100–101: Mormon Missions

May 30, 2012
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This two-part episode focuses on the unique experience of Mormon missions–their wonderful, powerful, light aspects, as well as those elements that can lead things to go wrong and be potentially unhealthy. Panelists Derrick Clements, T.K., and Rory Swensen join Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon in sharing about their mission experiences (two of them quite recently completed, the other two more than twenty years ago), how they interpreted what they were going through then versus now with post-mission lenses that are influenced to some degree by their faith journeys since the time of their service. Knowing what they know now, or viewing theLDSChurchand gospel as they currently do, how would they serve differently? Would they still choose to go? Should their children want to serve, would they support that decision? And, if so, how would they frame for their child some of the potential negative aspects of mission life–the pressures to reach goals, to teach things in a certain way, to testify to things they may not fully be converted to themselves, to live rules to the letter (sometimes pushing themselves in ways that are detrimental to physical and spiritual health), etc.–in ways that might mitigate potential damage? What would they encourage their children to focus on instead? Whether one’s mission is a wonderful or negative experience, it is certainly a pivotal experience in one’s life–one worthy of much reflection and consistent revisiting.

In many ways this episode is a public conversation that many listeners to this podcast likely have had (or still regularly have) with themselves and others regarding their own experiences as Mormon missionaries or as they have thought about a loved one’s mission. We’d very much encourage everyone to share their stories and thoughts in the comments section below!

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36 Responses to 100–101: Mormon Missions

  1. Brian L Kissell
    May 30, 2012 at 4:55 pm

    I loved Derrick’s perspective.  During the first few years of my faith transition, I thought a lot about my mission. I was one of those strict missionaries that you hear horror stories about. I worked extremely hard to do all that I could to be obedient to all of the rules. I think my strong desire to do so was a lack of prior depth in my spirituality. However I absolutely loved my mission. I believe that it was an experience that absolutely transformed me into a better and more loving person. I believe that it would be fun to re-experience a mission as the type of Mormon I am today, because I think I would be much more effective (E.G. Service oriented, Loving, Accepting, and Empathetic.)  Anyways I found the conversation to be exciting, and it brought back fond memories. Thanks for the great episode. 

  2. Concerned
    May 30, 2012 at 11:47 pm

    Very interesting discussion.

    Did anyone serve under a Mission President who they came to believe was actually evil,
    pushing a negative personal agenda with bad results, etc?

    I have come to suspect that this a little more common than one might expect…. 

  3. Paul Barker
    May 31, 2012 at 11:40 am

    “That’s 15 minutes without the spirit!” – If only they can really hear themselves. 

  4. SeanSLC
    May 31, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    Awesome discussion Dan!  I listen to your stuff while I’m out running or cycling and today I couldn’t wait to get home and comment.

    I’ve been home from my mission for almost 24 years and my current Bishop asked me if I was bitter because my mission president wouldn’t allow me to go home when my father died.  It was a story I relayed to him because of his own son’s difficulty on a mission.  It’s something I hadn’t thought about in the years since but as I thought about it today during the podcast it started to swell in me that I was indeed a little angry and that it wasn’t presented to me as not even an option. 

    I chuckled about the sleeping-in scenario on a mission and the idiotic thought of losing the spirit because of that. It was against the rules to play basketball the first 22 months of my mission.  I remember a random call from my mission president where he railed on me for playing (my companion told on me) and that I have lost the spirit and the fellowship of the branch members I was serving.  That conversation left me so hollow.  The last two months of my mission brought a new president and the ability to play basketball on prep days.  So at least I got the spirit back the last 2 months….kidding.

    I know there are others of you that have dreams/nightmares about returning to the field.  Scares me to relive those experiences!

    Once again great discussion.  Rory seemed to be the fatherly voice of reason in this cast.

  5. Em1919
    May 31, 2012 at 4:13 pm

    I’m loving this podcast, thanks!

    My sister is currently on a foreign mission and although the says she loves her mission president, she has also written of her struggles with his emphasis on the numbers of baptisms.  They are told to pray each week for a revelation on a person who needs the gospel.  Once they have the revelation/person in mind they are supposed to get that particular person to commit to baptism.  If they don’t by the end of the week they are then told that a) they did not have enough faith or b) they didn’t have a true revelation.  I feel that this is a very unhealthy and unnecessary stress but I don’t know what to say to her.  She says she has been given peace on the subject and that she guesses baptisms really do matter because they bring people to Christ, and I’m happy she has this peace, but I still feel this is a form of abuse.

    I guess  my question is, as former missionaries who felt similar abuses, is there something a family member could have shared with you during your mission to bring you more clarity/peace/suggestions for dealing with it? I have never been on a mission and she seems like she is on a different planet, I don’t really know how I can help.  My sister is a lot like the female on the panel– she was introduced to lots of church history before her mission, and she is not too keen on the “this is the best and only true church so you must join it” mentality.

