Sunday, August 9, 2015

Being a "project"...

This morning, I was reading RfM and Raptor Jesus, one of my favorite RfM posters,  started a thread about being a church "project".

Guillermo is very persistent as he tries to persuade his neighbor, Steve Tanner, to go to church with him...

The video is made like the old Bill Murray film, Groundhog Day.  Over and over again, Guillermo approaches his neighbor.  Over and over again, Steve expresses disinterest in going back to the LDS church.  Guillermo doesn't give up.  Notice how this video is all about getting to "yes".  Guillermo keeps going to Steve's house as he's fixing his bike.  He keeps trying to involve him in church activities.  Steve isn't interested and says so repeatedly, yet Guillermo relentlessly persists in trying to get him to go.  

Now, we are to assume that Steve eventually rejoins the church and gets right with God.  And now, Guillermo needs someone else's soul to "rescue".  This is presented as a noble thing and not the creepy stalking behavior it is.  Moreover, while Guillermo might actually want to be friends with Steve, first and foremost, Steve is seen as a project.  He's even discussed at a church meeting as Guillermo is tasked to fellowship him and draw him back into the religion.

Think about this.  There's Steve out there, minding his own business, wearing casual clothes, using his Sunday to fix his bike.  Guillermo comes by in his suit, looking somewhat sharp but obviously uncomfortable with the task he's been given.  He's got at least three hours of church ahead of him.  Tell me.  What would most people rather be doing?  What would most people rather be wearing on the weekend?

Does Guillermo really want to be friends with Steve or is he just doing what the church leaders demand of him?  He clearly doesn't want to pester Steve, but the church leaders in the endless loop keep goading him into harassing his neighbor.  At one point, Guillermo demands to know "Why won't you come to church?!"  He even offers Steve a suit to wear.

To me, it's pretty damn easy to understand why he doesn't go.  What would you rather be doing on the weekend?  Sitting in boring meetings wearing a borrowed suit or fixing your bike in the sunshine while wearing jeans and a t-shirt?

Finally, Guillermo talks to the bishop and overhears Steve talking to his dad and realizes the young man is from a broken home.  He's hurting and sad.  Suddenly, Guillermo has insight and decides to change his approach.  Steve needs to be "rescued" before he can be reactivated.    

Guillermo stops focusing on forcing Steve to go to church and offers genuine friendship... or so it appears, anyway.  Only then, does he snap out of the repetitive Groundhog Day loop.  It looks like Steve becomes a friend and that's when Guillermo can get him to go to church.  Maybe they'll  become actual friends or maybe, once Steve is securely installed in the LDS church, Guillermo will move on to the next project.  By that time, Steve will also be ready to recruit new folks.  

What makes me uncomfortable about this video is that at the beginning, Guillermo has a very clear agenda.  He doesn't approach Steve because he genuinely wants to be friends with him.  He approaches him because he's been tasked to do it by church authorities who have set their sights on him.  As the video continues, we see that a friendship does seem to develop.  It still started with someone in charge prompting it, possibly seeing young, healthy Steve as a source of free help and future tithes.  It wasn't a natural thing for Guillermo to approach Steve.  And Steve may go to church, but I'll bet if he later decides he doesn't want to be a Mormon and would prefer to enjoy his Sundays at home with coffee or a cold beer, Guillermo will decide he's no longer good friend material.  

I have to wonder what made Guillermo try the fake/force approach in the first place?  Why didn't he start off trying to be a genuine friend, interested in getting to know his neighbor?  Why did he start off with an agenda, going on a mission to rope Steve into church activities?  Where did he learn his original behavior?  Somehow, he got the message not to take no for an answer.  He was determined not to respect Steve's "free agency" because he knew the church was for him... and getting a friend to convert to Mormonism and become a tithe paying member would be a feather in his cap.

I am very relieved that from the start of our relationship, back when Bill was still LDS, he didn't try to force me into church.  Indeed, after awhile, he realized it was far better to enjoy his Sundays taking  walks with me than sitting in church in a suit, wearing hot underwear.


  1. My mom's best friend remembers being in a relief society meeting in a student ward where the lesson topic was "friendshipping the inactive."
    At the conclusion of the lesson, the instructor quoted from the manual the last line of the lesson, which read that 'only when the member was returned t full activity and fellowship can the friendshipping effort be said to be complete." (That quote would be approximte, as it was about 27 years ago,) The instructor , an RM and relatively TBM, ,took exception with that line right there. She said she had a poriblem with it, because if you're going to be a person's friend, you should want to be that person's friend, and it would be insincere to be the person's friend until he or she was fully active in the church, and then to drop the person as a friend. The stake relief society president was sitting in on the meeting, and took the instructor to task publicly for criticizing a statement in the church-prepared lesson manual. An argument broke out in the meeting, with the breakdown being about 60/40 in favor of the instructor rather than the stake R.S. pres. The singles ward R.S. pres,, who was conducting the meeting, tried to moderate the argument and gain control of the meeting, but the Stake R.S. pres. told her to sit down and be quiet. It was really ugly, my mom's friend said.

    Within 2 weeks, the entire student ward r.s. was reorganized. I personally think the stake r.s. pres. should have been called on the carpet. Perhaps she might havee reframed the words from the lesson manual, saying 'perhaps this was what was meant" in attempt to put the statement in a more positive light if there was a way of doing such, and maybe she could have quietly talked either to the instructor or to the ward president about how it was inappropriate [not that I personally think it was; i would have said the same thing] to read a statement from the manual and then disagree with it. She could have told whomever she was talking to about the importance of advance preparation, so that if a teacher encounters a statement, such as that one, that really bothers her, she can seek counsel from the bishop or from someone higher up about how to handle it -- about how, perhaps, inspired as those materials are supposed to be, sometimes things make it through to print that should not. Maybe in a worst-case scenario, yu skip the statement, because we're not Jim Jones' floowers drinking thr purple KoolAid, or shouldn't be, anuwau. In any event, what the stake R.S. pres. said to anyone in that scenario should have been private other than a polite reframing of the statement to appease everyone, which still would have been bogus, but would have been preferable to verbally attacking the local instructor and the ward leadership.

    In a perfect situation, everyone who was asked to be the new student.
    ward r.s> pres. should have turned it down, but of course that was not what happened. Too many people are power-hungry and wuld jump at the chance for the position

    Both my mom's best friend and Jared's mom say they've seen multiple situations where the friendshipping effort was clearly insincere and the frienshipping victim was truly dropped like hot potato once she either returned to full activity or it became clear she was never returning to activity.


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