Missionary Chat: Origins of the Bible

I’ll admit up front, this chat was basically just an attempt to show that Mormon missionaries are ignorant.  I wanted to know what they knew about the origins of the Bible.  Here we go:

Bailey: hi how are you?

Bart (me): I’m good. How are you?

Bailey: good

Bailey: what can we do for you?

Bart: I have a question.

Bailey: ok. go ahead.

Bart: What can you tell me about the origins of the bible – particularly the New Testament?

Bailey: Well we know that the new testament testifies of Christ’s life in Jerusalem. It was in that part of the world. The middle east.

Bart: Right. But how did those specific writings come to be considered canonical books in the Bible?

Bailey: Christ’s apostles where with him all the time and so they wrote the things that Christ did. They were special witnesses of Him.

Bart: And do you know who finally compiled them into the modern Bible.

Bailey: It was a man by the name of William Tyndale. It was in the early 1500’s I believe. He translated the Bible.

Bart: Okay. Thanks.

Bailey: Do you have any other questions?

Bart: Nope. That was it. Thanks for your help.

So, Bailey is clearly unaware of the fact that the Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – were not written by apostles of Jesus.  Of the books that bear the names of apostles, the authorship is in question for most of them (e.g., epistles of Peter, James, and John).  Bailey also didn’t answer my actual question but instead told me who translated the Bible into English, William Tyndale. This probably means that Bailey, like so many of my students, has no idea where the New Testament actually came from other than believing erroneously something like: the apostles wrote what they saw then bound it together in a nice little book when they were done, oh, around 32 CE – you know, right after Jesus was crucified.  I know this is kind of mean to do, but I think it’s interesting to note that Mormon missionaries are pretty oblivious about the origins of Christianity and the Bible that they are trying to convince people to believe in.

Missionary Chat: Native Americans cursed?

I had another question I wanted to run by “Mormons on the street”: Are Native Americans cursed?

Emily: Hello!

Sam (me): Hello!

Emily: What brings you to mormon.org chat today?

Sam: I have a question about Mormon teachings.

Emily: Okay… we will do our best to help you

Sam: A friend of mine is LDS and he mentioned something that I thought was odd. I’m Native American, part of the Cherokee Nation. He said that the history of my ancestors is described in the Book of Mormon. That seemed interesting.

Emily: Oh wow! Well the Book of Mormon The Book of Mormon is a volume of holy scripture comparable to the Bible. It is a record of God’s dealings with ancient inhabitants of the Americas and contains the fulness of the everlasting gospel. oops said the book of mormon twice.. sorry! (She then posted this link.)

Sam: Well, I’ve been reading the Book of Mormon and found a passage disturbing: 2 Nephi 5:21: And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them. Does that mean I’m cursed?

Martha: so the blackness of the skin was not the curse.. the curse was that the lamanites didn’t want to hear the words of God so they were cursed to be not of God meaning they can no longer feel his presence in their lives because they chose to live in their sin.. the color of their skin was just a sign, so that nephites could recognize them.. so the skin color at that time served as a reminder for them that they have chosen not to follow God

Sam: So, dark skin is just a symbol of a curse?

Martha: There is a difference between the mark and the curse. The mark placed upon the Lamanites was a dark skin (see Alma 3:6). The curse was not the dark skin but being “cut off from the presence of the Lord” (2 Nephi 5:20). Notice that in both Alma 3:7 and Alma 3:14 the conjunction and is used between the curse and the mark. This implies that they are not the same thing. The people brought the curse upon themselves: “And even so doth every man that is cursed bring upon himself his own condemnation” (Alma 3:19). Through righteousness the curse may be removed, but the mark may remain as it has with the Lamanites (see commentary for 2 Nephi 5:20–25 on page 62).

Martha: so we don’t believe that you are cursed.. unless you choose to disobey the Father willingly now.. and the same curse would come upon me if I would choose that.. but the mark was something that they needed to have in that time recognize the people.. that will not happen again.. the mark has remained in their ancestors.. but that shouldn’t affect you today if you choose to follow God.. does that make sense?

Sam: Yeah, sort of. But it seems kind of racist for god to mark people with dark skin to symbolize a curse, don’t you think?