    Thanks in advance!

    • maggiesq
      June 6, 2012 at 12:36 pm

       Like Rory’s comment below, I think it’s really important to respect everyone’s agency. And just because a missionary feels inspired to invite (I hate the verb commit) someone to be baptized, and that offer is rejected, does not mean that the invitation was a waste. Sometimes, inviting someone to be baptized serves other purposes. It can effectively challenge a  person’s path and perspective whether it is accepted, postponed or rejected.  

  6. Rory
    May 31, 2012 at 6:15 pm

    Concerned – I don’t know of anyone who served under someone that came to believe they were evil. I’m not sure if I effectively related my own experience of how my view about my mission president changed, it’s difficult to convey in a quick response on a podcast. What I was trying to relate was my own frustration during the mission with some of his decisions and his emphasis on not sending anyone home, but upon my exit interview I finally understood where he was coming from and where his focus was. It changed my perspective and gave me a deeper appreciation for his commitment to the missionaries, and I carried that with me into the future as it shaped my views on judging others, as well as my views on programs like ‘raising the bar’. Truth be told, my mission president’s long-suffering benefitted me, too, as I imagine under an unforgiving and rigid mission president I would have had a dramatically different – and worse – experience. My frustrations and complaints against him dissipated quickly, and I have a great deal of respect for him. 

    Em1919 – I think you can take some comfort in the fact that your sister has a fairly realistic and grounded view of the complexities, particularly as a currently-serving missionary. The only thing I might offer is the view that I took on the rules, obedience, and measuring spirituality by numbers: I didn’t sweat it. I reasoned that as long as I wasn’t behaving in a way that would shame the church, being a representative of it in a very public way, then I needn’t worry too much about the crazy talk around obedience and faith. It was my belief that God would not punish someone ready for the gospel or truly seeking because I slept in or wasn’t diligent about every single rule. Such a God doesn’t seem worthy of our worship. Or, in the eloquent way that I thought of it as a 19 year old young man, if God withheld inspiration and salvation to someone seeking it because a 19 year old kid was behaving like a 19 year old kid, that would be a real dick move on his part. I trusted that God wasn’t like that, and felt like it was mostly my job to be there and in a position to share the message when the time was right.

    You might also tell her to take comfort in knowing we all have agency. Even if she feels a strong inspiration that someone should be baptized, it’s still ultimately up to that person and their agency. To say that she didn’t have enough faith, or that she somehow failed them, is silly. And when she returns home, the first guy that tries to tell her that he prayed diligently and received a revelation that she should be his wife? She can laugh in his face, knowing from experience that that whole line of thinking is absurd.

  7. Concerned
    May 31, 2012 at 10:03 pm

    Rory;

    Thanks for the reply. I wasn’t referring to your comments, just putting a topic out there for some reflection and discussion.

    Ardis E. Parshall of  http://www.keepapitchinin.org/  has related some difficult stories from her own mission which almost hurt to read (for me) and I know of many others.

    Anybody serve under a mission president that got sent home early?

    Anybody serve in a mission where the president was suspected of being or found to be mentally ill? One of my mission companion’s brothers went through this on his mission, in if I remember correctly the early 1970s. Imagine being suddenly sent home early without any warning as an “example” because you honestly reported that you had not completed your 45 hours per week minimum tracting requirement (NOT missionary work, just tracting!) and were thus judged unworthy. Then you have to deal with the fact that the blessing you received before your departure, which indicated that your mission would be the key to bringing your inactive father back to activity in the Church is no more….

    Tough stuff.  

  8. Beatrice
    June 2, 2012 at 3:12 pm

    My mission was very formative for me in many positive ways.  I was a very shy person and being a missionary helped me learn how to speak to and try to relate to almost anyone.  I don’t know if it was mentioned in the positive section, but I think learning a foreign language and being immersed in a foreign culture can be very beneficial to many people.  They start to gain a broader perspective of the world and start to put into context the similarities and differences between their culture of origin and other cultures.

    I also wanted to add one comment about cultural incest.  Rory mentioned that he would be more nervous about his daughter serving because she would have to serve under men who were younger than her.  While I can certainly relate to that perspective, I think that it is good that sisters continue to serve on missions and are part of that space (instead of making it an all male space).  In my mind, having sisters there is one way to fight against cultural incest.  Frankly, I wish that church leadership as a whole included both men and women more fully.  However,  if Elders are going to learn how to be leaders on their missions, I think that it is important that they learn how to be leaders of both men and women.  Hopefully, given that the sisters are a bit older, they are not afraid to speak up in district meetings etc. when they have a different idea or something doesn’t work for them (I certainly wasn’t afraid to speak up).   If sisters weren’t part of that dialogue, young men might come back with a biased perspective of only focusing on what works for men within the church structure.  I hope that more and more sisters serve missions so that both young men and women can learn to listen to each other and to work together in the church.

