Missionary Chat: Ordain Women

I thought I’d follow proxfm’s lead, and talk to some missionaries. My chat was about Ordain Women…

Spencer: Hi Alan! How are you doing today? 🙂

Alan: Pretty good.

Spencer: Glad to hear it! How can we help you?

Alan: I’m just curious about the Ordain Women movement in Utah…

Kedric: ok. We honestly know very little about it. But we can try to help

Alan: Well, do you feel that women should be given more power in the Church?

Spencer: Well, women do hold leadership positions in the church. The church wouldn’t be successful without women. You look at our prophet, the 12 Apostles, etc. They often say how they are only able to fulfill their calling because of their wives and the other women in their lives. As far as the priesthood goes, God has established that men are to hold it. That being said, it doesn’t put men above women or give them more power. We are all still equal in the sight of God. The priesthood is there to bless everyone, men are just the ones that have been asked to hold it. Does that make sense? 🙂

Alan: Hmm…
Alan: So, it doesn’t bother you that in other religions, women can hold the same leadership roles as men, but Mormonism they can’t?

Kedric: Why would that bother me? I follow Jesus Christ, He runs this Church. If our personal opinions or social views contradicts what He commands, we need to address those views, not attempt to change His commandments.

Alan: Okay, well, let me reframe what I’m asking….because I understand that Mormonism has the idea of “Heavenly Parents”

Kedric: Yes. Heavenly Father and Mother

Alan: What is the role of Heavenly Mother?

Kedric: Outside of Her existence, we know very little about Her. (…types more, but doesn’t post it)

Alan: hey, you looked like you would say more
Alan: lol

Kedric: SOrry

Alan: Okay, well from where I’m standing, Heavenly Mother’s role seems to represent how the Church treats its women….they “exist,” but their roles in influencing the Church are kept at an arm’s length.

Kedric: Well, that is fine, Alan. That’s where you are standing, I suppose. That hasn’t been my experience at all. We are warned in the scriptures several times not to counsel the Lord. This Church is His Kingdom. As a Kingdom, we do our best to carry things out in His way. It is up to us to make our opinions in line with His, not try to change His. We need to be going, Alan, but have a great day.

Alan: Now, wait a moment. I though missionary service was not just about teaching, but also learning
Alan: not learning to “counsel the Lord,” but learning about how people view the Church
Alan: anyway, bye

I opened another window and got a female missionary, but that conversation went weird, but was rather informative about how technological proselytizing is really problematic for the Church:

Holly: Hi Alan, how are you?

Alan: Pretty good.

Alan: I just talked to a couple of male missionaries…about Ordain Women in Utah

Holly: Okay, and how can we help you?

Alan: Well, I guess I’m just interested in how younger Mormons think about the issue

Holly: So if you already chatted with missionaries, what made you come back?

Alan: Because the first ones shut down the conversation pretty quickly

Holly: why?

Alan: I asked whether they thought women should have more power in the Church
Alan: and then I asked about the idea of Heavenly Mother, and suggested that the Church seems to treat women like it treats Her

Holly: Okay, well yeah, the church treats them sacredly, just like they treat Heavenly Mother sacredly

Alan: If you’re interested, I can give you some perspective about myself
Alan: I was raised Mormon, and my mother is quite Mormon

Holly: Nah, We aren’t interested in that

Alan: Really? lol

Holly: but we would love to help answer questions you have
Holly: and provide an opportunity for you to learn more for yourself

Alan: how can you answer questions people have without knowing where those questions are coming from…lol

Holly: Well we feel that we know you enough to answer your questions

Alan: how can you know me? i’m text in a chat window…

Holly: because we have been chatting now for ten minutes, we have learned a lot. So how can we help you?

Alan:should i close the window, or are you still typing?

Holly: Why would you close the window? Sorry this new chat system says that we are typing even when we are not sometimes

Alan:oh, okay
Alan: well, i don’t ask about women’s power in the Church to be a nuisance…I’m just curious if the Church is going to move in a different direction.
Alan: and I see the perspective of young people as an indication of that
Alan: but i suppose missionaries are the wrong young people to ask, because they’re not allowed to talk about their own perspectives

Holly: This church is Christ’s church that He established, it holds the authority that He held. That authority can only be held by worthy males, so no, the church is not going to move in another direction.

