Monday, March 5, 2012

Mormon Encounters: Part 8 - To Those Investigating the LDS Church/ Mormonism

Entire Mormon Encounters series:
Part 1: First meeting Aside 1, Aside 2
Part 2: Reading the Book of Mormon
Part 3: Going to Mormon Church
Part 4: Mormon Battalion & General Conference
Part 5: The Missionary Sisters
Part 6: A Talk Among Friends
Part 7: Adam and Free Agency
Part 8: To the Investigators
Part 9: To the Missionaries

So you were approached/contacted by a pair of charming young missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS or Mormon) and have agreed to have a discussion with them. Good for you! No, really. It is always wise to listen fairly to something before accepting or rejecting (or remaining undecided about) it. The trick, though, is to be sure do your own research, too, and to not limit yourselves to a single source of information.

The nice (and perhaps even cute) missionaries will likely have warned you against reading about Mormonism from non-church-approved sources online, using the rationale that 'no one knows about Mormonism better than Mormons'. At the same time, they will also have warned you against reading about their church from blog posts and articles by apostates, people who used to be Mormons but have renounced the religion, and by those Mormons who belong to other branches of Mormonism other than the big Salt Lake City-based LDS church... because none of those people are considered by the big Mormon church to be 'Mormons'. To this I say, there are always at least two sides to any human story, and anyone who would counsel you to only consider things from their singular point of view is more interested in controlling your thoughts than they are in  helping you find 'the truth'.

LDS Temple in San Diego, California.
I am not a Mormon, though I 'investigated' - to use the Mormons' own term - the church for a few months in 2011, and am still keeping in touch with some of the missionaries that I talked to. My missionary friends know about my blog and that I write about our encounters and discussions, though they are forbidden by mission rules to check it (or any other non-church-based websites) out until they are done with their mission. The fact that I mention them -though all names were changed to protect their identity- does not in any way imply their approval of anything I say. This is my blog, and I write things as I see it. I try to be as fair as possible, though that doesn't mean that BS should weigh as much as Angus sirloin steak should... you know what I mean.

First off, though, please be kind to the missionaries. The young Mormon boys are all expected to serve this two years missionary sentence when they turn 19, so many of these guys were pressured into it (not serving or finishing a mission is a pretty big stigma in their community, and a big impetus to their future dating scene since Mormon girls are strongly encouraged to date only returned missionaries). The young ladies (usually age 21-26) are true believers who really volunteered for the gig even without outside pressure, and they really think that they are doing us non-Mormons a huge favor in trying to educate us about 'the one and only true church'. They may get a bit pesky at times (try to live 18-24 months on their schedule and regulations and see if you wouldn't yourselves), but most of them sincerely mean well. That doesn't make what they do or say right, but good will is worth a bit of returned kindness, I think.


As someone investigating the Mormon church with the missionaries, there are a few things you need to look out for.

1. Always double check what your missionaries tell you by your own research. Most of the missionaries are good young men and women who wouldn't lie to you outright. Unfortunately they tend to have much less qualms about withholding vital information because they have been trained to give 'milk before meat' (meaning that they shouldn't tell you about the parts of their belief that might freak you out or cause you to doubt the truthfulness of their religion). If you are a Christian, know that when Mormons use a Christian-sounding word or refer to a Christian-sounding doctrine, they really mean something quite different with it than the mainstream Christians do. Even basic things like 'god' or 'plan of salvation' means quite a different thing to the Mormons than to just about any Christians. (I'm an atheist, tho I used to be a Christian. Thought I'd mention that because I do think a lot of Christians convert to Mormonism and quickly apostatize because they didn't realize how different the LDS dogma really is to the Christian dogma before joining the LDS church).

If you don't do your own independent research into the LDS church and its history and doctrines, you will miss out on some really fascinating Mormony things that the missionaries conveniently think unnecessary for you to know before you have been baptized and became a good tithe-paying member of their church.

As a side note, the missionaries I talked to had this strange notion that 'reading the Book of Mormon and then praying about it' constitutes all the 'research' needed to determine if the BoM is true (and therefore all the other religious dogmas false) or not. How can anyone humbly know that the other dogmas are false even though s/he had never studied any alternative in the first place? How can a person know if a song is the best song ever written if it is the only song they have ever heard? Is claiming to know what one can't possibly know really a sign of humility? Which is your priority; to be able to keep thinking that you know the truth or to actually find out if you know the truth or not?


