What to do with Mormon missionaries?

So, here’s an intriguing quandary for you. I have a colleague, a full professor who has taught Psychology of Religion for about 30 years. He knows more about what makes religious people tick than just about anyone else in the world (he has, quite literally, written THE BOOK on it). I got to talking with him at a conference lately and my Mormon past came up. We talked about it at length and he was genuinely very interested (having never talked to a Mormon apostate). He emailed a few days ago to let me know that two Mormon missionaries had stopped by. He told them that he was very interested in talking with them, but he was busy at the moment and wanted them to come back in a couple of weeks. They agree to do so. This colleague is an agnostic atheist and is very unlikely (let’s say there is a 99.9999% chance) to convert to Mormonism. He isn’t interested in converting the missionaries to atheism, just in understanding their experiences and maybe helping them to understand the psychology of religion a bit better. He didn’t ask me for advice on how to convert missionaries but rather on how to approach them so he doesn’t offend them. Suggestions?


I'm a college professor and, well, a professional X-Mormon. Thus, ProfXM. I love my Mormon family, but have issues with LDS Inc. And I'm not afraid to tell LDS Inc. what I really think... anonymously, of course!

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9 Responses

  1. angrymormonliberal says:

    Ask them about themselves, and try to get them talking. A better way to do this would be to invite them over for dinner, especially on a P-day when they have a little more time on their hands. Food is a great equalizer, and missionaries are always hungry. Perhaps explain Mormon dietary proscriptions so he dosn’t offer them coffee or somthing that would make them less comfortable.

    If he’s going to give documents, I found that photocopies were easier to explain than books in my mission

    He dosnt have to be completely direct about his lack of interest in converting but he should be out front with his profession and his desire to learn more about them. Perhaps he could get them to introduce him to their mission president or the local ward leadership. Let us know if this generates an article or some good stories!

  2. chanson says:

    I completely relate to your friend’s situation. The Mormon missionary experience is unusual, so it’s interesting to talk to them about their experiences (while they’re in the midst of it especially, as opposed to what older people think of their mission experience in retrospect).

    The questions I’ve found to be most useful to get them talking about their own perspective are the following: (1) Where are you from? (It’s cliché — and the mishies themselves use this one — but it works to get the ball rolling), (2) What do you think of the place where you’re serving your mission? (3) What are your plans for when you’re done with your mission?

    The mishies vary in willingness to talk about these subjects since they’re a little off-topic from what they’re supposed to be talking to you about. I agree with angrymormonliberal about inviting them over for dinner since dinner is more social and lends itself to social conversation.

    If you find one who isn’t from a heavily-Mormon area, sometimes you can get some interesting stories about how they chose to serve a mission (and how they explained it to friends and neighbors) in a place where that isn’t what everybody’s doing. If one or both of the mishies had to learn a foreign language for the mission, you can ask them about their progress and how it’s going. Then there’s always the topic of whether they’re planning to go to college, whether they’ve already started college, and how they think taking time off for a mission will affect their education and other plans.

    I’ve written about some of my discussions with mishies in France on my blog: the mishies and me, the mishies and me II: the revenge, the mishies and me: the rest of the story, and more musings on mishies.

  3. Guy Noir, Private Eye says:

    (as this post comes up, news about caffeine/miscarriages breaks)
    the LDS culture LOVES to get ppl wrapped up in details. But alas, all religion is built on feelings *warm fuzzies*; those are impossible to deny, just as it is impossible to either ‘prove’ or ‘disprove’ God/Jesus etc. If the friend wants to learn about MoCulture or the *warm fuzzies*, he’s on the right track.
    Mishies: IF – when/how soon will their desire to rack up another number be overtaken by instinct abt what’s ‘actually’ going on with this person? Who knows?

  4. chandelle says:

    i don’t have any suggestions, but what is the title of his book? i’d like to read it.

  5. exmoron says:

    Here’s his book: Psychology of Religion

    Thank you everyone for the suggestions. He told me he’d let me know how things go. I’ll “return and report.”

  6. Phoebe says:

    Instead of asking, “What do you believe?” ask them “How do you experience God?”

    That way, instead of getting an earful of mormon creed, your friend can get them to open their hearts more.

    If that were how I was treated when I was a believing member of the church, I would have stayed longer than I did.

  7. Seth R. says:

    I’d warn him that it takes all kinds in the mission field. Some missionaries will be cool about it and probably give him what he’s looking for. Other’s will be too agenda driven to spend time being a human being. Some will be socially inept and some will be hyper-sensitive. Just depends who you get.

  8. dpc says:

    Have him ask them what they’ve learned about life and the world around them after having come to the mission field.

  9. jackawhacker says:

    @exmoron: yeah, prolly a stale reply, but $95 for the book? really?? who says there’s no money in religion? just ask ol’ L. Ron. following in j. smiths’ footsteps.

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