I’m an unorthodox 21 year-old Mormon gal, and I’m considering serving a mission. Should I go?

Greetings, readers! Before I launch into this week’s column, I wanted to encourage those of you who live in or near Southern California not to miss this weekend’s Mormon Stories Conference in San Diego, featuring Mormons for Marriage founder Laura Compton and a raft of other excellent Mormons like you sharing their stories, bonding, and eating tacos. More info is here. And now, on to the show . . .

Dear AMG:

I am an active, LDS, young-adult female about to turn 21. I have a desire to serve a mission. Living the principles of the gospel and trying to emulate Jesus Christ has been a wonderful foundation in my life as I’ve been striving for enlightenment. I would like to share it with people who are not as fortunate as I am.

However, I’m not entirely sure that the organization of the Church would like me representing them. I’m not a very orthodox believer. I feel in my heart that saying that this church is the only true church is wrong. I feel that all religions have a great deal of truth in them and to belittle the value of that truth only does us, as members of the church, a disservice. We could greatly benefit by learning about and taking into our lives the perspectives and truths of other religions. I also have questions about the historicity of the Book of Mormon and about many of the things that Joseph Smith did. I feel uncomfortable saying “I know” that the Book of Mormon is “a true record” and Joseph Smith is “a true prophet.” I also can see a lot of problems in the church. Faithful Mormons do a lot of wonderful things, but in a lot of ways, I can’t help feeling like we’re the ones who refuse to come down off our Rameumptons and repent.

Do you still think that going on a mission could be a good thing for me? That maybe my unique opinions and skepticism could be a potential boon in relating to investigators and non-members? Or do you suppose that the ultra-conservative atmosphere of a mission and the MTC would swallow me up and spit me back out like a bad pill?

Sincerely,

A Would-Be Preemie

Dear WBP:

I want to be extremely careful as I answer your question. Whether you or not you go on a mission is entirely between you and the Big Couple upstairs. It should go without saying but I’ll say it anyways: you should be praying about your decision, and probably talking to your local priesthood leaders as well.

Can you tell from my little disclaimer that I’m especially serious about this mission question? That’s because full-time missions are serious business. They represent a serious commitment of lifespan on the part of the missionary. Missionaries ask prospective members to make serious religious commitments to the LDS Church. And missionary life is governed by a seriously strict set of rules.

Are you looking for an opportunity for self-expression? A chance to connect with a few wandering souls who might appreciate your insightful if iconoclastic take on faith? A way to give something back to humankind? A venue for encouraging more humble self-reflection among Mormons? Well, you’re barking up the wrong tree if you hope to pursue any of these on a full-time proselytizing mission.

The primary purpose of full-time missionary service (as I understand and have witnessed it) is very narrowly defined: it is to proselytize non-members so that they will be baptized and join the Church (and, in many geographic areas, to assist with member reactivation). As a missionary, you will be expected to deliver missionary messages and teach the discussions exactly as they are taught in the MTC. You will be expected to present an orthodox and literal approach to Mormon doctrine and to bear testimony to the truthfulness of that approach. Improvisation will not be on the menu.

I like you, WBP. I like your searching, curious mind and your generous, sort of bohemian heart. I don’t want to discourage you from missionary service. But please consider: if the way I’ve answered your question feels at all uncomfortable, if it feels rigid, or heavy handed, please know that the rigidity I am capable of mustering equals one tiny percentage point of the iron-rod rigidity you will be expected to abide with every moment of your eighteen months in the MTC and the mission field. Carefully examine your motivations and make a prayerful decision. And if you do end up serving, make sure to send me your address. I have a soft-spot for missionaries, and I’d be happy to send you a care package.

What do you think, readers? What would your advice be to WBP? Would she be better off spending the next 18 months devoting her heart, might, mind, and strength to a desperate local charity, or a feminist New Testament study group? I’d especially like to hear from those of you who have served.

Send your queries to askmormongirl@gmail.com, or follow askmormongirl on Twitter.

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70 responses to “I’m an unorthodox 21 year-old Mormon gal, and I’m considering serving a mission. Should I go?

  1. Eliza Snow

    Have you thought about serving a service mission? As a return missionary woman who is more unorthodox than I used to be, I don’t believe a Universalist attitude would be welcome in most missions. There are lots of ways for you to serve in the church though, and I don’t mean to rain on your parade. I reflect on my mission with many fond memories. It was definitely an amazing experience. But, the church being the “one and only true church” just seems to be a large focus in missionary work. If you don’t agree with that position than being required to preach that could be difficult for you.

    • Dear WBP, First of all, it is good that you asked these questions before you actually went on a mission. I am sure that there are many that have these same concerns before they leave but do not address them.

      There is one part of your letter that I wish to address. The official position of the LDS Church is that people such as Confucius, Mohammed and Buddha were very enlightened, and that the Holy Spirit influenced them to teach people “Christ like” principles. The teachings of these leaders are also considered to enlightened, even if they are not scriptural. While these leaders taught truth, they were not prophets and did not have a knowledge of the ‘absolute truth’ as we know it today through the restoration. It is unfortunate that some members may not understand or recognize these principles.

  2. Dear AMG: I appreciate the sensitivity you gave to this soulful question. I think everyone who has served (myself included…) sees some issues this sister will have of not only understanding the church but standing as a constant representative of the church. Missions have a way of solidifying options. If she chooses to go, specific opinions about the church in general and Joseph Smith specifically will form–she needs to be ready for that self-discovery because if she goes, they will come. And as much as the church talks about how missionaries are sent to find people, I maintain that the one who if most affected is the missionary.

    In every RM a library of thoughts and advice reside. I am no different. I pray no matter what her decision turns out to be that she can feel that constant companionship of our Father’s love. God bless and thanks for sharing.

    Scott

  3. sinclaire

    Hi WBP-
    It sounds as though you have a very personal relationship with the Church and I admire that. I never felt that I could have my own relationship with the gospel but only one based on literal doctrines and practices determined by my family, the brethern and the prinicipal taught out of the manuals. If following the letter of the law is something you dont particularly value then I doubt that serving a mission is going to be something that fulfills you. If you enjoy allowing others to build their own relationship with the Gospel based on their own time, reason and understanding then I doubt serving a mission will condone that experience. If you would encourage LDS investigators to seek all areas of truth re. the Church (including the history that is swept under the rug) then I doubt you will find many friends amoung your fellow missionaries. If declaring Joseph Smith a true and inspired prophet with unremarkable character makes you feel as though you could be misleading others then serving a mission may make you feel like a liar…. From what you have described about yourself it sounds like you would be spiritually enriched by participating in the Peace Corp or spending time dedicated to volunteering in your community rather than trying to convert others to your religion. Please be clear-serving a mission is not for any other purpose than increasing the LDS Church membership. Any “service” is done to increase exposure to the LDS faith and to plant seeds for future converts or to reactivate inactive members who, btw, probably have valid reasons for being inactive and you may be asked to aggressively convince them to believe otherwise.
    I hope you are able to find an answer to your questions and also find peace with in yourself re. your choices.

    sinclaire

  4. Eliza Snow

    Sorry if encouraging a service mission seemed insensitive. I’m sensitive about my own Universalist beliefs, myself. In my own mission, there wasn’t much room left for gray areas. If I had the nuanced beliefs I have now, then, I don’t think I would have fared very well. As a lay member I have the benefit of ignoring doctrines that bother me and focusing on those LDS beliefs that I hold dear to my heart. Full-time missionaries have the principles they need to teach set out for them. I think sharing your nuanced beliefs with others is definitely a valuable missionary tool for the church. I would just hate for you to be disappointed if your beliefs weren’t well received by fellow missionaries or your mission president.

  5. David

    I read in the second sentence in the reply that it’s between the woman and the “Big Couple”?? I am not mormon so can you please enlighten me on what that means..

    • Amelia

      In addition to a Heavenly Father, Mormons also believe in a Heavenly Mother. She isn’t talked about too often, but it she’s there, and some would argue she is alluded to in Genesis when God created Adam and Eve in “our” image. I struggle a lot with the concept of God myself, but I know for myself that in addition to being a singular title for a single deity, God can also be a singular title for a plural force. I always think of yin and yang and the balance of the universe….