2. Be aware that the LDS church has a long standing policy of discouraging its members from seeking outside information on the church's history and its own doctrines. Mormons who were 'born in covenant (BIC)' likely haven't heard of many weird Mormon practices and beliefs that seem almost common knowledge to those outside the church... because they were only ever exposed to the church's official version of its own histories, and were told that any contrary version that they may find from non-church sources are 'anti-' materials that Satan/the Opposition may try to use to seduce them away from the only true church. 

When 'god' doesn't look after his supposed prophets...
So if you ask them about things like the Adam-God Theory or the multiple versions of Joseph Smith's first vision story, or his 33 + polygamous and polyandrous (and quite a few underage) wives, or how he 'translated' a papyrus of the Egyptian funeral texts into the Book of Abraham (included in the Pearl of Great Price as one of the Mormon scriptures), or the lost 116 pages of the Book of Mormon, or the Kinderhook Plates hoax, or the Mountain Meadow Massacre, or the Mark Hoffmann and the Salamander Letter affair and bombings, or Blood Atonement, etc, etc, etc and don't get any real answer, don't take it too personally. Chances are that the kids have no idea about them themselves (though that won't stop many of them from attempting to defend the church regardless of their own ignorance of the issues), and their mission rules prohibits them from being able to research such problems for you.

No, I'm really not being paranoid. Look up and read the many blog posts by active missionaries online and see for yourselves how proselytizing Mormons think!

3. Never let yourself be pressured/nagged/pleaded/etc into making any commitment that you aren't ready to make. A wise man would never buy a car until he has had it checked with independent mechanics, had good looks under the hood as well as taken it out for a test spin, you shouldn't agree to bind yourself to anything (especially a church that would presume to lay a claim on you not only for the remainder of this life but in the next as well) before you have thoroughly checked it out either. 

As nice, pleasant, caring, etc, as the young men and women missionaries are to you now, be aware that they define 'friendship', among many other things, differently than most non-Mormons would. The way you are being pampered/treated right now is not going to continue once you have baptized into their church or have made it clear that you will not convert to their religion (in the latter case, prepare yourself for the infamous Mormon shunning). In fact, if you have walked into a car dealership to browse their inventory, then you probably have experienced something very similar to your missionary discussions: the salesmen love you too much too soon, and don't waste any time at all before assuming that you will buy their car... now... today! The tactics are very much the same, though the difference is that the car salesmen won't take it personally if you say no.

Missionaries get moved around every few months, so your missionary 'friends' will soon be transferred elsewhere to recommence their love-bombing on other investigators/church-prospects. Don't get attached! Everything they say to you today, they say to others, too. Once the missionaries had been transferred elsewhere they either can't or won't keep in touch with you, at least until they are done with their mission (they are only allowed to write snail mail to 'friends' one day a week. And their one relatively free day each week is quickly spent cleaning and grocery shopping and doing other things. Emails are only reserved for immediate family members and other missionaries. And they are only allowed to call home twice a year on Mother's Day and Christmas). 

If, in this pre-honeymoon investigating period the nice misshies and church members are already imposing demands on you (no matter how nicely they put them) like pressing you to say a prayer or to make commitment to live the 'Words of Wisdom' or the 'Law of Chastity' or to make baptism date before you are ready (like, you know, after having only had 2 discussions with you), imagine how much worse it will get for you once you are 'one of them' (for your own sanity, learn to say no before all those endless church callings and activities start coming your way!). Read what the ex-Mormons have to say online. There's got to be a reason why the LDS church has such an abysmal membership-retention rate. It might seem sensible that the car salesmen would 'know best' about the cars they're selling, but would you really buy a car without first checking out what the independent consumers' report or the customers reviews say first? Why should it be any different when it comes to religion?

4. Privacy isn't something Mormon missionaries are familiar with, especially if they were born and raised Mormons. What notion of privacy they had, their Missionary Training Center (MTC) had bleached it out of them by the time they got to your door. So don't share private information that you don't want anyone not in the room to know. The missionaries are keeping log of all their contacts with you along with noting information you shared and how they think you are progressing. They report this to their Mission President (MP) and their Zone Leader every week, and the log book with your info/stat in it is kept at the local ward since your missionary pairings get shuffled every 6 weeks or so... So what you think you are only sharing with the two you are meeting with is fair game to their successors, their mission president(s), and to the ward bishop and others, too.

