I’m socially weird. I meet people on Facebook and become friends with them, rather than making friends and adding them on Facebook. I’ve found many of these friends in group chats and, I admit , I even made several good friends while playing Kingdoms of Camelot. I quit playing after a few months (I was becoming alarmingly obsessed) but I made some good friends and added them to my “collection.” I never have met most of these friends in person, and I probably never will.
That’s not to say that all of my Facebook friends came in this fashion, but a large handful of them have. In the past year or so, I have joined a couple of Facebook groups for progressive-minded Mormons. Two or three of my new friends came from these groups. I was a bit flattered, then, that one of these new friends asked to hear my opinion of one of his recent posts.
My new friend said,
I love creeping out sister missionaries. They call me because me and a friend went to a church historical site and listened to a presentation and we gave them our contact info (this friend and I were dating at the time) and then they decide to call me up 3 weeks later and ask how I’m doing spiritually. They don’t feel comfortable with the answers and get awkward on the phone.
Why call me and ask me an invasive question about how I’m doing spiritually, if you can’t handle the answer? I don’t know you. You’re a total stranger other than one phone call prior to this and 20 minutes at a church site.
Looking back on my own time as a missionary it floors me just how sheltered these young people are, and how much that hinders them from being able to be there and strengthen people. We’re not talking long, detailed portions of my sex life or other things that’d be odd or inappropriate. But they don’t want to listen to me talk about how my ex and I broke up for 10 minutes. Why call? Don’t give me those polite conversational nudges to wrap it up when you’re supposed to be a missionary. If that’s how it is, don’t call. Don’t ask questions you don’t care about the answers to.
80% of the missionaries I’ve met have always been slogan machines. They say the right things, but it’s very clear there’s no genuine love there. I’ve met a few that have really impressed me. But they tend to be the exceptions.
If you’re a full-time member of the closest thing we have to clergy and you call me up and ask me how I’m doing, ask me how I’m doing spiritually, don’t act uncomfortable with the actual answer. Get some exposure to the world and broaden your comfort zone.
But no of course they won’t do that. The missionary life is all about avoiding the real world.
Even as a missionary, I couldn’t successfully preach these ideas to my fellow missionaries. They get their heads full of weird ideas and think the more boring they are, the more holy they are. That’s not how God is, but it’s the fault of the culture of the church and a mis-managed MTC. That’s right. I’ll say it and it’s true.
When I went to the MTC it was like a bible boot camp. That’s ridiculous. I think part of what makes missionaries slogan machines is that they don’t have any life whatsoever outside of their job. They don’t even get a day off. It’s nutty. We work our missionaries too hard and often that work isn’t productive as a result. Even on the sabbath we’d have to go knock doors if we didn’t have any appointments. And there was always this false idea of agency, full of implied threats, that if you don’t, you’re not a faithful missionary and maybe, just maybe you shouldn’t be there. My mission experience was cultish.
People outside the church slander us and call us a cult. It’s total nonsense and just a poor attempt to slander a faith they don’t like. But if they were to judge it on the missionary experience alone? My gosh. They’d be right.
I admit, I am a bit uncomfortable responding to this, not because I think it’s creepy, but because I never went on a mission. In fact, none of my children ever went on missions either. I have lived outside of Utah for a handful of years, though, and I have had some experiences with missionaries, so I do have a few things to say.
For my new friend, and new readers, here’s a little background. I was nineteen when I got married–just a year and a half out of high school. Many of my female Mormon friends were doing the same thing. Back in my day, we were often told that if we weren’t married by the time we were twenty-one, we would be “Old Maids.” At that point, we would be expected to go on missions. Things have changed quite a bit since those days (thank goodness).
To make a long story short, I married the wrong man, for all the wrong reasons, in the temple. Fourteen very short years later, I found myself a divorcee with four children aged thirteen and under. My youngest was just barely two.
It was a long, messy, haul for all five of us. My ex was remarried almost immediately, and his second marriage was exponentially worse than his first. Visitation was a nightmare for the kids. I stayed single because my children were an emotional mess, and so was I. I didn’t want to make the same mistake twice.
During my early married years, many strange ideas came from my ex. Among the first were twisted reminders that I had made a temple covenant to “avoid loud laughter,” whenever I became light-hearted, especially in public–even at church functions where others were having fun. The reminder had been piously taken out of context, as the covenant actually combines “. . . loud laughter and evil-speaking . . .” I believed I had promised not to speak insensitively, or use sarcasm against church leaders, even in jest. He’d interpreted the promise in a much different manner, and I honestly think this was one of the many slogans he’d used on his mission and applied to his marriage.
We were both married too young. My ex had been home from his mission just a few months before we met. We dated for six weeks, and were married three months later. He had gone from one mission to the next. There were many times when I felt as if he wanted me to behave more like a missionary companion than a wife; it was what he was used to, hence the application of slogans to our marriage.
