Oh My Heck! Episode 4 – Missions TRANSCRIPTION

[MUSIC]

Welcome back to another episode of Oh My Heck, where I tease myself for buying into some kooky ideas back in the day and hopefully shine the light on some of the sneaky stuff most people don’t know about my former religion: Mormonism. 

This week is going to be considerably longer as we’re talking about what an LDS mission is like both as a missionary and especially from an organizational standpoint. These clean-cut smiling kids are the lifeblood of the church. We’ll talk actual stats later, and you’re most likely going to be shocked. I grew up in the church and I’m still shocked by the raw data and dollars.

Most of us are relatively familiar with the term “missionary”.  For Mormons, missions are predominantly served by young men around the age of 19. I grew up singing Hymn #169 in my old orange songbook for the youth. “I hope they call me on a mission.” It goes on, “when I have grown a foot or two. I hope by then I will be ready, to teach and preach and work as missionaries do.” LDS kids learn this song from the start. You are trained to hope for a mission, trained to understand that if you are a male, you will go on a mission, because another quote all Mormon kids learn is “I will go and do the things that the Lord hath commanded.”

Not I’m gonna try, wouldn’t it be fun if… but rather is “I will.” I will go and do the things that the Lord hath commanded.” That quote is so popular, most of them have it on a placard in the house. You will do what your God commands.

“Do or do not. THERE IS NO TRY.”

This is one of the most important rites of passage for Mormon youth.

So, it’s mostly young men out on missions. Girls can go on missions, too. They changed the age limit back in 2012, and up until then it was designed so that boys left for two solid years at 19, and girls were eligible to serve an 18 month mission after they turned 21. (that’s a way to try and control any hanky panky, you see. These girls have been to college and got some life experience. These 19 year old dudes aren’t usually up to snuff.)

This change in age eligibility had a huge impact on heavily Mormon-populated colleges, by the way. Normally, you’d at least get to have your Freshman year in college, maybe another semester in sophomore year, then be off serving for two years, if you’re a boy. Girls could almost get all the way through college before leaving (if they didn’t get married, of course. It usually followed that a young woman before her mission would date and marry a returned missionary, thereby she wouldn’t serve one herself. If a girl goes on a mission, she’s missing the “sweet-spot” of snatching up a worthy Mormon guy for herself, you see. So it’s not really pushed for females to serve.

With this age change, kids can leave right after high school, making it far easier for girls to be able to serve because again, a lot of Utah-mormon females get married young. In fact, six weeks after the age-change, what was normally 15 percent of the missionary work force, female missionaries, jumped to 50%.

This is something interesting to watch, because females can’t baptize and they can’t go door to door to proselytize for safety reasons. So if there are less men out there to do the actual baptizing… It’s going to be interesting to see how numbers change over the next ten years.

There was a board meeting with the Church and the public colleges in Utah and surrounding areas to discuss the hit to enrollment this caused and what could be done about it. Weber State College, had a $3.6 million dollar loss per semester, for example, and were attempting to get state funding to mitigate the loss.

Historically, Utah has a high number of students who enter college but also has a drastic drop in the number of students who complete college. A significant portion of this is on the shoulders of the Church – kids drop out to serve missions, get married when they return (the Church STRONGLY encourages this) and start families. College isn’t easy to complete when you’re 22 and supporting a family.

Also interesting to note about the change in age: Millennials are leaving the church in droves, 40%, in fact. Indoctrinate them before they have a chance to get out in the world and learn all the stuff we talk about in these podcasts, for example, and you can retain more tithe-payers. Get those tithe-payers to marry early, have babies who will in turn grown up to be tithe-payers… Serving a mission is absolutely crucial to retainment. The indoctrination into the full Mormon culture seeps in, socializing them to the Church’s standards better than just about any other experience you’ll have as a Mormon.

Here are some more numbers, if you’ll allow me to be a little geeky. In 2012, the reported number of missionaries who were full-time was 58,000. They dropped the age number, and it soared to 89,000. That surge slowed considerably to where we’re now sitting at 74,000 active youth missionaries.

