Thursday, January 17, 2008

Peer Pressure vs Missionary Outreach

In Sacrament meeting the other week, one of the speakers talked about how important it was to choose our friends wisely. Apparently our friends can have a strong influence on the choices we make.

Now, I’ve been hearing this line ever since I was a kid growing up in Indiana (where there aren’t a lot of mormons, anyway). I admit I’ve got some seriously mixed feelings about it.

First, it seems to be a dichotomy that I’ve not been able to fully sort out. “Jesus says to love everyone, but don’t hang out with a person that smokes”. What? How am I supposed to fellowship and/or share the Gospel with someone that I refuse to associate with?

On the other hand, I’ve seen how bad choices can come from those around me and how easy it can be to buy into that behavior.

I dunno. For once I don’t have a lot of words to say? What about you folks. Can ya help me out, here?

Mark Hansen


  1. Well, I must make up one whole end of the bell curve for you! I smoke, drink, and am ~gasp!~ Pagan!

    A man is defined by the company he keeps. Is this true? Perhaps. But how do you judge that company? Do you judge on superficialities such as their harmless vices like food, tobacco, or alcohol? Certainly if the person is excessive in these vices, it may make a difference. But what does the quality of character say about that person?

    I think this lesson is often best applied to children vis-a-vis the proverbial "bad influence". As an adult, if my drinking coffee makes you a bad Mormon, you have more problems than my coffee. I think it is a matter character, not superficialities.

    From a "fellowship" standpoint, I can tell you what it is like to be befriended only for the purposes of being "converted". Then when it is obvious that I am not going to convert, the "friendship" dissolves. Is that a Christian value? I don't think that is what Jesus had in mind.

  2. oh my heck...i know exactly what your sayin.
    I too grew up back east...not a lot of Mormons. I tried to pick good friends. I think I did pretty well. But I know what you're saying about Love thy neighbor, but don't be their friend. One of my closest friends right now, smokes. Well is in the process of quiting, but We had only been friends for a little while, when she felt she had to tell me. I said, I don't care. She honest and truly thought, I wouldn't want to be her friend if she smoked. We've been friends almost 2 yrs now, and she still says to me, I can't believe you are my friend.

    I tell you this story, because I think WAY too many people around here, take that council, they way we have been talking about it.

    I think, the point is, be friends with people who have good hearts, and only want whats best for you. It doesn't matter what habits they have. I know people who DON'T smoke, and are not as kind and loving as this friend is.

    People need to be judged by their hearts, and intentions, not their "habits".

    If this makes no sense, It's cuz my ambian is kickin in!!!

  3. To Victor:

    I see that happen WAY Too often. It's so sad. I just want someone to be my friend. I actually enjoy having friends of other faiths. But...I will say, when I see a friend(of another faith)in pain, I will not hesitate to send thoughts form LDS leaders, and such. My intent is not to convert, but to comfort. I hope they know that. I think they do. It's all in presentation, ya know??

  4. I think it goes back to being "in the world, but not of the world." Being in the world requires that we be friends with people who don't share our values. Not being of the world requires that we remain true to our own values. This can be a balancing act.

    I think some here are exaggerating the perceived council to avoid bad friends. I've never heard it preached from the pulpit that we shouldn't be friends with smokers. Smoking, while a bad habit, doesn't rise to the level of "evil", however you define that. I wouldn't think twice about being friends with a smoker. But I'd be very cautious about being friends with someone who I knew enjoyed robbing banks, abusing their children, or something like that.

  5. I think Victor is on to something.

    The best friends have one or both of the following characteristics - they tend to lift us and make us better or we are able to lift them and help them be their best selves.

    As for whether we socialize with people who have vices we are taught to avoid - I think it depends on our own weaknesses. If I have no inclination to smoke then I don't need to avoid smokers among my friends. If I am tempted by tobacco then I should avoid smokers as friends, not because they are bad, but because they are bad for me. The same pattern holds for most vices.

    Also, just because I am friends with someone who drinks does not mean that I accompany him to a bar. You don't have to do everything together to be a person's friend.

    That's how I try to make the distinctions and judegment calls.

  6. Oh, and I only smoke a pipe. I gave up cigarettes a few years ago. When I was still going through the cravings, I avoided friends who smoked not because they were bad people, but because I was trying to kick a bad habit.

