Thursday, August 30, 2012

Mormon missions...

It's always funny to go on YouTube and watch videos posted by people who have something to say.  I suppose it's sort of like watching a video blog.  One of my favorite ways to pass time is to go on YouTube and watch stuff I remember from the past, like old commercials, TV shows, and PSAs.  However, every once in awhile, I run across someone who posts a video of them making a statement.  Of all the folks who do that, I'd say members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is one of the most prolific sources of "goddammit, I've got something to say!" videos.

For some reason, a lot of Mormons like to post videos of them opening up their mission calls.  I have to admit that I'm always a little intrigued by this custom because as a former Peace Corps Volunteer, I had sort of a similar experience.  I remember the day I got that big envelope from the Peace Corps, knowing that it was an "invitation to serve".  I wondered where I was going.  I opened the envelope with my parents standing by and found out I was headed to Armenia for two years.  And... I was going to be in the third group going there.  Back then, there was no YouTube and even if it had existed, I wouldn't not have broadcast opening that envelope.  But lots of Mormons like to do that...  check it out!

This one has music and creative video editing.

And this one is described as a "doozie"...

These guys prepare for most of their lives to go on missions.  It's a big part of Mormon culture and, though church members are quick to tell people that missions are not mandatory, most self-respecting young Mormon men plan to go on a mission.  Not going and staying in the church can be the kiss of death to one's social and professional life.  And given that most of these guys are 19 years old when they depart, it makes sense that they'd be excited...  Until they actually get to the mission.

In many cases, they spend their days going door to door, getting yelled at, cussed at, having doors slammed in their faces, and being stood up.  They live in poor conditions... in some cases, even squalid conditions.  Sometimes they come home with emotional issues like depression, PTSD, or culture shock.  Sometimes they end up with chronic medical issues.  Sometimes they even end up getting killed.  On the other hand, some missionaries have a blast, even if they later leave the church.  Anyway, they spend their two years... two years in the prime of their lives... to try to get people to join the LDS church.  It's a big deal to baptize a lot of people.  In many places, especially in Europe, it's very difficult to get people to convert.  But they do it anyway, because it's a rite of passage.

Again... in many ways, the emotional and physical aftermath of a Mormon mission is not unlike what former Peace Corps Volunteers deal with, though, I would venture to say that the Peace Corps is probably a hell of a lot more fun than being a Mormon missionary is.  And no one in the Peace Corps ends up serving in the United States or a Western European country, where life is pretty cushy.  Missionaries and Peace Corps Volunteers serve pretty different purposes, though.  Missionaries go abroad to spread the "gospel", while Peace Corps Volunteers go abroad to share skills, learn about new cultures, and teach about American culture.  And a lot of Peace Corps Volunteers also join as a stepping stone to a good job, either with the government or some other agency that values international experience.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you probably know that I hang out on the Recovery from Mormonism Web site.  I don't go there because I am an exMormon.  I go because my husband is an exMormon convert.  There are a lot of ex-missionaries on that site.  A few of them have written books about their experiences on missions for the church.  Here are a couple of books I've read by ex-missionaries...

John Williams' Heaven Up Here is a very poignant, beautifully written account of Williams' time in Bolivia.  Raptor Jesus writes a hilarious, but startling account of his time in Germany.  Both are now ex church members.

In case you were wondering, yes, women can serve missions too.  They don't go until they're 21 years old and they only serve for 18 months.  A lot of LDS women are married by the time they're 21, though... that seems to be how the church likes it.  After all, people in the church are encouraged to start having babies young, even before they finish their educations.

But yeah, sometimes you might run into a "sister missionary".  As a matter of fact, I knew a Mormon couple when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer.  They were serving with me and both had been Mormon missionaries before their Peace Corps service.  I actually thought they were pretty cool until the husband chastised me for reading Secret Ceremonies, a book by the late notorious ex-Mormon, Deborah Laake.   That book came out in 1994 and Mormons were pissed off about it.  They claimed the book was full of lies.  However, I later re-read it with my ex-Mormon husband and he confirmed it wasn't full of lies.  Indeed, I have a feeling my Peace Corps colleague had never actually read it himself and was just basing his disapproval on what others had said.