  9. KC
    June 3, 2012 at 6:28 pm

    I’m all for the good things that come from serving a mission like personal growth, service, communication, relationship and language skills, work ethic, leadership experience etc. But all of this comes at the cost of preaching something that is historically and factually hugely problematic.  I would have liked to hear more a discussion of how the panelist especially Derrick, the MTC teacher deals with the historical difficulties of the message and narrative he is teaching his missionaries.  What percent of converts join having any idea of the multiple often contradictory versions of the 1st vision story or the factual difficulties facing the historicity of the Book of Mormon? Do they still tell people this is a record of an ancient american civilization? Do missionaries have a responsibility to tell investigators any more then the bare minimum to get them baptized.  What happens when converts discover the story they were taught was not the “whole truth”?  Im for more honesty in what we teach investigators.  When people decide to join they ought know what they are getting into to. 

    One of the problems with the current missionary program is that it is so focused on short term results at the expense of long term gains. There is so much pressure on missionaries and mission presidents to show results that we often compromise our integrity to gain converts.  I hope as a new generation of missionaries, investigators and members are exposed to the difficulties with the sanitized version of the message, people who decide to join the church do so with their eyes wide open.  

    • June 3, 2012 at 9:05 pm

      You bring up valid concerns, KC. LDS theology may be more entangled with the historical record than other faiths that are either older or less literal, but I believe that the validity of the theology is not entirely limited to the historical facts surrounding Joseph, the Book of Mormon, or the priesthood. My hope is that people do learn the facts–both missionaries and people learning from them–and for that I am grateful for the Internet! The overall effort of missionary work is LARGELY about changing lives for the better through the teachings of Jesus and does not, in my mind, need to screech to a halt to accomodate the acquisition of greater historical complexity (I hope it does get better, but I think it can get better gradually). 

      Also, I think that the fact that people are not taught enough of the facts–both before they are baptized, and after–is a growing pain of the Church itself in the Internet Age, and certainly not limited to the missionary program. The entire Church is trying to figure out what to make of the historical record–and while some 20th-century-Correlation-related executive decisions may have set us back a few steps in the direction of honest inquiry, I think other steps have been progress, and ultimately I foresee a Church that, despite its problematic record being made more openly known, remains a thriving spiritual home for LDS people. The fact is, the “academic rigors” of the MTC already overwhelm many missionaries who are otherwise totally capable of providing meaningful service to people, and so I’d be skeptical of a missionary program that WAS more mindful of great historical (or even doctrinal) accuracy, if it had to turn away missionaries who have zero academic abilities. I think the perspective of the top leadership is that the value of missionary service is NOT in the wonderful teaching, but in something else, that even the humble and “unlearned” can give. Right now, the missionaries’ mandate is to teach the lessons “in their in words” and “from their hearts,” and generally serve and help people change their lives. The degree to which the missionaries in 2012 succeed at that has been more than enough to outweigh the very real problems you bring up of the historical gap, and some problematic teachings. But if a missionary were to go out into the field RIGHT NOW, already aware of the historical problems, that knowledge would only help them, in my opinion, so there’s a lot we can do to improve BEFORE the elder or sister even gets out to the field.As to the point about short term/long term, just this week I received a teacher training in a room full of other teachers, in which our boss explained the importance of missionaries considering the long-term conditions of their lives, and not just to be concerned with immediate results. Of course, the fact that it needed to be brought up at all may reinforce your point, and my own mission experience certainly gives me more to agree with you as well–but in that case, it wasn’t the whole mission, but rather some of the over-zealous, immature leaders who had no idea what they were doing. 

      • June 3, 2012 at 9:06 pm

        Oh dear, that was wordy of me.

      • KC
        June 4, 2012 at 1:56 pm

        Thank you for your honest reply. The MTC is well served by having you there. 

        You state, “I believe that the validity of the theology is not entirely limited to the historical facts surrounding Joseph, the Book of Mormon, or the priesthood.”
        I agree, to the extent that people join for reasons other than the truth claims you mention. There are many reasons one may choose to join the church; community, friends, family, economic, social, welfare etc. However these are not the central items of the missionary discussions. The truth claim is still the central message. Literal truth of 1st vision, literal truth of Book of Mormon and priesthood restoration. Literal truth that only through the LDS Church can you live with God again (celestial kingdom). All other faiths will leave you short.  

        My nephew currently on a mission always talks in terms of bringing people to Christ. That’s great, but he doesn’t mean get yourself in a good Christ based church, rather you come unto Christ through baptism in the Mormon Church. So the message and theology is still exclusivists.  The church can be life changing for the good and bad. The church served me very well as a youth and young adult, but not so great later in life as the truth claims fell apart, cognitive dissonance set in and when you take the truth claims out the worship services are found wanting.  But I understand the difficult position the Church is in, discussions that challenge the official truth claims of the church will not send out more missionaries or bring in more converts but would significantly lower baptisms, nor would sending missionaries out to just do service. 