Martha: well at that time those people were very wicked.. and God did that for various reasons.. one of them being to protect the people who followed God, so that they wouldn’t mix their blood with the wicked at that time.. but as you read in the book of mormon a lot of Lamanites changed but in several hundred years.. and accepted God.. but we don’t know all of the reasons why God needed to do that…

Martha: I don’t know the meaning of all things, but I do know that God loves His children and He wants them to be happy and His ways are higher.. and we with our minds cannot understand it all, but if you know that God loves you and you want to follow Him nothing can stand in your way

Sam: Okay. Thanks.

Martha: did this help you at all?

Sam: Yep.

Martha: so are you interested to learn more about the Church?  do you have other questions?

Sam: That was my only question for today. I may have others in the future, but that’s good for now. Thanks.

Martha: maybe you would like to keep in touch with us?  and we could help you in the future?

Sam: If I have more questions, I can always come back here, right?

Martha: but what makes you interested in our church?

Sam: I just thought what my friend said was interesting and what the Book of Mormon said was interesting. I might think differently about my friend if he really believes skin color is a curse from god.  But you said it wasn’t.

Martha: so have you been reading the Book of Mormon?

Sam: Parts of it, yes.

Emily: Well we hope we have been able to help you today. But as missionaries and members of the church we would love to invite you to pray and ask God if the Book of Mormon is true, we know that he can give you a personal witness that it truly is the word of God. We haven’t learned that this church is true and that the Book of Mormon is true from others telling us but from searching ourselves and asking God.

Martha: that is cool! we know that only through reading and praying about the Book you can find out if this is the truth

Martha: maybe you could read one chapter today ? it is in Moroni 10 it is in page 500 something.. 529  it talks about the promise that God has given to everyone who want to know if it is true

Sam: That seems like an odd way to determine whether or not a book is true. Why not study it from a scientific perspective to see if the factual claims the book makes are accurate?

Martha: well ,… we cannot convince you about the truthfulness of this word but we can invite you to ask God.. because there will be many opinions and “evidence” of different things.. but if you truly receive a witness from God you cannot deny it

Martha: do you believe in God?

Sam: Well, it depends on what you mean by God.

Martha: I just want to ask you Sam, what if you find out at the last day when you pass away from this life that everything we tell you was true.. and you never tried to find it out for yourself when you were here on earth?

Sam: That seems kind of like a manipulative tactic. You’re trying to induce me to feel fear to manipulate me into believing. That seems kind of disingenuous to me. Doesn’t it to you?

Martha: well , I don’t know.. I am just saying these things because I have received a witness from God.. and my life has been so blessed because of this Gospel.. my purpose is not to persuade you to believe in it but to invite you to try it for yourself.. I think me trying to persuade you with facts .. if I would pour different facts over you and tell you everything I know and would ask you to believe because I believe I think that would be manipulative.. but I am just inviting you to try it for yourself.. and then it is all up to you – your desire to know and your communication with God

Martha: but how can you know that these “facts ” are true or not?

Sam: Providing people with facts isn’t manipulative. It’s persuasive. It’s using evidence and logic and critical thinking. Praying relies on emotions. Emotions are manipulative. Well, I’m pretty sure the earth revolves around the sun, even though it doesn’t seem like it.  I think we know that is true.  Or are you saying the only way we can know that is by asking God?


Martha: I know that praying is more then emotions.. answers from God are not only emotion based..

Martha: well but people believed hundreds of years ago that the earth was flat.. and it was a fact to them

Martha: God knows everything

Martha: He created the universe

Martha: He has all of the answers even about science, because He is Father of that all

Martha: and again this is what I believe is a fact

Martha: but to you it is only my theory ..

Martha: so that is why we invite everyone to pray and to find out for themselves

Martha: if there is God .. if He loves you , you should be able to receive answers.. something that is hard to explain .. but it is up to you to try it or not

Sam: But how could you know the answer is from God?

Martha: that is a good question and it takes time and practice to really recognize, but something that helps you too recognize these answers and receive them is Faith.. faith – trust in something you don’t see but believe is there. and hope that God will answer

Martha: and this is again.. up to you.. if you have at least a little degree of faith .. or a desire to believe you can receive an answer

Sam: So, you don’t actually know if God is answering your prayers? Could it be aliens? Or evil gods? Or just emotional manipulation?

