Mormonism and Embracing Other Cultures

I gave a talk in church yesterday and wanted to share it here. It was inspired by my interactions with so many of you. Thanks for broadening my worldview in ways I never could have imagined over the past 5 years.

As Mormons there are a lot of lifestyle decisions we make which can set us apart from those outside the faith. When we lived in Dallas a few years ago my husband had a large number of coworkers who were also LDS. I looked around at the Christmas party one year and realized that though most people were clustered over in one area of the room getting something to drink, the Mormons had gravitated toward the cupcake dessert bar. I think this spoke both to our commitment to avoid alcohol as well as the sweet tooth I’ve found to be a common characteristic in all of the wards I’ve lived in.

These lifestyle commitments affect our daily choices in a number of ways. We may choose to say no to invitations on Sunday, keep our Monday evenings clear, get up extra early for seminary, drink sparkling cider on New Year Eve, and gather as a family for daily scripture study. My nonmember friends with families have often expressed to me how positive and appealing these practices are. In fact, I have a nonmember friend who has no interest in being baptized, but has adapted the concept of Family Home Evening for her own family!

Many of the talks and lessons we hear in church speak of “putting on the whole armor of God” or as a recent Relief Society lesson stated “Stay on the Lord’s Side of the Line”. These messages are important to consider because we each have different weaknesses that need to be overcome. I know in my own life making good nutritional choices is one of those areas of weakness for me. The only way for me to succeed is to keep the cookies, candies, crackers, and chips completely out of the house. Otherwise I give in every time I have a craving and have to deal with the consequences!

Sometimes though, when we are seeking to avoid harmful practices, we end up excluding people who are different than us. It is critical that we differentiate between inherently sinful behavior and choices made because of commitments to God. Sinful behavior hurts other people in some way, such as attacking someone physical or verbally, taking from others what doesn’t belong to you, etc.

An excellent example of a behavior that isn’t inherently sinful is drinking alcohol. Wine and other fermented drinks were used extensively throughout history before potable drinking water was readily available. We abstain from alcohol now because Joseph Smith revealed not a commandment, but a “principle with promise”, now known as the Word of Wisdom. Members of the LDS church have faith that following these principles will lead to happier, healthier lives for them. Throughout the world there are people who do not follow this principle, often because of culture or scientific beliefs, and it would be a shame to miss out on their fellowship completely because we are unsure how to approach their alternative choices.

For several years now I’ve written a personal blog with a diverse readership base, and one of the stories emailed to me by Rachel*, a non-Mormon reader, has remained with me ever since. A new couple had moved into Rachel’s neighborhood, and they invited Rachel and her husband over for dinner. As was custom for their own specific culture, Rachel and her husband carefully selected a bottle of wine to present as a housewarming gift for the new couple. When they arrived for dinner, their gift was outright rejected because the new tenants were LDS. Although religion was cited as the reason for the refusal, Rachel was really hurt by this encounter and didn’t understand why she had been treated that way. She was trying to communicate fellowship with this new family the best way she knew how.

Some LDS families wouldn’t be comfortable accepting the bottle of wine, and I understand that. Each person needs to evaluate how they feel would comfortable approaching these situations, but keep in mind how your approach might come across to those outside of our culture and church.

We’ve been counseled to seek out everything “virtuous, lovely, and of good report”, and it would be a shame to go through life missing out on those good and lovely people and things found outside of Mormonism.

James Ferrell has written a book called “Falling to Heaven: The Surprising Path to Happiness”. In it he has an excellent chapter called “Superiority by Association”, which I’d like to read a quote from.

 “One of the most common phrases in any Latter-day Saint testimony meeting is the declaration that “This is the true church”. And so we believe it to be. However, we risk becoming as the Zoramites if we think that being a member of the “true church” makes us the “true people” and other the untrue. With a little reflection, it becomes obvious that one of the foundational teachings of the Church is that mere membership in it does not make one better than anyone else.”

Let’s make sure that when we’re seeking to insulate ourselves from situations that will test our areas of weakness, we aren’t isolating ourselves from the wonderful, diverse, kind, and loving people outside of our church and culture.

 *name changed

21 thoughts on “Mormonism and Embracing Other Cultures

  1. Thank you for sharing this with your church and here, Jenna. I’ve followed you since your WeddingBee days and our sons are very close in age. I am not only a member of, but work for, an ELCA Lutheran Church. One of my greatest wishes is to help “church people” to not judge and exclude others and to help repair the reputation that Christians have created as being a group of people who are more often than not doing just that. I was thrilled to see you advocating for the same.

  2. I have had a similar experience once trying to give a born again Christian a Christmas card. It is hurtful when you don’t understand why you are having a gesture rejected.