        Having just attended a conference with a GA, temple president, and the local mission president, I don’t see much room for anything other than exclusive authority, one baptism, one faith, one true church. 

        • Dan Wotherspoon
          June 4, 2012 at 3:07 pm

          I never take conferences as a good place to gauge “real Mormonism.” They are artificial settings. They have rhetorical and administrative agendas. No one is diving deep into discipleship in/at a conference–any kind of conference. The message is aimed at the center, at rallying the base and shoring up the institution. Mormonism certainly has rhetoric that says what you say it says, but it also has plenty that encourages people to live beyond those things. A math teacher may be teaching geometry, but it doesn’t mean she or he isn’t aware of all the other kinds of math available for students to explore when/if they are ready. As long as the teacher or person presenting at a conference with conference kinds of schtick doesn’t try to say “Here is where the learning stops,” I don’t have a ton of difficulty with trying to learn what I can from them.
          At some point you (and, of course, not just you) and I (of course, not just me) apparently diverged in our view of how roomy Mormonism is or isn’t. Perhaps it is simply different temperaments, different interests. Or maybe I was just lucky at a particular time in my life to have or discover teachers that emphasized all that was still out there for me to learn if I decided to keep going. And one of the hallmarks of a “keep going” message (and this is true in academics as well as spiritual areas) is that it never claims anything as needing to be taken literally. 

          With that in the background, let’s look at your list. I don’t read Mormonism as requiring someone accepting the “literal truth” of the First Vision. Can’t one simply be fine knowing that something profound happened in the grove? All the accounts seem to suggest something occurred that was big and profound and life changing. I’ve visited and revisited powerful experiences I’ve had many times. I’d be mortified if I ever thought any one time I wrote something down or shared it with others were going to be some kind of final word on my experience. Why put that burden on any/all of Joseph’s accounts? I actually prefer the archetypal nature of the message that is the common denominator of the accounts. “I want to know something. I will take my query to God/Spirit. It will involve a wrestle, but I have faith that insight will win through.”

          Does Mormonism really require someone to believe the Book of Mormon to be literally true? What would that even mean? You can’t mean “historical,” as that has been debated by active Mormons for a century now. Certainly the missionary in teaching is to not complicate the vision or book or to present wiggle room regarding priesthood restoration, but that seems natural to me in the same way I’d not expect a teacher to share all that awaits beyond the starting place known as geometry. 

          I also don’t think the claim is “that only through the LDS Church [we can] live with God again (celestial kingdom). All other faiths will leave you short.” As I understand it from my dives into the “keep goings” pointed at in scripture and prophetic injunction, Mormonism teaches that humans have the potential to take on the divine nature, which is a state of empowerment that the Gods have. The celestial kingdom is just as much–or even more so, if one looks at D&C 88′s emphasis on bodies and laws one is or isn’t willing to receive–a state of being/empowerment than it is a place to live. And it’s more of a community of other persons to be part of than a place to worry about one’s own mansion. (Believe me: teach this in SS or priesthood or RS meetings, and everyone will nod. We “get” this. We don’t talk it at this level often enough, but Mormons do understand this.) Mormonism/the LDS Church and how they have unfolded are not pre-determined or essential ingredients for someone developing the openness and compassion and willingness to be in full relationship with and serve as example and lure to all things that exist that constitutes the essence of the divine life. When we step aside from all the historical accidents that we call Mormonism, that capacity and encouragement by the universe to embrace it still remain. If one were to believe that Christ did this–that a real person achieved this state of empowerment and set forth some injunctions to follow to achieve it, as well–I see the “come unto Christ” message as valid and one to celebrate as being shared out there in the world.

          Anyway, like others in these comments, I’m writing way more than I planned. I guess to simplify all I want to really say is that I see the missionary’s job as being about planting a seed, giving the first few lectures of a geometry class in which (even if they don’t fully see it themselves as they are teaching it) they are setting people on a curriculum that if their students were to follow will explode the simple rules of geometry they are learning in the present. In doing this planting and course pointing, it’s ideal if they share how their lives have been affected profoundly by their upbringing and the truths they feel in their bones and then offer those who choose to listen the chance to explore more themselves. Hopefully those who do explore and feel the call to unite with the Mormons as a community and fellow travelers on a spiritual path will be presented and hear the “keep going” messages. They are there if one wants to hear them. 

          That’s what I think Mormonism teaches….