Older, retired couples can also serve, and usually do so in a genealogy/research capacity. Several of my aunts and uncles have done this, in fact. Getting more names for the temple, and listen to last week if you missed it and that didn’t quite make sense.

But back to missions. Another important thing to understand about serving one: You pay for your OWN mission. Seniors pay 100% of any expense. ANY. It’s all on them. Hope they’re not sent to London, because that’s $4000 a month out of your grandma and grandpa’s savings. The youth need about $2000 to start, for clothes, suits, a bike, luggage, visas passports, and that doesn’t include any regular expenses like toiletries or medication or disposable contacts… Then, when out serving, it’s about $400 US dollars a month, which, if you’re in a third world country, that stretches pretty far.

This is a direct quote from the church’s website to help members prep for their missions: “Young people in the church are encouraged to save money throughout their childhood and teenage years to pay for as much of their mission as they can.  Parents, family, and friends may also contribute financially to pay for a missionary’s expenses.  Missionaries who cannot save the required funds may also obtain assistance from their home ward or stake, though personal and family sources of funds should be exhausted first. In some cases it may be better to delay a mission for a time and earn more money to pay for your mission rather than to rely heavily on others to fund your mission. The Lord expects that sacrifices, of both time and money, will need to be made in order to serve a mission. You, or anyone who makes such sacrifices, will be richly blessed by the Lord for doing so

“For many countries outside the US, if authorized, there is supplemental financial support available from the Church. If the missionary candidate cannot be supported fully from personal, family, ward or branch, or stake or district funds, then a request can be made for this financial assistance. Missionaries are asked not to request this special assistance until they, their family, and ward or branch and stake or district have committed themselves to provide all the financial support they can.”

Think about all that your son/daughter is paying for: their room and board in many cases (some places have designated homes for LDS missionaries, but not everywhere, so most of that is rent for properties the Church owns) food and oftentimes gas money, if you’re allowed a car. 18 or 19 year old boy, paying for his own food, most likely for the first time. They usually have $100-$150 dollars out of that 400 for food. That’s per month. 19 – 21 year old boys, because… they don’t eat a lot. Clothes and toiletries are personal money not included in that $400, for the record.

Now, I have three kids and I spend a couple hundred dollars on groceries every week and a half. What I’m saying is, even though you may not agree with their dogma, if you have a spare granola bar lying around when you see a missionary, give it to them, would ya? (You can make the caveat of you’ll feed them if they don’t proselytize. If it’s at the end of the month when they’re really hungry, you’ll get no fight. I can probably slap a guarantee on that.)

Another way the church makes sure these kids get fed: they chastise the members into having them over for dinner, and often. OR, have the missionaries over for dinner and invite your non-Mormon friends so there’s an opportunity to proselytize. Hey, they’re upfront on LDS.org; their First mission of the church is “to proclaim the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people.”

In other words, the most important aspect of the Church is: missionary work.

[PAUSE]

It’s funny to me (now) that the LDS church loves to profess its belief in Free Will. In podcast 2 we talked about how crucial Free Will was to the Eternal Plan of Salvation, but not really but yeah but also don’t exercise it but you need it? Things are set in motion before we came to this earth—remember, we all chose our families and friends and our path in life and maybe even made plans with our spirit siblings to find them as a missionary or something, and then we all chose to forget all of that so the spirit could reward us with Good Feelings when we made Good decisions— but of course, you must choose your personal path. But you better not choose wrong, that’s all I’m saying. Because if you chose wrong, especially in the case of a missionary, you are personally responsible for all the souls you didn’t bring along with you to the Promised Land.

If you’re an 18 or 19 year old kid, not even sure of who you are, barely able to deal with acne, your boners, and your parents breathing down your neck, now suddenly you’re mature enough to hold the responsibility for the faceless masses you’ve not even met yet. Responsible for their eternal salvation. They are COUNTING ON YOU, Elder? (The title you get after going through the temple in preparation to serve.)

So how many guys do you think don’t go on missions when you’ve been raised from the start with the expectation you will? There are a lot of miserable, questioning, scared kids out there doing exactly what they are told to do, terrified of the consequences of NOT serving.

