Raising the Bar: The Honorably Excused

Hawkgrrrl Mormon 81 Comments

The church decided to “raise the bar” in 2002 on entry requirements for missionaries, effectively preventing those with a history of serious sin from repenting and enter the mission field.  This reduced the number of missionaries serving (down from a peak of 62K to approximately 51K at a time) and the number of convert baptisms (initially maintaining a rate of 4.7 or 4.8 baptisms per missionary, which rose to 5.5 in 2009), but another trend has also emerged in the last few years.  A higher percentage of missionaries are returning home early than before the change.  Is there a correlation between high worthiness and low preparation?
 
 
First let’s consider what changed.  Who was weeded out when the bar was raised in 2002?  (all % below are complete fabrications based on my own ballpark assessment – feel free to revise the numbers to fit your own observations).
  • The unrepentant sinners & the unconverted.  The rebellious.  There are stories of missionaries who went out because they were essentially bribed with a promised car or job because parents hoped that a mission would “clean them up” or get them back on track from their wayward existence.  Anyone who served a mission before the change (like I did) probably knew a few of these guys.  If this group used to make up about 3% of the mission population, it has now been eliminated.  These guys were probably pretty independent and resilient; cars and jobs are powerful motivators.  Of course, the ones I knew were mostly self-serving jerks and not very good missionaries unless their acts did in fact get cleaned up on the course of their missions.
  • The repentant sinners.  In E. Ballard’s original address on Raising the Bar, he said, “The day of the ‘repent and go’ missionary is over.”  Eliminating these from the pool probably has some preventive value (shame avoidance is a powerful motivator).  My guess is that this used to be a pretty high percentage of missionaries – maybe as high as 25%.  Or else I was just in a unique mission.

 Although we’ve all heard great stories of hardened sinners who found their souls while serving a mission, I think we can all agree that might not be the best method of conversion.  But losing the repentant sinners feels like a loss on a few fronts:  1) everyone is a sinner, and demarking between degrees of sin doesn’t feel quite right to me, 2) I disagree with the implication that they are more likely to slip into those same sins again on their mission (at least that’s not what I saw), 3) who better than the repentant sinner to relate to potential converts, and 4) they are far more likely to have the life experience needed to live independently without going off the deep end.

 In practice, if not based on the actual instructions to “raise the bar,” who was left in?

  • The worthy.  Candidates who had no serious (confession-worthy) sins in their past to repent.  This group is the long-standing majority of missionaries both before and after the change.  I’m going to estimate this constituted 60% before the change, which would put it at 83% after the change.  If the goal was a higher percentage “worthy” missionaries, mission accomplished.
  • The sheltered.  Children of helicopter parents.  These are the missionaries who have never lived away from home, don’t know how to cook, clean or care for themselves if they get sick, and haven’t had much experience dealing with people (e.g. a companion) outside their own family.  I’d ballpark this at 3% of the mission force before the change, but with the change, that boosts it to more like 4.2%.  These guys seem slightly higher risk for not making it through a mission.
  • The mentally unstable.  It’s not a sin to have a mental illness, and depending on the mental illness and its treatment or lack thereof, it can prevent one from making missteps that would lead to a repentance issue.  However, this same issue could create problems for the missionary, out on his or her own, trying to cope with the stresses of a mission while also coping a mental issue.  Before the change, I would have ballparked this at 1% of missionaries, but with the change, this moves to 1.4%.  This group should be shrinking, but according to a SLTrib article, it may go unreported due to the stigma of not serving.
  • Those with health issues.  Again, not a worthiness issue at all, but this can impact someone’s ability to complete their mission, especially if they are in an area with unfamiliar climates, foods, exposure to other ailments, and different doctor care.  I would have ballparked this one for my pre-bar-raised mission at about 3%, and based on these estimates, probably 4.2% now.
  • The socially isolated.  Those that couldn’t get a date, much less commit sexual sin.  Poor social skills.  Possibly poor hygiene.  Could include extreme introverts.  OK, there’s a reason missionaries are occasionally mocked for their dorkiness.  I would have pegged this at about 5% of missionaries before the change.  With the change (if my original estimates are anywhere near right), that moves this to 6.9%.
In a talk by L. Tom Perry in the 2007 November Ensign, he said:  “Full-time missionary service is a privilege for those who are called through inspiration by the President of the Church. Bishops and stake presidents have the serious responsibility to identify worthy, qualified members who are spiritually, physically, and emotionally prepared for this sacred service and who can be recommended without reservation. Those individuals not able to meet the physical, mental, and emotional demands of full-time missionary work are honorably excused and should not be recommended. They may be called to serve in other rewarding capacities.
So, why is the church struggling to raise the bar in these remaining areas?
  • Stigma of not serving.  It seems that this idea of honorably excusing those who are not fully prepared is not well understood.  Someone who is unprepared emotionally, physically or spiritually is considered damaged goods by the lay membership.  Average members often still consider those who don’t serve a mission as unworthy, regardless the reason, not as “honorably excused.”
  • Reluctance of local leaders to offend.  In some of these cases, a local leader determining that a young man or woman is not ready to serve a mission is an indictment of members’ parenting skills or social skills of the candidate.  This can result in hurt feelings and drive people away who are asking to serve.
  • Lack of self-awareness.  Self-reported social, physical and emotional readiness may be unreliable, especially for young people with little exposure outside their family circle.
  • No external assessment.  We determine worthiness based on the interview questions, mostly related to confessable sins.  But we don’t consistently apply as much scrutiny to issues that are in fact less reliant on self-reporting errors:  physical health and mental wellness. Both of these could be assessed in a clear manner through professional instruments and interviews with health care professionals.

What could we do differently?  Here are some suggestions (some of which are doubtless being done to varying extents):

  1. Quit babying the youth.  YW and YM leaders should treat the youth who lead the quorums and YW groups to lead those groups, giving them clear opportunities to organize, lead, and instruct others.  Parents should push their kids to take on more reponsibility, not less.
  2. Mainstream viable mission alternatives that are viewed as equal, non-token assignment with no associated stigma.  These can’t be populated with just those who are physically or mentally unable to serve a proselyting mission, or the stigma remains.
  3. Require some minimum time living independently prior to serving (not just in dorms which often act as substitute parents).  This one might be a problem for those who don’t have the financial means to make it a reality, but there is something to be said for having to cook your own Ramen noodles and wash your own clothes regularly while living with people who aren’t related to you.  Perhaps serving “temporary” field missions would be a good approach; this was done with young members who were not yet old enough to serve missions when I was on my mission.
  4. Provide better instruction on mission preparation that includes social skills (a bit tough to assess), emotional resilience, independence, and so forth.  Use external assessments to assist local leadership in good decision making.
  5. Ensure better balance in considering all requirements:  social skills, emotional resilience, physical health, and worthiness / repentance.  Allow the repentant to serve, provided they are clearly ready in all areas, including the spiritual.  Technically, the guidelines do allow for this, but the wording of the original talk and instruction was so direct that there seems to be a reluctance to allow for it among local leaders.

Others have blogged on this topic here (friendly) and here (hater).

Have we lost something by preventing the repentant from going?  Or should we cut further to eliminate those who are socially unprepared or coping with mental or other health issues?  What are your experiences?  Do you disagree with my guesses at percentages above?  Do you have any great stories (who doesn’t) about the unconverted, the socially awkward, or the rest?

Discuss.

Comments

comments

Comments 81

  1. I’m personally impressed by the Duty to God program being followed by our young man,although there is little expertise as yet in it’s implementation.If followed,it seems to be designed as a great preparation for independent living within the mission field.I find it quite heartening,quite reasonable and sane.Wow.So I think this is a way of training for success,rather than seeking to exclude.

  2. Re: “1. Quit babying the youth” –
    Elder Ballard spoke on a similar issue in the adult session of our recent stake conference. He stated very clearly that our children need to have experiences which challenge them enough to strengthen their faith. They need to see the gospel in action and gain the “feeling” aspect of their testimony, if not the more intellectual side. Similar to giving the youth responsibilities, I think they need to have their beliefs challenged (not so much in the “oh your religion is totally wrong” sense, but more like creating situations where they will actually reflect on their testimony). I think things like that would have made a big difference for me in preparing during the years prior to serving a mission.

  3. Excellent post, HG. My thoughts are all over the place on this one. First of all, I’d probably add one more category to those who are still serving: Unrepentant Sinners and Unconverted who lie their way through the interview process to avoid the social stigma of not serving. I bet the number of unrepentant and unconverted have dropped since the bar was raised, but I highly doubt it dropped all the way to zero. As you mentioned, the social stigma of not serving is a powerful motivator. As a 20 year old, I found it was utterly impossible to date anyone more than casually because I hadn’t served, living among the Stepfords on Sandy, Utah’s east bench at the time. Literally every LDS young woman I knew wouldn’t move past the friends stage due to my lack of service. If it wasn’t their number one criterion for a boyfriend, it had to be pretty dang close. For those wayward young men who’ve been promised a car or had the threat of a young woman dump them, lying one’s way through the paperwork process may be daunting, but certainly doable.

    I knew people that fit into all the categories you listed while I served and the percentages you listed weren’t exact, but pretty close. However, my mission had one unique circumstance that led to yet another category of missionary not mentioned: Worthy and/or sheltered young men who “fell in with a bad crowd” and became problem missionaries. My mission was split from the neighboring mission a few years before I arrived. The mission president in the other mission decided to get rid of all of his problem missionaries in one fell swoop by sending them all to my side while keeping the good ones for himself. The problem missionaries wound up training the new greenies that began arriving after the mission split, and it created a culture of disobedience that took several years and several mission presidents to eradicate. I believe a lot of these new missionaries would probably still qualify had they entered the field today, but because of the bad influences of their trainers and others, they “went to the dark side” and broke a lot of mission rules.

    Like you, I have mixed feelings about letting the repentant serve. One of my A.P.s was disfellowshipped for awhile as a teenager due to sexual transgression. But he cleaned up his act and wound up being a very powerful missionary and leader. I’m positive he would be ineligible to serve under the new rules. Granted, I knew a couple of others who’d gone through the repentance process before serving and fell back into old habits. I think this is one area where spiritual discernment is badly needed, and unfortunately it’s something too few local leaders possess.

  4. Great post. As a less active member (starting to try church again) I feel that it is sad to have this discussion. Change is a process of evolution and everyone deserves a chance especially if they are willing. I hate to think that someone would miss out on an opportunity that could come from missionary service because they weren’t considered good enough to serve. Missionaries at 19 and 21 are just beginning their spiritual development as adults. How can we expect them to feel any sense of development if the first big service opportunity is denied them b/c they couldn’t make the cut? How does that inspire a desire to stay steadfast in the faith throughout their life? As a former missionary I might have missed out on some of the experiences I had with other missionaries just b/c they couldn’t make the cut. That would have been sad.

    I also think that raising the bar has just added to the stigma for those who don’t serve. What’s to stop someone from thinking/judging another person’s mental/emotional/physical health simply b/c they didn’t serve?