          • Brad Christenson
            June 6, 2012 at 4:09 pm

            My mission was a mess. I was a new convert of a year and wasn’t
            well versed in Mormons and missions and such. I had trouble following rules and
            wasn’t clear on many of them. I got in trouble for swimming in the apartment
            pool each morning at 5:00 A.M. when I didn’t even know it was wrong. The
            mission president was very lenient on me, and if I have to say I think even
            sometimes entertained. Looking back there is no earthly or heavenly reason they
            should have let me go.

            That being said, I am glad I did. I am an active MTBM and
            the mission is a very big part of the reason. I learned much about my new
            faith, as well as serving others in a big way for really the first time in my
            life. (I served from 1979 to 1981) I was 21 went I left and 23 when I came
            home. I clearly didn’t learn how to peddle religion very effectively; I am the
            youngest of 4 children and still the only Mormon (including parents). Still I
            feel very lucky to have had such a great growth experience.  I got to be interviewed by Ezra Benson prior
            to going. I had a BOM scholar as a mission pres that taught me a lot about the
            book.  

            I side with Dan kind of on the “One True Church” rhetoric. (The
            reason I am “Mostly” TBM)  I do believe
            much of the faith and try my best. I was raised by a single mother that was and
            is very antagonistic about Mormonism. She insisted I read Fawn Brodie’s book
            before I went (which I did).  However I
            know there are many things to know that come outside the context of the church.
            People are all children of the same loving God that loves and inspires them. My
            atheist mother is inspired and has learned many things about compassion, love
            and empathy that I think of as inspirational. I think Mother Teresa forgot more
            about compassion that I will ever know. I also think that compassion is about
            the most essential attribute and it doesn’t matter where you learned it, it
            matters the same. No patent on Christian behavior or extra points for Christian
            behavior in the context of Mormonism.   

            Thanks for the podcast – it made me reflect fondly. 

    • Shaqn8
      June 30, 2012 at 4:59 pm

      I returned early from my mission 2 months ago. And this is my biggest reason for doing so. I was reading bh Roberts church hist and rough stone rolling among others and felt very dishonest keeping info from ppl I was trying to convert. I would attempt to say things and my companion knew that I could keep my mouth shut about the “bad” things we as missionaries weren’t suppose to know or teach others

      • closet apostate
        July 16, 2012 at 3:15 am

        where were you serving? and how long were you out on your mission? im pretty troubled by some of this stuff and have been for a couple years now.  ive finally decided to take the plunge into missionary work (because i look at the church as a divine institution; yet i have a very liberal outlook on the theology) and i report to the MTC on August 1.  lets hear your story…     

  10. Laurenkri
    June 4, 2012 at 11:08 am

    I have thoughts on the obedience thing … the comment about “if you have an ease and a less of an uptightness about ‘how this is supposed to go!’ then sometimes results are just so much better.” It is kind of off topic of the missionary experience, but I hope still relevant to the thoughts being generated by this podcast (which I really enjoyed!).

    I have been curious for some time about how we set these rules for the least common denominator. Someone somewhere (and maybe more than 1 person) can not handle having the self-control of only taking as much sleep as they need. And there is an overarching feeling in the gospel (I think) about rules that if we break them in any way it is a slippery slope down to apostasy … that’s how it is often taught even.

    For someone this may be true. For another companionship realizing that you were both sleeping during scripture study and essentially throwing in the towel to take that time to catch up on much needed sleep would lead to taking advantage of sleeping more and more. Obviously this was not what happened with your companionship and it did indeed probably help.

    What do people think the ratio is of church members who can handle being ‘at ease’ and ‘less uptight’? Because I absolutely agree that it is productive when people are capable of not taking advantage of it, of being able to say I am not going to worry anymore but I am still capable (and desire) to maintain my integrity … I think that attitude is the one which allows us to receive our very best revelations, be our very best person, etc. etc. But there are members out there who cannot handle that (yet?) that are still working on maintaining integrity and any lax areas they will abuse.

    The way rules in the church are indicates that more than anything we value those individuals most because we keep holding fast to strictness and rigidity in many instances (particularly mission rules perhaps). Is this as its supposed to be? Do we do it in an attempt to keep them in the church? To limit their bad influence? In hopes that by continually subjecting them to rules that demand extreme self-mastery that they will ‘see the light’? Or because we actually are all subject to ‘sliding down the slippery slope’ if we let rules/traditions grow more lax than they are currently?

    I have never been one to really question authority. I grew up trying to make as few waves as possible. But I agree very much with the value of letting go of anxiety over perfect obedience. I just wonder how that would be ideally implemented in peoples’ minds, and how we should feel about members with the ability to handle rules with integrity and members that are still working on that skill. I assume you face it as a parent too … how much leeway is too much? If I just give in and change the rule will I face complete mutiny? Etc etc.