  3. As a Catholic I can relate to believing we’re the one True Church, but trying to not “exile” or “judge” people. Something that I try to remember is that we are ALL sinners, and we are ALL saved by Jesus. Even if we’re a part of the Church, it’s only by God’s Grace, and not our own doing. So, even though we have hope in Heaven, it doesn’t make us any “better” per say, than other people. Every human being has intrinsic dignity and needs to be treated as such. But, that doesn’t mean we have to think what they’re doing is okay, like cohabiting, or sex outside of marriage, etc.

    Sorry if I’m just babbling on and not making any sense… 🙂

    Thanks for sharing this. 🙂

  4. Hi Jenna! It’s Gwendolyn. My husband and I are LDS and we have received wine as a gift before. My parents were pretty strict about being grateful no matter what the gift. So fortunately I haven’t hurt any feelings so far. I’m just saving it for using in baking as a gift for that person. I know many people who wouldn’t be comfortable with it even being in the house but I keep wine vinegar for dressings and non-alcoholic wine for MY baking, cooking and new year’s eve.

    Jenna Reply:

    I really like this attitude! I think it’s a great way to try to look at the spirit of the law instead of the letter of the law.

  5. Agh! I keep trying to finish this comment…but my tablet keeps freaking out on me.

    The only comments on having those things in my home are from the same people who won’t drink virgin mixed drinks at a wedding or party…to avoid the appearance of evil…I just shrug and keep drinking my lime juice slushy (margerita). Meanwhile trying not to mentally compare them to Pharisees. It’s hard but the lime deliciousness helps 😉

    Sorry…I have issues…

  6. I really enjoyed this. Too often people can judge what is different from what they believe. Even in our own church we can tend to judge when someone makes mistakes. Well, like Pres. Dieter F. Uchtdorf said, “Don’t Judge Me Because I Sin Differently Than You.”

    I am curious how Rachel would have preferred they handle the situation. Since we are an LDS family and don’t drink alcohol, I obviously wouldn’t want to offend, but how do you let someone know and understand that your standards don’t allow for the consumption of that kind of gift? Especially for future reference. I would think that if I didn’t say something and then it came up later that we are LDS and didn’t let them know earlier, they would be hurt by that.

    Jenna Reply:

    She didn’t clarify exactly what was said, so I just have to speculate. I think if you aren’t comfortable even having it in the house (and would like to ironing out to them that you are LDS) a great sa to do it would be to say “Thank you so much for this thoughtful gift. We are actually members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and don’t drink alcohol. Please take this lovely bottle back home with you and enjoy it on your own time, because we wouldn’t want your gift to go to waste. We really appreciate the gesture.”

    I like Gwen’s approach though. Keep it and cook with it.

    I do think you alluded to something that could be problematic though. You accept the alcohol and then they later find out you don’t drink and feel annoyed that they wasted a perfectly good bottle of wine on you!

    Evelyn Reply:

    I know this is sort of different, but when we lived in Kazakhstan we’d have people over for dinner and had wine brought to us a few times. I think each of the givers (except one) knew we were LDS and didn’t drink alcohol… [Chris always made a point to tell because giving alcohol is a pretty common gift to hosts]. The funny thing was that our guests who brought it to us were Muslim (more cultural than religious) and they would insist that they didn’t drink alcohol either–except at events, gatherings, special occasions, etc. =) We always accepted their gift graciously and I think we either gave it away to someone else or dumped it down the drain later. Culturally, it would’ve been worse to try and return it.

    In the U.S., we’ve never had to cross that bridge, but I think the best way to go about it is to simply accept it graciously and then, in the course of the evening, mention that you don’t drink alcohol, thank them for their thoughtfulness and tell them you don’t want it to go to waste and offer it back to them as they leave. Personally, I’m not a fan of cooking or baking with alcohol for a variety of reasons, one being that I waited tables for quite a while and always ended up with spilled wine, beer, or liquor on my shoes and can’t stand the smell! =)

    Ellie Reply:

    I think the person bringing the gift will be embarrassed – I was embarrassed recently because I brought a gluten free friend some cookies – but I really think Jenna’s approach is best here. Thank them profusely for the gesture, then explain that you don’t drink, and then ask them the please take it back home to enjoy it. It will be awkward, but as long as you then smoothly shift into dinner, I think you can get past it.

    Ellie Reply:

    I was thinking more about this and I think it is also good to be upfront – I’m a vegetarian, and when inviting new people over for a meal, I usually warn them that we don’t eat meat. Both because it prepares them to not ask when I’m serving the “main course” and because they don’t bring us chocolate covered bacon.