Also, if you keep in touch with them via snail or email... those aren't safe either. Missionaries are trained to share everything with their companion (and even to confess to their MP during interviews). If you want to share private thoughts with them, better hang on to them until after they have been released from their mission. True friendships surely can wait at least that long.

While we're talking privacy; if you live in a gated apartment or housing complex that requires entry code, please do not give the code to the missionaries! I know it is a bit inconvenient to have to go out and get them in every time they come to visit, but it'll really save your innocent neighbors a lot of unwanted solicitation. Remember, what information you give the particularly nice and seemingly courteous pair of missionaries you are currently talking to does not just stay with them. The missionaries rarely get to stay in one area for longer than a couple of months, and their replacements may or may not live up to the current ones' ethical standard.

5. What to read: I know, the missionaries wants you to only read the Book of Mormon and the various LDS-approved pamphlets they give you. But if the stories the Mormons tell are true, then they shouldn't be vulnerable to critical research, should they? People who have nothing to hide don't mind background check. It's those who have icky skeletons in their closets that do. Aside from the Mormon scriptures (which are all available for free online at lds.org), there are some really instructive and informative books about Mormonism and its founder - Joseph Smith - that you should really check out. I'd recommend Fawn M Brodie's No Man Knows My History for a starter. It is the closest thing to the definitive biography of Joseph Smith and Mormonism there is. Mormonthink website also contains well-balanced discussion of Mormonism's problematic theology and history.
Thinking makes my head hurt, but I like the alternative worse.
Truth is truth regardless of how one feels about it, and the same goes for untruths. There are true things in life that don't make you feel nice and comfy, and there are untrue things that do. If feelings and/or emotions are good judging instrument of truth, then what's with all the broken romances and friendships everyone experience (hopefully) multiple times in our lives? Aside from all the historical and doctrinal issues, there are a few fundamental questions you should ask yourselves while considering joining any religion and/or belief system:

1. What would you define as 'god', and how can you tell if this god exist?
2. If god exist, does it necessarily validate any one church’s position or claim to its authority?
3. If god exists but is immoral (it commands immoral actions like deception, misdirection, theft, murder, etc, etc, etc from its believers), would I still worship it? In other words, do I worship a god because I fear what it can and will do to me if I resist, or do I worship a god because I deem it worthy of my admiration?

You are the only person who can answer these questions. Beware of anyone who would presume to answer them for you.

14 comments:

Sulli said...

I think this whole series has been fascinating. So interesting to see the perspective from the "investigators" shoes since I was only in the missionary shoes.

Thank you for taking the time to write these.

Smorg said...

Hiya Sulli: Thanks! It's been a fascinating experience for me, too.

I spent the years since I quit evangelical Christianity avoiding religious people. It was interesting to have good talks with the Mormon misshies now and recognizing many traits in them that I used to have myself... It makes me grateful that I escaped after only 5 years or so (but then it isn't nearly as hard to escape the Evangelicals as it is things like Mormonism, I think... the latter is much much more controlling and capable of really punishing you via your faithful family).

Hey, you are a returned sister misshie, ay? If you have time I'm sure I'm not the only one who would love to read about your mission experiences. It seems the sister missionaries experience is quite different from the elder ones. I shuddered every time I attended the RS meeting on Sundays... and imagine trying to escape from the pack of Mormon women. They watch each other like hawks!

Thanks for all your posts, too. You and the other escapees give me hope that some of the misshies I've made friends with may gain their freedom from this religion, too, one day. :o)

Anonymous said...

Consider me cautioned! Thanks for all the heads up. One of the neighbors is talking to a pair of missionaries. I haven't answered my door to them yet... probably won't either. Seems too much trouble.

Sam the recluse

Drew80 said...

Do you think the missionaries believe they have somehow failed in convincing you to join the church?

Drew80 said...

In NOT convincing you to join the church, I mean.

Smorg said...

Hi Sam: They could be (too much trouble) indeed, if you haven't got time for them. :o) Hope you have a peep hole on your door. Misshies like to knock on the neighbors' door as well... I've read a few episodes of that on missionaries' blogs. They'd walk past a door and feel an urge to knock on it (attributing such urge as 'the spirit's guidance') on an off chance that someone will answer and be too polite to turn them away.