    Sorry for the super long comment … I am not sure how to articulate it less wordily …

    • Laurenkri
      June 4, 2012 at 11:22 am

      Okay, I just figured out a way to word it; some people need rules and do not have the integrity to be productive without them. Some people are self-motivated and thus the same rules seem needless and overbearing. When people freak out about rules (generally) they do so in fear that should rules be broken they are dealing with someone who cannot be trusted to break rules intelligently. I wonder how often their fears are validated. I feel like in general people in the church are of a pretty high caliber as far as being able to handle responsibility, but there are exceptions. So do we keep rigid rules (that are counter-productive for some (most?)) for the exceptions or do we become more lax in an effort to exhibit trust in and increase the productivity and well-being of those who are capable of ‘responsibly breaking rules.’

      If the latter, then how do you teach people in authority to trust in the ability of the people they are responsible for to ‘govern themselves with correct principals’? How do you remove their fear that if someone abuse the rules on their watch they are not personally responsible for the results? And how do you address those who abuse privileges where rules allow for personal integrity? 

      • Rory
        June 4, 2012 at 2:19 pm

        I think the rules need to be there for everyone – there is certainly a basic set of knowledge required to effectively teach and relate to others, so the personal study and companionship study as part of the daily schedule is appropriate. Further, these missionaries are ambassadors for the church, and as such there is certain conduct that is required of each of them.

        The problem arises when those rules are used as a bludgeon, and we encounter claims that God will withdraw his spirit if we shirk any of them. 

        I do not envy the position of a mission president, who must manage hundreds of missionaries with their various levels of knowledge and maturity. 

        So I hope my words do not come of as dismissive of rules or measurements – there must be _some_ way to measure productivity, and there must be guidelines to encourage personal growth and study. It is the outlandish claims and manipulative statements I take exception to, and those problems grow out of the culture much more than they do the initial rules.

        • Laurenkri
          June 5, 2012 at 7:39 am

          No, they did not come across as dismissive. I also agree that outlandish claims and manipulation are a cultural, or even circumstantial, thing. Are missionaries prepped for that in the MTC? Or is it one of those ‘no time to give you a mission culture break-down, figure it out yourself!’ Do teachers warn you that you’re going to encounter as far as the vastly different ways mission presidents orchestrate their mission areas, and the types of problems you discuss in this podcast? Or do you refrain, and if so why? For fear of driving them away from an already overwhelming situation? Do you think it would have helped in your experiences if you’d had some kind of disclaimer: “Look, people are going to be jerks, and perhaps more often it will be the people you are supposed to be able to trust rather than the people slamming doors in your face. But we trust in your ability to do this. God trusts in your ability to do this…” etc. etc. ?

          • June 5, 2012 at 9:34 am

            I have made a similar point as that many times to my missionaries, that blind trust of leaders can lead to spiritually compromising situations, that numbers are useful but the obsession with them is damaging, warning that some leaders will focus on them too much. I have heard of at least one other teacher making a similar point to his missionaries. But I wouldn’t say I consciously try to make sure to get that point across every time–just if I feel that a particular group could benefit from it.  I think the reason I don’t always feel the need is because I believe that they will be able to handle this stuff–I try to focus on building up confident, spirit-led, happy missionaries and let them meet their own challenges rather than mine.

            What you say about rules and rigidity reminds me of something Elder Oaks has said: “As a General Authority, it is my responsibility to preach general principles. When I do, I don’t try to define all the exceptions. There are exceptions to some rules. For example, we believe the commandment is not violated by killing pursuant to a lawful order in an armed conflict. But don’t ask me to give an opinion on your exception. I only teach the general rules. Whether an exception applies to you is your responsibility. You must work that out individually between you and the Lord.
            The Prophet Joseph Smith taught this same thing in another way. When he was asked how he governed such a diverse group of Saints, he said, ‘I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves’ (in John Taylor, ‘The Organization of the Church,’ Millennial Star, Nov. 15, 1851, 339). In what I have just said, I am simply teaching correct principles and inviting each one of you to act upon these principles by governing yourself.” (http://www.lds.org/library/display/0,4945,538-1-3100-1,00.html)

          • Laurenkri
            June 5, 2012 at 11:46 am

            Thank you for the reference to that exact quote and the one by Elder Oaks. But who are the exceptions? Are they the people like Rory who can take an extra hour of sleep without abusing that or are they the people who would abuse a rule?

            I am really new to this kind of Mormon discussion environment (bloggernacle and such), but much of what I read seems to be of the vibe that people are upset/irritated/frustrated/hoping to see change etc. over basically the fact that the church does not recognize them, that they feel they are not exceptions and that their issues should be recognized and remedied, (or perhaps that is more the impression I am getting from the comments sections … hmmmm) and I wonder are they? How do we label exceptions? How do you label them in the mission field? And are hard feelings that result from mission experiences softened by recognizing that yours was an exception or that it was a norm?