  5. Several comments:

    I think this was a bad change. In my mission (Europe) there were very few baptisms – approximately 1 per companionship (ie. 0.5 per missionary) per year. Ironically, some of the best missionaries wouldn’t make it today. There were missionaries that went out on “pizza dates” with girls that ended up being some of the few young, strong members. There were missionaries that joined basketball teams and traveled across zones for games, etc. These missionaries were the most successful. The missionaries that were “hard core” and followed the “white bible” to the letter ironically had less success. And at the end of the day, it has been over 2 decades since I served. There are as many members of the Church there today as there were when I was there.

    So, what are we trying to accomplish? Conversion of people or development of future members? I don’t think it’s missionaries that convert people. They present information. God either speaks to their hearts or He doesn’t. If someone feels in their soul that the Church is true, then you almost can’t keep them out. If someone feels it’s not for them, it doesn’t matter how “good” of a missionary anyone is, they won’t join (or shouldn’t).

    So development of future members or giving a youth a foundation is more of the issue. There is a great stigma attached to not going on a mission as people have said. Someone who may have gone in the past but can’t now has a much higher chance of bailing on the Church than someone who went on a mission and perhaps had a good experience.

    I think the “raising the bar” is therefore misguided. If you look at the convert baptisms from your first link, it started to go down in the 1990’s. It’s actually even worse than the graph suggests, as the number of members has increased slowly so the percentage of converts vs membership has dropped A LOT. Why is this? I think it’s actually due to the rise of the internet and the availability of information about the Church that was harder to find before that. The reaction of the leadership is the same as the mission presidents do when faced with the same information: work harder, follow the rules even more, and success will follow. In this case, it was raising the bar. It didn’t work, which suggests that the problem was perhaps NOT the missionaries, but the product.

  6. Oops. Hit “submit” too soon.

    Regarding the other point of the post – ie. that of returning missionaries. It is a much bigger problem than the Church lets on. One of my dear friends had a son come home from his mission. This is a great kid that I taught in YM. He was popular and active at school. He had a tremendous work ethic, doing well in school as well as practicing sports for hours per day. He worked jobs in the summer. He had leadership positions in Church. He is an ideal kid, one whom I would be glad to call my own.

    He came home after a few months on his mission. My friend looked for help. It was hard to find. There are groups for “early-returning” missionaries in Utah. But the magnitude of the problem astounded me. At least as far as my friend could tell through his contacts in the Church, there were around 6,000-8,000 missionaries in this situation every year. In a missionary force of 50-60,000, this is A LOT.

    There is obviously something wrong. Unfortunately, the natural reaction of the Church has been to put it back on the missionaries. They are addicted to their phones. They have too easy of a life. Etc. I think it’s different. I think there is a crazy expectation put on missionaries. The work is slowing down. Even the baptisms that happen are often among immigrants in Europe for example, and not the native citizens. The missionaries are told if they work even harder and are even more obedient and everything that the will have success. But they’re not. It is very self-defeating and discouraging, making them feel like they are the problem.

    The think the problem is bigger than that, but perhaps that’s a topic for a different post. There are many practices that the Church clings to that are not doctrinally based that are off-putting to potential members. There are easily accessible parts of our history that the Church pretends doesn’t exist and doesn’t even address in any of it’s official materials. We are seen (true or not) as “Mormons Inc” – a rich Church with expensive buildings and shopping malls and etc. I think these things need to be addressed first as an institution before we can blame the missionaries.

    It is unfortunate that we are chewing them up at such a vital time of their lives. If there are 30k NEW missionaries called each year, and 6k going home each year, that is 20% who will be forever scarred religiously. And the “raising the bar” is now being reflected in the Young Single Adult activity rates, which are down below 20% along the Wasatch front, supposedly the “strong” part of the Church.

    Sorry for my rant. I feel we are doing the youth of the Church a tremendous disservice. But who am I?

  7. Mike S, I agree with some of what you have said. When that many young missionaries are being sent home, something beyond just their level of preparation is wrong.

  8. Also, I just want to add,I am a physician in SLC and I do a lot of missionary physicals. It is not true that the repentant are prevented from serving missions. Because I am their physician, I know my patients’ sexual histories. Most of the departing missionaries have kept the LOC, but there are also some who have transgressed, not in the recent past, but earlier in their lives (at least a couple of years). There are also some who have suffered from mental illness and are well controlled on medication who serve.

  9. I tend to agree with Mike S. The most effective missionaries were often the “repent & go” missionaries, although many of the stock “worthy” missionaries (majority both before & after) were also very effective. It’s the “obey all the rules” missionaries who struggled with lack of success, not connecting with investigators on a human level, and battling depression. IOW, they were often the least effective missionaries. Again, from my perspective. I feel we lost something, although it seems we gained something as well from eliminating the unconverted.

    I would also like to see us walk the talk by providing better equivalent alternatives to serve that don’t just turn into “special education” (meaning with a stigma all their own).

  10. My experience:

    I was a missionary in Europe over 30 years ago. The significant “repent and go” missionary I knew would not stop talking about it. If I had to hear him tell me one more time about his final pre-mission conquest/transgression I might have hit him (except that he was a foot taller than me…) There may have been others, but they did not broadcast it (so I suppose perhaps they really had repented).

    As a bishop in two different wards, I interviewed many prospective missionaries before the bar was raised. I had two come home. One made it about a week in his MTC experience, and I struggled to sort out why I hadn’t seen he shouldn’t go. The other was a missionary not particularly well prepared, but with a big heart. I recommended him with the hope that his mission might be a turning point. It wasn’t sadly. After repeated issues (none “confession worthy”, but still huge disruptions to the work) he was sent home early, but honorably. Both of those might have been caught in the net of a higher bar; I don’t know.

    Another young man I knew well did not serve because of a small medical issue. I was very disappointed at that news, and I feel like he has drifted since not going. I was not his bishop at the time, so I don’t know all the details, except as relayed by his dad. But I wish he’d had an opportunity to serve.

    As a missionary, I was a rabid rule keeper at the beginning of my mission. I continued to be obedient to the end, but softened and humanized my approach considerably as I matured (much to my companions’ relief, I’m sure). I’ve noticed in my own wards that despite the higher bar, there is still a wide range of missionary skill / talent / personality out there, and missionaries grow up considerably during the mission.

    Finally, I remember when I was teaching institute and responsible for seminaries in our stake a few years ago, we were charged with seeing to it that pre-mission young men and women had ample opportunities to teach in our classes in order to help prepare them for mission life. Not the biggest challenge they’d have, but it was something.

  11. In a regional leadership meeting we were told that the number of missionaries sent home early before the bar was 4%. After the bar it went up to 8%. The blame for the increase was placed on parents for not preparing their children to live on their own.

    I call bollocks. the increase is blowback, for reasons similar to #5 Mike S.

    Following mission rules with strict obedience results in emotional isolation (don’t visit with members too long; don’t visit with investigators too long; don’t call members/missionaries outside of your district). This makes it very difficult to form friendships unless you are lucky enough to be friends with your companion.

    Also, there is the implied sentiment that if you are not teaching and baptizing, it is because you are disobedient or not good at missionary work. Guilt plus little time to relax plus a parcity of emotional interaction will take a toll on the human psyche. I know too many people whose mission experience was nearly absent of joy.

    Slacker missionaries give guilty missionaries permission to slack without increasing the guilt. Guilty missionaries will feel guilty either way; why not make the most of it. Slacker missionaries spend more time hanging out with members and perpetual investigators, allowing the non-slackers to make more friends and spend more time with friends and form healthy emotional bonds, making their mental problems less of a burden.

    The easy baptisms have all been baptized. More harder obedienter work is not going to improve the baptism rate. Neither will working less reduce the baptism rate, but it will make for happier, healthier missionaries.

  12. Wow! A lot to think about here. I would agree with Mike S. that we do our youth (and future church membership) a disservice with our current approach. I’m certainly no expert so what follows are simply my opinions.

    I think an alternative experience (as per your #2) could be a great thing…perhaps a service mission rather than a proselyting one. Also, dropping the service term from 2 years to 1 would make the whole experience seem much more doable (less daunting) even for those in the midst of serving (I realize this was somewhat of an issue for foreign missionaries when the service term was dropped to 1.5 yrs years ago). You could allow for extending beyond the one year to a maximum of two years…but it would be the missionaries choice. Lastly, I would encourage all to serve (YM and YW) at age 20 to allow for more maturity prior to serving. In my opinion, all of these experiences could, and hopefully would, be seen by the general church membership as honorable missionary service.

    I think there are many young men who view serving a mission as something they don’t really want to do but HAVE to do in order to be WORTHY of a temple marriage (at least that’s what the YW tell them). Youv’e listed some (but not all) reasons for being apprehensive about serving, but forcing someone to serve (to be seen as worthy) isn’t really a very good recipe for success. If missionary work is about doing good for both the missionaries and those whom they serve, I believe what I have suggested would be a good thing, would encourage an increase in the VOLUNTARY missionary force, would increase the PR image of the church (really just a side benefit) and most importantly, would increase the number of young adults who have good missionary experiences and would contribute to their having good church experiences thereafter.

    Just my two-cents…

  13. “Following mission rules with strict obedience results in emotional isolation (don’t visit with members too long; don’t visit with investigators too long; don’t call members/missionaries outside of your district). This makes it very difficult to form friendships unless you are lucky enough to be friends with your companion.

    Also, there is the implied sentiment that if you are not teaching and baptizing, it is because you are disobedient or not good at missionary work. Guilt plus little time to relax plus a parcity of emotional interaction will take a toll on the human psyche. I know too many people whose mission experience was nearly absent of joy.”

    I heartily agree. I have a health condition which is quite manageable when I can maintain a healthy day-to-day pattern. Yet, we were given absolutely no more than 8 hours to sleep (that includes however long it takes to get to sleep). Little time to relax really does take a toll. My second-to-last companion, our zone leader, was a very effective yet relaxed missionary. We followed the rules, but we also took the full 60 minutes for lunch, which often included a short nap. We were busy teaching and tracting, but we weren’t pushing ourselves to the edge of sanity. My next companion was the “above and beyond” type, trying to squeeze every ounce of work out of every day (my oh-so-wonderful lunch was killed!), and it was only a matter of time before it came down to staying healthy and going home or staying out and blowing out my health.

    I don’t think it would have taken much to accommodate my condition, but nobody was willing to entertain that. So I came home and my mission experience was far different than most people I talk to.

  14. An issue worthy of further discussion is how those who don’t go on a mission are treated in the church — poorly.

    — Young women ignore as unmarriageable

    — Members treat as pariahs

    — Leaders ignore

    Considering we have a First Presidency where none served a regular mission, it seems there would be a bit more compassion.

  15. I agree with the service missionary work. Think of the good we could do if primarily proselytizing missions were instead changed to service missions:

    1) All YM/YW would be able to go, with varying types of service. Someone might serve an inner-city mission close to home, possibly even staying at home at night for medical reasons. Someone else might end up in the jungles of S America or in Africa with minimal contact with the western world.
    2) Let it be 1-2 years to accommodate varying needs
    3) It would vastly improve the image of the Church. If we had 60,000 young people out working in clinics, digging wells, teaching English and hygiene and etc, building houses, etc., think of the good will it would have for the church.
    4) It is what Christ would do – He went around serving people, healing them, etc
    5) There would inevitably come up conversations about why they are there. Let the missionaries teach those who are truly interested. Even if they only taught one genuine family/year and baptized them, that’s still more than many missions already do. And if no one happens to be particularly interested in the message, fine, serve them anyway.