Martha: well I know it is God.. because of the scriptures, and because of the feelings I have felt .. and because of everything that has happend in my life.. and all of the experiences when I have received an answer from Him … that is why it is so important to get to know Him through scriptures.. .. yes it is scary to think all of what you are saying.. it could be but if you don’t ask you will never know.. and you can say that those are theories.. or facts based on something someone has said to you.. but do you really want to know for yourself?

Martha: do you want the answer to this question?

Martha: if you will study the book of mormon with real intent and will pray God humbly in the name of Jesus Christ you will receive a witness from the Holy Ghost

Martha: and Holy Ghost will manifest unto you the truthfulness of these things..

Martha: and it is not an emotion it is something greater.. and it is hard to explain it.. but it is something you have to experience to know

Sam: You seem really determined to convince me that praying to get an emotional response will actually work. Are you trying to convince me or you?

Martha: you keep talking about emotions.. I know that this witness is not based on your emotions.. yes they are there too but it is something grater as I said.. and I am not here to convince but to testify of something I have witnessed in my life.. I wouldn’t be here on my mission if I hadn’t felt an answer from God.. if I hadn’t got to know my Father and most of all if I hadn;t received my own testimony of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.. His Sacrifice and His love for me

Martha: and if you want to believe and know it for yourself you have to decide.. but I can’t deny what I have experienced and what I know.

Martha: because I have tried to do it before.. I wasn’t always so sure of what I belie in.. I tried deny these things and I was so unhappy.. I was lost.. I have never been happier ion my life , because I finally understand the truth

Sam: Is the response “something you feel”?

Martha: well it is hard to explain and describe it it is something you have to witness for yourself.. until then you will think that I am deceived or confused with my own emotions or something else .. of course it is easier to think that way

Martha: and I don’t blame you for it

Martha: all I can do is to invite you to try it for yourself

Sam: Well, I think you could do more. Like provide scientific evidence that the Book of Mormon holds up under critical inquiry. That would be pretty compelling.

Martha: so I was saying.. there are so many things I have studiesthat I could tell you and provide evidence.. but do you need them because you want to know that the book is true just because you are curious or because you would want to know if there is God and that the Christ lives? .. there were many people who saw the Golden plates in real life when they were here on the earth .. they wrote down their witness but then changed their minds and decided not to follow the teachings.. this proof really didn’t change their lives.. they never denied that they saw the plates

Martha: so the question is why do you want evidence? do you think you will follow God if you will have it?

Sam: So, where are the plates?

Sam: If there was overwhelming empirical evidence that God existed, I would follow that God.

Martha: well if everyone knew with perfect knowledge that there is God they wouldn’t want to sin , they would only make the choices they think God wants them to and that would take away their agency.. of you have faith and you want to believe and want to change your life and become better and you truly search for Him you become greater than the person who has full knowledge of that.. I don’t know how ot explain it

Martha: for example- if you knew there was a test in school on a certain date you would only prepare couple days before and wouldn’t really learn.. but if you would know that it will come sometime you would actually study and learn more and would gain more from that

Martha: so God is wise .. He knows why it was so important for us to come here on this Earth to grow and He knows what is the best way for us to grow

Martha: but we need this experience … we need tomake mistakes on our own and fix them and learn from them .. we need to feel sorrow and pain here so that we would know the difference..

Martha: but God can give you a witness that you are moving in the right direction He can send you a witness from Holy Gost so that you would know which book to read which Church to join to know what is the truth and what to follow in this Earth to return back to Him,..

Martha: one day everyone will know that God is real with perfect knowledge.. and they will look back on this life and will say – I wish I had done this and that.. I wish I had tried to known this before..

Martha: because I would have made other decisions

Martha: and the truth comes from the scriptures.. from the prophet.. and you have every right to ask God if this book is true.. if this is a direction that He wants you to go

Martha: because there are many ways to go in this life many opportunities to follow different teachings..so if you want to know if there is one way.. if there is the surest way to happiness.. in this life and life to come God will bear a witness to you if you will ask Him.. but it depends on that if you really are searching for that.. so… it is up to you..