Secret Ceremonies is out of print, but you can get your hands on a copy of the book.  Moreover, I would like to tell any TBMs reading this post that I was not turned off of Mormons by reading Laake's book.  What really gave me pause was when a TBM told me I was wrong to read it.  And I didn't start actively disliking Mormonism until I saw it being used as a tool to separate my husband from his kids.  Even though I know my husband's former wife would have alienated the kids regardless, it's not lost on me that Mormon beliefs and doctrines were very handy tools used to facilitate her efforts.  After all, people who leave the church are often shunned or otherwise maligned...

And if you want to read about Mormon shunning, here's a good book about that...

In fact, here are some quotes from Suddenly Strangers, a book written by two brothers who decided to leave their church...  This comes from my review of the book, which I posted on  

"On page 134, Brad Morin quotes a brother as saying the following when he found out about Morin's decision:

I am going to be honest with you. I don't ever want to talk to you again. I don't want to see you again. I don't want any letters or e-mail from you. If you write a letter for the family newsletter, I will not send it out. I don't want you coming to visit on the nineteenth. I still love you, but I don't ever want to see you again.

A brother-in-law e-mailed the following after Chris Morin announced his decision to quit:

Just heard from Chris, and respectfully speaking, of course, I'm not so sure you didn't exert some influence there... I think you need to allow people to make their own decisions without your influence... Choices about religion lead to divorce, bad family feelings, and really crappy family reunions, otherwise known as dysfunctional families. People who leave the church end up with huge chips and a need to convert others to their new found philosophy. (137)

It struck me as mildly ironic that this brother-in-law was so quick to chastise Brad Morin for not letting Chris Morin make his own choices. It seemed to me that the brother in law was really selling Chris Morin short, as if he were a child who couldn't think for himself and had to be talked into coming to the same conclusion his brother had.

But in my opinion, the most offensive missive came from a brother who wrote the following to both Brad and Chris:

The thing that scares me most is your current beliefs. Those beliefs have the capability to destroy me and my family, and anyone who subscribes to those beliefs... You must not say anything to my wife or children about Joseph Smith or any prophet of the church, or any church leader or any church writings, or any church history... We read scriptures in our house. We say prayers in our house. If you visit us you will observe at least one of those maybe both. If we visit your houses we expect to be able to give thanks for the food and to read scriptures even if in our bedroom... If you cannot make this promise to me or if you make this promise to me and break it, my family will not associate (Face to face) with yours... Is this drastic? You bet it is. I have everything I have ever wanted, to loose [lose], if I am deceived. (139)

The pervasive fear that comes from these emails is very surprising to me, but what surprised me even more was when one of Brad's very intelligent and fair-minded friends produced his own reasons for staying faithful to the church. And then he followed up by stating, "...if it isn't true, I don't want to know it" (149). Brad Morin compared this statement to the attitude some people have about not wanting to face reality, particularly when it's distasteful. He likened it to someone who doesn't want to know they have cancer. It just feels better to ignore evidence and pretend that everything is okay."

I've said it before and I'll say it again...  I think people should do what works for them.  If you happen to be LDS and are reading this blog, totally happy in your faith, more power to you.  And maybe you have thought about why "gentiles" don't want to join the church.  Maybe you haven't.  You shouldn't assume, though, that people who don't want to be LDS are uninformed or misinformed just because they have a negative perception of your faith.  I've never been LDS, but I've hung around quite a few TBMs and exmos and am married to a former Mormon.  I've read a lot of books, too... not just anecdotal accounts, but some scholarly works.  I know enough to know that I don't agree with Mormonism... but I do sort of find church members interesting and even relate to those who have done missions abroad.     

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