Holly: We are all equal, we are all promised the exact same blessings

Alan: All equal in heavenly terms, but at the end of the day, men hold the ropes, and that has real-life consequences

Holly: See, and that is where you haven’t done your “research” because that is not true. You said you were raised mormon and your mother is mormon, are you not mormon anymore?

Alan: well, my mother would agree with you, lol
Alan: and now you’re asking about my background….i thought you knew me, haha

Holly: you know, this isn’t a place to argue, this is why the other missionaries ended the chat. We are just trying to help you.

Alan: all right, but surely you understand that people are dynamic creatures, and they don’t just come in here as empty vessels
Alan: you say i’m “arguing,” but you’re the one who said you “know” me when you don’t. how can you not expect me to be defensive?

Holly: I am sorry you feel that way. I just said that we knew enough. You know, the purpose of this chat is to receive answers to questions pertaining to basic beliefs of the church, and to provide opportunities to learn more. But you know, that is not what you are doing, so we are going to have to end the chat unfortunately. We hope that you will just ponder this issue yourself, and ask God, because coming here is not appropriate. We hope that you will ask God about this issue, and trust His answer because we know He will answer you. Also feel free to watch General Conference, I am sure that there is something that we be said that is specifically for you. Have a great day.

Alan: then maybe you all should change the interface, cuz it says: “Do you have a question, want to know more, or just want to talk about the gospel?”

Alan: i’ve talked to missionaries before and talked to them about these issues more deeply

Alan: it seems like on the internet, there’s less willingness to do that

Holly: But this isn’t the Gospel, this is a human-interpreted issue that doesn’t pertain to salvation. Please refrain from coming back, have a wonderful day. Also feel free to go to lds.org. Thanks, bye!

[The chat session has ended.]

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16 Responses

  1. Quoll says:

    Does anyone else feel like this series is the moral equivalent of berating an underpaid retail employee over their employer’s corporate policies?
    Reading these, I find myself feeling sorry for these poor teenagers doing their best to keep up a friendly tone while the OP pushes them to respond in ways they’ve likely been instructed NOT to respond. Makes me glad I dodged the mission bullet and wonder how many of them really wish they could be doing something else.
    What is being accomplished here?

  2. Alex says:

    I have to admit, I’m pretty tempted to try one of these chats myself. My problem is, though, that it’s the organization and it’s leadership that are bad and not the rank-and-file members or missionaries. So I would struggle to walk a fine line between trying to spread doubt and poke holes in Mormon doctrine without being too rude or overbearing.

    I feel like a lot of these chat transcripts cross the line. They’re too argumentative. And they’re too confrontational with the missionary despite the fact that it isn’t the missionary’s fault that the religion is so flawed. It’s like yelling at the McDonald’s cashier because a Big Mac is too expensive these days.

  3. Alan says:

    berating an underpaid retail employee over their employer’s corporate policies

    yelling at the McDonald’s cashier because a Big Mac is too expensive

    These are good points, and I would like to engage both you on them.

    First, let me say that I entered these conversations in the same exact way that I did when missionaries come to my home. I assumed that one person will be talking to another, and sharing ideas, because that’s the way the world works. These are the exact same issues that I’ve engaged missionaries on before, in the exact same tone, and the ones who’ve come into my home have not been so quick to shut down the conversation. The difference is, when they’re in my home, they seem to be more open to listening to my perspective because they recognize they’re in my space, and they can’t do their “jobs” without making the person who’s space they’re in comfortable.

    On the internet, though, something different happens. Clearly, mormon.org missionary chat is seen as the “Church’s space.” Basically, you need to talk to them on their terms, or they’ll end the conversation. I don’t think this will work as a way of engaging with / proselytizing to the world. You’re right….they’re basically underpaid employees, and they’re not even getting anything out of it, in the same way that engaging with actual people could help them learn about the world.

  4. Quoll says:

    I wonder if it does plant doubt in the missionaries’ minds or if it is actually an uplifting experience… “Gee whiz, Elder Johnson, now I know just how Abinadi felt when King Noah’s high priests were trying to cross him with their lies and trickery!” … and provide them with evidence to support the idea that “apostates” can’t leave the church alone.

  5. Alex says:

    I think the difference is that when you engage missionaries, you’re allowed to be a little more confrontational because they came to you. But when you go into the missionary chat, you’re coming to them. You don’t invite yourself over to some random dude’s house and then start ranting about how his kitchen is too messy. I can’t really blame them for shutting conversations down when the tone changes too much…even though you weren’t really openly hostile.

