Most LDS Church members are getting more questions these days, because the church is in the news like never before.
With two presidential candidates (one just departed), with Broadway musicals parodying the church, with the "I Am a Mormon" campaign getting ever more visibility and attention, the curiosity about the church is at an all-time high. And if we think curiosity is high now, just imagine what it will be if Mitt Romney becomes the nominee, something that could happen.
We and our children should be prepared to give basic and simple answers to those who ask.
It is important to distinguish between curiosity and interest. Many members are pretty well prepared to discuss the church in a missionary vein with someone who has a religious interest in learning more. Returned missionaries in particular feel relatively comfortable when someone wants to explore the teachings and doctrines.
But what about someone who is merely curious? A full-bore missionary answer to casual questions may be off-putting at best and offensive at worst. We need to know how to answer the questions and curiosity of people with straightforward data that gives them an accurate picture of the church and hopefully helps them see the church and its members in a true and favorable light.
While there is no standard or "right" answer for the most common questions being asked these days, it does sometimes help to have an example of a direct and useful response. Over the next couple of columns, we will suggest some wording that may be helpful in formulating your own answers to questions that you may be asked.
We certainly do not speak for the church (nor should you as you respond to curious people) but we do, because of our frequent speaking to and interaction with nonmember groups, have a lot of chances to try to give good answers. We have also recently worked with a group of outstanding church members to try to develop appropriate wording on many issues.
For us, the five areas of curious interest (and of misunderstanding) that we face most often are:
Are Mormons Christian? ("differentness" from other Christian faiths)
Polygamy (then and now, included within the positive and expansive Mormon view of families, marriage and of God's family)
Secrecy (cultlike ceremonies, "weird" doctrines and practices hidden from the public eye)
Women (as subservient, unimportant and unrepresented in leadership)
Religious freedom and diversity (misperceptions about "Utah enclave," "old white men syndrome" and the question of public fairness to all denominations)
Let us begin with some wording for the first (and in some ways most troublesome) question about whether we are Christian:
Mormons are thoroughly Christian, but are also unique and different from other Christians. We believe in the New Testament, in Christ as our Savior and in his Atonement for all sin. We also believe Jesus was Jehovah, creator of heaven and earth and the God of the Old Testament and that he is separate and distinct from God the Father and from the Holy Ghost, the three of which make up the eternal Godhead.
In addition to the Old and New Testaments, Mormons believe that God still speaks through newly revealed scriptures and through living prophets and apostles just as he did in the original Christian church, thus the official name "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (signifying the same church, doctrines and organization, but in a later time).
For divine direction, Mormons look back to scripture and also forward to the same spiritual power of living revelation that ancient prophets and Christians have had in all dispensations.
Next week, we will suggest some sample wording in the areas of marriage, polygamy and secrecy.
Richard and Linda are the founders of Joyschools.com and New York Times No. 1 best-selling authors who lecture throughout the world on family-related topics. Visit the Eyres anytime at www.TheEyres.com or at www.valuesparenting.com or read Linda's blog at www.deseretnews.com/blog/81/A-World-of-Good.html. Their three latest books are "The Entitlement Trap," "5 Spiritual Solutions" and "The Three Deceivers." Listen to their weekly radio show on Mondays at 4:30 at www.byuradio.org.