            In any case I am sorry to keep asking questions. I am not trying to troll, I am just curious about opinions on this matter and no one who would be willing to indulge me in discussion reads my blog :).  But I also absolve any responses to this if my ignorance is too great to address and/or I just need to continue searching out another format to ask such questions, I sincerely do not want to be a time waster.

          • June 5, 2012 at 3:18 pm

            I am comfortable, personally, with not having clear lines about who counts as exceptions. Any attempt to clarify that would be done out, it seems to me, out of desire for simplicity, but I think we have to remember that rules and structure serves a purpose, not the other way around. It can be frustrating, though, to not have things spelled out; one of my favorite depictions of this ever is in Melville’s short story, “Bartleby, the Scrivener.” It is essentially about a person who is an exception to the rule-structure, and it drives people crazy. Really fascinating stuff: http://www.bartleby.com/129/

  11. Jason
    June 5, 2012 at 2:57 pm

    Dan,

    I was a little disappointed the panel didn’t discuss about what happens when people come back off their missions and how awkward it can be.  Not only that but the phenomenon in which recently return missionaries can have a superiority complex.  Though I’m embarrassed by it now, I know I suffered from this when I came back, even interrogating my Dad about his temple attendance and daily scripture reading.  I was easily frustrated and quick to judge members that didn’t give their all.  Over the 15 years since I’ve been back I have noticed this is fairly common among RMs.  I would have loved to hear some advice on how RMs can avoid this and how they can integrate back into their wards once they return home as well as what might cause this.

  12. Emily
    June 6, 2012 at 5:39 pm

    I really enjoyed this topic, especially because RMs never really talk about the dark side of the mission. The number game can be so frustrating as a missionary. In my mission, if you didn’t get so and so numbers, then you were not be obedient. I remember one evening, receiving a call from my District Leader reading me a scripture and telling me that I was not faithful enough. I see now how manipulative he was being.

    Funny enough when we had a new mission president, he had a different philosophy and our mission culture definitively changed for the better.

  13. B-Happy
    June 6, 2012 at 8:02 pm

    There should be a Mormon Matters podcast that hi lights sister missionaries.

  14. David
    June 7, 2012 at 12:21 pm

    I don’t think any of the benefits that come from a mission are worth it if you have to find ways to protect yourself from psychological damage as was mentioned in this podcast.  Just stay as far away from it as possible if it is going to damage you.  I have good memories of my mission but I have no desire for my kids to be exposed at all to the Mormon church or to serve a mission.  I think it will be much better for them not to have to deal with the guilt that is so prevalent in the Mormon church and can be especially strong on missions if you get the wrong kind of president.  I agree that kids have to go on their own journey but I don’t think that has to involve the Mormon church.  I am sure people raised in non-religious go through the normal development of discovering there is a wider world outside your home and family or outside your school and town but I don’t think it is critical to go through a Fowler stages of faith journey in regards to a particular religion.  I am sure my kids will be exposed to the church due to my family and if they decide on that path I won’t try to stop them but I would not encourage them in that direction.

  15. Daniel Zappala
    June 7, 2012 at 8:08 pm

    Enjoyed the podcast, but it was missing the perspective from the other side — the converts who join the church due to the efforts of the missionaries. As someone in that category, I have two insights to offer.

    First, I am immensely grateful for the two sets of missionaries who taught me. My life has been deeply changed for the better because of the 5 month experience I had with them. For all I know, they had some rough spots, challenges to their faith, leaders overly concerned with numbers, and so on. But despite all that, they made my life much much better, and they may not even know it, since I’ve not had contact with them since then. Each of you who have shared those struggles may have touched lives in similar ways, without realizing it.

    Second, it’s important to keep in mind that despite any misgivings about historicity, or manipulation as T.K. discussed, I was a mature, thinking individual (well, as much as I could be at 22) who was not exactly “under the sway” or “duped” by missionaries, even if they were just trying to pump up their numbers. I was more than capable of saying “no” when they asked me to be baptized after the second discussion.  Instead, I took my time and I pondered things out on my own. I read over a dozen books, both pro- and anti-Mormon, including Fawn Brodie, Gary L. Ward, Le Grande Richards, Noel Richards, John Widstoe, Joseph Fielding Smith, Jr., and more — basically whatever historical and doctrinal tracts I could find at the university library and the Institute library. I was familiar with the Tanners and their arguments. I had discussions with the lead anti-Mormon writer for the Catholic Church in Orange County. I jumped into the church with my eyes wide open. If you feel you may have misled some people on your mission, remember: your investigators had agency and minds too.

    (By the way, Dan, I’m a big fan. Love listening. Here’s my plug for more convert perspectives — often episodes are are a bit skewed toward perspectives of those who have grown up in the church.)

    • June 8, 2012 at 11:16 am

      Awesome, Daniel! Thank you sharing that perspective. Such an important reminder.