    And I’m also not sure that the church sees the missionary chats as a way of “engaging with the world” anyway. I think they really expect the kinds of converts you see in seminary videos to log in fresh off of a prayer binge and have their eyes opened to the glory of the gospel. It’s simply a missionary tool, not an open invitation to a worldwide Q&A. If they wanted that, then you’re absolutely right–engaging with actual people IN PERSON would be much more useful.

    I’m not trying to be disrespectful to you, either. I’m betting we want similar things but we just have slightly different expectations for how those things can be achieved. If you’ve planted a seed of doubt in Holly’s mind and she later leaves the church and raises a family outside of Mormonism, then mission accomplished. It’s more than I’ve done.

    I find these conversations fascinating to read, and I hope something good comes of it. It’s just my belief that being too pushy about it won’t produce constructive results.

  6. Alan says:

    My goal was not to plant doubt, actually. It was simply to engage. I honestly had no idea how the conversation would play out, and had no idea that they would shut down the conversation so quickly, because, as I said, that is not my previous experience with missionaries. I’m not really interested in doing it again, because I agree with the analogy of “underpaid retail employee.”

    That is to say, if I can’t be straightforward with my thoughts, then I don’t really want to talk. I’m not really interested in subtly psychologically manipulating teenagers, lol.

  7. Alex says:

    Haha, fair enough. All good reasons!

  8. Alan says:

    I was just struck by the last line, though: “this isn’t the Gospel, this is a human-interpreted issue that doesn’t pertain to salvation.”

    So long as the Church can frame Ordain Women as “human interpretation” and the Church is the “Gospel,” it’s hard to move.

    Doesn’t someone need to teach these kids that there is no religion without human interpretation? It’s a false binary.

  9. chanson says:

    Please refrain from coming back, have a wonderful day. Also feel free to go to lds.org. Thanks, bye!


    I feel like this chat illustrates the position that the CoJCoL-dS has placed members in ever since the leaders have been actively encouraging the strategy of redirection (i.e. “answering the question you should have asked”).

    The problem is that now there is a whole array of questions that the CoJCoL-dS simply doesn’t want answered (or even asked) in public, ever. They’re perfectly ordinary questions about Mormon beliefs and policies — and there’s no reason to expect that they’d elicit anything other than clear, direct answers from members. But the church leaders give the members the impression that you wouldn’t even be asking such questions unless you’re some enemy trying to make the church look bad.

    This strategy is extremely (and gratuitously) polarizing. It creates conflict and hostility in a situation where they are not warranted. But apparently the CoJCoL-dS is totally OK with cultivating an attitude of “You’re with us or you’re against us.” If you’re not willing to stick to their script, then you’re not really member material anyway, so they’re totally OK with tossing you into the “enemies” bucket.

  10. profxm says:

    I agree that these chats often end up looking like berating minimum-wage employees, even though that was neither my nor Alan’s intent.

    My purpose, from the beginning, was really just to get the views of “on-the-ground” Mormons to see what they are thinking about these issues. I have lots of Mormon family members, but, as chanson (#9) points out, they don’t respond kindly to my questions because the very questions seem to threaten them. So, I turned to the missionary chat just to see what “on-the-ground” Mormons who are SUPPOSED to talk to people would say. I was working under the assumption that LDS missionaries would answer my questions. And, if you read through my chats, I try to be as positive and friendly as possible. I only stray from that once they try to ask me questions and turn it into an effort to convert me, but even then I’m friendly. I just point out where they are obviously wrong.

    I am struck by how abrasive the missionaries can become, though. In Alan’s chat and my most recent chat, when you stray at all from THEIR script, they don’t hesitate to go after you. All it takes is a wrongly worded sentence for a missionary to transform from a charismatic manipulator into a jerk. And that’s pretty fascinating in its own right.

    I have a lengthy list of questions I’d like to ask the missionaries, but now I’ve got to figure out how they are tracking me, since they’ll probably blacklist me if I keep going back. It looks like they’ve put a lot of cookies on my computer to track me (10 from mormon.org and another 3 from http://www.mormon.org). That’s easily resolved (though they don’t warn you that they are tracking you; sneaky bastards). But if they are also tracking my IP, that will be more difficult to obfuscate (a VPN will do it, but that’s kind of annoying to mess with).

  11. Alan says:

    All it takes is a wrongly worded sentence for a missionary to transform from a charismatic manipulator into a jerk. And that’s pretty fascinating in its own right.