    Our youth are amazing. They have tremendous talents, ideas and energy. We are wasting it under the current system. And they can do it. The peace corps and other organizations send out young men and women who change the world.

    We could be Christ’s hands to serve the world. We don’t really need people in white shirts spending 2 years for an average of 5 baptisms. What have we really done? Serve the people. The true in heart will find the missionaries anyway. The less sincere might be cajoled into joining but will contribute to the 50% 1-st year inactivity rate anyway.

  16. I personally know/have taught two young men who were respectively:
    mentally unstable
    socially isolated
    Neither served a mission. I can’t see how the ranks of people can be *growing* among missionaries because of ‘raising the bar.’ If anything, they both did not get bishop recommendations based on these characteristics specifically.

  17. I was not of the understanding thing “no repent and go” meant “no repentant.” I was of the understanding that it meant that the repentance process needs to have been less recent than before the bar went up. More of a “repent, straighten out, and then go.” Rather like E said.

  18. Interesting post.

    However I disagree with the idea that the church is “effectively preventing those with a history of serious sin from repenting and enter the mission field.” That isn’t what happens today in our stake, and those who have committed a serious sin can still serve but after we are sure that they have fully repented and stay ‘clean’ for at least 12 months. Previously 2 or 3 months would suffice.

    But it is true that standards have raised probably too far. We had one guy sent home because he listened to country music on his ipod in bed so he was sent home for ‘rebellion’! Our stake president actually argued rather loudly on the the phone with that mission president but to no avail. Another a while back was sent home for going to see a movie alone. Both cases I feel are over the top and now the church risks becoming some Nazi-type strict-missionary-force in some areas.

    Mike #5 #6 makes some excellent points which I agree with but problem is that maybe only the blogs are listening

  19. Hawkgrrl: “It seems that this idea of honorably excusing those who are not fully prepared is not well understood. Someone who is unprepared emotionally, physically or spiritually is considered damaged goods by the lay membership. Average members often still consider those who don’t serve a mission as unworthy, regardless the reason, not as “honorably excused.”

    Well put. Although this is probably a separate issue, the need to re-educate the membership in Christ centered behaviours.

    One thing I wish we did do is in the case of these so called ’emotional’ problems or the socially awkward, is to reassign them more often, to different missions or maybe even let them serve full-time missions close to home since they already have the basic training, or reassign them to be ward missionaries with that First Presidency calling for two years full time. I don’t know why they downplay the role of ward missionaries since they are still teaching and baptizing the worlds ‘sinners’. Just sending them home seems to cause more problems eg many go inactive, suffer emotionally more, loose some marriage possibilities and so on. Sending the worthy but with some other problem home doesn’t help anyone.

    Plus I remember President Monson being famous for not sending anyone home as a mission president in Canada (according to a 1970’s ensign article), something which probably helped him get noticed by the powers that be.

  20. IMHO raising the bar and the proposed adjustments are all harmful. It’s not just the LDS church. Many organizations have totally screwed themselves being overly selective with recruits. The problem is humans aren’t smart enough to make judgments predicting who will contribute what when dealing with the raw talents of entry level hires. In short, it takes all kinds to make a successful organization and that’s why the most selective organizations often fail at their objectives.

    On a tangential note, we heard at our last Stake conference of senior Apostles acknowledging the loss of most of the current generation of LDS and the urgent need to stop the hemorrhaging. I conclude that there must be other senior Apostles preventing action to reverse the decline?

  21. Playing when I should be working . . . No, not missionaries, me on Mormon Matters.

    1. Anti-atonement to not allow the recently repented to go on missions. Do what is right, let the consequences follow — and its corollary, Do what is self-righteous and the consequences will follow. One thing about young people is they have a high, high level of an ability to detect hypocrisy and self-righteousness. The problem isn’t that they are coddled. The problem is that they are inherently honest and truth seeking.

    2. The Mormons aren’t even the most crazed religious group out there anymore. Evangelicals make Mormons seem like lapsed Catholics. The lukewarm get spewed.

    3. For many years Church has been about community and connection, the fear of being of socially ostracized was potent and powerful. I’m certain one problem is that the youth are connected more vibrantly now than in the past and know better what their peers are up to and see that the social ramifications of bailing out on the missions, just aren’t as bad as they used to be. When you’ve used coercion (excommunication, disfellowship, shaming) to enforce, when those items lose their social power, there goes the control.

    $0.25

  22. I really like the idea of creating other meaningful service opportunities for youth who have emotional and physical issues that make it difficult or impossible to serve a full time mission. I had a roommate who had some serious psychological problems. She would occasionally become suicidal. I cringed when they let her serve a mission. Her heart was in the right place, but I was sure she didn’t have what it took to complete a mission. I felt like the bishop was doing her a disservice by recommending her. She had a hard time in the MTC and was switched to a couple of different missions before going home. She was set up to fail. However after coming home she was called to be a temple worker. I remember thinking that this calling was so much more appropriate for her. It accommodated her disabilities, yet it enabled her to meaningfully serve.

    BTW in the places I have lived outside the the “Zion Curtain,” for better or worse it isn’t as big of a deal if a young man doesn’t serve a mission.

  23. I was on my mission in North Carolina when the “bar was raised” and that was back at the time when I expected complete and utter perfection out of myself to be considered worthy to serve. It didn’t help. I ended up having to go home after suffering a nervous breakdown that still affects me to this day. But I learned from the experience in numerous ways and met many of my closest friends at school as a result of having to go home early (they’d have already left on their missions by the time I got home if I was out the full 2 years).

    The greatest lesson was realizing that the idea that I would “make up” for my mission’s “failure” by getting married and being a loving husband and father was not how things work. Fortunately I ended up dodging a bullet that would likely have made my life miserable when, courtesy of a burst of anger, my then-fiancee admitted that she never had any intention of keeping the church/temple covenants and marrying me was her means of escaping reality. Of course it was painful to let go of a relationship that lasted eight years (long story), but these things are to give me experience and be for my good.

  24. “Do what is right, let the consequences follow — and its corollary, Do what is self-righteous and the consequences will follow.”

    I think that this really should be the attitude that is taken. One one hand, you do need to be concerned about protecting the Church from itself, in missionaries being dumb 19-21 year olds. However, the other hand looks at the good that a mission can do not only for the church, but for the young man. I’d rather do the right choice and have the consequence of reprimanding a prospective missionary/counseling a prospective missionary in repentance rather than denying, and not giving the prospective missionary a chance to even sniff their potential on a mission.

    Here’s the flip side of the coin…what about the youth who is worthy, who does everything correctly (attends church faithfully, performs his calling, etc etc) who (in his words) “doesn’t have the desire to serve a mission.” Naturally it’s his decision, but could this be what the senior apostle at Steve EM’s stake conference might have been referring to? Apathy?

  25. Hawkgrrrl-
    An additional question/discussion to add to the mix is whether or not it is a commandment to go on a mission. Obviously the answer to this question dramatically changes how we view those who don’t serve, as well as the repentant missionaries.

    If I recall correctly, Pres. Kimball stated that every young man should serve a mission (thus elevating it to (near) commandment status). I know that where/when I grew up it was looked upon as a commandment. I do think this influenced my perception of those who did not serve (at least until I grew up).

  26. rk: “BTW in the places I have lived outside the the “Zion Curtain,” for better or worse it isn’t as big of a deal if a young man doesn’t serve a mission.” I would agree with this comment in general, but with the caveat that those I know who didn’t serve (home ward in PA) mostly did not stay in the church as adults for one reason or another.

  27. This is a great topic. I served in the “low-bar” days, and agree with the OP that the bar NEEDED to be raised. My mission was like Steve#3 described. I don’t think the bar is fixed as rigidly as the OP describes. I know of half a dozen friends (including a divorcee and another that’s an unwed mother) that served honorably after the bar was raised. Yes, they all needed 1st Pres. appv’l, but they went, and it did a world of good.

    I believe the solution is to step back to the days when a mission call was a priviledge, not a rite of passage we’re all expected to go through. It’s true that Monson, Eyring, or Uchdorf are not RM’s. Neither are Packer, Nelson, Oakes,and Hales. HOWEVER, I’ll bet none of them faced the same stigma, dating problems, etc. that exist with today’s non-mission-goers.

    The Church already has limited opportunities for those physically/mentally/emotionally unable to serve regular missions. I believe it could stop the “homorraging of youth” if it would greatly expand those options–and put them on the same social status as regular missions.

    Back in the 1960’s the Church administered a language aptitude test and those who passed were given the overseas assignments. Those with state-side callings were stigmatized. Why do we have to be so judgemental?

  28. My take on this is pretty simple:

    If the actual details of “raising the bar” were followed by the local leaders, the vast majority of the issues we face would disappear. The central issue is that the water isn’t getting to the end of this particular row – both with local leaders calling missionaries and some Mission Presidents leading them.

    1) The “repent and go” issue has been addressed by other commenters, but it is the pseudo-quick-easy repentance that was addressed – NOT real repentance. That was quite clear in the original delivery of the talk that announced the change. The truly repentant are supposed to be able to go. Period.

    2) 19 and 21 are the **minimum** ages to start a mission. The **standard** is 19-26 for men. In Japan, it wasn’t uncommon for a native missionary to be older than 26 – and one missionary in my mission was a 30+-year-old former Branch President. It is cultural pressure and cultural pressure only that insists on all 19-year-old men and desiring 21-year-old women going. My oldest son was 20 and had just finished his college sophomore year when he left – and it was the best decision he could have made, since he was older, more mature and had made the decision after two years on his own away from home. My second son likely will go after he graduates from college – at the age of 23. Overall, that looks like the best timing for him. I understand all the arguments for getting them out there as soon as possible, and I have no problem with many leaving at 19 – but each person is supposed to be considered as an individual.

    3) “Preach My Gospel” is crystal clear about measuring success by number of baptisms. It is stated explicitly and repeatedly that success is not measured numerically by baptisms.

    4) Service missions and “local” missions are supposed to be available options for those who can’t serve “traditional full-time” missions, for whatever reason. They are vastly under-used options – but it’s not because “The Church” won’t offer them. There is NO legitimate reason why someone who is worthy and wants to serve some kind of offical mission shouldn’t be able to do so.

    I could go on, but, again, my summary is that the water isn’t getting to the end of the row.

  29. There are actually some alternatives for those that are handcapped or have medical problems. The church does have ‘Special’ missions for them in SLC at the History Center with Missionary Service at Temple Square. Also I believe they can work at HQ and Welfare Centers. These are full time missions with Mission Presidents, etc. The only thing is that they have to be over 21, able to take care of their own needs, provide funds and their own medical insurance. They don’t report to the MTC but directly to thier assigned Mission President. I think it is better than years ago when there were very few choices.

  30. #29: Slightly OT, but Ray, I love mentions of those old-school Mormon agrarian expressions like “the water isn’t getting to the end of the row.”

    As a Stinking Cultural Mormon (a tag proudly accepted from a Mr. Midgeley), I feel the closest connection to Mormonism when it’s accompanied by the smell of new-mown hay and irrigation water pouring onto dry ground. I miss the old Orem welfare orchard across the street from my late grandmother’s house on 8th East, and the open irrigation ditches. (OK, so they drowned enough kids that covering them was probably a good idea.) President Uchtdorf’s reference to the taste of Deseret canned peaches in his Conference talk unexpectedly gave me a lump in my throat.

