Last Monday, Ask Mormon Girl answered its first inquiry from L.M., a 15 year-old Christian boy with a crush on a 16 year-old Mormon girl. It wasn’t long before a second query from L.M. arrived in our firstname.lastname@example.org inbox:
Hello Mrs. Brooks,
Thank you for your advice, I found it very helpful. I don’t know who she hangs out with, but I would like to get to know them…. If it turns out that she’s not interested, at least I will have made a few friends in the process. I’ll let you know what comes of it. By the way, what are some of the differences between Mormon and Christian beliefs that I should know about? The last thing that I want is to offend someone, especially such a nice girl as her.
What are the differences between Mormons and Christians? That is quite a question. For if you stop right now and listen closely, you will hear a furious click-click-clicking echoing across the reaches of the universe. That’s the sound of thousands of Mormons and non-Mormon Christians who are right at this very moment sitting brows furrowed, shoulders hunched, fingers flying, hammering away at our theological differences. These discussions are sometimes quite neutral, and sometimes polite but pointy-headed, but often they boil down to Mormons insisting “We love Jesus! Very much! Which makes us very Christian!” while evangelical Christians fold their arms and turn up their noses, saying, “No, you are not! And stay the hell away from my Bible College picnic!” When I was your age, L.M., back in the 1980s, many evangelical Christians were quite fired up over this whole Mormons-vs.-Christians thing. My evangelical Christian friend Jeannette always seemed to take special pleasure in reminding me that I believed in the wrong Jesus and that I belonged to a cult. As did the anti-Mormon picketers who showed up at our church on Sundays with placards bearing the same message.
If I had to describe the differences, I would say that non-Mormon Christians love Jesus, while Mormons love Jesus Plus. As in, yes, we read the Bible, plus the Book of Mormon. And, yes, we believe that Jesus’s atonement saves us, and we believe that eternal commitments we make to our families also play a big role in bringing us closer to God. And, yes, we hold basic Christian values like charity, honesty, and morality, plus we also follow some rules of conduct specific to Mormon tradition. And yes, we are baptized after the example of Jesus Christ, plus we also express our commitment to God through a whole other set of ordinances that take place within Mormon temples. From what I’ve seen, it’s the plus part of Mormonism that seems to upset the evangelical Christians like my friend Jeannette and my non-friends the anti-Mormon picketers.
But I can tell that’s not the kind of Christian you are, L.M. You’re a lover, not a fighter. In fact, when I look again at your letter, I sense that what you’re really asking is not a question of theology but of ethics: how not to “offend” the really “nice” Mormon girl of your dreams. You want to know how to conduct yourself so as to respect your Mormon girl’s feelings. Which is actually a very, very discerning way to approach the whole subject, L.M., for the truly wise among us know that religion is far less accurately understood as a set of abstract theological propositions than as an incredibly powerful set of feelings, and that those feelings really matter. (An idea that, sadly, never seemed to occur to my friend Jeannette.)
So, L.M., here is my advice:
Know that most Mormon kids hold to strict rules of conduct, and they feel most comfortable around kids who do the same. You can read all about the standards Mormon youth keep in depth here. But it pretty much boils down to this: no sex (nor anything like unto it), no alcohol, no smoking, no drugs, no coffee (and for some Mormons, no caffeinated sodas), no R-rated movies, no swearing, no porn, no going out with friends on Sunday (except to church events). Mormons also tend to be clean-cut and pretty conservative in their appearance. Be aware that if you have a piercing or wild haircut, that may make your Mormon Girl and her parents a bit nervous, but don’t let that discourage you—especially if you’re willing to stick to rootbeer and make sure everyone on your group date gets home before curfew.
Know too that Mormon girl probably has very strong feelings about being Mormon, feelings she may not be confident she can fully explain. For being Mormon is more than a religion to her—it is a whole way of life: a culture, a family history, perhaps the most fundamental dimension of her being. She may be both eager to share her beliefs with you, and incredibly tender and protective, even defensive, about them, because non-Mormons have sometimes ridiculed Mormon people and our ways. I am confident that you, however, will be able to win her trust. Just listen when she talks. Make it easy for her to live her beliefs and keep her standards. And maybe if you two hit it off, you can bring her to this webpage, and show her that you once wrote a letter to a complete stranger just to find out how to treat a Mormon girl right. And that, L.M., is enough to warm any Mormon girl’s heart.