Part 5: The Missionary Sisters
Part 6: A Talk Among Friends
Part 7: Adam & Free Agency
Part 8: To the Investigators
Part 9: To the Missionaries
The first weekend of October saw this year's 2nd General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Apparently this biannual event is a big deal to the Mormons. The missionary sisters hold their top level church leaders in such high esteem that not even the Superbowl would excite them as much as getting sit in front of the television to watch these revered old men (and one woman, the president of the church's Relief Society) speak to them about what god supposedly wants from their lives.
Being quite fascinated by their overwhelming adoration I decided to catch a bit of the GC Saturday morning broadcast online before heading uptown. It was quite interesting... for a while (there is only so many 'Obey the prophet! Be obedient!' I could take in any one sitting). The most revealing of the speeches I caught live was this one by Elder L Whitney Clayton... This church is nothing if not ambitious.
You can watch, listen, and/or read all the speeches here (I wouldn't just read the text transcripts without watching the videos, though, I've read several complaints by ex-Mormons about how portions of the talks that don't go over well with the general public have a way of failing to show up in the transcript). The active Mormons I've talked to afterward uniformly loved all of it and thought all the speeches were inspiring. Being an outsider heathen that I am, I wonder if they aren't all afflicted by church-induced Stockholm Syndrome. Boyd Packer frankly alarmed me no less than Whitney Clayton did, and Packer is next in line to become the church's president/prophet/seer/revelator after the relatively more easy going Thomas Monson. (It is a bit weird, thinking about it, how my missionary sisters all think that the church's presidency is divinely chosen considering how the post always passes onto the most senior member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles).
Saturday afternoon was even more interesting. I caught the bus up to Old Town State Park and walked around checking out the arts fair before dropping in to the Mormon Battalion there to see my proselyting sisters (they had invited me round for a free tour of the historical site). You know, supposedly most of the Mormon missionaries are elders (men), but somehow I am perpetually surrounded by cute missionary sisters instead. Is that lucky? I don't know... Of course, hanging out with cute and nice ladies who aren't talking about craft, makeup, clothes, or men (except for the late Joseph Smith Jr) is a decidedly pleasant proposition. The downsides, of course, are that they are practically nuns (no misbehavior allowed!) and utterly devout, having volunteered to do this missionary thingy out of their own religious conviction rather than from peer/social pressure like many of their male counterparts were subjected to.
|Mormon Battalion in Old Town San Diego (Oct2011)|
Located on the east side of Juan St just north of Heritage Row, the Mormon Battalion is actually owned and operated by the LDS Church rather than Old Town State Park. It is a well-kept building with lots of historical artifacts and a state-of-the-art video projection wizardry that would wow even non-religious skeptics like me during the guided tour. There are pseudo-interactive talking pictures on the walls, and well blended in movie screens in each room as visitors are guided through the events of 1846 when Brigham Young (the LDS church's then president/seer/prophet) compelled over 500 Mormons to volunteer to fight for the US Army during the Mexican-American War.
The story is told in such unabashedly pro-church manner that I found myself almost indecently amused while listening to it. Whoever wrote the script evidently tried his best to present the church and its then leader, Brigham Young, in a highly favorable light, but group-thinking undermined his ability to accurately gauge his non-Mormon audience, making the propaganda so painfully obvious that I saw nothing but overt abuse of power from the LDS church leaders.
|Statue in front of the Mormon Battalion|
According to the film, in 1846 the much prosecuted Mormons (yes, they were rather unfairly prosecuted and picked on by the over-reactive Christians back then) were encamped in Council Bluffs, Iowa trying to find a way to fund their emigration to the 'promise land' somewhere out west. They had a legitimate complaint against the US government's prosecution of their religion (nobody liked polygamists then... or now, even), and when the US Army sent Capt. Allen to the camp to ask for volunteers to march southwest to San Diego to help the United States fight against Mexico he found no taker whatsoever.
The army's offer of money and arms caught Brigham Young's attention, though, so the prophet went about with Capt. Allen and told his flocks that this army enlisting opportunity was "god's will" that will provide the Mormons with enough cash to fund their trek west. With the prophet coming down on the side of the army and promising that they wouldn't have to use their weapon at all even though they were heading to war (the missionary sister who did the tour-guiding actually further clarified that god had promised the volunteers 'safety'), over 500 able Mormon bodies enlisted. They marched through the unforgiving terrain and forced a wagon trail all the way to the Pacific Coast. A few died of sickness along the way, and attachments of the sicks were diverted to rehabilitate in Pueblo, Colorado. The 1,900 miles trek took so long that the Mormons missed all the battles with the Mexican and arrived to San Diego after the end of the war. The only things they got to shoot at were a bunch of wild bulls that threatened to run over their camp along the way.
|A missionary sister (left, in costume) gives a guided tour of the Mormon Battalion. She spent much of the tour talking to pseudo-interactive talking pictures and window-like movie screens.|
The morals of the day; Brigham Young promised 'safety' and that was delivered because they never had to fight the Mexican (never mind that a few did die during the trek), the journey was obviously god's plan because the financial gain from army payment and the irrigation skills the troops learned from the Southwestern Indians they met along the way allowed the Mormons to move into and successfully populate the modern day Utah. God protected the Mormons, and if you want to hear more about what this church is about and how you, too, can know god, don't forget to fill out this comment form here with your name and contact information. And, while you're at it, why don't you also put down the contact information of a few other friends who might like to hear from us, too?
My two missionary sisters accompanied me through the tour and seemed to find the whole presentation uplifting and reassuring to their faith. The whole thing was obviously meant to cast the best of light on their organization, but I only found the church and its then leader, Brigham Young, to be quite obnoxiously exploitative toward its own membership. It is amazing to me that it is the church's own idea to give 'financial gain to fund the church's trek west' as the main reason Brigham Young used to justify compelling his followers to 'volunteer' against their initial will to join the army to fight against the Mexican. Since when is self-interest more admirable than patriotism?
And when the Mormon women raised their concern about the trip, the good prophet saw fit to sooth their fear by promising something he had no mean of delivering -- safety. That the Mormon Battalion got all the way to the San Diegan Coast without having to shoot anyone had a lot more to do with the Mormon men hem and hawing so long before finally joining rather than any special godly connection Brigham Young might have had. It was their lateness that saved them from having to fight any battle.
Of course, there also is this matter of the church rendering aid to the US government in an army recruitment... (did I already mention that this church-state interference was done to serve the church's own interest?). It may not bother my supposedly staunchly conservative Mormon neighbors, but it sure bothers a heck out of me. So much complaints about how the US government helped the Christians prosecute the early LDS church, and yet not a peep about President Young deliberately putting his flocks in danger when aligning with the government helped the church's own agenda. This 'the end justifies the means' modus operandi seems a recurring theme in my Mormon encounters, and I really don't like it one bit.
But I still haven't gotten around to telling you about my missionary sisters yet! That's coming up in part 5, hopefully in a few days.