    So keep those expressions going.

  31. A poorly written and poorly thought-out article, I must admit. How to categorize the author’s numerous errors? Where to begin? Oh, how about the first sentence:

    “The church decided to “raise the bar” in 2002 on entry requirements for missionaries, effectively preventing those with a history of serious sin from repenting and enter the mission field.”

    Wow. So unless the sinner is allowed to serve an LDS Church mission, s/he cannot repent, huh?

    Cherry-picking a few other gems:

    “The repentant sinners [as ‘those weeded out’]. In E. [Elder? Elizabeth? Ebenezer?] Ballard’s original address on Raising the Bar, he said, “The day of the ‘repent and go’ missionary is over.””

    But of course, this is nonsense. We are all repentant sinners. Elder Ballard’s words very obviously applied to those who were hypocritically unrepentant, such as those doinking their girlfriends until the day before they entered the MTC — a minority but not an insignificant part of the missionary force at that time. These young men (and women) desperately needed to be “weeded out” before they continued shaming the Church and heaping ever greater condemnation upon themselves.

    “The sheltered [as ‘those left’]. Children of helicopter parents, possibly homeschooled.”

    Bigotry, anyone? Methinkinks Hawkgrrl doesn’t know any homeschoolers, preferring instead to engage in populist group-bashing behind a cloak of anonymity. Almost all the homeschooled kids I know (as well as their parents) are mature, intelligent, socially adept people, in any case far moreso than the average public school student.

    “The socially isolated [as ‘those left’]. Those that couldn’t get a date, much less commit sexual sin.”

    As if the ability and opportunity to fornicate present only to cheerleaders and football team captains. This is beyond laughable.

    Pity. Hawkgrrl might actually have had some relevant insights and something good to offer, but her pitifully ham-fisted attempts at expressing herself deep-sixed any possibility of that.

  32. The raised bar and Aspergers… tricky stuff. My oldest son had a burning desire to serve a mission, had successfully lived away from home for quite some time, had all the supposed prerequisites (testimony, scripture knowledge, Eagle Scout, work history, money saved) for a successful mission.

    I know the bishop wrestled mightily whether to recommend him. Lots of tearful conversations. The thing is, when a young man has been raised from infancy up with the songs about the “Army of Helaman” and “I hope they call me on a mission” ringing in his ears, and he gets straight A’s in college and is clearly physically healthy enough to do the work, how do you explain to yourself that the commandment to serve doesn’t apply to you; how do you explain to your LDS school classmates that you’re not eligible to serve a mission? Finally, the bishop felt (prompted) that since our son was ready in all the traditional ways and wanted to serve so badly, he should have a chance to serve.

    His mission in the U.S. South lasted 15 months; he taught many families, and participated in the baptism of some 8 new saints, including two the night before coming home.

    The behaviors, intensity, and different worldview of an Aspie are a poor fit for missionary life. They set companions on edge, and can be misread by mission presidents as rebellion, or worse, apostasy. Being together with another human being 24/7 without a break for private time can send some Aspies into a tailspin. These things are what made it necessary for him to come home; fortunately, the GA reviewing his file recognized how much he had accomplished considering the circumstances, and authorized an honorable release.

    It still threw him for a loop, though. Fortunately, he was able to get back into school within 6 weeks of coming home, and other than having to for a while fudge the fact that he wasn’t 21 yet, pretty much kept the “shortness” of his mission to himself.

    As a mom, these events were heartbreaking to watch before, during, and after his mission. I do wish there were a better non-stigma way to allow young men to serve in ways fitting to their individual abilities.

  33. Post
    Author

    Barney – you are new to the site, so I’ll cut you some slack. Clearly some of my points stung, or you would be a little more measured in your criticism. A few rebuttals:
    1 – I certainly didn’t state or imply that not going on a mission prevented anyone from repenting, merely that the “bar raising” precluded some of the repentant from serving.
    2 – The fact that we are all repentant sinners is obvious to me. The fact that there’s a distinction in treatment based on a subjective assessment of the degree of sin is the concern I raised.
    3 – You and I clearly know different homeschoolers. There are many who choose homeschooling as a way to shelter their kids from “the world,” although in fairness, there are some who do so for other reasons that don’t yield the same sheltering results. It is the former and not the latter that I see as creating more unreadiness in their children to serve a mission. I don’t see how you could conclude I’m a populist – the furthest thing from the truth. I am in fact an elitist and a total snob. Where do you get populism from my indictment of homeschooling??
    4 – Doubtless the unpopular kids are also presented with sexual opportunity, so that criticism is fair. I was merely thinking of some of the socially awkward goobers I knew on my mission who had zero experience even talking to members of the opposite sex. By no means the majority, but every mission has a few of them. I am not lumping the majority of the world into this category as stated above.

    As to the cloak of anonymity, I’ve written 120 OPs on this site. How anonymous is that? We’re bloggers, not pundits; we blog under bloggernames. That’s the nature of the beast.

  34. #32: Barney

    I’m not really sure where your “attack” comment comes from. You proceed to pick apart a post from someone who has a long and excellent history of posts and comments on this site, but you completely ignore the point of the post.

    How you feel about “raising the bar”? Was it good or bad?
    How do you feel about the declining convert rate? Why is that happening and how does it relate to the “quality” of missionaries?
    How you feel about missionaries coming home in increasing numbers? Is that a problem?
    Do you have any insight into why these problems might be occurring, or what possible solutions might entail?
    Do you have something actually constructive to say?

  35. “Clearly some of my points stung, or you would be a little more measured in your criticism.”

    I always bristle at stupidity, and moreso when the purveyor seems like an otherwise intelligent person spouting her prattle through some combination of laziness and willful ignorance.

    “A few rebuttals:
    1 – I certainly didn’t state or imply that not going on a mission prevented anyone from repenting, merely that the “bar raising” precluded some of the repentant from serving.”

    Let’s investigate this claim. Your actual first sentence, copied and pasted from above:

    “The church decided to “raise the bar” in 2002 on entry requirements for missionaries, effectively preventing those with a history of serious sin from repenting and enter the mission field.”

    Let me point out what should be obvious:

    “…preventing those with a history of serious sin from repenting…”

    So you did indeed state, openly, even blatantly, that refusing to call someone on a mission prevents him from repenting. Your words, Hawkgrrrl.

    “2 – The fact that we are all repentant sinners is obvious to me. The fact that there’s a distinction in treatment based on a subjective assessment of the degree of sin is the concern I raised.”

    Again copying and pasting your very words from above:

    “Who was weeded out when the bar was raised in 2002?…The unrepentant sinners & the unconverted.”

    That’s right, Hawkgrrrl. You actually said that “the unrepentant sinners” were “weeded out”. Your words, not mine.

    “3 – You and I clearly know different homeschoolers.”

    Clearly. But the point is, you are willing to smear a group completely uninvolved in your rant just to try to score some points.

    “I don’t see how you could conclude I’m a populist – the furthest thing from the truth. I am in fact an elitist and a total snob.”

    I accept your shameful self-description as accurate. My observation is that this website is populated largely by other such snobs, making your efforts at snobbery and elitism a form of populism.

    “As to the cloak of anonymity, I’ve written 120 OPs on this site. How anonymous is that?”

    I bet your mother didn’t name you Hawkgrrrl. I also bet you would be a lot more likely to keep the rancid, off-topic, pointless criticism of homeschoolers to yourself if everyone in your ward knew you were the one writing the hateful words, and if your future employers, children, and grandchildren would forever after be able to look them up and see what a jerk grandma was in 2010.

  36. P.S. If I was miffed at your completely unnecessary homeschooling slight — and yes, I admit I was — I do think there are some valid ideas in your post. I simply think your presentation unnecessarily obfuscated your valid points.

  37. Post
    Author

    Barney – on your first point, you only get to that conclusion by cutting off the second half of my sentence which changes the meaning of what I said. Sorry if that was confusing to you.

    “willing to smear a group completely uninvolved in your rant just to try to score some points” Actually, I was hesitant to add that bit about homeschooling because the last time I mentioned it I got backlash. But it is my opinion, nonetheless. People seem to have strong opinions on this topic.

    Just to be more even-handed, while I disagree with choosing to homeschool as a deliberate method of isolating one’s kids from outside influences, some valid reasons I can think of are: 1) because of temporary health issues, 2) due to where they are forced to live (if schools are inadequate and better options are not available), and 3) ex-pats dealing with semester changes or other schedule adjustments that create difficulties. But I think it’s hard to argue that there aren’t drawbacks to homeschooling in terms of: 1) limited access to diversity of thought, 2) less socialization in general, 3) possible social isolation from their local peers (as would also be the case if they were open enrolled outside their own neighborhood), 4) less subject-level expertise (if parents are the teachers) across some of the subjects.

    I am pretty open among my ward about my blogging (I have even been in the odd position of having one of my OPs quoted in sac mtg), and I can assure you that my kids and grandkids already know what a jerk I am.

  38. “How you feel about “raising the bar”? Was it good or bad?”

    My feelings are irrelevant. I am not called to run the Church. And if I didn’t believe the Church leaders were so called, you can bet I wouldn’t waste a moment of my time as a member.

    But fwiw: I’m all for it.

    “How do you feel about the declining convert rate? Why is that happening and how does it relate to the “quality” of missionaries?”

    How should I feel about a declining conversion rate? Wonderful? I think it’s a pity. Why is it happening? I’m no sociologist (which probably makes me more, not less, qualified to speak on social matters 🙂 ), but I suspect it’s because we have already picked the low-hanging fruit in western countries and are struggling to establish in non-western countries with a largely non-Christian social tradition. I suspect it has little to do with the “raising of the bar”; on the contrary, I suspect our per-missionary baptism rate is higher than it otherwise would be.

    “How you feel about missionaries coming home in increasing numbers? Is that a problem?”

    I don’t know if it’s true. If it is, of course, I think it’s a problem. The missionaries should be better prepared so they aren’t sent home.

    “Do you have any insight into why these problems might be occurring, or what possible solutions might entail?”

    Nope. Even if I did, it would not be my place to lecture our leaders on their failings in an open forum.

    “Do you have something actually constructive to say?”

    What? You mean “your post sucked” isn’t constructive?

    My problem, and the reason I posted such a negative response, was because I thought that Hawkgrrrl’s essay was misdirected and critical of all the wrong things. If my criticisms seemed overly personal, I suppose I would just say that criticism of the Church from my “fellow” members seems a deeply personal betrayal. In any case, the same anonymity that protects Hawkgrrrl’s writings also shields her from personal criticism.

    But if it makes you feel any better, I recognize and acknowledge that my knee-jerk reactions to such sentiments is itself wrong.

  39. You really want to thread hijack your own post? Well…okay.

    “on your first point, you only get to that conclusion by cutting off the second half of my sentence which changes the meaning of what I said.”

    Not so. Your sentence, without any part cut off:

    “The church decided to “raise the bar” in 2002 on entry requirements for missionaries, effectively preventing those with a history of serious sin from repenting and enter the mission field.”

