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 . . .
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?
A Would-Be Preemie
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.
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