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Stop Speaking Mormon-- you're confusing me!

25 March 2015

One Sunday on my mission I was speaking with a wonderful guy who had just joined our Church. It was the first week after his baptism, and he was still getting used to everything. He asked me where to attend Sunday School.
I responded, "You will probably want to continue attending Gospel Principles." When he asked what that was, I clarified, "It's the class you've been going to the past few weeks-- it's the intro class for new members and people investigating the Church."

His eyes widened, and in a hushed voice, he whispered, "Whoa, whoa, what do you mean? Who would want to investigate the Church? Is there some sort of legal problem?" I quickly explained that an investigator is simply someone who isn't a member, but is learning about the Church, just as he himself was only a few days earlier-- not a federal official auditing the Sunday School.

If you haven't noticed yet, we're a peculiar people. This is part of the reason that people have no idea who we are and what we believe-- they generally dislike us as being clique-ish, prideful, and exclusionary. Let's face it: accepting the Church brings with it the awesome task of accepting not just new Scriptures, beliefs, friends, and responsibilities (as if that weren't enough), but also a brand-new vocabulary.

Imagine that you are a visitor to a Sacrament meeting, and you hear this announcement come from the pulpit: "Due to next week's Ward Conference, BYC will be postponed until 6:00. PEC will be switched with Ward Council so that the Stake Presidency can meet in the Relief Society room with the auxiliary and quorum leaders before the first hour in the block."

At this point, I, as a first-time visitor, would be wondering:
Is there even going to be a Church meeting next week? If so, is this "steak president" expecting me to bring my own Ribeye, or will that "relief" group provide one? I'm a little too low on cash to be buying steaks this week.
Unfortunately, it's not just the organizations and the acronyms-- it's the doctrines themselves. Often for a given Gospel word, there's not even a definition in the dictionary that closely resembles the meaning that we attach to it. I love assisting our missionaries in teaching, but I do cringe a little inside when I hear them slam their new "investigator" with a sentence like, "I know that in our Church, the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been restored through a modern prophet." Here's what thought process there might be:

Restore:  To give something a new paint job
Gospel:    Book in the Bible, like Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John
Profit:      Money

So, that missionary's heartfelt testimony may be lost in translation, and come across as meaning, "In our church, we've given part of the Bible a paint job (through money?)" Is it any wonder then, that our beliefs are misunderstood? Fortunately we're in good company-- even Apostles struggle with this:
Recently I received a letter from a friend of over 50 years who is not a member of our church. I had sent him some gospel-related reading, to which he responded: “Initially it was hard for me to follow the meaning of typical Mormon jargon, such as agency. Possibly a short vocabulary page would be helpful.”

I was surprised he did not understand what we mean by the word agency. I went to an online dictionary. Of the 10 definitions and usages of the word agency, none expressed the idea of making choices to act.

-- Robert D. Hales, Oct 2010
We have a duty and obligation to be careful to teach those truths that we hold sacred in such a way that those we are teaching can understand them on their own terms. There must be no mistake about who we follow and what we believe. God makes that pretty clear:
"For it shall come to pass in that day, that every man shall hear the fulness of the gospel in his own tongue, and in his own language" (D&C 90:11).

"I proceed with mine own prophecy, according to my plainness; in the which I know that no man can err" (2 Ne. 25:7).

"And now, my brethren, I would that ye should hear me, for I speak in the energy of my soul; for behold, I have spoken unto you plainly that ye cannot err" (Alma 5:43).

"And they are made known unto us in plain terms, that we may understand, that we cannot err" (Alma 13:23).

"For behold, the Lord doth grant unto all nations, of their own nation and tongue, to teach his word, yea, in wisdom" (Alma 29:8).
Maybe I'm straining at gnats. Maybe I'm picking at motes. But I do think we need to work on this as a church. Maybe I'll bring it up to discuss at the next fireside. Speaking of which, I need to go buy some roasting sticks and marshmallows.

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