    In this sentence, you claim that the Church prevents “those with a history of serious sin from repenting and enter the mission field.” But this is patently false. Those who commit such serious sin can indeed repent; your qualification of “enter the mission field” is utterly irrelevant to repentance. For that matter, every member is (or should be) a missionary; we are already in the mission field, even those of you in Utah. So your claim is not only irrelevant, it’s false. And the part about preventing repentance is simply wrong, on any level.

    “Actually, I was hesitant to add that bit about homeschooling because the last time I mentioned it I got backlash. But it is my opinion, nonetheless. People seem to have strong opinions on this topic.”

    Yep. Nothing like bringing up a completely irrelevant topic to try to establish your point.

    “Just to be more even-handed, while I disagree with choosing to homeschool as a deliberate method of isolating one’s kids from outside influences”

    Really? So if the local school is scheduling field trips to the local whorehouse, I’m doing my children a disservice by preventing them from going?

    On what do you base this strange idea that isolating and controlling your children’s experiences is a bad thing? Are there any scriptural or prophetic teachings that explain this bizarre belief? Because I can show you plenty that suggest the opposite.

    “some valid reasons I can think of are: 1) because of temporary health issues, 2) due to where they are forced to live (if schools are inadequate and better options are not available)”

    Other than blind bigotry, what leads you to believe that homeschooling is not one of those “better options”?

    “But I think it’s hard to argue that there aren’t drawbacks to homeschooling in terms of: 1) limited access to diversity of thought”

    You have got to be kidding. With the internet available and two parents who usually have at least five opinions about any topic, you think that what kids REALLY need is a teacher explaining why Heather has two mommies?

    “2) less socialization in general”

    I was socialized in public schools. The socialization process taught me how to bully; how to cower; how to conform; how to lick butts; how to lay low and not demonstrate too clearly how I might actually have some talent, lest I be the nail sticking up that gets hammered into place.

    The homeschooled kids I know reflect few of these personality deficiencies, and in every case reflect them in much less degree than their publicly schooled peers.

    What on earth makes you think that public school socialization is a good thing?

    “3) possible social isolation from their local peers (as would also be the case if they were open enrolled outside their own neighborhood)”

    And this is a bad thing because…?

    “4) less subject-level expertise (if parents are the teachers) across some of the subjects.”

    Completely bogus. In general, public school teachers are woefully ignorant about anything beyond their narrow area of “expertise”, which is itself pretty deficient. My (publicly schooled) oldest had an eighth-grade science teacher who taught him that the earth experiences seasons because it precesses around its axis tilt. Yes, that’s right, I had to explain to him that his science teacher was woefully clueless and that he should ignore her. And this was in one of the best school districts in the entire state. That is one example: I could easily provide you with a dozen more.

  40. #39 Barney

    I understand your point about bristling due to “criticism of the Church from (your) “fellow” members”. I agree that there is a fine line, which isn’t always black and white and which can often be overlooked (or trampled on).

    There are two extremes (with reality likely falling in between). One end is to basically shut-up, to accept everything that comes from the Salt Lake leaders, accept only that, don’t talk about any perceived problems as if they were really problems the Church leaders will be inspired as to what to do, etc. The other end is for the Church to be blown to and fro by all of the many opinions that everyone has.

    Which is right? Again, I think it’s perhaps a blend. At one point, the Church practiced the concept of “common consent”. We still pay tribute through that through “sustaining” the calling of someone to a particular office. Church leaders through our history have encouraged the members to look at the various teachings and find out for themselves which are right, as you obviously know that just because a leader teaches something doesn’t mean it was right.

    I think the purpose of blogs like these are several:
    – It provides a mechanism for release. There are many things in any organization that drive people nuts or which they don’t understand. There is no outlet for this in Church, as we are only supposed to talk about “faith-promoting” things. Blogs like these allow people to discuss issues with which they are uncomfortable.

    – It provides for thoughts about solutions. I don’t think anyone actually thinks that they have any say in Church policy, but that doesn’t mean as members we need to turn off our brains. We should at least think about how we might address certain problems. If you reread the initial post, assumptions were made based on some facts. Proposed solutions were offered.

    – The Church may listen. I doubt anyone has much impact, but outside forces can cause Church leaders to at least ask for inspiration on various issues. Outside forces lead to a reevaluation of polygamy. Outside forces lead to a reevaluation of blacks and the priesthood.

    – There are other places. Basic etiquette suggests that different forums have different personalities. There are dozens of blogs out there that are very rah-rah pro-LDS. There are sites where comments are moderated so those who might “criticize” the Church and cause a “deep personal betrayal” are edited out. This particular site allows for a discussion of Mormon related issues from all ends of the spectrum, and the people doing so generally respect each other although they may disagree. If you find this so offensive, move along. There are many, many other places where you may find yourself more comfortable. If you’re going to hang around, perhaps read things for a while before you so start out with things like: “A poorly written and poorly thought-out article, I must admit. How to categorize the author’s numerous errors? Where to begin? Oh, how about the first sentence:” I have nothing to do with this site other than as a random reader, but if you’re going to hang around, at least a bit of etiquette might be nice.

  41. “I have nothing to do with this site other than as a random reader, but if you’re going to hang around, at least a bit of etiquette might be nice.”

    Point well-taken. My only response: When someone tells me how ugly my wife is, I don’t give a careful and measured response, however unintended their slight may have been. (Well, truth be told, I would probably laugh my head off any anyone blind enough to call my wife ugly. But you get the idea.)

  42. There are sites that continually talk about how beautiful their wives are. For better or worse, this site also talks about her faults, and perhaps ways she might change a few things. At the same time, it doesn’t mean you’re not madly in love with her.

    (In the interest of full disclosure, this is not meant as a sexist comment – merely a reply to comment #42. My wife is much more attractive than me, and among her other amazing qualities, is much hotter than I deserve)

  43. “There are many who choose homeschooling as a way to shelter their kids from “the world,” although in fairness, there are some who do so for other reasons that don’t yield the same sheltering results. It is the former and not the latter that I see as creating more unreadiness in their children to serve a mission.”

    I tend to think this a somewhat unfair characterization of homeschooling, although not in the same terms as expressed by Barney. As someone with lots of contact with both HS-ers and traditional public school students, it’s erroneous to say there are more socially inept children being educated at home. I certainly think there are far too few homeschooled Mormon kids to draw any sort of conclusion about how it yields a particular brand of socially inept missionaries. I attended many years of public school, and met my fair share of students who lacked social graces. However, since they are a product of an institutionalized system, I suppose one would not automatically blame a sheltering parent for this behavior. However, for any homeschooled child who is socially inept, there is but one explanation for their lack of social skills. If only they were sent to institutionalized schools, surely they’d be of a different nature!

    Rarely is it assumed that a parent is doing what is best for their child to homeschool, perhaps a child who is BY NATURE socially ill-prepared to deal with the high stress scholastic environment. My experience is with Asperger’s as well; kids in the past who’d be identified as “socially inept” actually find themselves on the autism spectrum, now that we know more about the condition.

    This has little to do with the OP, but I found the assumptions made about homeschoolers somewhat ill-informed. Sadly, though, typical of folks who have opinions about the movement based on limited exposure to it.

  44. Post
    Author

    Barney – I’ve never heard of a public or private school taking kids on a field trip to a local whorehouse. But I do know of many missionaries who inhabited the same buildings as prostitutes, so I guess a field trip to the same might be marginally relevant to mission prep. Likewise, I’ve never heard of a public school using the Why Heather Has Two Mommies books in their curriculum, but I met many gay people when I served as a missionary, so again, maybe not totally irrelevant to mission prep if it promotes empathy.

    Back to the topic of the post, as someone who is 100% committed to participating in the church, I share the concerns of many of our leaders when missionaries are less effective or when those who are unable to go feel shamed as a result. As you say, every member a missionary . . .

  45. Post
    Author

    *Barney & Jana H – I’ve edited the irrelevant homeschooling reference from the OP. Back to the topic at hand: the impact of “raising the bar” on individuals and the missionary program.

  46. Re Barney

    Completely bogus. In general, public school teachers are woefully ignorant about anything beyond their narrow area of “expertise”, which is itself pretty deficient. My (publicly schooled) oldest had an eighth-grade science teacher who taught him that the earth experiences seasons because it precesses around its axis tilt. Yes, that’s right, I had to explain to him that his science teacher was woefully clueless and that he should ignore her. And this was in one of the best school districts in the entire state. That is one example: I could easily provide you with a dozen more.

    I’m fairly neutral on the position of homeschooling, but I find these statements fairly curious. The “area of expertise” of a school teacher is teaching. They are not experts in anything else. Science teachers do not have PhDs (generally), nor do any of the others. In any case, I still don’t see how this refutes Hawkgrrrl’s claim that parents may not be experts in all areas. If anything you have only proven her point. Even if a child’s parents have a PhD, they are still only experts in one thing (and a very narrow thing at that). I don’t know of anyone who is an expert in all fields and would qualify to teach every subject (if expertise is required).

    Furthermore, this seems like a strange statement for someone who sends their children to a church to learn about life’s deepest meanings (including moral, and social norms) from a bunch of volunteer teachers who are certainly not experts in theology, moral psychology, or sociology (even in LDS matters). It seems a bit of a double standard to me. It seems more like what has happened is that Hawkgrrrl inadvertently stepped on somebody’s “sacred cow.” No offense intended.

    Anyway, precession about the axis of rotation is something that occurs on earth, though it is not responsible for the seasons (but may be responsible for shifting or sliding seasons). Perhaps the teacher meant the tilt of the earth’s axis relative to the plane of orbit about the sun causes the seasons.

    ANYWAY, back to the topic. I liked the post Hawk. I think you raise some interesting questions. It’s obvious that any changes the brethren made would have significant consequences. However, as has been stated, I think the idea of filtering out those who do not sincerely repent (as evidenced by frequency of repetition) is a good idea, though whether or not this can be carried out effectively in practice is another issue altogether. There is clearly a downside, as you illustrate, but the cost associated with the increased strictness will likely produce more committed missionaries (a general theme in strict religions).

  47. I’ve was a ward mission leader before and after the “raising of the bar”. I honestly did not see a sharp difference in the quality of missionaries before vs. after. Mostly my impression is that missionaries are less capable than they used to be, but it’s been a gradual decline. Maybe I’m just less tolerant.

    Barney, every homeschooled missionary I served with was socially backwards, insecure, and self-righteous. But that’s not to say only homeschooled missionaries are that way, and I’m sure your kids are lovely.

  48. BTW, I still think the question of serving a mission as a commandment (for young men) is an important question in this debate. Though perhaps I am wrong, and it’s not a commandment.

  49. #48 jmb:

    “The “area of expertise” of a school teacher is teaching. They are not experts in anything else.”

    On the contrary, the science teachers are supposed to have been specifically trained in science, the math teachers in math, the Spanish teachers in Spanish. In any case, you cannot teach something you don’t know. Teaching isn’t some magical technique that allows you to impart to students information you don’t possess.

    “n any case, I still don’t see how this refutes Hawkgrrrl’s claim that parents may not be experts in all areas. If anything you have only proven her point.”

    Then the point is irrelevant, since the parents are more than likely at least as qualified as the teachers in the subject. Besides, even a large family isn’t likely to have a student/teacher ratio of 25 to 1.