  6. So, I am a current MTC teacher. I love all the missionaries I have taught over the past nearly 3 years, but I have to admit, I am always especially grateful when I get the sense that one in my group is more liberal or sensitive to the questions raised by the letter-writer. I know that these types of missionaries will have a more difficult time than others in some aspects of their mission, especially because of the astute observations Joanna makes (which I agree with whole-heartedly).

    But think about how much good can be done with a variety of opinions, perspectives, or even beliefs among missionaries. It takes a LOT of work and self-sacrifice, and maybe even more for people who have a hard time saying “I know the Church is true.” But in my experience, missions ultimately come down to personal connections you make with people in their homes, and your unique experiences always help you connect with certain people.

    In my classroom, I do my best to make an environment in which missionaries feel safe to ask any question or express any concern, and we have great discussions in class. If you can stand the “system,” you can do a lot of good as a missionary. My advice would be–and this is what I have tried to live by throughout my entire employment–don’t ever say anything you don’t believe. Be careful and close to the Spirit and your own integrity, and your unique voice will be helpful.

    • Also, I would be happy to email more in depth about what the MTC is like from a faithful, liberal, slightly unorthodox perspective. I can offer some tips for preparing if you do decide to go. derrific at gmail dot com.

  7. smilingldsgirl

    While I would never want to discourage anyone from going on a mission, I also think it is crucial that a man or woman know what they are signing up for. Mission’s are incredibly rewarding but very difficult in every way- physically, emotionally and spiritually. There is never a break on a mission. It is 70 hour proselyting weeks with 14+ hours of study. It is a great time but you just have to be prepared for it. I had a companion who somehow thought that a mission would cure her bipolar depression and she made life miserable for me. I know its a different issue but I’m just saying she was not adequately prepared for what a mission is actually like.
    Perhaps you could go on splits with the sisters in your area? At least then you could get an idea of your comfort level with the teaching methods and doctrine taught. I would also pour through Preach My Gospel because that contains all of the lessons for investigators as well as many instructions for missionaries. I would also look at Mormon.org and other investigator sites/pamphlets put out by the church. This will give you a better idea if you are comfortable with the teachings.
    I suppose I am an unusual member of the church because I have many of questions but that has never affected my faith. I have always known it was true (not that other church’s don’t have some truth in them) and that the Book of Mormon is true scripture. This core testimony allowed me to be a good missionary despite not knowing the answer to every question.
    There are certainly going to be MANY more rules on a mission that you will not understand and will be required to obey anyway. That’s just the way it is.
    Good luck! Missionary work is an awesome journey for both investigators and missionary.

  8. Dear WBP,

    There was once a saleswoman who knew her product well, both the good and the not so good. She loved people and her product line, but had misgivings about some of its bad features and would let her customers know. Some of her customers were turned off by her honesty and her fellow salesmen were not appreciative of her methods, but her sales quotas, year after year, beat most of her colleagues. She enjoyed her job because she liked people and loved to sell. She and her customers became very rich (it was a multi-level marketing company).

    If you feel comfortable in above situation then I would suggest doing it, but if not, then don’t. You will be a saleswoman as a missionary and will be tested in so many different ways and no matter how positive you are, there will be times when you will ask yourself “what am I doing here” and maybe not even have a good answer, especially after having doors slammed in your face too many times in one day to count. For me, I went to Ireland but now don’t even consider myself Mormon. It was an interesting, growing experience. However, given what I know now, I probably wouldn’t have gone. Like Joanna says, you have to make up your own mind and not be persuaded by the pressure of others.

    Hope this helps and I pray that you make the right decision,

    Glen

  9. aimeeheff

    WBP – I am an unorthodox Mormon woman who served a mission almost 10 years ago so your question really jumped off the page for me. I will try and give you both sides of my experience.

    I am a better person for serving a mission. I am a better member for serving a mission. I had a rich experience in Japan and met both wonderful members, investigators, and loved the majority of my companions. It taught me how to work in ways I never knew I was capable of doing. You truly give all your time to your service as a missionary. I don’t think I truly understood what that meant until actually becoming a missionary. All.Your.Time. My mission taught me that I could do hard things. When I was in labor I kept telling myself that I finished my mission, so gosh dangit, I could definitely get this baby out!

    I am thankful I went on my mission. It prepared me for marriage, service in the church, and motherhood. It opened my eyes to the fact that this truly is a world church. The members are dedicated and faithful and I learned so many lessons from them. I learned how to really pray on my mission. I learned how to fast. I learned how much I am loved by Heavenly Father. I learned so much about the scriptures and Christ and my testimony on many things were deepened by being so immersed in that kind of intense experience. It was a rich learning experience in which I will always be grateful.

    My mission was also one of the hardest internal battles I have ever fought with myself. I was raised in a very unorthodox family which I had always felt accepted and unconditionally loved with all my questions and unconventional ways of viewing my religion. When I went on my mission I often had to guard some of my personal thoughts on some church-related issues. There were often times I felt disheartened by the push for numbers, the way I was expected to teach the gospel, and the expectation to declare this as the one true church. I was working so hard and following (most) of the rules but often felt guilty I wasn’t a more true believing missionary. (An occasional illegal phone call home was what I needed to stay emotionally healthy sometimes). When my companions were crying about an investigator deciding not to get baptized, I was thinking that I was grateful they were thoughtful about this big, religious/spiritual decision. There were times I felt like it wasn’t the gig for me and that I should go home. But alas, I stuck with it and finished strong (or at least stringy-haired, tired, and worn out but still crossing the finished line all the same). Along the way, I was able to find my voice but it took some time and long talks with “the big couple” upstairs on my bike in a skirt. My bike and I became very good friends.

    I was surprised with how much I loved working with less/inactive members and members going through a faith-crisis. I think they could see something in me that felt safe to them and many opened up to me in ways I don’t think they had been able to with other missionaries. Working with those members was on of the highlights of my mission.

    That being said, I agree with Joanna. This is a HUGE, life changing decisions. If you are just looking for adventure, a mission is not going to be just an adventure and I would suggest another way to see the world. It is really hard work. And I mean really, really hard work. It is even harder work when you are feeling conflicted in your beliefs. Can it be done? Yes! Do I think the church needs missionaries that think a little outside the box? Yes, I do! I feel like I was a great missionary even in my unorthodoxy. Would I teach, “I know this is the one true church”? No, I wouldn’t. I had to be true to myself and I would find ways to bear testimony that feel congruent to me so I wasn’t living in a constant state of cognitive dissonance. I found a place that worked for me and still felt that I was honoring the church and my position as a LDS missionary.

    Good luck with this decision. I’ll be sending good energy your way so you can make the best choice for your life.

    (Apologies for any typos – it is past my bedtime).

  10. Arthur

    I don’t think anyone could improve over the answer you gave. Succinct, to the point, and completely honest. She has a lot to offer. At this point in her life the mission field might not be the place to use them. Or it might be but she needs to enter into it with eyes wide open and understanding what she’s getting in to.

  11. D. Michael Martindale

    SImple. The answer is no. She’d be expected to testify to the things she questions. To go would be fraud.

  12. Definitely between you and your Heavenly Parents, and you should be prayerfully considering their input. But given that, and also given that I joined the church too late to go on a mission, so that I don’t have direct experience (so take this with that in mind) I want to encourage you.

    The gospel transforms lives for the better. We know that. The gospel itself is perfect and a huge blessing to those who accept it. That’s your product! Not the church itself which is good, but has many imperfections. The church is always going to improve by the efforts of thoughtful people like you. If all the people who see nuance, gray areas, and have a deeper understanding of the gospel than primary-level take themselves out of the church (and out of church service), then we’re left with only the completely-correlated-iron-rod-primary-level thinkers and understanders only, and that would be a terrible shame.

    So please just don’t consider yourself some sort of halfway Mormon or imperfect Mormon! Nothing could be farther from the truth! You are the true archetype of a Latter-day Saint! Every bit as much as them if not more. Everyone’s in a different place in their walk. Nobody knows which places represent the highest levels of understanding, which is milk and which is meat, but I suspect it’s completely individual for each of us. There’s a place for all of us in the church. We don’t have a symphony orchestra made up only of piccolos!

    Please don’t falsely consider yourself somehow unqualified to serve a mission. Think about all the investigators who may need someone just like you to be their initial guide to the gospel. Perhaps their whole lives would be changed vastly for the better by finding out about the love of their Heavenly Parents, and discovering the joy of the gospel!