Before you head out to your mission area, you go to Provo, Utah to the Missionary Training Center, or the MTC. There are a few smaller versions around the globe for non-US based missionaries, but the one in Provo is the main place. This is where you learn the process of teaching, in a three week crash course if you’re going to an English speaking region, or 6 weeks if Spanish, French or Italian-based mission. If it’s another foreign location outside of the Romantics-language, it’s 8 or 9 weeks. They teach them how to approach people, the language and culture and methodology for proselytizing.

They train them to use a binder for any pictures and teaching material, but to hold it in your lap and close it UP, so their eyes are drawn to your intense, sincere faces. Please note that Steven “7 Habits of Highly Successful People” Covey is LDS.

There is a specific order that they teach the “lessons” to potential members. They save all the wacky stuff for after they’ve baptized them, incidentally, if they even share that stuff at all. And many converts don’t know diddly about the church’s true history or polygamy or any of the get your own planet stuff.

During missionary lessons, you’re taught things like tithing and that God loves you and has a plan for you, not that Mormons believe that Jesus is married to Mary Magdalene or that God literally became a physical human being and had sex with Jesus’ mother Mary to impregnate her with said Christ child, that sort of thing. You can find out that stuff later, if at all. But hey, they’ve got you on the rolls, so if you drift away, they still have the bump in numbers.

Okay, so they’ve been trained, they’re sent out there, what happens if, say, they get sick?

There’s a handbook that the missionary presidents get from the church, and it acts as a list of rules, regulations and guidelines to be strictly followed.  Now, in this handbook, there’s an entire section on healthcare and safety for these kids. The first instruction for these missionary presidents: “If practical, you should ask your wife to help you coordinate the health care of your missionaries. She generally knows the missionaries well and will feel a personal concern for their welfare. This responsibility should not interfere with her responsibility for caring for your family. You may also designate the wife in a missionary couple”  —those older, retired missionaries paying full expenses, so why not give them another job that doesn’t cost the organization— “or an older sister missionary to assist with this function.”

Just like in the home, Mom takes care of the doctor visits.

And mission presidents get access to your medical records, because confidentiality, schmonfidentiality, am I right? This manual literally states on p. 31 that you—the president— should only disclose any of this stuff to someone—…they don’t outline who, just if you have to talk about it—by making sure they know this was told in confidence.

Because that’s how it works.

Missionaries require permission from the mission president before any medical care, unless it’s life-threatening. You get run over and bleed out, CALL AN AMBULANCE. Mental health medication must be approved by the Missionary Department of health service, as do any surgeries needed. If mental health issues develop in the field, and it specifically states things like depression, anxiety or “perfectionist issues,” the official stance is to encourage them to be happier. The old “nut up, buttercup” practice of medicine. Should this fail, prayers are then employed and encouragement to exercise more. Because getting around all day on foot or by bike is clearly not enough exercise…

Should someone need serious medical care, they keep them in the field as a missionary, meaning, you’re still serving even if you’re in a hospital bed or equivalent—unless they just have to be released and sent home, but you’re encouraged to get back out there and drum up prospects instead of being released and sent home.

I would also like to point out that missionaries pay for their own medical care. They pay the church for the privilege of serving, and pay for their own food, extra materials they may want, like, some folks have stickers and candy sent from home to share with locals, that sort of thing, and they have to pay for their own medical needs that may crop up from serving. And even though you’re footing the bill, you still have to get permission for all of this. There is some wiggle room on who pays in an international mission if your family’s insurance doesn’t cover that, but it’s mostly the missionary and their family paying all costs.

I bring this up because there have been some real horror stories about these kids needing medical attention and not getting it. One of my friends contracted a horrible intestinal parasite serving in South America (the water they had for cooking and bathing was captured in a cement vat built into the roof of their home—gravity flow) and he lost over 80 pounds. He wasn’t a big guy in the first place. He almost died. Of course, when he couldn’t get cured there—because he stayed and tried to stick it out, get healed by being valiant and righteous, all of that—the church finally brought him to Vegas to be close to his folks so he could still serve. He was a former star athlete, down to about 115 pounds at 5′ 11″, still trying to go door to door until he was finally released. It was a huge shame for him, not serving a full mission. It took him years to feel okay with it. And the sad thing is, his story isn’t unique.

