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A mission, I. Growing missionaries

Published: Wednesday 26 May 2021 | Edited: Wednesday 26 May 2021

I used to have this blog, see. It was at a raggedy ass URL and had some questionable design elements. Like, it had wood grain patterns as the background of each page.

I wrote some very Econ 101-level opinions about my Mormon mission and philosophy and gun rights and shit. I didn't remove the posts because I was embarrassed or anything, I just reworked the architecture of my site, and didn't migrate my database over to the refreshed one.

I've been thinking about what I wrote then about my missionary experience, specifically. At the time I sketched it out, I was already transitioning out of the LDS church. I was still attending church with family, and I thought maybe I'd be able to work out a way to stay active without believing in the core doctrines. I wasn't "out" as a non-believer to anyone except my wife.

Now that I'm out out, I'd kinda like to remember it and write about it again. It was a massively formative trip. Two years of full immersion as an almost-monastic in southern Italy. If there's anything interesting that's happened in my life, it's probably that.

Most Mormon missionaries first get the idea for a mission when they are three or four years old; because that's when Mormon children are introduced to the missionary preparation materials in the church's Primary program. They are led in singing the songs I Hope They Call Me on a Mission and I Want to Be a Missionary Now.

I mentioned this program when I was writing about my dad. I've become very hung up on it, especially since having kids of my own.

There's this really great quote I read from some guy Bill Flavell. He said

The lifeblood of religion is not God, not theology, not salvation, not even money.

It is indoctrinating children.

Take that away and your religion will die within a generation.

I don't know that I could stand behind this idea with every faith or every tradition, but in the case of Mormonism, this is 100% true. The church doesn't only set up its kids to be missionaries, it kinda gives a framework for what their life should entail from cradle to grave - all of it reinforcing their ties to the organization of the church.

When you see young Mormon missionaries out and around, here's what you need to know about them. They will either have been
  1. raised from early childhood with constant messaging and pressure from church leaders, family, and friends to become missionaries


  2. recently (within the last two to five years) baptized after having been engaged by full-time missionaries, and formed close relationships with them as they've been targeted by the missionaries' prospective member integration program
I'd wager 99% of the young Mormon missionaries you encounter out in the world fall into one of those two groups, with the vast majority being in the first group.

And no matter how positive the mission experience is, and no matter how willingly the missionary signs over the two years of service, you need to know that coercion and persuasion are the background context to almost all of those who do it.

In some respects, our whole world is dependent on children, and uses children to keep the plates spinning. From kindergarten, you've got an education and talent pipeline that prepares American children for their eventual economic exploitation. Any culture and any language becomes a constraint to the experience of a human individual, starting in infancy.

But, there's a real need to provide kids with much of that early formation. Look at the cases of children denied social contact and language in their early years, and you see the necessity of early instantiation, whatever the downsides may be.

I guess where I get hung up with Mormonism is the asymmetry between how much the church needs children to fuel the pipeline, and how little it - in reality - cares about them. There is very targeted messaging and social engineering applied throughout childhood that make opting out of Mormon milestones extremely difficult and painful, especially when you have families where both parents are active (which is the explicit ideal as explained by the church). But once a child gets caught in the crossfire of bad people and the church's impeccable self-image (a la when a kid is raped by a church leader, and the church holds responsibilty), the well being of the child is thrown out. Even the cold view of the child as an asset falls away in light of the child's potential threat as a liability.

This sounds exaggerated but it's pretty well documented both by journalists and with leaked documents confirming personal approval by the church's most senior leadership (First Presidency) for large settlement payments to victims of sexual abuse, where the incidents occurred in the context of the church or where abuse was perpetrated by church leaders.

I didn't choose to serve a mission. I talked a lot about my choice to serve, but it was never really there. The alternative was complete alienation, isolation, humiliation - especially within my own family. In reality, my parents would have loved me no matter what I chose, but that's not what I believed at the time. I was raised to think that my standing forever in the church and in my community hinged on whether or not I did this mission. So I did. And so do tens of thousands of 18- and 19-year-olds each year.