  13. Refreshing sister

    Dear WBP:

    Don’t serve a mission. Don’t;. I was in something near to your situation and serving a mission was one of the most destructive experiences I ever endured. You cannot imagine the ways in which you will be absolutely required to hide your real beliefs from everyone–including yourself–or what it will cost you do it.

    Read the letter from Glen Fullmer carefully, and keep in mind: that’s the basic model you’ll be dealing with. You’ll be asked to accept that you’re selling a product. You’re not just talking to people about your beliefs and their beliefs. You’re selling them something with no money-back guarantee–and what you’re selling is supposed to bring them eternal life. People “buy” your “product” by giving up the beliefs they already hold and learning to say that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only true church.

    Let me underscore that: it’s not just that you’ll be expected to say that the LDS church is the only true church, that Joseph Smith was a prophet, that the Book of Mormon is the word of god. It’s that you’ll be expected to convince others to say that too.

    Derrick writes, “But think about how much good can be done with a variety of opinions, perspectives, or even beliefs among missionaries.” It’s true that I think I probably did the most good among other missionaries. Elders often told me I was their favorite sister; two of my companions told me I was their favorite companion, and both my missions presidents told me often how “refreshing” I was. I had lots of converts. My strong work record was something I was very, very proud of.

    But all that came at the cost of my testimony and my sense of self, both of which my mission destroyed.

    I sometimes wonder if I might still be active if I had not served a mission. A mission is such an intense experience; if I hadn’t been subject to all that intensity, I might have had something left to sustain me in the church when I got home. Instead, my mission used up my ability to balance doubt and devotion.

    In short, I sincerely believe that by serving a mission when you feel as you do, you’ll be courting heartbreak and forging the trail that will lead you out of, not more fully into, the church. (But in your heart you might want that….)

    if you weigh all the comments here, along with advice from friends and family and the feelings of your own heart, and decide to go anyway, make sure you have solid relationships with a few non-Mormons and RM’s who have left the church and can be counted on to tell you honestly when the stuff you’re experiencing is crazy. Make sure you know people who, when you try to express in letters what your mission is like, won’t tell you, “All your problems and doubts will be resolved, Sister WBP, if you just have more faith” and “Your doubts are the sacrifice you must lay on the altar of the Lord in order to receive his blessings” and “what the heck is wrong with you?”

    Make sure you know people who can tell you that’s “what’s wrong with you” is that you’re in a system that, if you are to survive in it, requires you to believe things you do not naturally believe.

    • Michelle

      Thank you above comment. My thoughts exactly. I lost a decade of my life in the aftermath of a mission which was damaging to my soul. Do the peace corps!

  14. If you have questions or a level of discomfort with the first-vision doctrine and other elements of the origins of the Book of Mormon, simply put, you probably should not be out teaching people that this is truth when you yourself have issues with it. I personally DO believe it to be literally true and value and cherish my own time as a full-time missionary. best of luck to you in your journey for truth.

    • Chris Gordon

      Friend, there are many a missionary out there who have a level of discomfort with their testimonies but are putting faith in the teaching that a testimony is gained by the sharing of it.

      • D. Michael Martindale

        I think they call this brainwashing.

      • Refreshing sister

        I think they call this brainwashing.

        No kidding.

        What that little phrase about “a testimony is gained by the sharing of it” really communicates is this: “the more I tell myself that reality is just what I’ve been told it is, the more I accept that reality is just what I’ve been told it is.”

        It’s not exactly admirable, either to admit for yourself or to advocate for others.

      • Chris Gordon

        RE: D. Michael and Refreshing sister’s comments, it’s not called brainwashing. It’s called a really cool experience where you feel a rush of the spirit confirming your own words.

      • D. Michael Martindale

        Been there, Chris. I know what it’s all about. Having someone repeat a mantra over and over that they don’t believe in at first, until they do believe it through a sort of self-hypnosis, is called conditioning (or brainwashing, if you want to make it sound more sensational).

        Anyone who starts out very young in the church is put through this conditioning as they’re taught to get up and “bear their testimony” (when there is no testimony) using words they’ve mimicked from hearing other people’s testimonies.

        It’s a pretty strange thing to base one’s religious conviction on the philosophy “keep telling a lie until you believe it.”

        (Note, I’m not saying the belief is a lie, but testifying to the belief when you don’t have it is a lie.)

        Surely there must be better ways for someone to find the truth of something besides lying to oneself until it feels true.

      • Refreshing sister

        RE: D. Michael and Refreshing sister’s comments, it’s not called brainwashing. It’s called a really cool experience where you feel a rush of the spirit confirming your own words.

        the fact that it feels really cool doesn’t mean it’s not a form of brainwashing. Brainwashing works best when it feels good, in fact.

  15. Refreshing sister

    p.s. Check out Joanna’s facebook page for more reasons as to why you should not go: a group of men evaluating your faithfulness and deciding that if you have difficulty managing to “revise your constructs” it’s probably because you’re “thin skinned” and that if you have conflicts about the church because you’ve “been fed the faux Utah Valley church for way too long.” That is as may be: but keep in mind one thing that makes Utah Valley what it is is the MTC. You’re more likely to find any authentic, inclusive elements of Mormonism on your own than on a mission.

    https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=113401612088663&id=100000274362062

    Ad If part of your unorthodoxy includes concerns about gender, being subject to the authority of 19-year-old boys will only make things worse.

  16. Chris Gordon

    Well it looks like Refreshing sister would have you disregard what I’m about to say since I’m a dude, but I’ll go ahead and take a stab at it.

    I’ll only point out that there are plenty of missionaries who serve missions without confidence in their testimonies. Admittedly, most of the stories I hear (and the one I lived myself) are from missionaries who had immature testimonies and relatively immature world views to start with. The mission was the first real exposure to real challenges to their beliefs and points of view alien to their upbringing.

    You seem to be coming from a place where you’ve spent more time analyzing your faith and your testimony. Different direction to come from, but sort of a similar situation. The similarity also bends a bit since it doesn’t appear that you’re seeking to go with a desire to firm up shaky beliefs.

    While I’d encourage any prospective missionary to not let uncertainty about testimony or ability get in his or her way, I think the fact that you’re questioning and the way that you’re questioning is telling.

    Would the church like having you represent it? Sure. The church needs hearts and willing minds. If you’re willing to play along a bit and are willing to put up with those who work in the mission and the church of all ages who might not be as adept at thinking through their own beliefs and those of others in a way that you find fulfilling, you could do a heck of a lot of good. I mean, that’s the church, right? Folks of all flavors just doing their best at discipleship.

    There’s just a huge difference between the viewpoints you’re expressing and being a “bad missionary” of the type that becomes a liability and not an asset. If you keep the mission rules, work hard, and don’t talk trash about your mission president (and only minimal trash about your senior companions, district leaders, and zone leaders), and don’t talk trash about the less-flattering cultural aspects of the church, there’s nothing to stop you from being an awesome missionary with plenty of good to do.

    You’ll have to have thick skin is all. Who knows? It just might be a good lesson in humility (the kind of lesson we all need at any given moment) and might really define your beliefs.

    • Refreshing sister

      Admittedly, most of the stories I hear (and the one I lived myself) are from missionaries who had immature testimonies and relatively immature world views to start with.

      Yep. And those with immature testimonies and immature world views are precisely the ones most freaked out by and condemning of unorthodox sisters.

      You’ll have to have thick skin is all.

      Dealing with the situations described here requires a great deal more than a thick skin.

      A thick skin will only help WBP avoid upsetting missionaries around her. It won’t help her thrive or grow. I think she has a right to expect that from something as demanding as a mission.

      • Chris Gordon

        Everyone with unique beliefs dealing with imperfect people needs to have thick skin. Learning to develop that thick skin is part of thriving and growing.

      • Refreshing sister

        Everyone with unique beliefs dealing with imperfect people needs to have thick skin. Learning to develop that thick skin is part of thriving and growing.

        “Having thick skin” is a synonym for insensitivity, and I have found that developing sensitivity is more useful in dealing with imperfect people than the opposite.

  17. Badger

    I’m also inclined to think the best decision is probably no. Here are a couple ideas to think about.