    Since I have no room to talk about not having vices, I have no common ground with you good folks there. All I can say is that the only reason I avoided smokers was because I was pre-disposed at the time to smoke. I frankly can't get my head around a mind-set that avoids being friends with someone on the basis of their religion, habits, hobbies and interests (unless, as mike said, those interests involved torturing kittens or some such). However, mike also mentioned the concept of "evil". My religion is considered by some of the less-informed to be "evil" and by extension, so am I apparently. I can't argue with someone's faith in this matter regardless of how wrong they are. But when I meet someone, the first thing out of my mouth is rarely a statement of my faith. So I find it sad when someone terminates virtually all contact with me when they discover I am a Witch.

    Okay, I am rambling here too, I guess. I just think we can learn something from everyone and being around people of various backgrounds, interests, habits, faiths and so on edifies me. It would be such a boring existence to associate only with people who are exactly like you. It's like working in a room full of "Yes-Men".

  7. I just want to clarify that I didn't use the word "evil" in the strict sense. I knew when I used the word that it wasn't quite what I was looking for, but I was trying to find a word for "worse than bad." We all do things that are bad to some degree. Smoking is a bad habit, for example. But my point was that I do think that we need to be careful of being so accepting that we carelessly make friends with people who do things that are "worse than bad", like the things I mentioned.

    But I've been thinking a little about this and I agree with David that it depends on your own weaknesses. The question of whether to avoid certain people isn't about passing judgement on them, but more about protecting myself from my own weaknesses. I feel pretty confident that I wouldn't give in to peer pressure, so I have no problem being friends with people who have values or habits that I don't agree with.

    But if I had a teenage child who was hanging around with other teenagers who drank and smoked and generally were troublemakers (not to say that those 3 things always go together), I'd be concerned. It could be that he would be strong enough to resist the peer pressure and be a good influence on them. But very often it works the other way around. Teenagers are often less comfortable with themselves than adults are.

    The bottom line, then, is that I'm not comfortable with entirely dismissing the argument that we need to be careful who we are friends with. Of course we can go too far with that as well, so it's a balancing act.

  8. In my experience this is more of a Utah problem than "the Mission Field". We never felt this "choose friends wisely" was about smokers or drinkers,etc., but rather a person's character and potential for good. Hence, our kids had all kinds of colours, religions, both genders, and even an atheist! as friends. It was a non issue. A good person (who smokes or otherwise)will respect your choice not to smoke(or otherwise).

    Perhaps the better talk would be on deciphering good character and the potential in another child of God.

    We have friends who moved from CA. to Provo and then into South Jordon. When they moved into Jordon, their well intentioned neighbors politely pointed out the other neighbors... The Catholic family (we don't allow our children to play with them), the Methodist Family (also a no go at playtime), and the Mormon family form CA., ("their just too liberal, so we find excuses whenever possible!"). She was told about the LDS sport teams as opposed to the city leagues, the schools that had half day Monday so that everyone was home in time for FHE, and a myriad of other exclusionary items placed in her hands along with her warm loaf of welcome bread.

    The same thing happened to our daughter while rooming with girls from the "bubble or happy valley".(this is the valedictorian, the oboe player, the temple for fun goer, the paying my own way through college kid.) Knowing she was from CA, they excluded her from social situations, criticized many of her choices and taste, never invited her to their homes for the weekend, and refused to go with her when invited for short trips back to sin filled CA.

    All this changed when she moved into the Foreign Student Housing.

    There she was invited to stay holidays back home in China, France, Canada, Africa, England, Norway, Taiwan, and Australia. Her friends were often in our home here in CA. The difference is that those kids had seen differences and understood that a cigarette does not make the person, neither does the outfit, the music or the choice of reading material. They had learned to see through the skin and into a heart.

    I would place bets that the better missionaries would be those who are able to see people instead of packaging. People who are able to be a true friend, whether or not the friend will eventually become a member, those are our greatest missionaries.

  9. s'mee, if we're talking about adults, they I agree with you. No adult (except maybe juvenile one) would try to pressure another adult into smoking or drinking. And not many adults would be so insecure as to give in to such pressure.

