Several weeks ago during lunch at a professional conference a colleague told me that the LDS missionaries had knocked on his door recently. I took a deep breath and immediately commenced mental preparations for whatever he was going to ask me. This particular colleague is a philosopher of religion so I was fairly sure he was going to ask me about some bit of LDS history or theology. But, I was wrong.
Upon inviting the missionaries into his home and having a positive conversation with them, the missionaries asked if he and his wife would come to church. They were curious and agreed. In turn they invited the missionaries to attend their church with them sometime. The missionaries declined this invitation and promptly left. This exchange left my friend bewildered so he asked me to explain. I thought I had been ready for anything he would ask me. As most members are, I am regularly asked about same-sex marriage, the prophet, women and the priesthood, plural marriage, and the word of wisdom so I have brief luncheon-suitable answers for these questions. I was also prepared to discuss the Mormon doctrine of God, LDS soteriology, Book of Mormon historicity and even LDS apocalypticism with this colleague should these issues arise. I was unprepared, however, to have to explain the missionaries’ behavior.
As a missionary in Tokyo I went to more Shinto shrines than I can count. Part of loving the people was learning about what mattered to them and why. In fact, in my third area I am relatively sure that we were on the prospective investigator list of a couple of Jehovah’s witnesses for several weeks until it became clear to me that our discussions were no longer productive. I realize that to be fair we have to recognize that something else may have happened in the case of the missionaries with my colleague. Perhaps one of the missionaries was inspired to get up and go for some reason. But, I wonder whether there’s a new policy banning attendance at other churches for missionaries. Does anyone know? If not, perhaps these two missionaries were just bungling the basics of building on common beliefs and developing relationships of trust.