I came across an interesting reaction to LDS missionaries recently. A letter to the editor of an English-language Thai paper suggested that the presence of LDS missionaries there is an insult: “Why do Mormon missionaries in particular always travel thousands of miles on the ‘mission’ when Mormonism was entirely founded in the United States over a century ago, yet the US is 98 per cent non-Mormon?”
What is important here, I think, is not the misunderstanding of Mormon motives, but the worldview of this letter. Like many of you, I’m sure I could give a reasonable explanation of why we must “travel thousands of miles” to preach when there is so much preaching to do at home. But explanations fall on deaf ears if they conflict with how the recipient sees the world.
These odd (to us) perceptions of Mormonism don’t just happen in Thailand, of course. They happen here in the U.S. also. Among the reactions to BYU’s suspension of starting basketball player Brandon Davies are clearly different worldviews from those who criticize the move—from those who think almost anything is permissible, to those who think winning is most important, to those who value privacy over commitment. Other news and LDS activites—proposition 8, missionary work, genealogy, etc.—also have exposed the differences between Mormon views and those of the writer.
Too often our reactions are knee-jerk. We rise and defend the faith before understanding the worldview of the critic. Worse, we often defend the faith instead of acknowledging our error or how we may have unintentionally offended.
I see this kind of reaction all the time, from the Deseret News as well as the Mormon apologists. The latest overreaction is in response to a mundane article in the Economist on the potential presidential candidacies of Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman. Federal Way Conservative somehow saw defamation and inaccuracies important enough to criticize. But when I read his complaints, I couldn’t help feeling that he was making a mountain out of a mole hill. If nothing else, he doesn’t understand where the Economist is coming from.
As I search and look for news about Mormons and Mormonism, I frequently have the feelings that, I think, FWC must have—frustrations at how the media and others just don’t get Mormons. I’ve sometimes wondered if Mormonism doesn’t need a kind of Anti-Defamation League, an organization that responds and clarifies where the LDS Church’s public affairs won’t. Then I read an over-reaction and fear that a Mormon Anti-Defamation League would be dominated by over-reactions.
Occasionally I do respond to the items I find frustrating and try to clarify Mormon beliefs and situation, pointing out where there are misunderstandings and differences in perspective. Other times I’m just trying to defend my beliefs. Sometimes its obvious that there is malice against Mormons. Other times its just misunderstandings.