    As a mental exercise, how much of your inclination to go on a mission is the result of social reinforcement? I’m thinking either of direct encouragement (or discouragement) from family or ward members, or indirect influences like expectations about marriage. Most reinforcement of this kind comes from a one-size-fits-all cultural notion of “how it’s supposed to be”. In a Mormon context, it’s unusual to hear very much about good reasons not to go on a mission, although even the Church would agree that they do exist. To make the best decision for you, it’s important to distinguish generic advice that is well meaning but one sided from other reasons and motivations more relevant to you as an individual.

    Speaking of “how it’s supposed to be”, the message to LDS youth has a tendency to hit a dead end at marriage. Do this, do that, maybe go on a mission, maybe some higher education, marry, start having children, and then for the rest of your life, there’s a vast expanse of enduring to the end. If you’re 21 now, you’ve experienced less than 10 years of adult life. It can be hard to appreciate how much will happen during the “enduring”. Do keep in mind that any lifelong sense of purpose will have a very long time to work itself out, whether you go on a mission now or not.

    You mentioned not being sure that the organization of the church would like you representing them. The “other” purpose of a mission is to mold the missionary into a different sort of person than the personality your letter described. As far as the organization is concerned, you would be welcome raw material, but “ideally” you would change on your mission. So, the answer is yes and no.

    Chris Gordon’s short reply mentioned “the teaching that a testimony is gained by the sharing of it.” I think this is fundamental to the missionary experience. How would you feel about telling someone, right now, that you know Joseph Smith was a true prophet, in light of this teaching? Given that you don’t know, you would be, well, bearing false witness. That can’t be good. Which is the greater problem: (a) that you are speaking untruth, or (b) that you don’t have the testimony that would make your statement true? I think “the teaching” works much better if your answer is (b); your untruthfulness is a sacrifice you make to try to solve the greater problem. I do not admire that rationalization, but I think it does work for many missionaries. If you’re a solid (a), at some point you may give in to the intense pressure to say the expected words. It’s something to think about now if you are uneasy with the issue.

  18. D. Michael Martindale

    Those encouraging her to go seem to be missing the point. YOU might have a testimony and thinks it’s a wonderful thing for someone to go on a mission and find their testimony. But a mission isn’t about growing or experiencing or gaining a testimony by pretending you already have one.

    A mission is about going into the world and TESTIFYING to that which you are convinced you know. To deliberately go into the world to testify to something you don’t know is called lying. In court it would be called perjury.

    Surely you can’t be telling us it’s just fine for a representative of Christ to go out and lie to people, are you?

    A mission isn’t just a fine experience for young people. We’re playing with people’s lives here. Missionaries go out and try to persuade people to competely change their lives, usually dramatically, often with great sacrifice, based on their claim that they have a spiritual testimony that it’s true. If they don’t have that testimony, they are deceiving these people and committing fraud.

  19. M

    I held somewhat unorthodox beliefs as I left on my mission, and I found it a struggle many times to be around people who were obsessed with the minutiae of the Bible Dictionary or Jesus the Christ or who snuck copies of The Miracle of Forgiveness into the field (including one of my two mission presidents). However, I do believe that an ability to appreciate and exposure to other belief systems served me well, and when faced by things like Evangelicals or Catholics performing faith healings, I wouldn’t write them off as mere superstition but could respect them for their faith, as well as understand some of the underpinnings of their teachings. For example, when other missionaries would get dogmatic about the Sabbath Day being Sunday in front of Seventh-Day Adventist investigators, afterwards I would point out that in Israel and Arab countries Mormons worship on Saturday and Sunday, respectively. Through my doubts, questions and observations (and the nuances of each) I was able to gain a better perspective on what I actually believed and what makes the LDS faith special, and help impart to others (especially missionaries) a more accurate understanding and deeper respect for other systems of faith (e.g., What does the Sabbath Day mean, if we don’t believe it’s invariably Sunday?). In the end, the mission was hard for me, but rewarding in many ways. My own doubts helped me comprehend several of my companions in ways I couldn’t have otherwise.

    Also, I never lied about what I believed. If people say that missionaries are like salesmen, it’s because those missionaries (and the ones doing the observing) misunderstand their purpose horrendously. We’re there to testify, teach, and help people find the truth by themselves, not sell the Gospel.

    Of course, the decision is yours, to be made with prayer, but my opinion is that the Church, missions, and missionaries – let alone investigators – need more people like you.

    • Refreshing sister

      If people say that missionaries are like salesmen, it’s because those missionaries (and the ones doing the observing) misunderstand their purpose horrendously.

      I encountered A LOT of sales rhetoric both in the MTC and in the mission field. I’ll agree that missions should NOT be run like businesses; nor should the church. They shouldn’t be; they simply are. And it’s not surprising, given how may GA’s were businessmen before they rose to the higher levels of church leadership.

  20. Sarah

    Trust your heart and heritage as a daughter of Heavenly Parents to know what is right for you and your life at this time. No one can or should choose it for you. Most of my own family is no longer active or even interested in the LDS Church, and I won’t pretend that there aren’t times when I wonder what I am doing in it, too, but I always come back to the same answer: I feel better edified and more WHOLE as a person when I try to live the Gospel principles and build friendships with other sisters seeking the same thing. I also feel that being LDS enhances my desire to treasure up the goodness and virtue in the books, philosophies and religions of the world, which may be why the 13th Article of Faith is my favorite! I don’t know if this helps, but I once had the concept of the “one true church” explained this way: it’s like an arrow shot from a bow, as are all religious beliefs. None are without value. The Gospel principles of the LDS church are “true” in the sense that they lead us on a straight course from the bow. Whatever your decision, I wish you all things splendiferous on your journey through life.

  21. Chris Gordon

    I disagree. A mission does not require a perfect testimony nor does it require that you testify to that which you are convinced you know.

    It’s not a lie to bear testimony with faith. If you want to wax doctrinal, it’s the notion of faith versus perfect knowledge. Plenty of missionaries can, should, and do go out without much of a testimony. It’s a great way to get one and a great place to convince yourself that it’s a waste of time. That’s your prerogative. The church would hope that you’d go firm up a shaky or immature testimony and would be sad if you left with less than you arrived with, but the church would still be happy that you’re willing to serve.

    As it relates to the original question, there’s nothing wrong with going out with honest beliefs about what she has. She’ll need to have a realistic expectation of what her peers will think of that, and I think everyone’s conceding that point. But if she has an understanding of what the vast majority of those around her will think of that and wants to go anyway, I say more power to her.

    Again, it’s one thing to go out, keep the rules, work hard, and be honest in her opinion. It’s another thing to go out with the distinct feeling and mission to convince every other missionary that they’re brainwashed and delusional. That’s not the point of her question unless I’m reading it wrong.

    • D. Michael Martindale

      A testimony is not a statement of faith. A testimony is “I know this is true.” A testimony is “The spirit bore witness to me that it’s true.” If someone wants to say, “I believe this…I have faith this is true,” I have no problem with that.

      But that’s not a testimony. Nor is that how they instruct you to testify on a mission–or in any church environment. You are taught to use the words “I know.”

      No one’s telling her to go out and convince missionaries they’re delusional. They’re telling her not to go out at all and say she “knows” something is true that she doesn’t know, which in any other context would be labeled lying.

      I’m not saying missionaries are delusional either. I’m only saying, if they testify to something they don’t know is true, they’re lying. It’s really a simple concept. You might believe the end justifies the means here, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s stil a lie.

  22. Eliza

    D. Michael Martindale: I’m also unsure if this sister would feel at home in the mission field, but I couldn’t disagree more with your last comment. You said: ” If someone wants to say, “I believe this…I have faith this is true,” I have no problem with that…But that’s not a testimony…”

    WHAT A LOAD OF CRAP!!!!!!

    As a personal choice, I use the word “believe” instead of “know” when I bare my testimony. I believe the rhetoric of certainty (I know this, and I know that) that we use in the church is a cultural construct rooted in the Enlightenment period in which our church was first born and also a desire to echo the language of Joseph the prophet. When I say “I believe” in my testimony, and my neighbor down the street says “I know,” I don’t believe their testimony is any stronger than mine, or that they “know” something I don’t.