    “Even if a child’s parents have a PhD, they are still only experts in one thing (and a very narrow thing at that).”

    This is an amazing statement. Just how much education do you need to teach a child letters, or arithmetic, or basic science? Through elementary school, almost any parent with at least a high school education is probably completely capable of schooling his/her own children. Past that, it may be dependent on the parent; but my experience suggests that it’s not unlikely the parents can do as well as or better than the teachers even through high school.

    “Furthermore, this seems like a strange statement for someone who sends their children to a church to learn about life’s deepest meanings (including moral, and social norms) from a bunch of volunteer teachers who are certainly not experts in theology, moral psychology, or sociology (even in LDS matters). It seems a bit of a double standard to me.”

    Why? I don’t care that my children learn theology at all. The vast bulk of their religious instruction they receive at home from their mother and father; Sunday learning is only a small supplement to that, and even Seminary is merely an adjunct. Besides, I am reasonably certain that my children will not learn from an authority figure at Church that homosexuality is acceptable, that sexual immorality is normal, and that drug usage is quite cool — all excellent reasons to keep your children out of the cesspool that too often is public school.

    “Anyway, precession about the axis of rotation is something that occurs on earth, though it is not responsible for the seasons (but may be responsible for shifting or sliding seasons). Perhaps the teacher meant the tilt of the earth’s axis relative to the plane of orbit about the sun causes the seasons.”

    No, she did not. She meant exactly what she said. When approached about it, it was clear she had no good understanding of either astronomy or physics, and was merely repeating (and testing on) the concepts that she had tried to understand from the eighth-grade-level science text. Truly sad.

    The next year, my son had a much better science teacher, whom he (and we) liked a lot. He was a fairly “hard” teacher, but his students (at least the serious ones) loved him because he was such an engaging teacher. As I talked with him later in the year, I was surprised to find that he only barely understood what he was teaching, and was utterly unable to answer many questions that his students might ask him, even high-school-level questions. So that was kind of a disappointment, but at least he was a good teacher who didn’t make things up as he went along.

  50. The Church has raised the bar so high that Alma the Younger, the sons of Mosiah and Corianton would probably have been disqualified from serving a mission. I have seen many excellent young men denied the opportunity to serve missions for fairly minor infractions. All of them would have been amazing missionaries. It is sad to see some bishop take “raising the bar” so compulsively that many are now unable to serve because of the whims of their leaders. For example, one of the finest young men felt uncomfortable taking the teacher preparation class in our ward. The bishop told me he was denied the opportunity to go on a mission because he was disobedient (to that one request.) The young man was a bit shy but has great faith and would have been a superb missionary!

  51. Hawkgrrl: Your removal of “possibly homeschooled” strengthens your essay somewhat. Your changing of “repentant sinner” to “unrepentant sinner” is even more useful. Nevertheless, I still think you’re largely glossing over what is trying to be done and reaching for criticisms instead.

    I believe a more useful tack would be to ask as follows:

    – How do we prepare our young men to serve God? This encompasses questions like, How do we effectively teach our young men to remain chaste in a blatanty unchaste world?

    – How do we best prepare our sons to serve missions? What is it that previous missionaries typically lacked that our sons should have?

    – When a young man is “honorably excused” from mission service, what does it mean spiritually, socially, emotionally, dating-wise, and in terms of gaining admission to an LDS-sponsored university of their choice?

    – What should we be teaching our daughters regarding their dating selection? Is it wrong to teach them to steer their preference toward RMs? Should we explicitly instruct them to include the “honorably excused” in their dating pool? Do we honestly feel comfortable with that idea?

    – Is missionary service, an explicit duty of all Priesthood holders, also a right of Priesthood holders? If so (and I submit it is), is full-time missionary service such a right?

    – Few would argue that a young unmarried father should be serving a full-time mission. But other questions could be asked:

    * Assuming his sperm didn’t happen to fertilize his girlfriend’s ovum, should he therefore be back in the potential missionary pool?

    -* If so, would it make a difference if his girlfriend miscarried?

    -* What if she had an abortion?

    -* Suppose the child died in childbirth, or minutes thereafter — should the young man be considered for full-time missionary service in that case?

    * Or is it more reasonable to draw a bright line and say “If you are guilty of fornication at any point, you will not be called to serve a full-time mission as a young man”?

    * Does it matter if the young man fornicated before joining the Church?

    * Is homosexual fornication more (or perhaps less) despicable than heterosexual fornication? If so, how far down the path do we go before reaching a sin of no return, full-time-missionary-wise? Actually, this is a reasonable question for heterosexual fornication, as well. How far is “too far”?

    – The Church has spent decades teaching us that fornication and other sex sin is most grevious and abominable, to the point that the term “immoral” is often used to mean “unchaste”. Yet we all know perfectly well that there are all sorts of immoral actions that aren’t sex related. Should we, for example, be seeing bullies serve missions? Or is the damage done by a bully so damaging to his victims, arguably moreso than if he’s banging his girlfriend, that such a man ought not to be considered for missionary service?

    I suppose I find questions like the above to be both more interesting and more useful than a list of questions that implicitly (or explicitly) criticizes the efforts of the Church to lead its members to salvation.

  52. @#52 ksb: This is exactly the sort of response I anticipated from this essay. Such criticism is not only harmful, it is utterly nonsensical: How exactly does ksb know that Alma the Younger would not have been called on a mission? Even if the abusrd statement is considered as true, what has that to do with 21st-century missionary service? It’s as meaningless as those trolls who say, “Brigham Young had a beard, and thus wouldn’t be allowed ON HIS OWN CAMPUS!” Such nonsensical, thoughtless posts by the “If-you-say-we-must-shave-you-are-abridging-our-free-agency” crowd do nothing either to enlighten the topic or to move it forward.

  53. “Your changing of “repentant sinner” to “unrepentant sinner” is even more useful.” I didn’t make any change to that. Perhaps you misread it originally. It has always said what it says now.

    “- What should we be teaching our daughters regarding their dating selection? Is it wrong to teach them to steer their preference toward RMs? Should we explicitly instruct them to include the “honorably excused” in their dating pool? Do we honestly feel comfortable with that idea?” If ‘honorably excused’ doesn’t mean that, then why do we call it honorable? I think we’re being disingenuous in calling it honorable on the one hand, but shunning those who didn’t serve on the other. Is this a failing of leadership or just a cultural problem among the lay members? I’m inclined to think the latter.

    Personally, I think trying to nail down a specific list of possible chastity-related scenarios and deciding what’s in or out completely misses the points of the bishop’s ability to discern worthiness, and the prospective missionary’s repentance. I also find it interesting that you consistently refer to “sons” and omit a reference to daughters. Making it mandatory for boys and voluntary for girls is probably another post in and of itself, but there are cultural implications to that in the church, and there are negative consequences to both sexes in that scenario.

  54. Re #52 Barney
    I think you have made some good points. Let me offer some well meaning criticisms.

    Such nonsensical, thoughtless posts by the “If-you-say-we-must-shave-you-are-abridging-our-free-agency” crowd do nothing either to enlighten the topic or to move it forward.

    Do you suppose that this comment has enlightened the topic, moved it forward, or built up ksb whom you now have insulted and belittled? I think it is worthwhile to call people on silly comments, but it needs to be done with love and compassion. Isn’t that what the church teaches? Isn’t the point of church, leaders, priesthood, and Christ’s Gospel to build people, lift them up, and return love and kindness where there was error or offense?

    You have had free rein on hawkgrrrl’s otherwise well meaning post, both belittling and insulting her. You apologized once for it, but continue the same pattern here. If you want to be a defender of the church and the Gospel, you would be better served to exemplify Christ’s teachings in your comments than to tear others down (even if they’re wrong, or insulting). Just a thought.

  55. It seems that technology has had a dramatic impact on the psyche of modern youth. Moving from continual electronic stimulus to hours of quiet, focus and sometimes monotomy seems to be unbearable for some of the youth today.

    Also, I believe that serving a mission is a unique combination of duty and privilege. Perhaps more guidance needs to provided for moving on with their spiritual life when youth do not meet the standard.

  56. Yes, technology is responsible for raising the bar — I know from personal experience. What? This isn’t the porn post? Excuse me.

    Oh, I do know what raising the bar is good for and no one has commented on it — It makes the limbo a heck of a lot easier.

    Seriously, Barney (and no I don’t think you are a purple dinosaur), the “free agency crowd” as you are wont to call us were on the winning side in the war on heaven according to your theology. The point about Alma the Younger and Brigham Young’s beard are two separate points. Alma the Younger quote is spot on to this discussion because it tests whether you believe in repentance, regardless of the sperm’s destination. Sexuality is part of existence. Obviously this is the big control point for you based on your list of more “helpful” questions, but the atonement should have us all covered on that one — if you really believe.

    The Brigham Young beard deal is all about shifting social morays that are granted the imprimatur of morality. Since your questions were all primarily of a sexual nature, missionaries practicing polygamy would have been were the discussion needed to go for this to be relevant.

  57. Dear Barney.
    Thanks for being a jerk, so that my real sharing of painful experience would be totally obfuscated.

  58. Barney – you have succeeded in one thing – I’m now going to completely ignore any post you make as I will know ahead of time it is pointless, hateful drivel.

  59. I have always how many lives have been changed due to the raising of the bar. My husband (who is fabulous) went on a mission essentially to escape. He couldn’t stand his parents, broke up w/ his girlfriend at the time and did poorly at school. He said it was a way to run away from life at the time. He gained a testimony on his mission, helped others bring Christ into their lives and is now an amazing father and YM leader. If he wouldn’t have had the opportunity I wonder where he’d be today.

    I’d love to see service missions. I’d love to see the Duty to God program changed. It is so easy to do something once, check it off in the little book and move on without any change is the boy. I’m not sure for the youth I see that it helps with guiding them longterm in the right direction. I’d also like to see 1 yr mission chances.

    I also wonder if the economy is changing how many missionaries can go. For some families the $450 (or whatever it is now) monthly is not an option.

  60. #55 Hawkgrrrl
    ““Your changing of “repentant sinner” to “unrepentant sinner” is even more useful.” I didn’t make any change to that. Perhaps you misread it originally. It has always said what it says now.”

    Interesting. In #32, I cut and pasted your original essay to respond to it. That cut-and-pasted quote says “repentant sinner”. What do you make of that?

    “If ‘honorably excused’ doesn’t mean that, then why do we call it honorable? I think we’re being disingenuous in calling it honorable on the one hand, but shunning those who didn’t serve on the other. Is this a failing of leadership or just a cultural problem among the lay members? I’m inclined to think the latter.”

    Agreed on both points. But this begs the question: What do we teach our daughters?

    If an LDS young man didn’t serve a mission, there are three possible (non-exclusive) reasons:

    1. He wasn’t worthy.
    2. He didn’t want to go.
    3. He was “honorably excused”.

    The first two reasons are self-explanatory. I suspect most faithful Latter-day Saints would counsel their daughters to avoid dating such men.

    The third reason is more problematic. Why would a young man be “honorably excused”? If we are to believe the rumors surrounding Donny Osmond and, later, Steve Young, maybe he’s honorably excused because he is a famous performer of some sort and, according to the LDS urban legend, “does more good where he’s at, doing what he’s doing, than he would do on a mission.” (I don’t know about you, but I have always found that idea bogus, and have great difficulty believing it.) Even if it’s true, that will account for a vanishingly small percentage of young men who don’t go on missions.

