Mutual Witness(es) to Love
Dark and heavy clouds began to swirl and swell, so I went outside to take in the impending storm above my head. As I stood outside, barefoot and eating sections of a tangerine, I was oblivious to the pair of young men dressed in suits that were canvassing the neighborhood. Catching a glimpse of movement in the corner of my eye, I turned around only to see the two of them approaching me with casual smiles on their faces. I smiled back, thinking to myself that they were either Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons.
And I was excited! While most people do everything they can to avoid these missionaries, I had for quite some time longed for a pair to show up at my doorstep. I love nothing more than to have conversations with people about what makes them come alive, about where they find their place in the world, and about the faith they live and breathe. Now, the opportunity had presented itself and I was eager to seize it.
I suspect they were shocked by their encounter with a not-so-typical person like me. I confessed that I did not know much about Mormons, but was very interested in learning more about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. While I was clear to them that I was happy with the church community that I am a part of, I also noted that I was deeply disappointed by the frequent mischaracterizations of Mormons that are perpetuated by many Christians. In fact, the prior evening I had heard someone say that Mormons were not Christian. I knew in my gut that that was wrong, but I did not know enough about Mormons to justify my challenge of the person’s misguided statement. I was ashamed by my lack of knowledge.
So, after asking them why they were passionate about their church, why they have chosen to face the elements by going door-to-door to boldly give witness to their faith, I asked them how to respond to such blanket mischaracterizations in the future. I could tell they were relieved and impressed by my desire to correct the common misconceptions that abound among so many Americans. What followed was a very cursory overview of how the Mormons came to be coupled with a short presentation of The Book of Mormon. I was given my very own copy of the important text and promised them that I would add it to my library. After listening intently to their explanations, I asked them how they were received by the folks they encountered in the community. I was not at all surprised to hear that most people do not open their doors to hear the words and witness these courageous young men have to offer. I was saddened that even some opened their doors only to slam them in their faces.
But then the conversation took an unusual, graced turn. Perhaps it was the foundation of mutual trust that we had carefully laid together, but I began to tell them about my own church, how it came to be, how our common worship unites us, and how a great diversity of opinion is able to exist in the midst of a unity of believers. They listened as carefully to me as I had listened to them, taking in each word with respect and rapt attention. In a way, I suppose I was witnessing to them as much as they were witnessing to me.
I then took it upon myself to inquire about how persons who are gay are received by their church. It was a trick question. I knew what the answer was going to be, but I wanted to hear how they responded. As expected, they did not deviate from their church’s position. But when I revealed to them that I disagreed and had done my due diligence to study the scriptures and early church writings, had gone to graduate school to earn my master’s degree and had studied in depth the intersection of religion and sexuality, they continued to listen to my dissenting perspective with the same respect and rapt attention as before.
I doubt they left the conversation with a change of heart or mind, just as I did not leave with the desire to join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. But I do know that our shared experience of being marginalized within American religious and political discourse and our common commitment to the person of Jesus Christ was enough to guide us through any disagreements we had. In fact, it did more than that. I suspect that together we moved ever more closely from a place of mere toleration to a place of acceptance. As we gazed into each other’s eyes, we could each see the humanity in each other, first and foremost. Not a superficial, nominal recognition of each other’s humanity, but the real, deep, transformative kind that is enough to give a person hope.
So, when they asked to pray with me, I happily welcomed their sacred words to a God for whom we both share such a deep and lasting affection. The prayer was one of the most beautiful, heartfelt, encouraging, prayers I have ever heard.
When an opportunity comes to your door for personal transformation, you have the choice to embrace or reject it. And the relationship, if it is truly good, will be a mutual witness to a love that drives out all hate, all fear, and all the sin of the world.