“We chase them out with a rake!”
I remember as a child talking to a friend of mine at church who lived next door to the Mormon church in our town. We were children, granted, but I remember her saying one day when I asked her about Mormons that she chased them with a rake. There is no telling what actually happened, and there is no telling what stories people could tell about me. Neither is the point.
I am teaching “Poverty and the Church” this semester for the School of Social Work at our local University, and the issue of diversity is inherent in our conversations about poverty and the church. As an extra credit assignment, I asked my students to attend a church that was unlike their own, and write about their experience. One student, raised as a mormon but since evangelicalized, invited me to attend “Mormon Church” with her. So alas, Sunday Morning, it was off to Mormon Church.
Part of why I mention my conversations with a childhood friend is that I realized walking through the parking lot that morning that my fear was based on very, very little. I have a remedial understanding of Mormon belief, enough to know I can say, “No, Thank You” to people who ring my door bell at three thirty on Sunday afternoons.
As a side note, the power of fear to shape our experience of people is fascinating and terrifying. If we are taught to be afraid of someone, are we not more likely to be unjust, violent, discriminatory, and hateful? The danger is startling, but where I live there is still, sadly, a value to propagating fear of “the other,” no matter the ignorance required to do so.
So, I noticed as soon as I sat down that my clothing choice was incorrect. Every other male in the room had on a white button up collared shirt and a tie. I had on neither, and it was obvious. I was asked if I was a visitor…yes, what gives me away…and then asked my name. A minute later, my last name. I must admit, I panicked when asked for my last name. I was tempted to lie…I remember making up a name on the school bus one day when asked for my name, naming one of my dad’s law partners. “Jordan,” I said. “Donald Jordan.”
What strikes me most about the day, save my own uninformed fear and therefore ignorant judgment, was the content of what followed in the sermon. The message was given, instead of by one person, by three different members of the congregation, two females and one male. I liked the thought of this, assuming that the congregation might have a great deal of insight and wisdom to share with the congregation. I then learned that the sermon topic had been assigned as had the reference for their thoughts. The sermon topic was “Sustaining your leadership,” and the references given for the speakers to use were not from scripture itself, but rather from past talks given by previous “apostles” from their previous meetings.
They went on to quote prior leadership saying that the health of the church depended on not questioning the leadership, unity based on not questioning leadership, true calling being made known to them from the leadership, and faithfulness being measured by their allegiance to the leadership.
The ability of an organization to propagate itself by instilling the value of not asking questions, not holding leadership accountable, and even doing so by associating position with a certain amount of divinity…
I left thankful for those who have taught me to ask good questions, to think carefully, and to follow the truth, even when it leads away from common accepted wisdom.
What was most startling is how I have learned to be afraid of a group of people I have never really met, and also how the things that ultimately bothered me most about this past Sunday morning were not unique to the Mormon church.
One of the “missionaries” who spoke, around my age or a little younger it seemed, said to the crowd in a way that made me feel she was saying it to herself as much as anyone else, “I believe this is the true church. I have to. It’s like I heard someone say one time, ‘show me something better, and we will talk.’”
I thought, as I heard those words come off her tongue, “I don’t know much at all, but I know something better.”