If you can be firm, though, it might worth opening the door once and telling them firmly that you aren't interested and don't want to be contacted by missionaries. Some of these guys and gals can take 'no' for an answer... if the 'no' is unambiguous enough. The rest won't leave you alone anyway. :oP

Hiya Drew: I'm afraid I've broken a few missionaries' heart in refusing to be baptized into their church indeed. :o( Some of them really just take it too seriously.

One of the missionaries whose blog I keep track of is a real mother hen. She takes responsibility for things that she has no business taking responsible for. I really feel for the gal reading how traumatized she gets when the people she talks to don't want to join the church... The lass actually thinks that she is answerable to god for their souls! :o(

I don't know how the other misshies think, though I know that it is a prevailing idea among Mormons that if they are 'obedient' then good things/results will happen. So when they don't get the results they wanted, they tend to blame it on them not being obedient enough (and there is no use asking 'being obedient to what?' here... I tried and never got any straight answer).

When things go wrong the first impulse is to blame the victim, so to speak (just like that often used Moroni 5:3 experiment, the only reason why anyone wouldn't find the BoM to be true is because they don't have enough faith in the BoM when they pray about it... circular logic to the extreme!).

Sisters Sanfmuetig and Begeistert seemed more able to consider non-Mormon views than the others, though. Hopefully they are too busy trying to convert other people to get themselves down about not managing to catch me. :oD

Thanks a bunch for stopping by! Hope your week is going well. It has turned breezy and cool here after a very summerlike weekend. Great weather for hot cocoa! ;o)

Anonymous said...

"Don't just listen to the salesmen, but check out the customers reviews, too!
"

Excellent advice, this. And like the questions at the end, too. Get right to the basics!

Rigdon

knotty said...

What a useful post, Smorgy! I'm sure it will help a lot of people! I admire your even-handed commentary on your meetings with the mishies. I'm sure that even though you've proved to be a "tough nut" for them to crack, they appreciate your kindness toward them.

I don't like Mormonism, but I would never be mean to a missionary. I believe that a lot of those young people don't know that much about what they're teaching... and as you correctly pointed out, many of them are on missions because they feel like they have to be in order to be accepted by their friends and families. Besides, I was once a Peace Corps Volunteer and I have empathy for people out of their comfort zones.

Anyway, excellent series you've done. Just wanted to stop in and offer mad props!

Anonymous said...

talked to a pair of elders last month. They asked me to baptize on their 2nd visit. That was when I told them not to come back.

Great advices here. Like the other commenter, appreciated your fairness, too. It's easy to not try so hard to give them the benefit of a doubt.

Jean HT

Smorg said...

Hi Rigdon: Thanks very much! :o)

Hiya Knotty: Thanks a bunch! :oD I try my best to be fair, tho I have a feeling some of the misshies still won't like what I say in this series much if they get around to reading it after their mission. The more I like the misshies the less I like their church because I think they are being exploited quite unfairly (but they would disagree, of course. Oh well). :o)

I wish I did the Peace Corps. Now that's a real service mission! :oD Maybe one of these days I'll have a go at Medecins sans Frontiere. We'll see. ;o) Thanks very much again for stopping by and for support, too. Hope MacGregor and his buddy are doing well, too! Jasper is settling in a bit, tho he is way too jumpy for old George, still.

Hi Jean: Yeah, they do that, don't they? I don't know why but it doesn't seem to register to many misshies how odd it is for them to ask for a baptism after just 2 or 3 meetings. :oP

Good escape for you. Thanks very much for dropping by! :o)

Anonymous said...

Yo, Smorg, I'm still waiting for #9!

Soren

Smorg said...

Hi Soren: Ack, sorry about that, bro. I sort of got bored with Mormonism and never finished the draft. Will try to get that out in a bit. :) The current misshies won't be able to read it anyhow. They can only access church websites.

Anonymous said...

Am I missing a part 9 or haven't you post it yet?

"The tactics are very much the same, though the difference is that the car salesmen won't take it personally if you say no.
"

Ouch!

AM.FM

M Smorg said...

Mea culpa, AM.FM. I haven't posted yet. Sorry! I got on to other things and just sort of lost interest. It may get posted yet, tho, when I managed to dig up the draft and finish. :)