This happened in more than one way. There, of course, was the typical method: people -- classmates, even ADULTS (I'm sorry [nope, not actually sorry], what kind of adult questions a child about their religious beliefs and then openly laughs in the child's face about them?) -- telling me Exactly What Mormons Believe. Another (specific) example, however, is something about which I don't think I've ever even spoken: I remember with clarity a day when I was being babysat by my dad's best friend's wife, a kind and soft-spoken woman who also happened to be my violin teacher. I had been singing a song to myself which I had learned at the Neighborhood Summer Bible Camp, you might know it: "I am a C, I am a C-H, I am a C-H-R-I-S-T-I-A-N," and so forth. Here's the thing: as a kid, I hadn't been directly taught that being a Christian meant Believing In Christ, I thought that the title Christian was simply a religious denomination; this comes from the following (simplified) exchange:
"You're a Mormon?"
"Yes. What are you?"
In my mind, the available churches were: Catholic, Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran, Mormon, and Christian -- all with similarities and differences.
Are you getting what I'm saying?
I was under the impression that I wasn't a Christian.*
And so that day, being babysat, Sue asked, "What are you singing?" When I replied that I was singing my own version of that song which went, "I'm NOT a C, I'm NOT a C-H," etc., she gently suggested, "But I thought Mormons are Christians."
Confused (two different Religions, remember?), I said, "No, we're not."
"Are you sure?"
Relaying that story to my parents...boy oh boy, did I get The Guilt. (I sometimes half-jest that even though I've been LDS for most of my life, I was raised Catholic, what with The Guilt.) (Though, let's be honest: Mormon Guilt could give Catholic Guilt a run for its money.) Head shakes and eye rolls and "Oh, GREAT!"s. Clearly I had said something wrong. Very wrong. And there was very little chance to fix it. The damage had been done.
I had been told that what I said about what I believed was incorrect. And while, in that instance, the accusation was accurate, the sting of warning to Never Be Wrong was long-lasting. Combine that with years of being told (rather than asked about) what I believe and the accompanying ridicule (increasing in frequency and intensity over the years) and you've got the result: hesitancy to discuss Mormon beliefs -- my own beliefs, for fear of being incorrect. I didn't want to misrepresent Church Doctrine or policy, and I held my own opinions closely guarded.
While this hesitancy has remained, however, it has also evolved: I'm more familiar with the (substance of and) difference between Doctrine and Policy, and most certainly how that relates (and often doesn't and shouldn't) to Culture, and if I choose to discuss these things I do my best to differentiate. Because they are different. And yes, I said if I choose to discuss. I have no interest in engaging in a Shouting Match or a Who Can Say The Most Words contest or a Whoever Talks For The Longest Amount Of Time Wins game.
I am pleased when someone who sincerely wants to know what I believe or what I practice will ask me their questions. I look to answer those inquiries with respect, when they're asked with an earnestness showing that they're not looking to 'trap' me or some other such thing. Once I was asked if it was true that each Mormon man had permission to beat their wife once a month. Even though the notion (to me) is preposterous (not only because it's not true, but it's something I hadn't heard before, and also -- what?!?), I answered the question with the same amount of straightforwardness with which it had been asked.
I'm more than happy to have those civilized discussions, with an end goal not of conversion on either part, but of more understanding and appreciation. Asking, rather than telling, me what exactly I believe. Otherwise, I choose to NOT cast my pearls.
AND ANOTHER THING . . .
(please to read my upcoming post about said other thing)
*Mormons are Christians.