Sam (Martha paused for about a minute here, so I interjected): Okay. Thanks. Got to go now.

Martha: well I hope you will at least think about it and if you ever have questions.. you know that you can always turn to your friend..or here I guess.. it was nice talking to you!

Martha: if you ever want to talk to us again.. you can leave your e-mail or something

Sam: Bye.


Commentary: These missionaries were better prepared than the last ones.  I’ve never found the distinction between the “curse” and the skin color all that compelling, but at least they knew what apologetic argument to use.  Of more interest to me, however, was their clear belief that the Book of Mormon is a literal history of Native Americans.  I guess they missed the memo about it being about a book about some people “among” the ancestors of Native Americans.

And, I apologize for the length of this one.  Martha was really determined.  I wasn’t even trying to lead her on, but she wouldn’t let it go.

Missionary Chat: Omniscience vs. endowments

Today’s missionary chat is based on a question my wife raised that I always found interesting: If God is omniscient, then why do Mormons have endowments done?  Wouldn’t God know who to let into the Celestial Kingdom without evidence of having an endowment done?  Here’s the chat:

Angie: hi!

Bob (me): Hi Angie.

Angie: hello! how are today?

Bob: I’m well.  How are you?

Angie: Fantastic! :)

Angie: Is there anything that we can help you with?

Bob: Yep, I have a question.

Angie: alright! what is it?

Bob: First, do you believe that God is omniscient (i.e., knows everything)?

Melody: We know that he know every things

Bob: Okay. I just wanted to make sure. That leads to my primary question. If God is omniscient, then why do Mormons have to receive the endowment? If I’m not mistaken, the endowment is a gift of knowledge that includes learning handshakes and passwords to get past angels who stand as sentinels to the Celestial Kingdom. If God knows who is worthy and who isn’t, why the handshakes and passwords?

Angie: sorry, I really don’t know about that because as a purpose of a missionary is to invite others to come unto Christ. and we Share the Basic belief.

Bob: Hmm… Aren’t endowments required to get into the Celestial Kingdom?

Angie: yes all the I know that we need to do all the Temple ordinances,because it is a command to us

Angie: so you are a member in the church?

Bob: No. I’m just very interested in Mormonism and someone pointed out that this seems odd.  So I thought I’d ask a missionary.

Melody: Where are you from?

Bob: I live in Florida right now.

Angie: cool! so did you meet before the missionaries?

Bob: Yep. I’ve met with many missionaries.

Angie: so how is it?

Bob: Not sure what you mean.  If you’re wondering what I think of the missionaries, I’d say that I don’t find their arguments compelling enough to join the LDS Church.

[The chat session has ended.]

They killed the chat at this point.

So, this question was clearly too “deep” for these missionaries.  I’m not convinced they even knew what “omniscient” meant.  I also find it sad that people do things because it is a “commandment,” no questions asked.  And, finally, I am transcribing the chat exactly as it occurred.  So, the typos and grammar of the missionaries are exactly what they wrote.  I’m not sure how well they end up representing the LDS Church when they write so incoherently.

Missionary Chat: Polygamist God

In my ongoing pursuit to learn what “on the ground” Mormons believe, here’s another Missionary Chat.  This one on God the Father and his wife/wives.

Ken: Hello.

Marcel: welcome back (creepy that they know it’s me again)

Bob (me): Hi. I have a question for the two of you.

Marcel: sure

Bob: Do you, personally, believe that God the Father has multiple wives?

Ken: we are here to represent the Church’s official position-in regards to this question there is no official doctrine on the matter

Bob: I can appreciate that you represent the Church’s official position. But you have personal views on these issues, right? So, I’m wondering what your personal views are.

Ken: sure, but they are no more than speculation

Bob: Perfect!  I love speculation!

Marcel: what interest you about that topic?

Bob: Just wondering what actual Mormons believe about this.

Marcel: Just like ken said, there is no official belief

Ken: there are varying opinions on matters that are not clear-however, we know that there is no need to focus on such matters because they are not essential knowledge at this point-it is much more important to have a testimony of Jesus Christ and the Book of Mormon

Bob: I can grep that. What is your opinion on this?

