I had to chuckle as I read an article in the online Wall Street Journal December 7th. “What Iowans Should Know About Mormons” by Naomi Schaefer Riley has received attention from several bloggers for various reasons, but what caught my attention was this:
“Once Mormons complete their missionary service, they are not obliged to proselytize, so having Mormons as neighbors doesn’t mean a constant bombardment with invitations to join up.”
I probably don’t need to tell you that Ms. Riley is not a Mormon. I have no idea where she got this mistaken notion about Mormons being non-proselytizing unless they are serving formal missions. She read the Ostlings’ Mormon America, but she wouldn’t have learned it from that book. She spent some time on the BYU campus in Provo, UT, but surely she didn’t learn it there. At least since 1959, when LDS President David O. McKay said in General Conference, “every member a missionary,” lay-member missionary work has been a high priority for Mormons all over the world.
Just last General Conference (October 2007) this was emphasized in a talk by Seventy Erich W. Kopischke where members were called on to use the missionary training manual Preach My Gospel in order to become better at finding people who will agree to meet with LDS missionaries. Members are encouraged to become better at “working hand in hand with missionaries,” becoming one with them in their “efforts to proclaim the [restored] gospel” (“Preach My Gospel—the Unifying Tool between Members and Missionaries,” Ensign, Nov 2007, 33–35).
At the April 2006 General Conference LDS Apostle M. Russell Ballard told members that they need to develop “gospel-sharing homes” to make it natural for inviting neighbors “to attend church, a family home evening, or some other activity.” Mr. Ballard said,
“More than 20 years ago I suggested that the key to successful member missionary work is the exercise of faith. One way to show your faith in the Lord and His promises is to prayerfully set a date to have someone prepared to meet with the missionaries. I have received hundreds of letters from members who have exercised their faith in this simple way. Even though families had no one in mind with whom they could share the gospel, they set a date, prayed, and then talked to many more people.”
Mr. Ballard made some suggestions for member proselytizing:
“Church literature or DVDs can introduce new friends to the Church. Invitations to hear a family member speak in sacrament meeting or to attend the baptismal service of a family member or to tour a meetinghouse have also been appreciated by those who are not members. From every indicator we have, there is nothing more effective that any of us can do for our friends than to say ‘come and see’ by joining with us in sacrament meeting.” (M. Russell Ballard, “Creating a Gospel-Sharing Home,” Ensign, May 2006, 84–87)
Indeed, how many non-Mormons reading Mormon Coffee who have come into contact with Latter-day Saint neighbors or co-workers have not been given at least one “pass-along card”?
Please don’t misunderstand me. I see nothing wrong with Mormons taking an active role introducing people to their church. I just wonder how the journalist for the Wall Street Journal could have gotten it so wrong. In the words of Mormons’ beloved former Prophet:
“No individual can go away from this conference, even as a listener, without a heavier responsibility upon him…
“In 1923 in the British Mission there was a general instruction sent out to the members of the Church advocating what Brother Gordon B. Hinckley has emphasized today. We did not spend money advertising in the press. The feeling in England was quite bitter at that time, but we said: ‘Throw the responsibility upon every member of the Church that in the coming year of 1923 every member will be a missionary. Every member a missionary!…’
“And that is the message today. Every member–a million and a half–a missionary! I think that is what the Lord had in mind when he gave that great revelation on Church government, as recorded in the 107th section of the Doctrine and Covenants…
“‘Wherefore, now let every man learn his duty, and to act in the office in which he is appointed, in all diligence.
“‘He that is slothful shall not be counted worthy to stand, and he that learns not his duty and shows himself not approved shall not be counted worthy to stand. Even so. Amen.’ (D&C 107:99-100.)” (David O. McKay, Conference Report, April 1959, p. 122)
Pretty strong words. Compelling. Which is another way of saying Mormons are “obliged to proselytize.” Whether they do so by employing “a constant bombardment with invitations to join up” would really need to be determined on a case-by-case basis.
What has been your experience?