I particularly remember a time when my non-member cousin and his wife came to stay with us while they were visiting from their home inTexas. My cousins did the Utah-tourist thing and visited some Mormon sites, including Temple Square. As they were leaving, my husband followed after them with a complimentary Book of Mormon in-hand. I don’t remember what he said, but I do remember the awkward, uncomfortable conversation, and I remembeer my cousin pointedly reminding my husband that he was proud to say that he lived in a place that reminded him of his Christian heritage; they lived in Corpus-Christi, a name meaning “body of Christ.”
My husband had modest success in his mission in Atlanta, Georgia. I often wondered if that same awkward conversation had occured with much frequency in his missionary days, and that maybe he was hoping he could find more success following his mission.
As my children were growing up, I continued to go to church as a single mother, and I encouraged them to join me. I never forced them to go, but when they were visiting their father, they had no choice. I quickly found that as the children grew, they looked forward to that freedom of choice they had at my home. Despite my example of weekly church and temple attendance, my children slowly stopped coming with me.
Fortunately, all but my youngest have found their way back the church, and two of the four are active. I am grateful for that, but I really do wish I’d been able to have the experience of supporting a child on a mission.
My missionary experience came when all but my youngest had flown the coop. I had been employed out of state, and I decided (rather unfortunately) to let my youngest go live with his father. A year later, I decided to go even further from home to pursue a graduate degree at the largest Catholic university in the nation (DePaul). It was in Chicago that I began this blog.
My youngest son often came to visit me, and even though he came to church with me, went to scouts, and took piano lessons from an older missionary couple while he was there, I could see him, too, drifting further and further from the church.
I met my current husband while I was in Chicago. The top religion in the State of Illinois is Catholic, so it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that my new boyfriend, even though he was born in China, had been raised Catholic. He was fine with my religion, and often attended church with me. I didn’t mind that he was Catholic, just so long as he was Christian. We were married a year after we met, and six months later he joined the church.
Missionaries came and went from our home with great frequency during that first year of our marriage. At first I worried that they would be like my first husband: slogan-spouting baptism machines. Fortunately for both of us, this was not so. I remember many of them–some shy, most of them outgoing, and most male. Every single one of them seemed to have open minds, and truly knew and loved the gospel they taught–including the young Tongan from California with an unpronounceable surname. He went by “Elder T.”
Elder T was a poor boy from the wrong side of town in California. It had taken a lot of courage to break free of his gang membership to go back to church and go on a mission. Sometimes Elder T worried that he had gone on a mission to get away from the gang. (I’m sure you can imagine why.) But the Gospel of Jesus Christ shone bright in his eyes, and when it came time, my husband chose Elder T to baptize him. Regretfully, we lost contact with Elder T when he went home a few months later. I often wonder how he is doing.
We had encounters with sister missionaries too. A year after we were married, I brought my daughter and my grandson to come live with us. It was a last-ditch effort to save my grandson. My daughter was heavily into alcohol and drugs. We had the missionaries over for dinner on a regular basis, and I’d hoped they’d be able to help my daughter.
The sisters were not in our area for long, but they were there long enough to come to dinner at our house at least once. I wonder, sometimes, if their experience in our home led them to ask to be moved.
It went like this:
We were finishing our dinner, and my daughter seized the moment to ask two Mormon girls, one from Utah and the other from Idaho (they were very close to her age), a question that had been burning in her mind for some time, “Is it true that Mormons are only allowed to have sex in one position?”
The sister missionaries didn’t bat an eye. Neither did my Chicago-raised husband. “Sixty-nine; that’s the position,” He quipped.
I was appalled. So was my daughter. But those two unflappable sisters ignored the sophomoric quip, and answered her straightforwardly. I was impressed. I remember that one of the sisters said “Really? I’ve never heard that.” Cool.
We came back home to Utah a year later. My new husband joined me when I had found a new place. My little grandson went to live with his father, and my daughter spent over a year in quasi-homelessness while she worked through her addictions. I am happy to report that she is now managing her addictions and is nearly back on her feet.
The first couple of years back in Utah was a tough one for me. They have been even tougher for my husband. Changing cultures is super-tough, and I never really liked the closed-mindedness of Utahns. One of my Kingdom of Camelot acquired Facebook friends calls them “Utards.” It’s an inside joke, but he is a Mormon and lives here in Utah too. (I actually played Kingdom of Camelot while living in Chicago.)
While I can honestly say that I have seen those weird Utah-Mormon behaviors you described in your post quite often, even among the missionaries serving here, I never really saw them among the missionaries in Illinois. I’m not saying that it doesn’t happen, and I, too, worry that the young R.M.s coming home to Utah have not had much of an education in the outside world, but I truly believe that the problem is more symptomatic of those who have never lived outside of the church in Utah except to serve missions.
I am personally grateful for my experiences outside of the church and outside of the state to help me to more firmly understand how the Gospel of Jesus Christ works among all of God’s beloved children here on earth. I am also grateful that I broadened my education at a Catholic University. I wish everyone here could have the same opportunity.