Thursday, May 10, 2018

LDS triplets get their mission calls...

I could write about so many things today.  After weeks of political protests, Armenia just had a revolution.  A former Peace Corps Armenia Volunteer, Mandy Manning, just won Teacher of the Year and took an opportunity to slam Donald Trump and his xenophobic policies.  As I am myself a Returned Peace Corps Armenia Volunteer, I could easily write about her... and maybe I will at some point.  I bet if I spent some time reading idiotic comments from people claiming she was "disrespectful" to Donald Trump, I could come up with a great rant.  I could also write about how the LDS church is now ending its 105 year history with the soon to be renamed Boy Scouts.

But no...  today, I want to write about an article I read yesterday on LDSLiving.  It's the tale of triplets-- two young men and a young woman-- all three of whom have decided to go on Mormon church missions.  The new missionaries, Marcus, Mason, and Morgan Laub, are eighteen years old.  In a few weeks they'll be nineteen and newly minted high school graduates.

Why are the triplets a bit old to just be graduating high school?  Because their parents, Colette and J.J. Laub waited a year before putting them in school.  And why did they do that?  Because Mr. and Mrs. Laub wanted to make sure their sons would be able to go straight from high school into a mission.  They didn't want them to go to college for a year and then do a mission.  Apparently, Morgan Laub wasn't automatically expected to be a missionary, but chose to do one anyway.

Now... let's ponder this for just a minute.  I can understand delaying entrance into school for developmental reasons.  Since these young people are triplets, it's possible that they were small and/or immature for their ages.  However, the article states that their parents specifically decided not to start their children in school at the usual age because they knew, even when the boys were young children, that they absolutely would be going on missions.

Those who are not familiar with Mormonism may think this is pretty weird.  I will admit, I have not been LDS and was never exposed to the pressures of growing up Mormon.  It seems odd to me, too, that parents would be so certain that their children would be missionaries.  However, in LDS culture, it's true that young men are absolutely expected to do missions, even if they aren't officially required to go.  If they don't serve a mission, and they stay LDS, there is a good chance they'll suffer consequences that range from having trouble finding good Mormon wives to missing out on church or employment opportunities.  The pressure to serve a mission is said to be tremendous... probably every bit as tremendous as the pressure is to stay LDS at all costs.

The Laub triplets were evidently born in 1999, which means that at the time of their birth, male missionaries were expected to go on missions starting at age 19.  Female missionaries, who serve slightly less time, were typically given a choice as to whether or not to serve a mission.  They usually started theirs at age 21 and were gone for 18 months instead of the two years the men serve.  While I know that in recent years, a lot of very attractive, intelligent, and accomplished women have served LDS missions, I think the higher age was initially meant to discourage them from serving the church as sister missionaries and, instead, finding worthy husbands and having babies.  Since 2012, the mission age has been lowered to 18 for males and 19 for females.  That means all three Laub triplets are eligible to serve.

The article did not mention where the triplets would be going, so I decided to watch their mission call video.  Edited to add: there is a longer version of the article linked within the one I initially read that does mention where the triplets will serve.

I think Morgan got robbed.

I know, I know... mission calls are supposed to be divinely inspired.  Supposedly, the missionaries go where the Lord wants them to go.  Maybe there is some truth to that, although my guess is that it's really much more about luck and connections.  I also understand the excitement of a mission call.  I think I had a similar experience opening my invitation to serve in the Peace Corps.  On the other hand, I also believe a Peace Corps assignment is much more rewarding in innumerable ways.  I'm sure many Mormons would disagree, since missions are "service" to a so-called higher authority.    

Anyway... while I have some idea of how important missions are to many Mormon parents, it seems utterly ridiculous to me that some parents are making plans for the mission when their children are still very young.  A lot can happen in 18 years.  Also, while I understand the emphasis many people place on their religious beliefs, I also think that decisions regarding important life decisions should be left up to the people living that life.  Mormons often speak of respecting "free agency".  Well, what part of making the assumption that one's children will absolutely serve Mormon missions has anything to do with "free agency"?  Did these parents really allow their children to decide for themselves?

The Laub triplets do seem excited to be going on their missions.  I hope they have positive, life changing experiences.  I do think that while some people have absolutely miserable mission experiences, others come away from the experience a bit more world wise and mature.  That's not a bad thing.  On the other hand, I personally think it's sad that so many young people feel compelled to go to other places in order to try to convince others to become religious... especially in a church that requires so much money, free time, and strict adherence to lifestyle rules.  While missionaries are often born into the church, new converts are not... and there will be tremendous pressure for everyone in a new convert family to change their beliefs.  That kind of pressure can be very disruptive and damaging to families.    

I really think missions are more about keeping young members from leaving the church than bringing new people into it.  I am also sure that many people truly are happy being LDS.  On the other hand, not a day goes by that a new person doesn't post on RfM about either being devastated at learning the truth about the church or being exhilarated by the experience of finally being able to live life on his or her own terms.  Planning for your sons' missions when they are still small children smacks of not letting them make their own life choices.  As much as I bitch about my own family, I'm grateful that religion and my choice to enter Peace Corps service were areas they let me decide for myself.

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