I went out to lunch the other day with a group of five co-workers. Somehow the discussion turned to my faith. I knew that one of them is married to a Baptist preacher. I also knew that of all the things she has heard about my faith, most of it has probably not been either A) positive, B) true, or C) important. I assume her husband probably doesn't believe that I am a Christian, but belong to a "cult" (this sure gets old). So I was pleased at the openness and common ground we were able to find, as well as the friendliness and the level of interest. I tried to anticipate questions that they might have and explain things in a non-threatening, non-defensive way. (I'm inspired by Richard Bushman and the way he conversed with national media at the Pew Forum's biannual faith conference).
They all had comments or questions, and I did my best to answer them, even though I've never even thought about some of the things they asked. For example, all three of them had at least learned at some time in their lives that my Church "owns Coca-Cola." Have any of you heard this rumor before? Apparently it's common here. Since setting the rumor straight, I've joked with them about this a couple times since. I found it interesting that they didn't seem to know much about the main points of the restored gospel, but were mostly familiar with trivial things. But I was happy about the level of comfort and openness in which the conversation took place. And I've been pleased that since that experience a number of them have comfortably asked me about my take on some thing or another pertaining to my faith.
I've come a long way since I was just a kid who attended my friends non-denominational church one day and ended up sitting through a Sunday school lecture about Mormons--at his church! I felt like standing up and saying something to correct the things being said, or at least say "hey, can't we talk about Jesus like we do in my church?", but I was too shy and too insecure in my beliefs. Now days I wish they would invite me back to speak in their church about my faith. I think they'd find someone who is a lot more sympathetic than they would expect. I'm much more into building bridges than I am into trying to convert people. We all have so much to gain from each other. It behooves us to be so very respectful and neighborly.
President Hinckley has said: "The true gospel of Jesus Christ never led to bigotry. It never led to self-righteousness. It never led to arrogance. The true gospel of Jesus Christ leads to brotherhood, to friendship, to appreciation of others, to respect and kindness and love."("The BYU Experience") With this in mind, and in the most humble way possible, we should be saying "bring all the good you have and let us see if we can add to it".
I must note the irony, however, in the fact that some of the most odious attacks against my faith come from those who have at some point left the faith. These are the kind of people who leave the Church but can't leave the Church alone. It has always been so. My wife and I recently came across some of their blogs. I was very impressed with her response in an open letter "To Those Who Fight My Mormon Faith", and I'll simply suggest that you link to it and read it for yourself.
"The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it."