In 2015, a former soccer star turned sister missionary contracted e. coli in Argentina, they believed it was just appendicitis, they meaning the church health services, mission president and district leader and her companion, and she died. The church did pay all costs to bring her body home. Those in South Asia reported dengue fever, yet were denied treatment as it was assumed they were just being “lazy.”

Another elder in Central America reported ankle pain, contacted the mission health services, who referred him to a doctor on the dole, so to speak—a guy who turned out to be a prison’s gynecologist five hours away. The elder was told it over the phone it was probably a sprain and go easy on it. After awhile, it swells, turns purple, and the kid is shrieking in pain. His companion takes him to a local hospital and he’s got a flesh-eating bacteria in his heel. A massive chunk of his foot has to be cut out and he’s in the hospital for a week, with more and more of his foot being removed daily until finally he’s sent home state-side. Fortunately in that case, the mish president’s wife got an earful of this and had that prison doctor with diagnosis-via-phone-call removed so no one else in that mission suffered. Bet that would have been nice for the kid with half a foot, but hey. Tender mercies for the others…

Also, Central American missionaries are often told to drink some coca-cola to deal with intestinal parasites. And, of course, pray about it..

There are chat rooms filled with these horror stories, of kids who ruptured disks in their spines and kept walking/riding bikes until it became apparent they needed major back surgery. Other kids in unsafe parts of Russia who had gas fires engulf their faces and had no first aid kits.

Moms and Dads listening with kids on missions? Send a first aid kit.

The common theme is that these kids are made to believe they have the power of Christ on their side, they’ll be healed due to righteousness, and because of this, many don’t seek medical care. (And they know that it will reflect badly on them not putting shoes to pavement, so to speak.) You don’t want to be That Guy or Girl. You want to be valiant. you want to be your pioneer forefathers who suffered and sang while the weak fell around them. So you suck it up.

Plus, when they get home, they’re instructed to only share “uplifting” stories, and no, that’s not fishy. “Don’t talk about the hardships, because then people will realize what actually happens out here and we might lose our numbers.” Nope. Go in knowing all the facts. You know all of this and you still want to serve? Fair enough. But don’t hide this stuff. That’s a lie, because lying by omission is still a lie!!

This handbook I mentioned serves as “plausible deniability” for Mormon Inc. They died? Were injured? They’re an adult and knew the risk and agreed to go anyway. (Yeah, but they had to ASK PERMISSION. I don’t know… Classic DOUBLE BIND. And honestly, they DIDN’T know the risk because this stuff isn’t commonly discussed.

Just.. don’t pee on my leg and tell me it’s raining.

[pause]

Mission lifestyle—it’s something else.

When you’re on a mission, you are working for the Lord 24/7, period. There are no phone calls to chat to anyone unless it’s your mission president or district leader. You can call twice a year from a member’s home to tell your parents you love them on Christmas and on Mother’s Day. That’s it. But more importantly is your mission companion. You two are glued to one another until transfers happen at some point down the road. There is no going off anywhere by yourself. Except to the toilet, shower, or when you’re being interviewed by your missionary president. You are constantly with your companion.

And here’s the other thing: you are encouraged to rat on your companion if you see or even suspect them of breaking any rule. Wait… What are the rules? There are over 100 of them, including instructions to avoid water (Satan somehow has dominion over it?), only play half court basketball—full court basketball is verboten—keep your hair cut, boys can’t be alone with girls ever, and do not share the same bed with your companion, but definitely sleep in the same room. And no masturbation. Ever.

A missionary averages 6 -8 companions over the course of the 2 years they are gone. When you get a new one, you have an exit interview with the Mission President (or MP.)

This is when you’re supposed to confess THEIR sins. Spent too long in the shower, wink wink? Tell the MP. They were writing salacious letters to their GF back home? Tell the MP. They don’t cut their hair regularly? Tell the MP. They’re asking weird questions that aren’t “faith promoting?” Tell the MP. If you have any sins, then you’re supposed to confess, too.