    Exercising faith in things you haven’t seen, but which are true, is indeed a testimony. The prophet Alma thought so, and so do I. If you’ve gained a perfect knowledge by having a vision or seeing the Savior face to face, then you probably “know,” something the rest of us don’t. Otherwise, it is ignorant and wrong of you to suggest that those who are exercising a “particle of faith” or have the “desire to believe,” have any less spiritual knowledge than any other missionary. I take this sister’s thoughtful testimony very seriously, and so should you.

  23. D. Michael Martindale

    Eliza, English is my native tongue and I know what the words “testimony” and “know” mean. Don’t blame me if Mormons twist those words to mean something else.

  24. Badger

    There are some very good recent comments. I think once again Chris Gordon has done a very good job at picking out some of the essential points relevant to your decision. My conclusions are different from his, but I think his comments bring up the right questions.

    I’ve already commented on truth in testimony. In Chris’s last comment he also says “Plenty of missionaries can, should, and do go out without much of a testimony.” This is true; one very common manifestation is a somewhat immature young man from a Mormon family, just out of high school, not previously intensely engaged with his religion, who finds himself a missionary more or less by default. Many such elders develop a testimony as they serve. I think your situation is less common: you are older than the typically 19-year-old new elders, and your reason for hesitating to say “I know” is not that you are a blank slate who hasn’t yet had a chance to engage the issue. This isn’t in itself a reason to go or not to go, just a distinction to keep in mind.

    Chris also says “It’s a great way to get one and a great place to convince yourself that it’s a waste of time. ” I’d agree that it is an *effective* way to reach that conclusion, but that sort of experience is painful and best avoided. I don’t suppose Chris meant to say it’s win/win even if you leave the Church afterward, so I’m not disagreeing so much as saying this does happen to some people, I don’t recommend it, and the possibility deserves some consideration in your decision.

    Eliza, I admire your integrity in using the word “believe”. Did you do this as a full time missionary? It’s certainly more difficult in that setting than as a “civilian” member. On the same topic (more or less), M said “I never lied about what I believed”. If either of you can provide examples of how your statements of belief differed from those of other missionaries, and how it worked out for you, pro and con, I think it might be helpful to WBP and others in her situation.

  25. Eliza

    Badger: The way I approached the gospel was more black and white at 21 than at 30. I thought I knew a lot of things as a missionary that I don’t presume to know now. While I’m just a lay member, I do bear my testimony as a teacher at church. I think there are a lot of ways to get around saying “I know,” even as a missionary.

    Here are some examples:

    “I love the Book of Mormon. I think it’s a complex and beautiful book and I believe the contents of it were revealed to Joseph Smith by revelation from God.”
    “I don’t think Joseph Smith was a perfect person, but I’m thankful for him and respect and honor the mission he fulfilled.”
    “The doctrine of eternal families brings me a lot of comfort and peace in my life.”
    “I believe we have an eternal past and eternal future. The plan of salvation really resonates with me.”
    “I’m thankful for the guidance of President Thomas S. Monson”
    “I find a lot of hope in the Atonement of Jesus Christ.”
    Sometimes I say “I have a testimony,” but I don’t believe you have to have a perfect knowledge to have a testimony.

    Mostly, I just try to focus on the Savior in my testimony and how living gospel principles have benefited my life. I don’t really know if this was helpful, but I think we all focus on what speaks to our souls. Sometimes my companions had more conviction and better experiences to share concerning certain topics and vice versa, so that was also helpful. WBP will have to find out for herself if a mission is right for her, but I think we can all present our beliefs in a way that speaks to everyone.

    • Nom007

      Eliza, I love these examples. I think it’s great to talk about ways the church is good/helpful/comforting and how I love being a member of the church. I think that also is a type of testimony.

  26. Refreshing sister

    I’ll add that in an interview with a GA over concerns I had about my mission and my lack of orthodoxy, he told me that depression was very common among missionaries who had been highly creative and artistic before their missions, because missions allow so little expression or cultivation of such things. So if those are factors in your lack of orthodoxy, WBP, it’s something else to weigh in the decision.

  27. Badger

    Eliza, thanks for the examples. In my opinion, your approach is better than the fomulaic “I know A, B, C, D, E” (like this: http://lds.org/bc/content/shared/content/images/gospel-library/magazine/fr08oct25_testimony.jpg). Unfortunately my own experience doesn’t give me confidence that full time missionaries have realistic options to, as you put it, “present [their] beliefs in a way that speaks to everyone”, at least not to a degree that would encompass the less conventional but perhaps better founded affirmations of belief that you gave as examples. It’s theoretically possible, of course. I just find it hard to imagine it happening in practice, given the expectations among missionaries. I don’t know anyone who has done it and can tell me what it was like, although I’d be interested. I’m sure you’re right that age is important. I wouldn’t be very surprised at all to hear of an older couple taking such an approach. Do you think sister missionaries might have a little more leeway? My experience is from a male perspective.

    • Refreshing sister

      Do you think sister missionaries might have a little more leeway?

      Depends on all sorts of things, including mission presidents, zone and district leaders, companions, and the difficulty of any language you might learn. It’s hard to bear a complex testimony when you’ve had to memorize a script for what testimonies should be (hint: they always involve “I know this and I know that”) and have yet to acquire a large enough vocabulary to improvise. Depending on your facility with language acquisition and the difficulty of the language you’re learning, it can take quite a while to get to the point where you can express your own ideas instead of the concepts provided for you.

      Here’s an example of MTC wit and wisdom: “Missionaries who go to English-speaking missions come home spiritual giants; missionaries who go to Spanish-speaking missions come home fluent; and missionaries who go to Asian-speaking missions just come home.”

      Factor in the challenges inherent in being a missionary in with the challenges of learning a very different language and the challenges of adapting to a very different culture, and you can end up with a situation where basic daily demands require you to become more orthodox than you ever thought you could be–no matter how unnatural and uncomfortable it feels.

      On top of which missions aren’t just about what you do as a missionary. They’re about what you do as a companionship. I remember in particular a meeting with a recently baptized member where I tried to show a lot of sensitivity to the complexity ad newness of the person’s situation, and my companion simply informed her that her choices would exclude her from the celestial kingdom. It was so not what I wanted to do with my mission or my life, but as my companion pointed out to everyone, doctrinally, she was right.

    • Badger

      Both your comments about the implications of using a foreign language are very true. Based on my own experience, I can add another, although it’s not one that does me any credit. We’ve probably all had the experience of seeing (or being) someone learning a few swear words in a language they don’t know. They can very casually utter some really offensive expressions, even though they would have difficulty saying something equivalent in their native language.

      Using an unfamiliar language can create a pretty significant psychological distance. If you start following the script while you’re getting started as Refreshing Sister described, it doesn’t necessarily feel the same as if you were making the same statement in your native language. As you become more comfortable in the new language, this changes, but by that point you’ve been saying “I know…” all along, at least initially with a feeling that it doesn’t fully count. Now what? If you can just keep on doing what you’re doing, bearing a sort of anesthetized testimony, it’s a pretty attractive option in practical terms.

  28. Eliza

    Refreshing sister brings up a good point about language acquisition. I served Spanish speaking in South America and it takes awhile to find the vocabulary to say what you wanted to say, whether you are orthodox or not. Serving in your native language would obviously make it easier to express yourself the way you want to. Half way through my mission we were told to drop our memorized discussions and try and touch on all the points with our own words. So yes, I think it’s possible to drop the “I know” stuff and speak from your heart.

    Like refreshing sister, I have reservations about an unorthodox person serving a mission. I use discretion with who and how I share my nuanced beliefs, and WBP would have to do this as well on her mission. (I don’t think that’s being disingenuous; that’s just life. Not everyone is going to agree with your perspectives. You don’t have to be an open book to everyone.) Refreshing Sister is right about mission presidents and companions mattering. My husband’s mission president “taught correct principles and let them govern themselves” and mine was very black and white. Badger: Your probably right about senior couples having the most room to say what they want. I wish I had an example from a younger person, but I don’t.

    Last comment: I don’t think I would have been confident enough in my positions to let criticism role off my back at the age of 21. If WBP can handle that, then it only really matters what she and HF think about her missionary service. If she can come across confident and kind, (like Joanna Brooks for example,) then people will be more receptive to her nuanced style. Best of luck.:)

    • Badger

      Eliza, my last comment that appears below Refreshing Sister’s was meant as a reply to you as well. I guess I hit the wrong “reply” button.