    I think the best way to avoid this situation in the future is to let people know, subtly, that you have a dry household – and that would probably avoid the issue. Perhaps a simple, “we are an LDS household, so please don’t be offended if we don’t serve wine” or something else would be enough to keep them from bringing wine/beer.

  7. You know, I’m not LDS, so I can’t comment on a good way to refuse wine as a gift, but I do think that unless the refusal was very rude or came with some prostheletizing, perhaps Rachel should just… get over it? It’s a shame to spend time on any gift that isn’t a good fit, but there are so many reasons that a person wouldn’t drink – religion, pregnancy, personal preference, perhaps they are recovering alcoholics – all are perfectly valid and not personal. If you bring wine to a person’s home and the person doesn’t drink, they should be able to politely say “no thank you” and that should be ok. It’s hard to say what really went wrong here because there isn’t an account of what was said or the attitude in which it is refused. Wine is going to be a lovely housewarming or hostess gift in many cases, but sometimes it just isn’t.

  8. Just a side note – please make sure T1 doesn’t eat holly berries! They are poisonous. As few as 20 can be fatal to someone his size.

    Jenna Reply:

    I think the best rule in nature is “never put anything in your mouth unless you know exactly what it is”. We’ll teach all of our kids that very lesson. Holly berries aren’t poisonous to touch and explore and throw at squirrels though!

  9. My parents (and us too) don’t drink and there are 4 bottles of wine on their counter that hav made countless moves with them! Sometimes they have guests over that do drink and can offer that. Sometimes they regift them. But I would never refuse a gift or preach about it in any way. I say cook with it!

  10. I think this is a great talk. About the right way to act if offered a bottle of wine in this situation, I was surprised to see that no one pointed out the most obvious issue (to me) with accepting it out of kindness. As LDS members, we are supposed to teach through example. There are lots of religions that “don’t drink” or have pre-marital sex, or take birth control. That doesn’t mean all of their members follow those rules. It is important that we don’t give non LDS members the impression that we pick and choose which rules we live by, giving a bad name to all mormons.

    I think the best way to handle the situation is to be upfront. “Thank you so much for the thought, however we are LDS, and do not drink alcohol. Please do not be offended, we really appreciate the offer.” If you are polite about it, there shouldn’t be any problems.

    We are each representatives of the LDS church. We need to not forget that. We have to be sure that we give people the correct image of our lives and our beliefs.

  11. Good post. I’ve been an ‘investigator’ for a couple of years now. We have adopted some of the church teachings, some were already there(one of my LDS friends laughs because I have done home preserving for many years before investigating the church and grew up with a grandmother who lived during the Great Depression and we have enough food in our garage, etc. to feed a small army for like forever.)

    One of the things that has kept me continuing on this path is that I had a friend who for YEARS I didn’t even know she was LDS. I hear alot of LDS say things like “Oh, I don’t drink COFFEE”, etc., etc.. Which is the same “I’m more righteous than you are” BS that has turned me away from my very Catholic upbringing. This friend of mine turns out to be the Bishop’s wife of the ward we’ve attended.

    I think it is really important to lead by example, live your principles, help those who need it- regardless of how ‘worthy’ they are(certainly not for my fallible judgement to determine)- and let the seeds of your choices and behavior grow and blossom where you plant them.

    I’ve had so many friends say “Please don’t join that church, we’ll never see you again and you’ll want to cut ties with all your non-LDS friends…” I think, in some regards, the ranks (so-to-speak) of the LDS church have been so closed, it is difficult to think that by joining the church you aren’t burning the bridge behind you. I know it is easier to adhere to the tenants of any belief system when that is all there is and you are immersed in it- but it works both ways: what sometimes keeps people in is also what keeps people out.

    Just my .02.. 🙂 But, good post.

  12. This is so well written Jenna. Thank you for sharing it. If more people could grasp this concept, Mormons probably seem so “different”. By calling others different, we isolate ourselves. I hope people were listening. 🙂

  13. 🙂

    You would love the rest of the book as well. I have already purchased 3 additional copies to give away as gifts over the Holidays. It’s just so spot on.


  14. I am not a member of the LDS church but I have been on the receiving end of instructions from a member of the LDS in Ireland who invited my friend and I to dinner.
    We wanted to bring some wine obviously we respect that our friend of the would not be taking any alcohol. But when I asked our LDS friend if we could take alcohol she replied that she ‘Could not let alcohol into her home’ and asking her to do this was the same as ‘asking a Jew to eat pork’. We non-members of the LDS found this type of dictate both frightening and humiliating -we only wanted a few glasses of wine with a good meal.
    My other non LSD friend summed it up when she said that prohibition of this nature ‘Just serves to make you feel inferior’. I don’t feel my LDS friend intention was to make us feel inferior but her position does -we are good friends but dictate on this scale just drives a wedge between us.

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