Converts versus Members

My brother, who recently came back from a mission full of fascinating observations, remarked on this difference he saw in the Church:

When you meet a convert and ask them what it means to be Mormon, they usually talk about belief or doctrine. They talk about how they have a prophet on the Earth today. They talk about Joseph Smith’s personal encounter with the divine and then their own personal encounter with the divine. They talk about new scripture. They talk about the Godhead.

When you meet a “member” and ask them what it means to be Mormon, they usually talk about commandments. They talk about the law of chastity, or the word of wisdom, or tithing. They talk about what you must do to become Mormon.

Not all members who are “born in the Church” are members. Not all “converts” are converts.

Discuss.

Edit: My brother wrote back, “I think what would clarify this is I meant when another Christian asks a Mormon “How are you guys different from us?” gets the response I was talking about.”

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “Converts versus Members

  1. Christina

    I’m a convert. To me, the Church means a lot of things. I spent several years looking, and finding the Church was like coming home; there is an aspect of commitment that was missing prior to that. When I think about what makes now different from back then, I guess it’s true that I can’t drink coffee and tea anymore, but there were a lot of commandments that I was already keeping. It wouldn’t be entirely true to say that my conversion was about doctrines. That was definitely something that differentiated the Mormon church from all the other churches I was attending, but the doctrines were actually a little uncomfortable at first. To most Christians, the idea of exaltation is blasphemous. And baptism for the dead is just odd. What it came down to for me was the Book of Mormon. When I read it, I sensed the truth it contained. I knew it was good, and that’s how I knew the Church was true, even though some of the doctrines initially put me ill at ease.

    • Ted

      Thanks so much for sharing your story! I agree that my brother’s observation is a bit simplistic and reductionist, but I think it does have some merit in this situation because more than what you had to do or maybe even the ideas and doctrines of the Church, it was that feeling and belief in truth that ultimately makes a convert a convert. Sometimes, long-time members in the Church get nervous or start to bite their nails when people begin to discover the Church because they’re afraid our doctrines or rules will scare people away, but like you said, even if the Church seems strange at first, or even uncomfortable, once they sense truth, it’s hard to just walk away from that.

      • Christina

        I myself fall into that same trap. I’m sometimes scared to tell people about the Church because I’m worried that once they find out about the weirder things, they’ll turn away and never come back. I guess I’m just concerned that I’m going to ruin their process of learning about the Church. I don’t want to be responsible for permanently driving someone away.

      • Ted

        Yeah, it’s an incredibly difficult fear to overcome, but as my friend once told me, if truth is truth, you don’t have anything to be afraid of. Of course, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to communicate the gospel in a relateable way to someone, and that’s the part I usually tend to obsess over nowadays, haha.

  2. I think, Ted, that these fairly simple or reductionist approaches to this kind of thing are useful, especially when classified in terms of ‘directions’ rather then ‘quadrants’, if you know what I mean. To reiterate another way, when you classify converts and members as being distinct in nature and easily definable by simple attributes, you probably are going to be inaccurate– but if you use a bit of ‘fuzzy’ logic, and say something like conversion is more often connected to concepts, ideas and behaviors A, B, and C, and membership is more often connected with X, Y, and Z…
    …well, anyway, my thoughts aren’t much clearer than that, just yet.

    • Christina

      I’ve been in the church for about eight years now, and most people don’t know I’m a convert unless I tell them. I think I’ve gotten to the same place that most ‘members’ get to; I’ve just come to it by a different route.

  3. A Nonny Mouse

    I think you need to spend more time reading the scriptures and less time on the bloggernacle.

    • Ted

      Ahaha, touche. :p

      I’ve actually been thinking about this statement for a long time, and I think that it’s rooted, in some strange way, in scripture. Like Mykle said, what you focus on tends to describe the ‘direction’ you’re going in, rather than some type of ‘quadrant’ you’re in. Alma describes the conversion process as hope, or just wanting to believe, and then belief, and then action. “Converts”, at the beginning of their journey, focus on the things they believe in. “Members,” near the middle of the journey, are more focused on what they must do; what they believe in are simply “given,” so to speak.

      Of course, this conversion process cycles, and so some days I’m more focused on what I believe in, and other days, I’m more focused on how those beliefs should influence my behavior. Ideally, we should be a little bit of both, right? Exploring our conception of God and the Gospel, trying to refine it, as well as determining how this faith should influence our day to day behavior. However, I think my brother is generally correct; converts are more focused on the ideas and the faith first (which is often new), and members (who usually accept those doctrines and ideas and beliefs almost reflexively) are more concentrated on what that means for their actions.

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