      • Eliza

        Thanks Badger. I think we were writing at the same time and your response wasn’t there yet…I definitely agree with the distance involved when speaking a second language. Well put.

  29. Cher

    Pray pray pray by also remember there are so many ways you can serve in and out of the church. My husband and I are raising our kids in an unorthodox way and if the get to the age of servig a mission and they don’t feel that serving one feels authentic to them we will encourage them to do something selfless and hard for a year it two. They are TONS of chrsitian organizations that need help in orphanages or what have you. There is YWAM which told is a great organization that sends you to do Christian service all over the world. Think outside the Mormon box. You could do your greatest missionary work that way by showing other Christians that Mormons ARE Christian!

  30. refreshing sister

    My husband’s mission president “taught correct principles and let them govern themselves” and mine was very black and white.

    My first mission president was very much a “teach people correct principles and let them govern themselves” kind of leader. He and I adored each other, frankly. He was a very good man, and I still feel lucky to have known him. The second was much more authoritarian, though he was far more unorthodox in his personal beliefs. It was weird, how much more orthodox and rigid he expected us to be, when his own thinking was so far outside the mainstream.

    Both my mission presidents were honorable men who supported me in all sorts of ways. The reason they both called me “refreshing” was because I worked hard to arrive at my own ideas about things, and I expressed those ideas quite candidly. Having a mission prez who understands, values and trusts you can really help make your mission easier. But it’s very possible to end up hundreds of miles from the prez, and see him only once every month or two.

    Last comment: I don’t think I would have been confident enough in my positions to let criticism role off my back at the age of 21.

    Certainly if I weighed things equally, I valued the good opinion of my presidents far more than I cared about the disapproval from some of the companions, DL’s or ZL’s who were downright hostile to my unorthodox beliefs and my willingness to express them. But no matter how great the prez thinks you are, if you spend all day every day with someone who thinks you’re a first cousin to the anti-christ, and if you have enough young men invoking their priesthood and your lack of it and telling you how they can see that you question their dictates only because you are stiff-necked and proud…. Well, it’s harder to shrug that stuff off when you’re 8,000 miles from home, speaking a foreign language, dealing with a new culture, exhausted, etc. Add in anything like illness for the missionary and or problems back home like a family member with a terminal illness or so forth, especially when you’re told to look for the hand of god in everything that happens to you, and yeah, it can be extremely hard to brush off daily criticism, even when you know you have the support of people who really matter.

    WBP, I want to make it clear: I know you have to make this decision yourself. But I was grateful for everyone who tried to offer me an honest assessment of the challenges I faced–even though I generally figured, “Oh, it won’t be that bad for me.” In many cases it was that bad, and in some cases it was worse.

  31. Wow folks. 46 comments! That’s kind of a record. Thank you to everyone who pitched in with perspective. I’m thankful to everyone who spoke honestly of their own experience. I do hope that all commenters can take it easy on one another. One-dimensional definitions of Mormon experience–be it the feelings we are taught to recognize as spiritual confirmation or what counts as the bearing of testimony–do not benefit anyone. There’s a lot of hurt in our community, but dishing it out never heals it. Be kind, fellow travellers. Thanks for being here. Much love all around.

    • refreshing sister

      46 comments! That’s kind of a record.

      it’s a topic worth weighing in on. Few decisions Mormons make are more A) important and B) oblligatory to the point of being perfunctory than pursuing a mission and pursuing marriage. The message in the overall culture is, “Go on a mission! Get married! Go on a mission! Get married!”

      More specifically, the explicit messages are:

      1. “Go on a mission! Doesn’t matter where, doesn’t matter why, doesn’t even matter what you really think of key aspects of Mormon belief!” That message has been communicated clearly enough here.

      2. “Get married! The sooner, the better! Doesn’t really matter who to, because any two people who are sufficiently motivated can make a marriage work! Sure, you’ll live with, talk to, have sex with this person for all eternity, but that’s no reason to be too picky–especially when waiting means you might [gasp!] have sex outside of marriage, which is an almost unforgiveable sin!”

      So a chance to say, “Easy, tiger! What’s the rush? Have you thought about this, and this, and that?” is thoroughly welcome to many, many people.

      Thanks for providing such a chance, Mormon girl.

  32. Dear Would Be Preemie (as forewarning, I guess I’m fairly
    orthodox):

    There’s no reason to sit in doubt about The Book of Mormon or Joseph Smith.
    Others sat plenty long for us.

    Our Latter Day Saint heritage and culture is rich and profound. We can read and
    study those troublesome issues from men and women who toiled and labored
    before us to find the same answers. Make their toil part of your own. When it
    doesn’t come easy, that hardship becomes a necessary part of obtaining a
    personal witness of Joseph Smith’s divine calling and The Book of Mormon’s divine authorship (and you’ll want that testimony plenty firm to teach it
    to others). While the Holy Ghost is promised to us as a constant guide and
    companion, we have no need to sit with doubts. (Is this too soap-boxy? I hope
    it isn’t too soap boxy.)

    And if not from the writings of our apostles and prophets, then find out what
    faithful scholars have written…

    Richard Bushman wrote an unflinching biography of Joseph Smith that was as
    forthright and candid as it was inspiring and sincere (Rough Stone Rolling). He
    wrote unafraid of the issues that other scholars seem to skirt almost by habit.
    Leonard J. Arrington tackled Brigham Young in a way that had never been done
    before by an eminent LDS scholar in American Moses. Then there’s a fascinating
    ongoing project online at http://mormonscholarstestify.org where professors of
    history, science, math, law, business, philosophy, etc. have come together to
    share their testimonies of the restored gospel. For example, read the testimony
    of the Book of Mormon at this
    link (http://mormonscholarstestify.org/185/clayton-m-christensen) and look at the
    kind of effort exerted so Professor Christensen could recieve his testimony of
    The Book of Mormon. These witnesses are hard won, but powerful enough to hold
    fast men and women of intelligence, character and standing in this world (even
    as relating to the often intangible facets of Christ’s gospel).

    I really hope you make it out into the mission field. It’s an awesome
    experience.

    It’s as if all your faith, desire and testimony act as agents with the Spirit to
    transform not only the people you are out there to teach, but yourself as well.
    It really is an awesome thing, and entirely within reach.

    Warm Regards (from an orthodox brother),

    Nathan Meidell
    admin@caballeresco.com

    • D. Michael Martindale

      All your suggested readings are apologetic sources. In other words, this is a very one-sided list. Which is fine if that’s all someone wants to read. But I wouldn’t exactly call it a genuine investigation. Only an affirmation of a previously decided conclusion.

    • refreshing sister

      Nathan:

      There’s no reason to sit in doubt about The Book of Mormon or Joseph Smith.
      Others sat plenty long for us.

      Surely you are not advocating that people should base their attitudes toward the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith primarily on what others think of it?

      If so, people today must arrive at an opinion of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith that are the exact opposite of the ones you advocate. After all, most people who have considered the claims of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith have decided those claims are fraudulent.

      We can read and study those troublesome issues from men and women who toiled and labored before us to find the same answers. Make their toil part of your own.

      Yes. The internet and book shelves are full to overflowing with people who have debunked the claims of Mormonism. No need to reinvent the wheel. Take Nathan’s advice, WBP, and make your opinions and beliefs conform to those of others.

      Given how few people have joined the church, what a tiny percentage of the world’s population is currently Mormon (13,000,000 Mormons on record out of 6,930,000,000 people on the planet, equals .0018%), the fact that as many people leave it as join it every year, and that a great many of those who remain active do not even believe, there is no reason for anyone to take seriously the claim that the Book of Mormon is genuine scripture or that Joseph Smith was truly a prophet–if our reasons to sit in doubt about the Book of Mormon is based on the sitting of others.

      You will have to do much, much better than that, Nathan, to justify either encouraging someone else to go on a mission, or why you yourself believe any of Mormonism’s claims.