Now, depending on the severity of the rule breaking, you might be re-assigned, you might be punished by having to work with the MP and have no contact with the other missionaries, or the worst, you’ll be sent home in disgrace. EVERYONE will know what happened, because the Mormon church is made up of old, gossipy ladies disguised as male leaders. They’re already babbling about your health stuff, but it’s okay because they said it in confidence…  Plus, every Mormon member knows how long a mission is, they all know when you leave (your home parish/ward throws a special Sunday Service for exiting missionaries, and another one when they return in triumph) so if you show back up after 13 months, the jig is up.

When I was heading off to college, my step-father was in charge of all the missionary transportation. That meant that my house was crawling with eligible Mormon males at all times. Well, they weren’t really eligible, and I knew that but… there were some girls hanging around who didn’t.

Let’s just say that one of the missionaries in the area and one of these girls got… close. And he “left early.” As did his companion and about 6 other missionaries (notice the even number) for having girlfriends. These guys basically hit the sweet spot with companions, who all decided they were 20 and Dallas has some beautiful women. (IT’s true. We do.) I will say this girl and her missionary got married, and eventually he was allowed back in the church. It was a massive scandal, dating a missionary. (I would like to state for the record that the other 7 guys were drinking it up and going to strip clubs in addition to “dating” girls.)

So there’s no dating on a mission (they hope) which means that if you leave a girl behind, she’ll do one of three things:

  • One, wait for you (there’s a famous character from a Mormon musical, Saturday’s Warrior, named Wally Kestler that is asked in musical form “will I wait for you?” by his girlfriend when he leaves for his mission. She sings, “Does a burger wait for an order of fries?” Duh, buddy. She will. Until she doesn’t any more.)
  • She will two, break it off so you can “focus on God” and hope that you’ll get back together when you’re home, meanwhile she’s living it up back home, and good for her.
  • or three, say she’s waiting and date around, resulting in the missionary getting a “Dear John” letter when she meets her real special someone (he’s probably a guy who just got home before you, poor sot)

As a missionary, you’re not supposed to write letters of a romantic sort. You can write her letters, but only on Monday (Preparation Day, aka when you do your laundry) and only about how strong your spirit is, how wonderful the Lord is, and how many baptisms you’ve performed that week – you can get in serious trouble for writing anything remotely romantic. And letters are now encouraged to be written and sent through the Church’s webservers, and how much do you want to bet they’re closely monitored? Eh, that’s a sucker’s bet, come on now. Of course they are.

Wait, what was that about weekly baptisms? Well, what the heck are you out there for if not high conversions??

My cousin was assigned to Russia for his mission, back in ’91. He was excited as he already spoke the language and loved the culture and their rich history. Not one baptism the entire two years. I mean, come on. It’s Russia: In Soviet Russia Mother Russia baptizes you!

Mormons don’t practice Communism any more (they did in a fashion back during Joseph Smith’s time, incidentally) and Russians don’t care about weird American-based religions. America is the enemy! So, he came back completely depressed, because going on a mission is all about baptisms to make new tithe-payers! Er, bringing people back to the fulness of the Gospel.

He became incredibly despondent and depressed, felt like a complete failure for not bringing one sheep back into the fold. This went on for years until he spiraled almost out of complete control.

Remember my friend the athlete who dropped 80 pounds with a parasite? How he almost died? He kept trying to go back to the field every time he was hospitalized. His sister was married to Joseph Smith’s ancestor, he couldn’t shame the family by having an incomplete mission! (That’s how he saw it. I certainly don’t believe shame is warranted in any of these cases.) This friend went to Vegas instead of being released, and because the parasite that almost killed him wasn’t completely out of his system, he collapsed again and was rushed to the hospital, almost dying a third time. He finally came home, defeated. It took him years to shake the feeling that he’d let every one down by not staying for a full 2 years. If his faith had only been stronger, he could have beat the illness!

The most successful areas for missionaries to work are in places where people are vulnerable. These are usually places where its citizens live in abject poverty. And it should come as no surprise that these places are also the most violent and dangerous. People were kidnapped in Russia and held at knife point. By like, people on the street. They see the decent clothes and well-tended appearance and assume they have money. (They don’t.)