Marcel: I do not have an opinion on this topic

Bob: Ken?

Ken: honestly, I haven’t given it enough thought to come to a certain stance-again because its not important to know at this stage in my life

Ken: have you had the opportunity to read and pray about the Book of Mormon?

Bob: Yep.

Marcel: ok, do you believe the book of mormon to be true?

Bob: What do you mean by “true”?

Marcel: I mean true, or its from God

Bob: That’s an intriguing definition of true. The dictionary defines it as: “in accordance with fact or reality”

Marce: you know what I mean, you can define it however you want

Ken: this is a talk that our church leader has given on the matter. we invite you to take a look!

Bob: Reading it now.

Ken: He does a great job of explaining what we mean by that term-and how it applies in our understanding of physical and spiritual matters

Ken: awesome-get back to us when you’re done

Bob: According to that article, truth is, “His gospel. It is the gospel of Jesus Christ.”  So, was Marcel asking me if the Book of Mormon is the gospel of Jesus Christ?

Marcel: Yes

Bob. Oh. Okay. Interesting question.

Marcel: why interesting?

Bob: Well, how can anyone “know” what the Gospel of Jesus Christ is? Christ was illiterate and didn’t write down his “gospel.” And the few records we have of his supposed teachings are very contradictory as they were written decades after his death by a variety of people with different agendas.  So, how could I know if the Book of Mormon is the gospel of Jesus Christ if I have no idea what the gospel of Jesus Christ is?

Marcel: You will know what the gospel of jesus christ is by reading the book of mormon and praying to God

Marcel: even though those men wrote after christ death, they were inspired by God to write the record

Bob: Hmmm… Marcel, your first point seems like circular logic. I’m supposed to determine if the Book of Mormon is the gospel of Jesus Christ without knowing what the gospel of Jesus Christ is by reading a book that is claiming to be the gospel of Jesus Christ.  What evidence is there that it is the gospel of Jesus Christ?  Did Jesus write it?  Do you have evidence external to the book itself indicating that Jesus wrote it?

And, no response…

So, according to Ken and Marcel, D&C 131 is not official doctrine (though I’m sure apologists would claim that “the new and everlasting covenant of marriage” is just “temple marriage” and not polygamy, even though it was originally polygamy).  The number of wives god has just doesn’t matter enough to have an opinion about it.

And according to a former airline pilot, truth is “the gospel of Jesus Christ.”  Take that Merriam-Webster!

Missionary Chat: Gods & Planets

I’m kind of enjoying chatting with the missionaries online.  Since it’s on my own terms, it’s kind of nice.  Here’s my discussion from this week:

Joey: Hello.

Sean: Hello!

Bob (me): Hi. I have a question for the two of you.

Sean: Ok.

Bob: Do you, personally, believe that, after you die, you will become gods and get to create your own planets?

Joey: We believe that we have the potential to inherit all that God hath. We don’t know what that will look like literally.  There is a great article on the subject if you would be interested in reading in more detail.  (posted link to recent article)

Bob: I read the article. I know what it says.  I want to know what Joey and Sean (you two) personally believe.

Joey: I believe that just as a seed grows up to be a strong tree just like the tree it fell from, we have the potential to grow up to be just like our Father in whose image we were created.

Bob: Nice metaphor, Joey.  Can I take that to mean that you believe you can become a god?

Joey: I believe I have divine potential to become like God. I don’t believe that I will replace God, nor do I believe that I know of all the powers I will have as far as creating worlds and such. I do believe, however, that I will be able to have children with my wife in heaven as an eternal divine being.

Bob: Excellent.  And Sean, what do you believe?

Sean: I’m not exactly sure what will happen in the next life, but I do know that God has told us we will become like Him. As far as what exactly this entails, I don’t know. It is His purpose, God’s purpose, to help us come back to Him. We are His children in the most real sense.  As His children, I don’t see how anything separates us in the essence of what we can become. Just as a child follows the example of their father on this earth.

Bob: Great! Thank you both.

Sean: No problem. Anything else we can help you with?