    • What you said is more than reasonable Michael. A good historian, however, (and both those men I mentioned are very good, well respected historians within and outside of the church) will look at everything present before them in the record, and use that data to inform their writing. The fact that both those men were and are faithful members of the church is refreshing, rather than troubling for what they had to say. (But yes, it goes without saying that there is a host of additional information out there for any and all investigative fancies).
      Refreshing sister, your concerns about “conformity” are also valid, if informed by unintended implications in my initial comment. I apologize if I wasn’t clear. I hope I can answer your concerns here as well.
      My advice is still valid. Personal investigations can go as deep as your study takes you. And if you are able to intelligently consider any source, then it isn’t bad to conform to what you conclude to be true.
      I would offer, further, that the primary means of investigation that is given biblically is not found in delving into apologetics or the more bipolar extremes of debated issues, but rather in following the simple, oft repeated exhortation to “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Luke 11:9). For some strange reason that is too often seen as a cop-out in today’s world, but when Christ himself proposes an investigative method, however unsatisfying it may initially seem to our finite minds, it is worth heeding to our very best.
      Wherever or however you investigate, every other investigation is shallow unless we tap into that spiritual side of the investigation. That’s where our foundations find rock rather than sand. It presupposes a belief in the Bible and a commitment to act on what we read there, but with that premise it is vital. That is where the real dividing line often lies. Between the Thomas like “see to believe” faith, and the faith that is informed by more intangible but just as real spiritual fruits. (notice that faith itself is spoken of as evidence of the intangible, or things we cannot see which are nevertheless true (Hebrews 11:1).)
      Do not forget the promise that in seeking, asking, and knocking on the doors of heaven, we are promised real answers.
      There can still be power in shared experiences (especially if those individuals carried the exact same concerns with them to their specific conclusions. That’s why parents teach children to avoid danger, rather than stand back and watch them learn from unhappy experience (yes I know that’s often wierdly controversial to espouse in today’s world). That’s part of the power in scriptures. We read and learn through God’s dealings with those individuals, and use their experiences to inform our own lives.
      Lastly, if I didn’t answer this enough previously, conformity is not bad if we’re conforming to the right standards. Christ has asked us all to conform to a divine standard. “Be ye therefore perfect…” (Matthew 5:48) and “What manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am” (3 Nephi 27:27). Like I said, I’m orthodox, but that is informed by conclusions from my own investigations. And having done what I recommended, and seen its benefits, I speak from experience.

  33. James

    A Would-Be Preemie,

    As a fellow believer who would consider himself unorthodox, I would encourage you to reflect on how your identity as unorthodox impacts how you interact with others in and out of the church. What I mean is this: Whether a person identifies as orthodox or unorthodox, I’ve seen either position inhabited by people who are as staunch and unyielding in each respective position. Are you the type of person who feels you must assert your position in very clear terms, or are you a person who is comfortable with nuance and ambiguity? If you are the of the unorthodox position which asserts itself with full confidence and is unwilling to use measured language which neither betrays one’s own full beliefs but neither does it offend those of more orthodox perspectives, then I don’t know if a mission would be a good experience for you. If, however, you are fine with expressing yourself in such a way that wouldn’t, for instance, be confident about the church NOT being the one true church and all that, then you’ll probably get a lot out of a mission and really be able to help people.

    My point is this, if your willing to express your beliefs in a nuanced manner and say things in a way that could be interpreted as orthodox or unorthodox (depending on the listener), then you’ll be fine.

    Here are some examples:

    You need never, as a full-time missionary or otherwise, use the words “I know…” when sharing a testimony. Those who say that are often unwilling to permit ambiguity in their relationship with the church. You can just effectively use the words “I have a testimony of…” or “I testify…” or “I have received a witness that…” or even simply “I believe that…” without people really raising eyebrows. Listen to general conference and you don’t hear everyone saying “I know…” when bearing testimony. They either simply assert some element of their testimony (i.e. the church IS true, JS IS prophet, etc), or they often use some variation of what I just mentioned.

    And as far as the “one and only true church,” well you would probably like to read this excellent post from another somewhat unorthodox member: http://geoffsn.blogspot.com/2011/06/only-true-and-living-church.html

    He points out that the word “only” in the phrase “only true and living church” has precipitously declined in the last sixty years in Gen Conf. What this means is that if the phrase is used less even in Gen Conf, then I’m sure you’ll be fine by talking about this idea in a more nuanced way.

    If you consider yourself a believer in the restoration, then go be a missionary based on whatever foundation you have. Don’t expect some sort of certainty about these things, which, I might add, is often more of a rhetorical than an epistemological position within church discourse. If you don’t feel comfortable with all the focus on numbers as a missionary, then don’t focus on them. Report your numbers and hold yourself accountable for your efforts, but you’ll be better off in the end anyway if you focus on bringing others (and yourself) to Christ as your first order of business and then leave all the selling the church to people and numbers and all that as secondary, tertiary, or completely unimportant.

    And you wont have to deliver any sort of rote message as in times past that might lead you to feel uncomfortable: the missionary “discussions” are now designed based on required topics to be taught to investigators (rather than rigid, memorized bits), but how those topics are taught has a great deal of flexibility since Preach My Gospel was instituted. If you’re comfortable with being quiet and careful in how you speak about certain things, and have a real desire to share the teachings of Jesus which have improved your life, then a mission could be a great thing. But most of all, as others have encouraged, pray and try to get some feeling as to whether or not a mission is right for you. In these comments you’ve been given a variety of perspectives both in support of going and of not going, so ultimately you should try to get some revelation (whatever that means to you) so you can at least feel some degree of confidence that going or not going is the right thing for you personally.

    I wish you the best of luck.

  34. refreshing sister

    And if you are able to intelligently consider any source, then it isn’t bad to conform to what you conclude to be true.

    it’s not only not bad, it’s the way to approach things with integrity. It’s unwise to live a lie–especially if you are explicitly aware that you are doing so.

    But as I said, keep in mind that most people come to the conclusion that Mormonism is not “true.” They might differ as to what view of the universe is superior, but they at least agree that Mormonism isn’t what it claims.

    the primary means of investigation that is given biblically is not found in delving into apologetics or the more bipolar extremes of debated issues, but rather in following the simple, oft repeated exhortation to “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Luke 11:9). For some strange reason that is too often seen as a cop-out in today’s world, but when Christ himself proposes an investigative method, however unsatisfying it may initially seem to our finite minds, it is worth heeding to our very best.

    Yes.

    But many if not most of us who are unorthodox have followed that advice: we have sought and we have found, and what we have found is that the orthodox view of Mormonism is not an adequate or solid basis for our lives. It violates our integrity in significant ways; it impairs our keenest abilities; it insults our minds and spirits. We cannot accept it, for we have sought sincerely and we have genuinely found truths that make orthodoxy impossible. Moreover, many of us feel quite strongly that orthodoxy is something we have outgrown, and that heterodoxy is the reward for a great deal of hard work.

    The response from the orthodox is rarely if ever, “Oh, well, if that’s the answer you got, that’s great! God must have had a reason for telling you not to adhere to orthodoxy, and it’s very likely that you have acquired some special insights. Righteousness must include all sorts of different approaches. Tell us more about your experience! Help us understand your truths, in the hopes that they will enrich ours!”

    No, the answer is pretty much, “Well, if you sought and found any answer but the orthodox Mormon one, you must have done it wrong.”

    That’s where our foundations find rock rather than sand. It presupposes a belief in the Bible and a commitment to act on what we read there, but with that premise it is vital.

    This is precisely where most of the world will say you are wrong. This is where your foundation finds sand rather than rock, for your foundation is built on the assumption that in order to get certain answers, you must start with a particular set of beliefs.

    The evidence will not stand on its own. You can’t find the answers unless you already accept the view of the universe provided in the bible.

    That’s circular reasoning. Please don’t ask me or anyone else to use it or to respect arguments based in it.

    Do not forget the promise that in seeking, asking, and knocking on the doors of heaven, we are promised real answers.

    I have never forgotten this. I have simply gotten answers both very real and very different from yours.

    There can still be power in shared experiences

    Absolutely. This is one reason post-, ex-, and heterodox Mormon forums thrive. The shared experience of investing thoroughly in Mormonism and the shared experience of confronting its inadequacies is indeed powerful.

    conformity is not bad if we’re conforming to the right standards.

    I agree with this too. I am merely fatigued by the implication that YOUR standards are the right one. For most of the world, and especially most of the country, they are the WRONG standards.

    An example: I believe, and a great many others believe–particularly if they are under 40–that the right standard is equal marriage for all. Denying queer couples the right to marry is the wrong standard, and we must not conform to it. We must do all we can to ensure that we do not conform to it.

