Since the topic this month is "Building the Kingdom of God on Earth", I shared the main suggestions from the book, "To Mormons, with Love" (written by Chrisy Ross, a non-denominational Christian living in Utah County) - and we talked about each suggestion, both in terms of how we share the Gospel (now and when they serve missions) and how we interact with non-Mormons, generally. In each case, after discussing the basic concept, we talked about how they would feel if someone in a different religion acted how we sometimes act when dealing with non-members.
• Know Other Religions: One of the students mentioned how much she hates it when one girl at school keeps telling her what Mormons believe - and is wrong every time. I mentioned how many comments I've heard in church meetings about what others believe that simply are wrong.
• Referring to “the Collective”: Everyone agreed that this is a bit creepy, when they really thought about it.
• Elusive Non-Members: Living in an area where they are the minority, they didn't understand this one at first. I was glad to see that lack of understanding.
• Don’t Proselyte (Try to Convert Others): One of the students shared an experience when he was invited to dinner at a new friend's house - and the friend's parents spent the whole time trying to convince him that the LDS Church was bad and that he needed to become Baptist. They understood the importance of getting to know someone and being a real friend first and really loved the following quote:
“Long-lasting friendships can be tainted by an early effort to proselytize. A new family in an LDS neighborhood does not want to feel like the first thing everyone wants to do is change who they are and what they believe.”
• Explain Invitations: One of the students said that he invited a friend to a ward party, not realizing it was a Pioneer Day activity, where everyone was dressed in 19th Century clothing, right down to long dresses and bonnets. His friend freaked out, understandably. We then talked about inviting people over for dinner (or any other setting) and not telling them the missionaries would be there - and referenced the other student's story about his Baptist friend.
• Take No for an Answer: They all understood how obnoxious it would be if someone else kept asking the same question over and over and over again, even when they said they weren't interested.
• Follow Your Own Rules: This one is the trickiest, since not all Mormons do everything the same way, and since I have stressed continually that I want them to own their own faith, even if it's different in some way(s) than others around them. We focused largely on the following concept:
Don’t present something as universal to all Mormons if it isn’t required of all Mormons - and understand the difference.
To non-Mormons (and, for the class discussion, Mormons living / serving missions in areas where they are a small minority):
• Don’t believe everything you hear: You’ll hear weird rumors, crackpot conspiracy theories, and disgruntled stories full of bias. Believe your own experiences first and foremost.
• For some Mormons, the bubble is real: Interestingly, every one of them understood this immediately - but they hadn't thought about it being true of other places dominated by other religions.
• Give people second chances: Or more than that. Be patient in building friendships.
• Accept where you live / serve: The reason most of your neighbors live there is because they like it, so fighting it isn’t going to win friends.
• There is diversity if you look: When you only see people as “LDS” (or Baptist, or Catholic, or Jewish, or Buddhist, etc.) you fail to grasp the complexity of the person beneath that label.
• Read the religious texts that are important to church members: Chrisy felt this was important to understand what people believed, so she read the Book of Mormon for that purpose. I told the students that if any of them are called to serve a mission in an area with lots of Muslims, for example, I hope they read the Koran.
• Ask doctrinal questions of Mormons first, not non-Mormons: This applies just as well to us trying to understand others.
• Lighten up: Don’t be offended when someone does try to proselyte. Don’t waste energy on negative feelings.
• Follow the rules: This also is a bit tricky, because there are some things in other cultures we simply shouldn't do. The key is not to reject entire cultures just because they are different than ours - and, to the greatest extent possible without violating one's own conscience, doing as the Romans do when in Rome. Even in cases where you don't feel good about "following the rules", don't flaunt it. (It would be like taking beer to a Mormon ward party - or serving pork at a Muslim gathering.)
I really enjoyed this lesson, since it had a lot of participation from the students.