Journal Topics

Making friends in Utah a different experience

I live in Utah. That’s not earth-shattering news for several million people who live in a state most known for its skiing and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of which 70% of all residents are members. Yet there are a number of cultural differences between living here and the other 49 states.

For one, they celebrate July 3 and October 30 when the actual holiday lands on a Sunday. It was unique to have a busy July 3rd this year, complete with a parade down our street, two picnics, and fireworks going off everywhere. July 4th was just a quiet Sunday, and unless you looked at the calendar, you would have never known this was the actual holiday.

Speaking of Sundays, many stores are closed. Great deals at restaurants and entertainment venues can be had around town on Monday nights because it’s typically the day Mormon families gather together for “Family Home Evening.” And instead of hearing cursing everywhere you go, “heck” is the typical four-letter word they use to show exclaim.

As far as our neighborhood, most neighbors have been very friendly, including my next door neighbor who has gone out of his way on a number of occasions. For example, when we realized that our swamp cooler wasn’t working, he took it upon himself to come to our rescue. Together he and I inspected the unit that is on top of our roof and discovered that a new motor and pads were in order. Three hours and two trips to Home Depot later, it was now possible to make our house cool. “No problem,” was his aw-shucks response. Lately, whenever there has been a heavy snow the previous night, he lets me borrow his snow blower. I feel that I could ask him for anything and he would oblige.

In December, he came over, excited to tell me about how his local LDS congregation was joining hands with a Methodist church to perform a Christmas musical program. Although I do not think it’s biblical to join together in worship services with Mormons, I could see that this event meant a lot to him. Besides, his wife was in the production. Afterwards, he told me how much he appreciated my effort to come.

The term “friendshipping” was coined by Mormons as an evangelistic tool. Show them by our love, is the idea, and perhaps the recipients of the friendly efforts may want to join “the Church.” I’m not saying that this is what my neighbor and his wife are officially doing. To the contrary, they honestly seem to want to be friendly for friendship’s sake and not because they see my family and me as a conversion project. Yet I know that friendshipping has been greatly encouraged by LDS leaders as a way to bring people into Mormonism—just watch the LDS-produced movie Mobsters and Mormons.

Which brings me to the question: Is this idea of “friendshipping” wrong? In other words, is the desire to want somebody to have a relationship with God allowed as part of a legitimate motive for pursuing a friendship? This is a tricky one, especially for those of us who believe evangelism is more than just being a good neighbor.

-Eric Johnson

Eric Johnson lives in Utah and works full-time with Mormonism Research Ministry. He also teaches college classes and is an associate editor for the Apologetics Study Bible for Students (Holman, 2010). He has written an in-depth article on Mormon Friendshipping for the current issue of the Christian Research Journal. Read his full article by subscribing at Eric will also be on the Bible Answer Man broadcast in Jan. 2011 to discuss this topic with Hank.