Relationships create the environments that allow humans to extend their circles of caring. Mary Pipher
One of my friends (I'll call her Emily) told me of a recent conversation with one of her dearest friends (I'll call her Thea). Emily and Thea's daughters, both eight-years-old, became fast friends while in kindergarten, and their mothers soon followed suit. Thea, originally from northern Europe, had been an exchange student in New England some years ago. Now married to a fellow European, and having settled in New England, she remains in contact with her host family parents whom she affectionately refers to as mom and dad.
As Emily and Thea have grown closer over the years they have often spoken of religion; Emily is LDS and Thea is Catholic. Through their friendship, they have shared their beliefs with one another. Thea attended Emily's daughter's baptism, bringing her roses to celebrate the occasion, and in turn Emily attended Thea's daughter's first communion.
At Christmastime, Thea's family was visiting her host family, and as conversations often do, theirs turned to politics and the possible presidential contenders. As Thea and her mother spoke of the possible candidates, her mom commented, "Mitt Romney's a Mormon. Mormons are so weird. How could he even think of running?"
The purpose of this blog is not to promote presidential candidates, but to speak of the positive ramifications of extending ourselves beyond the comfort of our Mormon faith. Which in the case of Thea and Emily was at least two-fold. Not only have Thea and Emily and their daughters developed friendships that make the world feel a safer place, when the LDS church was innocently maligned, Thea immediately came to its defense, telling her host mother that Mormons are good people, not weird at all.
And yes there's more.
Several weeks after Thea's Christmas visit, her host mother called her, and shared that she had recently read an article in the press which explained what Mormons believe; she had learned that we not only have a strong focus on the family, we are also Christians.
Her mom ended by saying, "Maybe I could vote for a Mormon after all."
What can we learn from Thea and Emily's story?
1. Emily and Thea became friends because they were able to find common ground, which was initially that their daughters were friends. While Emily did share a Book of Mormon with Thea at one point, when Thea and her husband chose not to learn more, nothing changed in their friendship. Their love and respect for one another extends to supporting one another in their respective religious traditions.
2. If people don't have a point of reference in real experience, the discussion about our faith is academic, even clinical, and more likely than not our detractors will have the final word.
3. If these same individuals can put a face to our faith, especially as a result of true friendship which involves inviting one another into our homes and hearts - our friends will come to our defense when our faith is vilified, because the discussion is no longer academic, it's personal.
4. While the low-touch approach of generating positive press about our faith is certainly important, the high-touch approach is crucial, as we saw in Emily and Thea's experience. For a more in-depth discussion on the high-touch approach, see The Spirit of Ammon.