These kids are there with no immediate supervision. They work in an almost cult-like (cough) fashion with no real training beyond how to sell their encyclopedias, er, Book of Mormons. They’re dressed in conspicuous expensive clothing (by local standards), and are out interacting with everyone. And they are fed a story about how they will be protected by God because of their service and righteousness. I can’t put a number on how many guys I know who served in Central America in the late 80s and 90s who believed—BELIEVED—that their sacred undergarments would save their lives if knifed or shot. Guys, it’s a poly-nylon blend. It’s not kevlar.

12 missionaries died while serving in 2013. Sisters get raped and it’s hushed up. They’re discouraged from talking about it or even ending their missions to go home. As if continuing to serve is now some form of therapy. “Lose yourself in the service of others!” Well, a lot of them do, and not in the way that happy little bon mot was intended.

It’s madness, the pressure put on these kids.

And the church doesn’t care, ultimately. And I know that sounds hateful and hard, but them’s the fact. It’s a corporation and the bottom line is what matters. They don’t pay for any medical care unless it’s that rare situation, they don’t pay for their food or fresh water, they don’t make sure they have protection in hostile areas…

The parasite kid? His older brother went to Columbia for his mission. He and his comp made a wrong turn on a jungle path, thinking they were entering a village. They entered a drug den—this was Columbia in the early ’90s—and were completely surrounded by guerrilla terrorists with automatic weapons pointed at their faces. It took awhile for my friend to explain that they were missionaries and they’d simply made a mistake. Because of their dress—their suits and ties—the guerrillas thought they were CIA agents.

They went home and went on about their business. The church didn’t intervene, give them a day off to calm down, a phone call to mom, nothing. Just a, “Man, I got a great missionary story!” Except for how they’re not supposed to talk about this, because it’s not uplifting, remember?

You do know the Mormon church is the second wealthiest religion in the world, right? That’s a lot of money. We’ll break down just how much in a bit. But remember: The missionaries pay for their own expenses, so the church gets free labor. They coerce their members to perform through fear of eternal damnation and no one says boo about it.

Because: “I will go and do as the Lord hath commanded.”

It’s also interesting to note that after the drop in age eligibility, these kids are coming home “dishonorably”—meaning before they’ve finished their full 2 years—in greater numbers, too, to the point of the number doubling. It turns out that extra year between high school and college of missionary eligibility is an important one. Kids get a chance to taste the life of an adult through work or school or living away from home in a dorm. Instead, they’re sent to another country, more often than not, or at the very least a totally different different culture. (Except for the poor kids sent to Utah, and yes, you can get a mission call to Utah, and it’s pitiful. It’s the absolute worst call to get. To deal, you tell yourself you must be awesome for God to send you somewhere where everyone already knows what you’re selling.)

So these kids can only contact their family via mail or a phone call on Christmas and Mother’s Day—or other times, if there’s a sympathetic member with a good phone plan. They have to live their lives in a zealous, hyper-controlled way, and quite frankly, a lot of people are simply not cut out for it.

There’s a real problem with guys committing suicide from coming home with an “unsuccessful mission.” In fact, suicide is just becoming a worse problem every year among Utah males—females have higher than average numbers, but the pressure is on for these guys. It is the LEADING cause of death for males age 18-24. And to just really bring us all down, a lot of these kids don’t complete their suicide plans to the tune of 13 PER DAY.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800) 273-TALK (8255). Share that info and maybe save a life.

For those who don’t make a Final Decision, there’s just good old depression. The number of Prozac prescriptions in the state of Utah per capita is higher than any where else in the U.S. 1 in 5 women in Utah are on anti-depressants. This is not to say there’s anything wrong with taking something to improve one’s mental health. I’m a big fan of improving mental health. But there’s an underlying issue here that is driving this, and no one seems to be willing to say what it is.

It’s the Church. It’s not the altitude, because this isn’t happening in the Himalayas or the damn Alps. It’s the pressure the Mormon church places on its members to be perfect and to shoehorn yourself into a very specific lifestyle. There’s the shame and oftentimes the shunning that happens when you fall short. And if you’ve spent your entire life believing that failure to accomplish this very specific checklist means your eternal damnation…it’s no wonder there’s a marked rise in hopelessness.

