogmatic creeds. If I am reluctant to share my faith, I am contributing to the religious ignorance. I may not be personally gung-ho about “missionary work,” but I want to be comfortable being ME with others – and part of me includes my faith. So if I really like a MoTab CD, why not share it with a friend? And if I am running the Primary Program – as I recently did – and it has taken *hours* of my time, why not invite a friend? After all, I would invite them to a school production I was directing.
As it was, I brought my husband along to watch the children sing. Church isn’t his cup of tea, but he came because he loves me and cares that I care about this church. And he was OK with the fact that lots of people came up to introduce themselves. I suppose some may have been thinking “let’s go fellowship that non-member” — but mostly, these good people were just being themselves and allowing that to come through.