Being a Mormon in China creates some interesting situations. In case you don’t know much about Mormons, a good place to go is www.mormon.org but for my purposes, I’m just going to give a very abbreviated list of uniquenesses. BTW, this list only applies to “practicing” Mormons (of course):
- Mormons don’t drink alcohol.
- Mormons don’t smoke or use tobacco products.
- Mormons don’t drink tea (from the “tea” plant – herbal stuff is o.k.) and we don’t drink coffee.
- Mormons are raised to be missionaries. When you grow up in a Mormon family, it’s just assumed that you will take on that role at some point, like going to college, or getting a job.
So when a Mormon moves to China to work, what happens? You get invited to bars for “business meetings”. That makes for an interesting situation. In China, for some reason unknown to me, drinking with someone, creates a bonding feeling of trust. When they discover that you don’t drink, you really have to be prepared with a good reason why. “It’s part of my religion. We try to strengthen families and drinking generally works against that. Also, it diminishes a person’s ability to control his choices.”
We field many fewer questions about tobacco use. It seems everyone knows it’s bad for you, even though over 60% of Chinese men smoke.
You don’t drink tea? Why not? “Well, it’s part of my religion. We avoid habit-forming substances. Doing so helps us avoid addictions and strengthens the family and improves the family economy.”
The question that nearly always occurs after these questions is, “What religion are you?” Even telling them you are Mormon is walking really close to the line that has been drawn against proselyting here in China. Sometimes we say it, sometimes we don’t. Always the follow-up is further inquiry into “what else is your church about?” The standard answer we have to give is, “I’m not allowed to tell you. Your government forbids me to speak of it while I’m here and I could be deported for doing so.”
Generally, the follow-up response is disbelief, but when they see that you are serious and won’t talk about it any more, the conversation usually moves on to other things.
This conversation string is agony for those of us who have always been told to share and answer questions about our religion. Still, it’s the way things are for now. Someday maybe, things will change and the religious vacuum here will be filled. In the meantime, we just keep our mouths shut.
winner-winner, chicken dinner 🙂