  16. Steamtrain
    June 7, 2012 at 8:46 pm

    My Mission in California Arcadia in the late 1990′s was so numbers oriented it was ridiculous. It was if you ABC then D must happen so if D isn’t happening today so i can be made a ZL then you aren’t doing it right or enough. I came home so disillusioned by the experience I even wrote my resignation letter on the plane. I never mailed it though because I felt so guilty for trying so hard to go and seeing so many people wanting me to go and trying and paying for me to go that I couldn’t disappoint them. I never thought much about leadership before going but after I wanted NOTHING to do with “leaders” or any of it and I struggle with micromanaging leaders and pompous twits I see today.Yet overall I loved it and hated it. The attitudes and rhetoric from my mission ruined me and my marriage. I got married and divorced because of the mission attitude.

    I for one am grateful they raised the bar. It seems to me that it’s almost a new type of person is coming out now and in this mission in Canada the elders have mostly been just amazing!

  17. Jessica Bischoff
    June 8, 2012 at 7:58 am

    Wow. I think there’s so many aspects about Mormon Missions you could do a few more podcasts about it. I agree with Jason, above, that the self-righteousness of an RM could be discussed as well.

    My mission to Uruguay 1998-1999 was so wonderful at the time, but now I’m really trying to analyze it. My biggest regrets are my feelings of superiority that all those poor schmucks in Uruguay didn’t have the truth and if they’d just listen to ME, they’d be saved. So, very sad I thought that way. But the MTC does serve it’s purpose! It pumped me up with the bravado I’d need to stop strangers in the street and shove a Book of Mormon in their face.

    I think Derrick mentioned something about the strict obedience/being worthy of the Spirit correlation, relating an exchange he overheard between two companions using the computer. I was nodding my head at that part. Missionaries are taught to believe that God’s love, his Spirit, is conditional. Somehow a missionary is constantly on the verge of  losing God’s love if they don’t obey meticulous rules. What mental coercion. One quick example, my comp and I were fasting that a certain woman would get baptized on a certain date. I made it about 22 hours before I snitched a cookie. One stinkin’ cookie. The woman rejected the date we proposed, saying she had already been baptized in her previous church and felt good about it and it’s it, ‘one faith, one baptism…’? I was crushed and was absolutely CONVINCED my cookie at hour 22 was the cause of her rejection. Very arrogant of me. I think the mission made me a little mentally ill.

    I do agree with most of you, especially Rory, that the mission is wonderful for the service aspects and people you meet there. Those things I would never trade. I have lifelong friends that I met on my mission.

    Thanks for the podcast!

  18. Kevin
    June 11, 2012 at 10:32 am

    I had a good mission experience in a predominantly Buddhist nation. I remember earnestly telling folks that their tradition of reincarnation was mistaken. Like Dan revealed in a recent episode where he discovered reincarnation later in his life, after my mission I discovered and embraced the notion of reincarnation. (Dr. Brian Weiss’ books are a great read whether you believe in reincarnation or not.)  I don’t attempt to teach or  convert anyone else to the idea but I’ve adopted it as one of my ways of seeing the universe. I’m glad I didn’t believe in reincarnation back then so I wouldn’t have been caught between the party line and my personal belief. To all those lovely folks I cheerfully claimed the tradition of their fathers’ was incorrect—my apologies.

  19. June 26, 2012 at 2:30 pm

    Great panel and great podcast that brought up a number of crucial issues, but there are two things I really wish I had heard more:

    1) I wish there had been some more panelists that were older, at least 10ish years post-mission (and not only because that describes me) or more, like Rory.  I thought Derrick and TK’s comments were great, and demonstrated a lot of reflexivity for folks recently post-mission, but I know at least in my case how I’ve thought about my mission has changed drastically, going through several very distinct phases since I served, and I’d have loved to have heard some more folks describe that process.

    2) I would have loved to have heard more about missionaries that served internationally. I know Derrick did (I served in Manaus, Viva Brasil!), but there wasn’t much discussion of the implications of being a missionary in a culture and geography outside your own–here I’m including both developing countries in which you as a White American have a great deal of cultural capital to work with that usually makes missionaries feel uncomfortable, because their racial, classist, and national/former colonial privilege is exposed, as well as more developed countries (esp. Europe) in which missionaries are even more stigmatized and rejected than they are in the States.

    Dan, what do you think about a second missionary podcast on international serving missionaries?  There would be so much more that could be unpacked there.

  20. JBS
    February 10, 2013 at 7:34 pm

    Great podcast and discussion. I was really surprised that an entire sector of missionary work was completely ignored: senior missionary couples. When Dan asked the other panelists whether they would hypothetically go again, I was really surprised he didn’t talk about the fact that they can indeed go again in the future (at least the ones that are married). How do missions play out for senior missionary couples who are in various stages of their faith journeys? How about that for a future podcast?

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