    What about the rest? There are those whose physical health problems prohibit missionary service. I would not counsel my daughter to avoid dating epileptics and diabetics, though admittedly, all things being equal, I’d rather she marry a man in good health rather than poor health. I can’t help but think that my unexpressed prejudice will likely be picked up anyway by my daughter, and she (and the other ‘daughters of Zion’) will tend to favor dating the tall, handsome, witty, and healthy, just like all other non-LDS women tend to do.

    What if it’s not a physical health problem? What if it’s a debilitating mental or emotional problem? The truth is, I will explicitly counsel my daughters not to date men with obvious mental or emotional problems. Perhaps this is small and bigoted of me. I admit that’s possible, but from my viewpoint, it’s common sense. I may not condemn a man for having a mental or emotional disease that he did not ask for and over which he has little control other than to take his medications and do his best — but I also am not likely to counsel my daughter to spend the rest of her life dealing with such problems in a spouse, either. If marriage is so difficult that our Church leaders have consistently counseled against such trivialities as marriage between people of different races, why on earth would I fail to counsel my daughter (or son) to avoid a much more serious situation — marriage to someone with a mental or emotional disease?

    The bottom line is that the young men who are “honorably excused” have been de facto judged as overly defective (that is, too defective to serve a mission). No rational and loving parent will ever counsel his child to seek a mate among the overly defective. Do I think this is unfair? Vastly. Does it make me sick to contemplate with my own son? You bet. Does that change how I would counsel my own daughter? Nope.

    “Personally, I think trying to nail down a specific list of possible chastity-related scenarios and deciding what’s in or out completely misses the points of the bishop’s ability to discern worthiness, and the prospective missionary’s repentance.”

    Agreed. My point was that there is much to explore in this area, yet it seemed to me that your focus was on nailing down the failures of Church leaders. Did I misunderstand you?

    “I also find it interesting that you consistently refer to “sons” and omit a reference to daughters.”

    This is obvious, is it not? Every ***young man*** should serve a mission. It’s a part of the duties of holding the Priesthood. Young women do not hold the Priesthood, and as such have no requirement to serve a mission. A young woman will never be “honorably excused” from missionary service, because there is nothing to excuse. She has no duty to serve a mission; it is entirely her choice of how she serves God.

    The longer this conversation goes on, the more I am rethinking my original unkind response and wish I could reword it. I think my feelings were just, but my expression was not just at all. I apologize.

    #56 jmb275

    No need to quote your post. You are correct.

    #58 Ulysseus
    “the “free agency crowd” as you are wont to call us were on the winning side in the war on heaven according to your theology.”

    I doubt you know anything about “my theology”. And if you think that telling someone to shave abridges his “free agency”, you have a defective understanding of what is meant by “agency”.

    #59 anon
    “Thanks for being a jerk”

    You betcha. I’m here to serve.

    #60 Mike S

    I will miss you at least as much as you will miss me.

  61. Dear Barney,
    Thanks. Thanks a ton. May you never have a brilliant but Asperger’s child in your life. It is people like you, judging sons like mine, who make me sick at heart at church. Buzz off.

  62. #63 anon today
    “Thanks. Thanks a ton. May you never have a brilliant but Asperger’s child in your life. It is people like you, judging sons like mine, who make me sick at heart at church. Buzz off.”

    Not sure what I’m being thanked for, but you are welcome. How have I “judged your son”? By saying that I will explicitly counsel my daughter not to date men with serious mental or emotional defects?

    What, would you rather I lie? “Why, SURE I’d tell my daughter to date and marry the autistic kid! I can think of nothing that would augment her happiness more than being married to a man with whom she can’t communicate freely and who is incapable of reading her emotional nuances and responding to them! With luck, their children will also be autistic, and she can have the great joy of spending her entire life trying to help them survive in society!”

    I’m sorry your son is mildly autistic, since it’s obviously a sore point with you. Have you considered the idea that, just maybe, there is nothing “wrong” with your son at all? Maybe the problem is with the absurdly conformist ideas of society that insist on pinning labels like “Asperger’s” on people who simply exhibit a certain combination of personality characteristics, any one of which would be considered perfectly acceptable in isolation? Maybe the school system, set as it is to a tone of “sit and study for hours” which fits most girls but leaves most boys short-shrifted, is to blame, and not your son’s supposed “syndrome”?

    Be that as it may, my remarks were not intended to be hurtful or insensitive. They were intended to be honest. Maybe some honest ideas ought never to be expressed at all, but I don’t think my response was out of line. I am sorry if you were hurt or offended by it, but I don’t think it was wrong of me to write.

  63. “Have you considered the idea that, just maybe, there is nothing “wrong” with your son at all?”

    My. Oh my. Do you really believe I might not have thought that? Especially since our family tends to be geeky-nerdy-D&D playing-chess playing-math at the dinnertable-introverts in the first place? To us he’s relatively normal… to others (non-members, fellow missionaries, mission presidents) not so much. Especially when it comes to eye contact and conversation-making. We, as a family, are constantly confronted with our not-quite-normalness. My son is just more so. A so-called brain-normal person would most definitely not fit in this family, so I can’t say I would advise him to date your daughter, either.

    The fact is, returning to the point of the discussion, our particular brand of normal is not at all compatible with the standards set forth for missionaries (just today, in the Deseret News, it talked about the importance of Missionaries giving off a certain social-style of appearance, and that the way a missionary acts socially reflects on the Church).

    So we heap an additional burden on young men (who, I am afraid, constitute more than your “vanishingly small” percentage– starting with Autism, that’s about 1 in 70 to 1 in 150 boys… there are three such young men in our ward alone) who already have a challenge… essentially, it sometimes feels like the institution is saying “You were imperfectly made, and therefore are not good enough to serve God.”

    The point of the original post, as I saw it, was to invite introspection on how we might help those who cannot (especially through no fault of their own) meet the standard of the raised bar to feel like they and what they have to offer is valuable.

    Unfortunately, the general Church social culture, especially with its focus on outward social behavior and pressure toward marriage, makes such a proposition nearly impossible.

    I was hoping, maybe, for helpful ideas. Not a heaping of coals on my head, as you seem intent on doing.

  64. @#65 anon today:
    “A so-called brain-normal person would most definitely not fit in this family, so I can’t say I would advise him to date your daughter, either.”

    Then why is your nose out of joint?

    “So we heap an additional burden on young men (who, I am afraid, constitute more than your “vanishingly small” percentage”

    You misread what I wrote, which was that those who are “honorably excused” from missionary work because they are rock stars or sports heroes will constitute at most a vanishingly small percentage of the total.

    “The point of the original post, as I saw it, was to invite introspection on how we might help those who cannot (especially through no fault of their own) meet the standard of the raised bar to feel like they and what they have to offer is valuable.”

    That’s not how I saw it. Hawkgrrrl’s final paragraph is as follows:

    “Have we lost something by preventing the repentant from going? Or should we cut further to eliminate those who are socially unprepared or coping with mental or other health issues? What are your experiences? Do you disagree with my guesses at percentages above? Do you have any great stories (who doesn’t) about the unconverted, the socially awkward, or the rest? Discuss.”

    It looked (and looks) to me like she’s inviting discussion on the topic, not merely soliciting advice to help the unfortunate put-upons of the “raised bar”.

    “I was hoping, maybe, for helpful ideas. Not a heaping of coals on my head, as you seem intent on doing.”

    Again, I don’t understand why you insist on personalizing my remarks into persecution of you and your family. Do you prefer that such honest dialog simply not take place?

  65. No, I do like the honest dialog. I just don’t like being faced with living proof that what I had hoped were irrational fears that our family is silently judged (and likely mis-judged) by other members of the Church are true. I don’t like the assumption that those who don’t qualify to serve missions (or who come home early) have sinned, or that their parents didn’t raise them properly, or that such people aren’t fit for adult fellowship.

  66. Barney, I think you may be happier over at the Mad board. I think MikeS has the right idea, feeding time is over. Another quick thought, is your middle name Rich?

  67. @#67 anon today:
    “I don’t like the assumption that those who don’t qualify to serve missions (or who come home early) have sinned, or that their parents didn’t raise them properly, or that such people aren’t fit for adult fellowship.”

    Huh? I mentioned three reasons that an LDS young man might not serve a mission. You mentioned only one of them, then made up a couple of others.

    @#68 GBSmith:

    I don’t know what the Mad board is. Mike S hates my guts, so I can only assume you do, too. I don’t know what “feeding time is over” is supposed to mean. And none of my names includes “Rich”.

  68. E – we are not big on banning. Usually it takes more than an irritating personality; sock-puppetry or other deceptive tactics are generally required. (Note to trolls: this is not a welcome mat).

  69. What is sad/hard is when a handicapped child is taught/indoctrinated with the same lessons in Primary and in the Youth programs as the other children stressing missionary service. Think of those little boys/girls all singing their little hearts out “I hope They Call Me on A Mission”.

    A few years dow the road, told, “no you can’t go because you have asbergers, are high functioning autistic, mobility impaired etc…”. It is hard as a parents and a worthy individual to hear, “no, the blessings are not for you”. You see the other boys getting their mission calls and the attention it brings. In some cases, you know the newly called missionary is less than enthusiastic about service or is probably not worthy. This is painful for these individuals and their parents.

    As for creating a home mission, it is my understanding, in most cases, this has been a disaster. Basically there is not a mission for everyone. It is difficult to find older couples who have the patience to deal with social handicaps.

  70. Today in fast and testimony meeting, a father got up and mentioned that his son would be coming home early from his mission early this week for anxiety reasons and asked for support from the ward. This is the second YM in the past few months from our ward alone. And these are GOOD kids. They are very bright and motivated students. They are athletes. They attended seminary and served in YM leadership callings at the ward and stake level. They were very dedicated to the gospel and very hard workers. They had been away from home. Perhaps the common thread is that they were both so motivated in many aspects of their lives. I was also their YM president and worked closely with them as priests for years, so know them very well.

    This has caused me to reflect deeply. Why is this? Why are some of our best and most motivated kids coming home because of “anxiety”? This is a chosen generation. They aren’t kids who barely squeaked in with the “raised bar”, but have been active their whole lives. They have tremendous families – about as stalwart as you can get. So why?

    My own personal opinion, now having seen this a number of times, which I’d be interested in hearing any feedback. We all know missionary work is slowing down. The per member conversion rate is almost half what it was not too long ago. Our leaders see this and are obviously concerned. At least in my mission, the natural reaction to the decrease in missionary work is to try to convince the missionaries to work harder, to have even more obedience, to dedicate themselves even more to the Lord, etc. The net result of this is that the decreasing rate of success essentially gets placed on the missionaries shoulders. It creates tremendous guilt and anxiety. And especially among the very highly motivated and successful youth, where increased effort had tangible results, it sets up a tremendous disconnect. As a result, we are chewing up our youth at an increasing rate. It is NOT good.

    And my biggest issue is I think it has NOTHING to do with the missionaries. I don’t think it’s cell phones or email or anything else that the Church is trying to sell us. I think the problem is institutional in nature, but that’s for a whole other post and I don’t want to get sidetracked here.

