Thursday, July 19, 2007

Mennonites and the Baptists, or How I Learned to Stop Feeling Weird About Witnessing and the Divine Saving Grace

Lately I've been reading fictional Christian books about the Amish by Beverly Lewis. Although I would not say these books would count as literature, they have made me think a lot outside of reading them, which is one the standards I use for considering literature. After all, if a book doesn't make me think at all, then it's most likely fluff.

When I was a child, I used to say that if I weren't Mormon, I would either be Jewish or Amish. At the time I knew absolutely nothing about Amish doctrine, but only that I wanted to be a pioneer, and here they were being all pioneer-like in this century. I've always wanted to be a pioneer, as I stated in my earlier list of books entry, and they would be my chance to live out my desires even though I was born 150 years too late.

Now I realize that although they still wear dresses and traditional male clothing, drive buggies, and have massive gardens that they can fruit and vegetables out of, they're really not at all like the pioneers. Behind all that they do, their religion drives and defines them, gives them the motivation to do things in the traditional ways, even though they don't have to. Although I enjoy doing old-fashioned things like baking my own bread, I also don't mind having a Kitchen-Aid mix up the dough for me.

In the end I don't share their same religious devotion that gives their way of life meaning, and I really do like modern conveniences like hot, running water, and cooking in an oven with temperatures (instead of a wooden stove). Frankly, I enjoy my college education, and the Amish only attend school up through the eighth grade, believing that too much education is worldly and leads one to pride and forgetting God.

All this makes me feel better about never having been Amish. That and I do have a testimony of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which doctrines are very incompatible with the Amish.

Which brings me to the second half of my entry; witnessing and the Divine Grace. Beverly Lewis, although writing mainly about Amish people in their Amish faith, clearly does not agree with that said faith. She's continuously having people in her books convert to the Mennonite faith, which in her writing sounds the same as the Baptists; they're always talking about witnessing to people, and other very Baptist terms like once people accept Jesus into their hearts then they're saved. These kind of phrases have always made me very uncomfortable. I've always had a weakness for reading Christian romances from the Protestant publishing company Bethany House, and many of them are all full of such distinctly non-Mormon phraseology.

Also when I was a young teenager the Baptists held a large evangelizing conference in Salt Lake City, as I understand for the direct purpose of helping bring the Mormons to Christ. As a Mormon, understandably this made me, along with many people from Salt Lake uncomfortable. President Hinckley told us to make them feel welcome and to not be adversarial, which in my one experience with them I tried to follow this injunction.

One Monday night my family headed down to Liberty Park for FHE, to walk down its paths and to play in its Children's playground. While there we ran into a bunch of faithful, witnessing, evangelical Baptist Youth, who asked us if they could talk to us about Jesus. In an effort to be compliant and non-offensive, we told them they could, although it made me feel a little odd, because I already knew about Jesus. I don't remember all they talked to us about, although I do remember it followed the line of letting Jesus into our lives to save us. Unfortunately at that time I hadn't heard the talk by the General Authority about considering ourselves saved if anyone asked, and so when they asked us if we were saved I felt woefully under-prepared to answer, because although I knew that Jesus Christ had died for our sins and resurrected on the third day as part of the process of Atonement of all mankind, including myself, I didn't know if that meant I was already saved (which we are, according to their definition of saved).

Then these exuberant youth asked if they could pray with me and my siblings, and instructed us to repeat the prayer after them out loud. Thus followed the most awkward prayer I think I've ever been a part of, mainly because of at that point I had never followed anyone else in prayer out loud, and even more specifically the prayer was very different than how I was accustomed to pray. No, on writing neither of these two things were what made me feel so weird. Maybe it was feeling proselyted to, and on something as basic as praying and the Atonement of Jesus Christ, when I felt that I already had a handle on both the practice and the doctrine.

In Beverly Lewis' books the "enlightened" saved characters - who are always Mennonite (an Anabaptist religion), or Amish who have secretly become saved, but have stayed with the Amish to be a light on a hill to them. The Amish believe (according to her) that to say you are saved is a mark of pride, which pride is the greatest sin, because you won't know until the judgment day whether you are or not. So these saved Mennonites are constantly finding ways to witness to their Amish friends and relatives, whereupon Jesus becomes their best friend and constant companion.

As usual, I was feeling pretty weird about all of this. Then I experienced an epiphany; to us, when we are bearing our testimonies, we are witnessing like the Baptists do. So if I just mentally replace "bearing testimony" every time I read "witnessing" I feel ever so much better. I just must have a negative reaction to the word, not the concept. As well, although they express their relationships with the Savior differently than we do, ultimately, we also believe in a close and intimate relationship with Him, and not just learning about Him.

One thing I did like was how often they would talk about religion; I think sometimes in my life, although I'm surrounded by members of the church, religion (our religious beliefs, our testimonies, versus what the mutual's doing this week) rarely comes up, and I would like to bring it up more.

And thus I've learned to stop worrying, and love the Baptists.


  1. Agreed.

    After all, any religion that can produced John Bunyan can't be entirely bad, yeah?

  2. Thora this is an interesting post. I too have read books by that author ( mom gave me them to read) I also find it a little weird when asked if I am saved... like its a one time thing you have to do and then you are set. If only it were that simple... at any rate I have really enjoyed learning about other faiths from the books. i find that alot of people have weird ideas about us mormons, kind of wonder if there are young baptist somewhere who have read the work and the glory. Or are us mormons the only weird ones to read other faith novels? I still find it weird that I have to dispell commen rumors about our church. In yosemite when I met the moms from my baby board I rode with one in her car and we were chatting. She is a catholic and a real one that goes to church every week not just twice a year. She asked if she could ask me some questions... I of course said sure. She mainly had a hard time just understanding why we couldnt have chocolate... ummm... what?? I guess the whole no coffee/caffine somehow has gotten confused. She also had the same old questions like polygamy and blacks and priesthood and lay ministry. I rather like helping people see that we are just normal people that read scriptures and are believers in christ and are not some weird cult in utah.

    sorry that was a verry long run on tangent...

    anyways i like your post, makes me feel like I am having a conversation with you :)

  3. I think it often takes stepping outside our religion in books or through the eyes of acquaintances of other faiths before we begin asking enough questions about our own faith to come to understand what we really believe. That is one thing being a proselyting missionary does. It forces one to think enough about what one believes to be able to explain it and defend it.

  4. Thora, I remember that trip to the park. I was hoping for a real discussion about some of the real differences between Mormons and Baptists (I used to be a Baptist.) Instead, what I got was their refutation of things we no longer believe in (such as polygamy, or Blacks and the Priesthood) or that wwe have never believed in (such as, "Why aren't Mormons allowed to dance?")

    I'd love to have a real discussion about being saved by grace or works, or eternal families, or the need for a living prophet, for example. But none of the Protestants ever want to talk about those things. I wonder why?