    Yes, this is exactly what I was thinking. How jerkish they were, and how interesting and surprising that was.

    The question for me remains, though, whether I’m the jerk for as Alex@5 puts it: “inviting myself over to some random dude’s house and then start ranting about how his kitchen is too messy.” I think chanson is right that the strategy of the Church here (their script or no script) just breeds conflict and hostility. I wonder if it’s a strategy, or is it just the result of a technological interface that the Church didn’t foresee?

    In other words, when was this idea of answering the question you should have asked implemented?

    I can tell you this: when I had missionaries over to my place before, and the “scripts” were more equal, I actually felt like I wanted to engage with Mormons. After this short chat session, I want to distance myself. So, even if this is just one tool of many, it really put a magnifying glass on how the proselytizing is singularly-minded, which can’t be good for the Church.

  12. chanson says:

    @11 Same here, w.r.t. family members.

    My mom and my two sisters are all active, faithful members of the CoJCoL-dS, and I’d be very curious to know what they think of “Ordain Women” (or if they’ve even heard of it). But I don’t want to bring it up at all with them because it’s not worth risking relationships with people I care about.

  13. profxm says:

    I don’t think you’re a jerk for opening a conversation. If the Church only wanted people who were interested in converting to the religion to chat with missionaries, they could put a caveat on the relevant pages. There is no such caveat. To the contrary, the page says, “Do you have a question, want to know more, or just want to talk about the gospel? Start a chat with a Mormon online.” That seems an awful lot like an open invitation to just chat with a Mormon. So, in reality, this is a disingenuous invitation, as the only real goals are:
    (1) Chat according to their scripts.
    (2) Invite yourself to be proselytized to.

    Returning to Alex’s example, it’s really more like, “Having a standing invitation to go over to some random dude’s house to ask or say anything. Then, when you do go over and complain about how messy his kitchen is, he turns on you and says the invitation really means that you can come over to compliment him or learn about why he’s so much better than you are.”

    If there is a lesson to be learned in our chats, it’s that the chat on mormon.org isn’t actually an “open” chat in the sense that you can just ask anything and get any response. It’s a sneaky, underhanded attempt to evangelize without admitting that. I think this is even more apparent when it says, “Start a chat with a Mormon online” and the “Mormons” with whom you are chatting are using their first names. Those who are “in the know” are aware that the “Mormons” with whom you are chatting are missionaries at the MTC. Yes, they are “on-the-ground” Mormons in that they aren’t paid apologists working at BYU, but they are missionaries, and that is never explicitly stated on the chat website.

    As per your last question – when was this idea implemented? That’s a great question. As a former missionary, I’m not sure that I was taught specifically to answer the question that people should have asked. I was ridiculously naive and always tried to turn the conversation back to why people should be Mormon (with two exceptions, when I was clearly outclassed by a Jewish rabbi and an Episcopalian priest who knew way more than I did; I just listened to them). So, I wonder if this idea is more recent. I served in the mid 1990s.

    Also important is what this approach reflects: fundamentalist thinking! Mormon evangelism is not a two-way discussion. Mormon missionaries pretend to be interested in who you are only so long as it serves their purposes (i.e., building relationships of trust). Once they think you’re comfortable, they don’t care what you think. They simply want to convince you of what you should think. It’s a complete disregard for any other ideas. It’s sad, really.

  14. Alan says:

    It’s a sneaky, underhanded attempt to evangelize without admitting that.

    Well, once you’re chatting, it doesn’t feel sneaky, but quite blatant. After the first few lines, I could feel the “gap” between myself and the person I was talking to getting wider and wider. If I were an LDS policy maker, I would rethink the tool, because it’s simply not good for Mormon/non-Mormon relations.

  15. chanson says:

    I think they are only interested in the effect that they’re having on people who want to hear unadulterated good stuff about the CoJCoL-dS. If their invitation looks disingenuous to you, or if you had a negative experience chatting with their mishies, they don’t care: you’re not their target audience.

    In fact — even if it’s an unintentional strategy — it’s probably more a feature than a bug as far as the CoJCoL-dS is concerned. When you ask questions they don’t want you to ask, then they will cast you as the villain. So if they succeed in pissing you off and making you angry (and hostile), they’ve just succeeded at getting you back on script! 😉

  16. Alan says:

    it’s probably more a feature than a bug as far as the CoJCoL-dS is concerned

    Then the Church really does take seriously Mark 10:15 : “Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

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