This is what the Lord hath commanded?

Until the stigma of an “unsuccessful mission” — be it an early discharge or low baptism/conversion numbers —until that stigma is lifted, this whole cycle will continue.

Okay, so let’s switch gears and try to pinpoint why this all gets swept under the rug. This is my educated opinion or guess, okay? 74,000 active youth missionaries right now, give or take a few hundred, but I like round numbers, so I’ll generously round down.

Anytime you look into an organization, you always follow the money, right? So if it’s $400 a month to the church to serve, and we’ll say they keep $275 of that for living expenses and $125 goes to food, that means in a year, that’s $3300 they’re collecting per missionary. This is not the older folks who pay $2-4000 a month, this is the young kids. There are 74,000 kids out on average, which means the LDS church is pulling in, are you ready? $244 million, 200 thousand a year.

In what is basically rent. The labor, of course, is free.

Did your jaw drop? Mine did when I looked at the raw number.  Let’s be more generous. Let’s take off 10% of the numbers of missionaries paying in, and say we have that many kids being subsidized by the church, so only 66,600 serving and paying the $400 a month. And let’s make them all hungrier. They’re keeping half for groceries. That’s still about $160 million dollars in rent. Free labor!

And again, those 30,000 older, retired couples serving are paying rent to the church without any subsidy, like the kids do. If you take an average cost for all older folks missions, it’s $1000 in rent a month. Each. $60 million. The church makes $60 million in rent, give or take a few thou. And they’re taking that in and getting a whole lot of free labor.

Well, those temples wont run themselves, nor will the genealogy effort or the insurance support or free advise or managing yadda yadda… (That money coming in?  I’m not even including the mandatory tithing from members. This is just what they’re taking in from missions.)

This is a quote from one of those post-missionary chat boards. “The baptismal stats are nothing but a PR gimmick. On my mission (and I was in a large European capital) there was INTENSE pressure to baptize, so much so that the Elders were focusing on (surprise, surprise) primarily those people who were the easiest to baptize: that meant, poor, marginalized, lonely people. Anybody can see that such a formula (long term) spells doom. The new members being brought in today (mostly from poor areas) cannot be considered, generally speaking, to be the future income-producers (i.e., tithe-payers) for the Church. Just not going to happen. Economically, the Church is still thriving – but otherwise, it is a long-term disaster.”

Sounds like a way to keep the coffers full is to get people to pay a few thousand a year on a mission. And get a LOT of those folks on a mission.

But we talked about the baptismal stats, but not in depth.

Fun side note: once on the rolls, you’re counted as a member until you turn 110. Die at the age of 12? Still a member for the next 98 years. Active member. As in, that “We have 15 million members!”

Fun side note #2: most of the membership growth numbers aren’t from baptisms and people sticking with those conversions. About half of the growth rate is mormons having big, mormon families. Almost 50% of the growth, in fact. The church doesn’t report that, but then, they have that whole “keep you in the membership until we’re forced by court order to remove your name” thing, and also, they don’t like discounting people who just stop going to church.

So that “15 million and fastest growing religion” thing? Fake. Almost half of all converts stop showing up within the first year. See the Mormon WikiLeaks for sources. In 2012, when they had the missionary surge from dropping the age limit, they saw a 10% growth rate, well, with all those missionaries dunking folks! Sure! But it’s been steadily dropping since. In fact, the very next year was a 12% NEGATIVE growth rate. They not only took out converts, but other Mormons.

Now, it’s easy if you’re a member to discount me as a disgruntled once-member. Maybe I’m just “angry” because I didn’t get to serve. Well, that certainly broke my heart, more in a moment, but nothing gets  my goat more than obfuscation of facts. And quite frankly, active members never consider these numbers. They get told data from the leaders, and most don’t check it out. Why should they? Why would the leaders say anything false? I encourage you to fact check me. You should fact check ANYTHING someone states. I know in this age of President 45 no one seems to care about truth anymore, but come on.

(And after you look into this stuff and come back, I promise I won’t say “I told you so.”)

