I read an article about the Mormons this morning with interest. It was called Putting Eternal Salvation in the Hands of 19-year-Old Missionaries (Bennett & Fu, 2014). I was saddened by how I perceive the Church to be exploiting its youth. Having had two of my sons serve LDS missions, I was reminded of the sorrow I felt while they were gone for two years, as I had converted to Christianity before they left. Following are some of the aspects of LDS missionary work that trouble me.
Isolation from Family
The missionaries are only allowed to call home twice a year; on Mother’s Day and Christmas. Depending on how strictly a mission president enforces the rules, calls are limited to 30 to 40 minutes according to the Church’s missionary handbook. One of my sons, who was in Uruguay (I suspect he was sent out of the country to be away from my influence, as I was considered an “apostate”), was told he should keep the phone call to 10 or 20 minutes. Oh my heck! I told my son that he would stay on the phone until we were good and ready to hang up or else I would raise a stink publicly about it (the Church hates negative publicity, so I felt like I had the leaders by their spiritual cojones). We talked for well over an hour.
Missionaries can write letters or email home only once a week, if they even have time. Considering that on P-day (preparation day) they have only from about ten in the morning until six in the evening to do their laundry, clean their apartment, go grocery shopping, wash their car or bike, get a hair cut (must be above the collar and ears, “white walls”), engage in Church-approved recreation like basketball and volleyball (but keeping score is forbidden) or going to an exhibit or museum (I suppose the Museum of Eroticism in France would be out),… Fetch! Who would have time to write letters?
LDS leadership would say the prohibition against communicating with family and friends is to keep missionaries focused on “the work” and free from distractions. However, the reality is that some of these young 18 and 19 year-old men and women struggle with depression or anxiety, which could be allayed by more frequent contact with loved ones. Keeping missionaries from close family contact keeps them dependent upon the Church and its leaders.
Being Kept in the Dark
The majority of missionaries are left clueless about the troubling aspects of Mormon history and doctrines until they are presented with the facts by non- or ex-Mormons. They usually don’t know that founder Joseph Smith had 33 documented wives, 11 of whom were married to other men concurrently. In seminary they were taught about Mormons being persecuted for their faith, but not about the Mormons who burned houses, looted, and drove Missourians from their homes. They have no idea that 2nd church president, Brigham Young, taught that Adam is our god or that Christ’s atonement doesn’t cover all sins.
The missionaries know little to none about Jewish or Christian history, the early church (comprised of small messianic communities of Jew and gentile followers of Jesus), or what the first and second temple periods were all about. In their minds they probably picture the ancients attending the temple to be sealed in eternal marriages, doing baptisms for the dead, and enjoying great cafeteria food (minus the pulled pork and deep-fried scones) all right alongside of the sacrifices. When the missionaries tell prospective converts wrong things about Biblical practices, history, or teachings, it’s a bit like Scuttle in Disney’s The Little Mermaid calling a fork a “dinglehopper” and a pipe a “snarfblat,” and that they are used as a comb and trumpet-like instrument respectively. And to say it with a straight face. Their off-the-wall explanations for Biblical doctrines would be embarrassing if it wasn’t so very sad.
Sent Out With a False Paradigm
As a Mormon I was taught that true happiness cannot be found outside of membership in the Church; that people might say they are happy, but that’s because they don’t know how unhappy they really are, until we—as Latter-day Saints—could show them what miserable lives they had without the One True Restored Gospel. If “gentiles” (non-Mormons) would just give us a chance to bear our testimonies to them, they would clamor to obtain the happiness that we had as members of the Church. Never mind the fact that about a third of the women in my ward’s Relief Society were on anti-depressants. Never mind that as faithful Mormon moms we were burnt out and stressed out and overwhelmed by all our church callings that required hours of preparation and service in addition to raising families of three to a dozen or more children. Never mind that we often cried at night wondering how we would be able to get our husbands and kids to the Celestial Kingdom. We just planted a smile on our sullen faces, unable to hide the weariness in our eyes, no matter how much Nu Skin eye-shadow we put on.
My husband told me how while on his mission he met a lot of happy people. So happy, in fact, that they said they already went to good churches, with great pastors, and had a personal relationship with Jesus.
“Yes, but…but,” he would stammer on their doorstep, “but you could be even happier as a Mormon. If you’ll just let us in…” (Sound of door closing. Deadbolt sliding).
And then there were the miracles. No one in the Church preps the missionaries that other people have deeply profound spiritual experiences and even miraculous answers to prayer. Sometimes they are left wondering, like my husband was, how it was possible that Christians without the True Gospel—the Mormon gospel—could experience such peace and fellowship with the Holy Ghost; like they were practically on a first name basis with him, if he had a name that is.
Although the vast majority of the LDS Church’s 80-something-thousand missionaries serve out their full missions with what they would consider success, a significant number of them are blindsided by the disturbing things they learn about Mormonism from strangers. It’s kind of like discovering that everyone except you knew you were adopted. It’s bad enough finding out there’s a skeleton in the family closet; much worse finding out that you’re the skeleton!
The Atlantic article brought back memories of the heaviness I felt when my sons were on their missions. It was a heaviness that came from not being able to contact them because the Church controls every facet of their lives for two years. There was sorrow because I knew they would be spreading the gospel of Joseph Smith rather than the Good News of Jesus the Messiah. It was a sadness born from the knowledge that the very institution they loved and revered was keeping them in the dark, denying the facts, and spinning its history to make Mormonism appear to be something it isn’t. And it’s painful to see how LDS leaders demonize those who expose their lies, turning the hearts of the children against their fathers and mothers who left because truth matters.
Yes, the Mormon Church exploits its youth by capitalizing on their enthusiasm, optimism, and naiveté to bolster its dwindling numbers. It’s much more than ri-flippin’-diculous; it’s a tragedy of eternal proportions.
Bennett, A., & Fu, K. (2014, August 26). Putting Eternal Salvation in the Hands of 19-year-Old Missionaries. The Atlantic.