    This is a terrible thing. It is hurting our youth. It is hurting their families. It is hurting our wards.

  71. Post
    Author

    I don’t know Mike, but I think this can’t be a “Mormon only” phenomenon, given the trends among the non-LDS rising generation as well. There does seem to be a stronger tendency toward anxiety amongst this generation of kids who were over-parented, over-scheduled, and under-neglected. I’m not sure the overriding cause, but of course, the internalization of the ups & downs of missionary work is not a healthy stimulant to anyone prone to anxiety. I’m not satisfied that the catalyst of guilt and obedience focus is the same as the root cause. Had someone attempted to exert pressure on me to obey more to get more baptisms, I would have laughed it off, as would the majority of my fellow missionaries, realizing that our obedience had little to do with whether people accepted the teachings.

  72. Mike, I taught high school almost 20 years ago. I have six children – ages 22-8. I’ve taught seminary off and on since the mid-80’s. I now work with high school students on a daily basis.

    Overall, our youth really have changed, imo. I understand I am generalizing – and I understand that irony of me making stereotypical statements when I really don’t like them in general, but . . .

    They are more spoiled. They are more used to instant gratification and easy communication. Many of them won’t answer the phone and talk with me voice-to-voice, but they will text me for long stretchs of time. They are more confident in some ways about themselves, but they are less confident in direct interaction with strangers, ironically. It’s really a fascinating thing to observe – and I think it goes to the heart of what Hawk is saying.

    The areas where I see the most regression in general are some of the key aspects of successful missionary work.

    Now, having said that, I also believe too many Mission Presidents still haven’t internalized the central messages of “Preach My Gospel” – and that it is hurting missionary work and missionaries. However, based on my own observations and conversations with others, I believe more and more are “getting it” to a greater degree than when I served. What you describe still is a problem in the Church, but it’s less of a “global institutional problem” and more of a “local leadership problem” (at the ward, stake and mission level), imo.

  73. Hmm, too bad I came to this discussion a little late. Hawkgrrrl, I believe your essential points are useful and worth a reasoned discussion. Sorry you were sidetracked by that troll. Something that hasn’t been mentioned: recently, the church has added obesity to the list of items that disqualify youth for serving full-time. I found this out when a young man I know let loose a stream of colorful profanity on Facebook directed at the prophet, when he found out that his mission application was turned down because of his height/weight ratio (apparently the upper allowable body mass index is 35). This kid has suffered from many sources over the years (isn’t it enough that his peers have made his life hell because of his weight?), and although he played football on his high school team, he has also had some weight-related health problems. But he’s been working on them, trying to meet the requirements to serve, or he was until the BMI thing was cited. I’m not sure he’s active today.

    I strongly agree that “the church” (probably on a ward/stake level rather than general level) needs to create alternative service opportunities for these youth. Some (as pointed out) are offered stay-at-home missions where they can help out, but many more are ignored and left on their own to figure out what’s next for them in church. If ward members are too embarrassed to get real with them and find a way to let them offer meaningful service, I can’t imagine that they’d have much of a future with the church.

    I served a mission in the late 70s and remember a number of elders who would not have met the raised-bar standards. Some of them wasted their time and the time of other missionaries, and may have created problems in the young branches they served in. But I think that other missionaries learned about patience, tolerance, and love for those who don’t “deserve” it. They had an opportunity to work with “problem” missionaries who, in some cases, stepped up and changed. It did no good for anyone to marginalize them as “problems” because their immature peers would simply push them further toward the margins. The mission experience was much less regimented then–in comparison, today’s mission experience is locked down in a zero-tolerance mindset, which makes for more uniform cookie-cutter missionaries who are skilled at sales presentations.

    While I’d like to digress into a rant on intolerance as an unspoken Mormon principle, maybe I’ll just agree with Mike S (73) that there’s so much pressure put on the missionaries, the spiritual side of what they do is secondary to their toeing the line. I’ve told my sons they are free to choose, that if a mission’s not for them they can find other satisfying ways to contribute to the kingdom.

  74. Is there any hope of someone under thirty but over 25 serving a mission, I tried to apply but they asked so many questions about things like mental health and I was afraid of getting a rejection letter so I just gave up(I have suffered from severe depression) and it just seems that there is no hope for me, I would love to serve my Heavenly Father out in the mission field but they discriminate based on age, I’m still considered a young single adult but am not qualified to serve a mission, I never really agreed with that policy.

  75. It’s my opinion that the “raising the bar” will prove to be counter-productive. Of course, I’ll hear it from those that chime in, “seek not to counsel thy God”,”the Brethren know what they’re doing, etc.”.

    I likely wouldn’t have been permitted to go. In fact, for all I know, I probably caused some of the rule tightening. And I did serve the full two years honorably. Yet by these standards I would’ve likely been rejected for the following reasons:

    1) At age 16 I fathered a child out of wedlock…the child was placed for adoption. Florida juvenile courts in the mid-70’s gave no regard to the parental rights of unwed teenaged fathers.
    2) Suffice it that I was a healthy and “active” young man. Said activity should have been contrary to the beliefs of even a “Born-Again Christian” as I considered myself at the time. It definitely was inconsistent with what we teach our youth.
    3) I used marijuana and drank regularly until I joined the Church.
    4) At age 18 I got another girl pregnant and she had an abortion. Though she would have done so w/o my consent or participation, I shared in the costs of the procedure (as well as went with her) so she’d leave me alone (we’d already broken up by then). To this day I regret that I ever did. It’s not a memory that I relish.

    I supposedly left all this behind when I joined the Church at age 20. I behaved myself after my baptism. It was a shock that my then Stake President inquired as to my pre-membership past, especially about item (4) above. I had to be interviewed by a General Authority to be cleared for a mission. At the time, it was a bit disheartening, because I had been taught that baptism essentially wiped the slate clean. I guess that was a crock. It was embarrasing to have to explain to my then fifth-generation “Molly Mormon” g/f why my mission call was delayed. She made the mistake of telling her mother and I was no longer welcome in their home. Still, after several months I finally went on my mission. No regrets there! It had its challenges (learning Italian was the least) but I was fortunate to baptize 21 souls in a mission where three was the average – not that I necessarily claim to the the reason! Having served a mission did much to keep me active in the Church.

    The Brethren have reasons for what they do but at times I wonder if they paint with too broad a brush. I fear that many other “salvagable” young men and women will be precluded from service due to the Church deciding that their sins are too serious to effectively be repented of, at least as far as missionary service is concerned. Many recent converts may have signficant difficulties clearing these hurdles due to things that they were heretofore spiritually ignorant of.

    It’s not the only instance where the “Brethren” come across as being judgemental. Try staying active as a divorced man in the Church. It CAN be done, because I did it. Having my temple recommend pulled because my marriage fell apart (not any “worthiness” issues per se) didn’t help.

  76. For JD…if your missionary application has been firmly rejected, you’ve little choice but to accept it. Believe me, the Church is NOT in the business of NOT having young men serve missions. Indeed, all too many that could otherwise be eligible are shirking their duty and opportunity! In fact, I wonder how many would learns of the new restrictive policy and say, in effect, “Ya mean, all I gotta do is drink, smoke weed, and land a few babes, and the Church won’t ever LET me go? Dude, get the party started!” Your desire to serve and to be worthy is what’s most important. Believe me, twenty-eight years home from my mission no one really gives a crap where I served or whether I was a Zone Leader or an “Ape” (Assistant to the President).
    If the verdict on your missionary service hasn’t come in, be persistent, and stay worthy.
    If you’re concerned about your marriageability, believe me, as you get closer to 30 you’ll find that the young ladies that are more age-appropriate will be well-disabused of the notion that RM means “Ready for Marriage”. If you’re a decent, worthy Priesthood holder who is capable of supporting a family then you’ll do fine.

  77. On the other hand, perhaps there is a misunderstanding about repentance and the way it works, for example, failing to grasp that forgiveness doesn’t involve removing immediate consequences. Those are natural and unavoidable–they are why the commandment exists in the first place. Consequences are central to rectifying things and individuals who do have firm convictions often say that having to face consequences is indispensable to the process of getting your life back on the track you chose.

    In addition, it is really hard to teach something you do not fully believe. Young men and women who have firm convictions and have been living the religion consistently are going to be better prepared to go and may also be more likely to go for the right reasons. When they teach, they will teach with authority. Moral issues are huge, second only to murder on the scale of sin; the world at large no longer sees it that way and it may be tempting and convenient to head that direction but what is the point of belonging to a religion in which you pick and choose your own rules? And the penny drops: this is why people leave and not being able to make peace with that decision (continuing to find fault in characteristically petty ways) is a pretty good indication that someone is disgruntled and unaccountability rather than an informed decision maker.

    The comment here about mental illness being a sort of assurance of moral cleanliness is unusual; very often mental illness comes with disastrous life decisions, and sometimes promiscuity is a symptom of something that needs treatment and attention over time–a good deal of time–in many cases. Someone struggling with it cannot help others until it is resolved. To err is human, and accepting your own weakness is central to the gospel.

    Hanging onto faith when faced with the heartbreaking consequence of not being able serve can have extraordinary effects on the meek and humble. That life isn’t over because you didn’t serve is an important message. Someone who is unable to serve can be a member who comes to full fellowship, with access to all the saving ordinances. While we are, as individuals, not able to judge another, Bishops do have that authority. The atonement can’t work in the first place for someone who is angry about being held accountable OR for others being held accountable and because those conversations are private there is no way to comment on them and draw conclusions–except to say as a general rule–someone who has the humility to accept consequences can do wonders for the people around him/her. A repentant, humbled young man or woman can change lives, right in their own communities. If the goal is to remove stigma, then accepting someone who can’t serve and respecting the privacy of that situation by not speculating about it seems the best way to do that. We just don’t know and cannot say and don’t have the authority to decide.

    What we do absolutely have to decide, what has to be about a choice, is whether or not we believe. That is really the only question that matters here. Christianity isn’t about democratically forming club rules, it’s about a really narrow course and unwavering conviction. It will never be about broad debatable points, any more than gravity is a broad debatable point. Gravity has bounds and it will always function the way it functions and we have to bend to and understand and respect those natural unalterable physical laws in order to make any progress, not the other way around. The discipline required by physicists and engineers to grasp and respect gravity is awfully close to the level of discipline required to understand and respect eternal law.

    We don’t get gravity, or God, to adapt to us. We adapt to it and to Him. If policies change to better reflect that, it is a sign of that proper adaptation, and progress, not the reverse. The history of Christianity has been the history of a group of people who had to learn to live the commandments, as a group as well as individually, it would seem. If there are shifts and changes in the expectations of a people that would be consistent with everything we know about God and all the generations and civilizations of His people, since the dawn of time.

  78. A good friend of mine has multiple health issues related to an accident he suffered as a young teenager, and while he was otherwise prepared to serve, there were questions about whether he would be able to handle the physical stresses of serving a mission. So he was given a temporary calling where he served within the boundaries of his home mission, and his regular doctor was able to observe his condition, week by week. After the temporary calling was complete and his doctor gave him the OK, he was sent to a stateside mission where he’s currently serving. The Church seems to be willing to work on a case-by-case basis with missionaries who have health-related issues, finding a place where they can best serve without overtaxing their physical resources.

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