    But if we're talking about teenagers, I think an extra degree of caution is in order. You say that most people would respect your decision not to smoke or drink. I'm not sure that's true of the teenage crowd. You honestly wouldn't be concerned if your teenage child started hanging out with other kids who smoke and drink?

    But perhaps you are right that it's more about character than any specific bad habit. The trouble is, it's sometimes difficult to judge character. Teenagers usually argue that their friends are good people. How do you judge that as a parent? Ideally, you'd be able to just trust your kids that their choose well, I guess. Still, I'll admit that it would concern me if my child started hanging out with such a crowd.

  10. This is Easy DON'T JUDGE PEOPLE it is not up to us to judge. I live in the Salt Lake area and us Utah Mormons judge. What I think they are trying to say when they say choose wisely with who you make close friends with means chose to hang out with people who will make you a better person. If i Judged people because they smoked and said they would be a bad person I would be loosing all my brothers and sisters. So this one is easy and this is how i learned it. Don't judge just consider if this person will make you a better person and still be friends with people smoke and drink just know that you have agency and they have agencey choose not to drink and smoke and ask your friends to respect your decision. It is that simple.

  11. I agree with victor when he says that a man is defined by the company he keeps. I have friends who drink and smoke, but they are wonderful people regardless, so I don't judge them for that. Their characters are what matter to me more than some of their actions.

  12. Anonymous, if we can only be friends with people who will make us better people, then don't we have to judge in order to determine that?

  13. Mike, Perhaps it is that we have extended family members (both LDS and not) that have given our kids perfect examples of the end of different roads. Religion had nothing to do with character, keeping the WoW, Moral Agency, or cheating on taxes.

    When our kids brought someone home who had habits that we didn't share they were asked to respect the house rules. Most of the kids were cool about it. The ones who weren't didn't come back.

    Our kids knew and understood exactly what we expected and hoped for them. They learned it very early on.

    A member of the church who cheats and calls it "good business" is no better than a smoker who loves his neighbor. The difference is that my kids were allowed to view the real world where people actually have to make their own choices and not rely on their parents to make those choices for them.

    Did we guide their choices? Yes. Did we freak out when a friend of theirs came over to the house wreaking of pot? No. Our kids knew that the person who smokes pot will eventually end up like Aunt Mary Jane, and that her life SUCKED. They also saw Aunt Prudence and how her life was good at the end of the day. We kept pointing things like consequences and rewards out, and let them practice what they learned.

    I had no fear when my kids left home in regard to them falling into the "wrong" crowd. They had worked through that by jr. high school.

    Practice makes perfect.

    I do worry about the kids who are constantly shielded from having to decipher character until they leave home. By then it will too late.

  14. S'mee, Well said. I hope I can do as good of a job with my kids.

    I suppose part of the reason I see things the way I do is because I grew up in a household where I had brothers and a sister fall in the wrong crowd and make very unfortunate choices. I am concerned about that for my own kids, even if I do a good job parenting.

    But I agree that ideally we can prepare our children well so that they can make good choices regardless of what examples they see around them in school, etc.

  15. This is already a long blog so I doubt anyone will read this...

    I may be over simplifying this but, if you can feel God is with you stay with God. If you can not feel God is with you, go and find where He went. Then make friends (or be friendly) everywhere you go.

    Perhaps parents and churches give counsel about choosing wise friends to their children because they don’t think children know what it feels like to have God with them. This, I think, is where all of the confusion comes from. People are trying to lay down rules that let people know when God is or is not present. I find this rarely works.

  16. Mike, you care, that means a lot as far as parenting goes. And you also need to understand people come to this planet pre-wired with their personalities. I know of great parents who in the end had all of their children leave the church. Still good (adult) kids, but just couldn't get into the church.

    This is the same for our "Aunt Mary Jane". She was reared the same as the other 7 kids, just took a turn and never looked back. It is her personality to do so despite all the good efforts of everyone who loves her.

    I don't mean to say that children are destined one way or the other without choice,I just mean that some kids will try beyond the norm to find reasons to fail.

    In the long run I think it goes into what Aaron is speaking of. Teaching our children to know and feel the Spirit and then to fully understand that they are meant for better things than self destructive behaviours. If we truly know who we are, then we know we are worth keeping ourselves safe and free.



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