I grew up expecting to serve. Girls aren’t always encouraged, but i wanted to. When I was in college, my bishop was so excited for me to turn 21 so I could put in my call, and when it came back a NO, we went to our stake president. That’s the next up tier in the organization’s hierarchy. I was told, with a smile and a wink, that he, the stake president, had gotten personal revelation from Heavenly Father that I was going to get married. I was getting my MRS. (Missus) not my RMS (return missionary status).My bishop and I were shocked. Just shocked. I’d been the gospel doctrine—that’s Sunday School—teacher in my college ward for two years, a time frame that was unusually long, especially since I was a girl. I was “teaching” return missionaries, the type of person that calling—church job—usually went to. I had record attendance in my classes. People came from the other singles wards—the parish, in a way of speaking—to come to my classes. A mission was the natural next step.

And they told me no.

Honestly, that was the first real crack to my beliefs. As former Mormons say, it was a shelf-cracker. Because, you see, Heavenly Father had been telling ME my WHOLE LIFE that I would serve. I curled up in a ball back in my dorm room and sobbed. I could not understand. My roommate got her call and left a few months later, and I was so heartbroken. For a while, I lived vicariously through her mission reports, the letters and pictures she sent me.

I will say that not being allowed to serve left me rather… focused on missions. When I see missionaries, I usually offer them something to eat or drink. I tell them right away I’m not interested in the gospel, but to tell the others that if they’re out on bikes in Texas in August wearing their flipping suits and they’re near my house, come knocking. They can step inside where it’s cool and take a load off. They’re just a part of a bigger machine, you know?

I even wrote a book about missionaries, a novel, and it’s being published this May. Look for “And It Came To Pass” on the 18th of May, 2017. I’m fiercely proud of it, I have to say. In this book, the reader follows Elder Adam Young, who serves because he must, not because he wants to. He realizes while on his mission that he’s gay and develops feelings for his missionary companion, but there’s more than just a budding (and terrifying) romance. It’s also about the hardships of serving, it’s about the fun you have meeting new people and seeing new things, because that does happen for these kids. It’s a hell of a journey. (As long as you don’t get sick.)

There’s a lot of commentary about what it is to be a gay Mormon (short story: it can be hell) but there’s also the sheer pleasure of a good group of missionaries on P-day remembering what it’s like to be a young person with friends. It’s about getting care packages from home and remembering how much you love your folks. It’s about learning who you are separate from your folks and siblings and growing up and maybe realizing what it is that you truly believe in—sometimes what you were taught and what you learn don’t line up.

I mentioned how my step-dad worked with the missionaries, and they were always over at our house. A few of those guys (and girls) show up in this book, but I won’t say who. Those were some of the best times of my youth, hanging with the sister missionaries, being treated like a little sister by the guys desperate for their own families back home. They were all so full of excitement and joy that I just couldn’t wait for my own turn out there. I really hoped they called me on a mission.

…and they didn’t.

You know the broadway musical, The Book of Mormon? When Elder Price realizes his faith, he sings the song, “I believe,” and even now as a non-believer, that song makes me laugh. I get a lump in my throat and my eyes water because that’s it. “A mormon just believes.” If you ask the Lord in faith, he will always answer you.”

Does he? Does he answer one person one thing and another person something completely different? Because that’s what happened to me. I was “meant” to get my MRS and not serve.

I did end up getting married at 23, look at that. However, I could have served and come home by then, but hey. He works in mysterious ways… or something.

But you know… maybe He does. After all, you’re listening to me, right? And I’m teaching you truths, some might even call is proselytizing… Hey, you grow up in a missionary-focused religion, don’t be surprised when those who leave it want to bring the fullness of the gospel of reality to others.

Now it’s up to you whether or not you let the spirit of what I’m saying enter your heart. Amen. (And really, if you see those kids on their bikes, offer them an apple. They’re probably starving.)

[MUSIC]

Thanks again for listening. Next week it’s the big hush-hush topic: POLYGAMY, including the part I played in helping take down the YFZ Ranch in ElDorado, Texas. You won’t want to miss it. Don’t forget to subscribe, like and reblog! Questions? Comments? Leave them at laura-stone.com. See you next time!

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