Bob: If you’re okay with it, can I clarify one point in what you wrote, Sean?  You wrote, “Just as a child follows the example of their father on this earth.” What about women?

Sean: Sure. I just said it like that because God is our Father in Heaven.  We’re following God. Him. The roles of men and women in heaven will be different, yes, but we will be together, one in purpose. Marriage is meant to be a binding union, where man and wife become one.

Bob: So, men will become something “like” God. What will women become?

Sean: The same.

Bob: Goddesses? Mothers in Heaven?

Sean: Yeah, pretty much.  Like I said, we don’t know exactly, but it’s safe to say yes to that.

Bob: Okay. Great. Thank you.

Sean: You’re welcome!

So, LDS, Inc. is downplaying the famous couplet, but the missionaries still believe it.  And they’re sexist.

Missionary Chat: Florida Property

In case you didn’t catch it, the LDS Church now owns 2% of the state of Florida.  Since I try not to bug my still Mormon family members about the LDS Church very often, I decided to go to the always available source for thoughts on this: Missionary Chat.  My rules for the chat were simple: ask the missionary (turns out there were two) why the LDS Church was buying so much property in Florida, wait for the answer, then say goodbye.  I wasn’t trying to pick a fight or anything, I just wanted to know what a missionary would say (so convenient).  Here’s the transcript (I’m Bob):

David (Really?  Isn’t it Elder Johnson or something?): Hi, how are you?

Bob: Fine. How are you?

David: great thanks! How can we help you today?

Bob: I have a questions about the LDS Church. I’m wondering why the LDS Church owns 2% of the state of Florida.

David: I wasn’t aware of that… What do they own in Florida?

Bob: Hundreds of thousands of acres of property. Deseret Citrus and Cattle Ranch.

David: Oh ok.

Bob: And they just bought another ranch in the panhandle used for timber. Why does a church own so much for-profit property?

Kevin (his companion, I suppose): So a lot of this ties into the churches welfare program. The food or objects produced goes to help people where they need it. Here is a link that expalians a little more on this.

Bob: Okay. Thanks.

Kevin: Ya no problem! Are there any other questions that we can help you with.

Bob: Nope. That’s it. Have a good day.

Kevin: Okay! Have a great day Bob!

So, David had no idea, and Kevin gave the apologetic response, which doesn’t make sense.  Can’t feed timber or shell rock to people without food.  Off to a good start.  I’m going to keep asking my ever-present missionaries questions to see what they know.  Should be fun.

big “revelation” after all

chanson noted the rumors about a big “revelation” at conference this year. Turns out they weren’t entirely unfounded: Thomas Monson just dropped the age for missionary service for men to 18 from 19, and for women to 19 from 21. Now, I wouldn’t go so far as to argue that this is a “game-changing revelation,” but it is kind of interesting.

As a sociologist, my immediate response is: “So they figured out they will lose fewer young men if they snatch them up right after high school, huh?” My guess is that this is all about stemming apostasy and increasing the odds that young Mormon men will serve.

The claim that “upping the bar” back in the early 2000s was the reason why the missionary force declined was never true. It declined due to two things: (1) demographic changes in family size; Mormon families in (and out of) Utah were having fewer kids; (2) fewer young men were going because they had time to think themselves out of it (or get distracted with other things). The year between high school graduation and leaving for a mission was likely a year when young men had a chance to be “free:” free of being told what to do and free of being told what to think. By curbing that year of “freedom”, I’m guessing the leaders of the religion are betting this will reduce losses and increase the number of young men who serve.

Okay, I just realized all of the above was male-centric. I’m guessing all of the same applies for women, though the gender dynamics are no doubt different, too. Some Mormon women have been clamoring to lower the age to make it seem more fair and to reduce the stigma of “only women who can’t get married serve missions.” I bet neither of those issues factored into this (since this decision was made by an all-male governing body). I’m guessing what I wrote above is the primary motivation: STEM THE LOSSES BY REDUCING THEIR TIME TO THINK!

Three and a Half Years

That’s all it would take for Mormon missionaries to knock on every door in the US.