    However confident you are that your standards and beliefs are superior to those of the rest of the world, it would be nice if you could muster a little humility about them in the face of how few people agree with them. You might do well to listen to this: http://svu.edu/mp3/2011-4-8-frederick-gedicks.mp3

    As for this:

    Like I said, I’m orthodox, but that is informed by conclusions from my own investigations. And having done what I recommended, and seen its benefits, I speak from experience.

    Like I said, I’m unorthodox, but that is informed by conclusions from my own investigations. And having done what I recommended, and seen its benefits, I speak from experience.

    • I hope I do not come across as presuming anything in this discussion other than to offer recommendations based on my own views and experience. I cannot shout that disclaimer too loudly. That said, I don’t want to turn a blind eye to uncomfortable doctrines and ideas. My investigations were guided by an early confidence in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Because of this early confidence, for me, participation in this religion is all or nothing. Although I don’t understand it all by a long shot, I believe it with all my heart. Maybe that makes me narrow-minded, and maybe it makes me appear foolish, but it is the belief I hold sacred. In this world where the sanctity of each man or woman’s belief is so often under fire, I cannot but hold to what I believe, and the full implications of that belief. If the church is true and good for me and my family, then it’s foundations must not be erroneous, otherwise I find myself living a lie, or settling for error in exchange for some good. That means I had to come to terms with Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon to have my confidence in raising children in this lifestyle and set of beliefs. I know the world at large thinks of it as foolish to hold too literally to the Bible world view. But hopefully it’s obvious by now that I do not think it so very foolish. :) I sincerely hope I’m not assuming a superior attitude, and I hope you are not assuming one for me. The marriage issue you mention is a conflict of two unyeilding, very central beliefs. By your own statement you would impose your belief on mine based on numbers alone, and by that also assert the superiority of your own. Who yields their beliefs in this case? Can we justify either side denying what they believe? The other hard question is can we condone one man or woman denying their beliefs so another can impose their own upon them? Our beliefs guide our navigation through these issues, and with all the beliefs in the world we are inevitably found in conflict. So we all fight for what we believe tooth and nail because if we don’t then we are shouted over and legislated upon ourselves (especially if we find ourselves in the minority). But yes, I believe in Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. They are but two fundamental and core truths that guide my interactions as a member of the LDS church. So I do speak from experience, but it is better to state that I speak from my very particular experiences, all of which have produced… me.

      As for the right standard to which I referred. It is exactly what I said and nothing more. That divine standard set by Christ himself. I’m not holding up Joseph Smith or the Book of Mormon for any other reason than that they were the issues at point. I follow Christ based on an orthodoxical mormon view to which my experience has led me. Others walk informed by their own experience and beliefs. Would Be Preemie was raised LDS, so I offered her one among many possible avenues that have always been in front of her. Hopefully it helps.

      I do enjoy the chance for discussion though, and I really do hope I’m not coming across as superior. If I am, please forgive me.

      • Refreshing sister

        By your own statement you would impose your belief on mine based on numbers alone, and by that also assert the superiority of your own.

        I most certainly would not, for I would not require you to enter into any form of marriage you do not approve of, nor would I deny you the right to enter into any marriage with any other consenting adult. I frankly have no interest in changing what you believe about marriage. I seek only to make marriage available to all adults, regardless of the gender of their spouse. That has NOTHING to do with your belief.

        It’s not about your belief. It’s about the rightsof others. Not one single right of yours–not one–will be infringed upon if gay adults can marry.

        Who yields their beliefs in this case?

        The side who must yield is the side who would deny to others rights they want to limit to themselves–at least if they want to make any claim to justice.

        The other hard question is can we condone one man or woman denying their beliefs so another can impose their own upon them?

        It is so telling that you think that my desire to give others a right you claim only for those and people like you is described as “an imposition.”

        Define your marriage however you want. Believe what you want about what sorts of marriages are actually legitimate before God. No one will tell you that you must change those definitions of YOUR marriage or the specifics of YOUR belief. No one will “impose” a definition of marriage on you or your marriage. There will be no “imposition.”

        But you do not have the right to tell consenting adults and citizens of this country that they must accept YOUR marriage as the only acceptable type of marriage when the world is clearly adjusting to this new form.

        And this is one of those things where you really do need to get used to it, because gay marriage will become standard and commonplace.

        That divine standard set by Christ himself.

        Jesus had nothing to say about gay marriage and didn’t seem threatened by other people’s sex lives–he preferred hanging out with prostitutes and publicans to spending time with priests, at least–so I have every confidence that I am adhering to the divine standard you invoke.

      • D. Michael Martindale

        Refreshing Sister, who are you? I like how you think.

  35. Refreshing sister

    D. Michael, I’m someone who knew you when you found me too unorthodox to stomach. You complained pretty vigorously about a lot of my attitudes and statements, a decade ago when we both wrote for the Sugar Beet.

    But I’ve gotten pretty used to watching smart people come around to my way of thinking. :-)

  36. Refreshing sister

    Yeah, I’m hw.

    However we ended up agreeing, I prefer it to disagreeing. :-)

  37. WBP

    Thank you all very kindly for your wonderful advice. It is great to have so many different perspectives and opinions to help me in my decision.Thank you Joanna for taking up my query. Hopefully I will reach a conclusion soon.

  38. Nom007

    WBP: I say go. It’ll be really hard, but it will give you some skills you will find useful if you decide to stay Mormon:

    1) How to communicate with, work with, and respect priesthood leaders who are less experienced/informed than you are;
    2) How to choose your words carefully so you testify boldly about things you believe, and never say anything you don’t believe;
    3) How to love, simply love, church members and institutions, with all their flaws and without disappointment or judgment at their imperfections;
    4) How to be sure that you’ve done right by yourself and the Lord, apart from whatever system of rules is imposed on you – how to trust your own internal compass and revelation;
    5) How to endure occasional short-term nonsense for a longer term, greater good.

    I am not being sarcastic or snarky – these are life skills I first began to gain on my mission. Smart, articulate, liberal-minded Mormon women have some special risks for hubris. A mission teaches a type of humility that can help you navigate your life as a Mormon woman for decades to come. Me, I think this is a great blessing.

  39. Troy

    When I went on my mission I was pretty much a TBM. Now, I am not so orthodox. But I think I would still learn a lot of the same things. I don’t think learning to love and serve people has little to do with how much I can conform to a certain mold, nor do I think that my service would be useless even if I wasn’t so motivated by numbers and what-not.

    I’ve wondered what kind of missionary I’d be if I went now. I would still go even though I am pretty much in your shoes. I may not be the best missionary as far as numbers go, but I think I would still be able to learn unique lessons about loving other people and serving which I think would make it worth being a little bit of an outsider.

    There are many people who go on a mission to avoid the judgement of not going. I don’t want to be judgmental of those people, but will say that I think you would be coming from a much better place than them because you are actually motivated by love and a desire to serve. What I’m saying is if I was a mission president and I had to chose between a missionary who didn’t leave his apt and didn’t care about the work, or someone who who was a little unorthodox yet motivated by love, I would go with the latter.

  40. LO

    I would encourage you to go. I didn’t necessarily have a testimony of alot of the major points of the gospel when I decided to go, but I had a strong feeling and desire to serve. I ended up loving my mission, and will always look back at my time on my mission as the best two years of my life. In other words, I don’t think it is required that you have a spirituatl conviction on every point of doctrine in order to serve, just a spiritual conviction or desire to serve. It worked for me and I am so glad that I went.

  41. D. Michael Martindale

    Both these last two comments ignore the fact that you’d still be required to testify to things that you don’t necessarily believe, and that’s dishonest. I really don’t understand how they can ignore this moral dilemma. Saying the missionary experience will benefit the missionary is only making the dilemma worse. It means the missionary will be out lying for selfish reasons.

    Seems very simple to me: if you don’t truly believe it, don’t go out in the world and say you do! Or am I missing something about the concept of honesty?

  42. James Smith

    Michael writes “Seems very simple to me: if you don’t truly believe it, don’t go out in the world and say you do!”

    Seems simple to me too. That’s what I decided for myself 45 years ago: I couldn’t go out and “sell a product” that I didn’t believe in, that we were the Only True Church, and that I “knew” it.

    45 years later I am so glad I made the decision I did. Do what you believe in.

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