Soon after I joined the church, one of my college instructors attacked the church over the large families most members had then. He said we had so many in order to more easily take over the world. I took this environmental science class just after my Institute of Religion class (a program for LDS college students), so I had my Book of Mormon sitting on my desk. To my embarrassment, everyone in class turned to stare at me, waiting to see what I would do. Because I was shy, and inexperienced at defending the church, I stammered over my answer. I wouldn’t back down, but didn’t know how to handle the problem, so it became a semester-long battle of wills that resulted in my grade being lowered.
You want to stand up for the church without creating a power struggle or embarrassing a teacher. It is made particularly challenging when you are new to the church and don’t always know what the teacher is talking about.
First, try to keep a positive attitude. Give the teacher the benefit of the doubt. He probably doesn’t know much about the church and truly believes he is telling the truth. If you can remember this, it will make you less angry and defensive. He may also not realize there is a church member in the class, especially if you’ve just joined the church.
It is quite possible you’ll have no idea what the teacher is talking about. Soon after the above incident, another teacher said Mormons believed ancient people crossed the ocean to America in submarines. This got a laugh and naturally I was asked if that was correct. I hadn’t gotten to the Jaredites in the Book of Mormon yet. They built a closed boat that could handle waves going over it, and could be described as a non-mechanical submarine, but I didn’t know that. Slightly more experienced now, I said I was new to the church but would find the answer and get back to him. As soon as class ended, I found someone to tell me what the teacher was talking about. If you’re confronted with a statement about the church you suspect is wrong and you’re not sure of the answer, or don’t know how to explain it, raise your hand, say you’re a new member and don’t have an answer for that, but you’d be happy to obtain the answer. If you don’t know whether the information is correct, don’t say anything until you’ve verified it. Then speak to the teacher privately.
If you are familiar with the doctrine your teacher is misrepresenting, try to put your answer into a nonjudgmental form. Don’t tell the teacher he’s being anti-Mormon or attacking. Simply say, “I’m LDS, and I think perhaps you’ve misunderstand. I’m new to the church, but may I try to explain it more clearly?” If he continues to press and you can see further explanation is pointless, say in a teasing voice, “I know two missionaries who would love to explain it further. Shall I set up a meeting?” This is likely to end the conversation very quickly. While you probably won’t change the teacher’s mind, the students who have not formed an opinion of the church will be aware the teacher may have been incorrect. Many will respect you for not being drawn into an argument.
Coping with teachers who dislike or misrepresent your religion is frustrating, but it’s excellent training for future missionary work. Hone your skills and come ready to share the gospel gently.
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.