Don’t ask me why, but the question popped into my head one day: How long would it take for Mormon missionaries to knock on every door in the US? I finally sat down and did some “back of the napkin” estimates and came up with the following numbers:

Total Households in 2010 = 114,235,996

Total Households minus Mormon households = 112,735,996 (subtracted 1.5 million households)

Missionaries = 20,000

Households Knocked per Day = 10

Days to Knock Every Household = 1,127

Years to Knock Every Household (including p-days) = 3.602

I have no idea why or how this information would be useful, but I thought it was interesting. Here’s the spreadsheetI used to make the calculations in case anyone wants to fiddle with the numbers.


The Armpit of the Mission Field: “Heaven Up Here” by John K. Williams

When John got his mission call to Bolivia, it was like a joke come true. Before the letter came, he and his friends had a running gag that he’d be sent there — because it’s the clich worst-possible foreign mission (see here for a coincidental example). Then he really got sent there. And, as a faithful kid from a troubled family, he was determined to fix things by devoting himself entirely to the Lord’s work.

Heaven Up Here is the complete story of Elder Williams’s mission, full of colorful (and often graphic) descriptions of what life was like for Mormon missionaries in Bolivia. But (unlike some complete missionary memoirs) it’s not a laundry-list of companions’ names and culture notes. His fellow missionaries and Bolivian friends are fully-fleshed out characters, and the local culture is presented in the context of interesting, often poignant stories about what he experienced and how it affected him.

One amusing example of the clash between Mormon missionary culture and Bolivian culture was the tale of a Bolivian member who was constantly giving suggestions for ways the LDS church could be improved. To the missionaries, it was almost laughably absurd that some random Bolivian would think that the church might change its policies based on his suggestions. Meanwhile, the missionaries themselves recognized that the church policies could use some major improvements, and joked that they’d have more success if the meetings were less boring — and were more like the Pentecostals’.

The brilliance of the narrative, though, is the lack of retrospective editorializing. I happen to know that the author is currently an ex-Mormon, and that he didn’t stop believing until many years after his mission. But precisely where he’s at now is not obvious from the text. There’s no future-retrospective narrator re-interpreting the stories as evidence towards a particular conclusion about the CoJCoL-dS. The events that built up his faith at the time are presented as such, and the disheartening aspects (like the relentless focus on the number of baptisms) are presented as he felt them then as well. For example, here’s a typical passage that illustrates the contraction between the way he felt at the time and the way he thought he was supposed to feel — but not about how his present self feels about having been put in that position so many years ago:

My companion and I went home that night feeling devastated. We had been working so hard. We both had been sick and had some days forced ourselves to get out of bed and do the Lords work. But it was clear that what we had given wasnt enough. The Lord expected more from us. In our bedroom we sat, nearly in tears, talking about what we had heard. It didnt take too long for us to decide that Elder Howard was right: we werent working hard enough, and we needed to be more committed. By the time I wrote in my journal that night, I had decided that this conference had been Awesome!

Heaven Up Here is a fascinating, page-turning narrative that I highly recommend to anyone who is interested in learning more about the Mormon missionary experience (or in comparing notes about their own mission experiences).

Hot Halloween Idea – Mormon Missionary

Apparently the Mormon missionary look is in this year for Halloween, making Time’s top ten topical costume list. Anyone planning on dressing up? I’m out; too many bad memories.

the short-sleeve, skirt-wrap variation

If we were smart, we’d start selling customized name tags here at MSP to make a profit off the interest in Mormonism.

Interestingly, the articles about this haven’t suggested anyone is going to dress up as sister missionaries. Why isn’t that a hot costume?

the "sister missionary" look

Time’s description of the Mormon missionary costume lists the requirements:

  • short-sleeved white button-up shirt
  • necktie (preferably black, no more than moderately fashionable)
  • name tag
  • Book of Mormon
  • slacks and dress shoes
  • bike helmet and suspenders (optional)
So, they obviously got that wrong on a few points. Suspenders? Seriously? I’ve never seen Mormon missionaries wear suspenders. Black tie? Mormon missionaries have the most awful ties, and they are rarely black. Also, short-sleeved button-up shirt is location specific:
long-sleeve version

But what about a list of requirements to dress up as a sister missionary? Anyone want to contribute a list of required materials? Preferablyformer sister missionaries?