Showing posts with label missionaries. Show all posts
Showing posts with label missionaries. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Book Review: Elders

          The book “Elders”, written by Ryan McIlvain, features two LDS (Mormon) missionaries as they go about proseletyzing in the town of Carinha, Brazil. Elder McLeod is an American who is burnt out after eighteen months of proselytizing; he refuses to cater to the politics within the mission field and as a result, is characterized as difficult and unruly. Elder Passos, a Brazilian who joined the LDS church after the death of his mother, struggles to balance his faith with his identity. This story takes place against the backdrop of the 9/11 attacks and the American invasion of Iraq, a tension that is reflected in the hostiles attitudes towards Elder McLeod. Elder McLeod and Elder Passos are companions; the strict missionary rules require them to spend every moment together, a fact that results in a tenuous friendship between two unlikely people. These characters are boys that are turning into men, with all of the uncertainty that marks such a transition.
          Elder Passos is devout, overly-serious, ambitious about the future, and uncertain about his place in the world. He studies English in his spare time, hoping to attend BYU. Perhaps the most poignant moment came at a time when the entire country is watching Brazil play in the final match of the Latin American Football Championships on a Sunday, at the same time as church. The mission president, an American, has insisted that church cannot be canceled, rescheduled, or skipped. Looking at the mission president, Elder Passos sees “a man who could look at an entire culture and see a game, merely, who could look at a country-wide communion and see a crowd.” As a Mormon, Passos possesses a simple, sincere faith: he believes, with all his heart, that the teachings of the LDS Church are true.
          The conflict in this story centers on an investigator Josefina and her husband Leandro. For Passos and McLeod, the stakes are high regarding these potential converts: in them, the two missionaries see the chance to resolve their internal conflicts. McLeod seeks ‘faith as a principle in action’: to learn faith through the action of teaching others. Passos is seeks the potential convert, the ‘one star in a million, a golden elect’, as a way of changing lives, just as his own life was changed after the death of his mother.
          Most stories written about Mormons tend to go for the dramatic: all in or all out. Good versus bad. This is not one of those stories. Rather, this is a book that focuses on the small: the little gestures of friendship that are often misinterpreted or over-looked, the simmering doubts that never come to a full boil, the nagging worries and insecurities that accompany faith. The result was something quite beautiful, a story that lingered in the mind long after reading.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Every Member A Missionary

          The one inviolable tenet of Mormonism is the idea that the Mormon Church is the "one and only true Church" on Earth.  This fact is the driving force behind the aggressive proseletyzing efforts; Mormons believe that the Mormon Church is the only avenue to Heaven.  To bolster conversion rates, every young man is expected to serve a two-year proseletyzing mission.  The pressure to serve a mission is very intense; the young women of the church are instructed not to date men that haven't served missions.  

          In addition to full-time missions, members are expected to use their relationships with non-members in order to boost conversion.  The idea is that "every member is a missionary" and should be on the look-out to promote the Church.   To this effect, my peers and I availed ourselves of every possible opportunity to invite friends to youth activities.  Most of the time, our friends would come to the activities but say no to conversion.  A few of them were baptized; some remained in the church, others became inactive after a few months. My father was also very vigilant about trying to convert people; sooner or later he would try to give every non-member friend a Book of Mormon.  Most of the time, he ended up alienating potential friends with his excessive zeal.

          This attitude of members that every person needs to be Mormon is part kindness, part arrogance.  Kindness because members want non-members to be happy and think that they need Mormonism to attain happiness.  Arrogance because members believe that their way of life is superior to others.  At church, I felt uncomfortable by the attitude that non-members were lost and confused.  Our entire culture was built around the idea that we were the only people with the truth and that we needed to spread the truth to world at large.  

          By promoting this idea of "every member a missionary", relationships between members and non-members are fraught with the tension of potential conversion.  Some members are able to maintain respectful interfaith relationships.  Others aren't.  

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Still A Member? Or Not A Member? I Don't Know.

          I have tried three times to have my name removed from the membership rolls of the Mormon Church.  Three separate attempts and I still don’t know if I am counted among the official 14 million members that the Mormon Church stakes claim to.  My first attempt to resign was during my freshman year of college.  I wrote out a letter requesting my resignation and sent it to the Church Headquarters in Salt Lake City.  I assumed the matter was finished --- I was grown up and ready to move on with my post-Mormon life.  
          Then someone told me that the Church sends you an official letter after they accept your resignation.  I had never received a letter; did that mean I was still a member?  I feared that the answer was yes.  So this time around, I looked up the local ward and called the bishop.  I had to call a couple times but I finally reached him.  I explained that I wanted my name removed.  The bishop was quiet for a moment and then said, with a note of regret in his voice, --- “Are you sure?  You sound too young to make such a big decision; I don’t want you to do anything you might end up regretting.”  
          I hated that he sounded like a father grieving over a wayward daughter.  I just hated that.  “Yes.”  I told him, full of youthful conviction.  “I am sure about this.”  After I hung up the phone, I would berate myself for not pointing out that if eight is old enough to be baptized into the church, then nineteen should be old enough to leave the church.  But for the moment, I was too insecure to argue with a man that sounded like my father.  
          “Why don’t I send the missionaries over so that you can discuss the matter?”  
          I didn’t want to talk to the missionaries.  I didn’t want to have to deal with people telling me that I was wrong and that I needed to go back to church like a good little Mormon girl.  I told the bishop no, I didn’t want the missionaries over at my house.  I ended up mailing another resignation letter to the local ward.  A futile gesture, but one that I hoped would yield some result.
          Then I transferred colleges.  And I started getting calls to my unlisted phone number from church members.  And the Mormon organization on campus decided to add my e-mail to their list-serv, without notifying me or asking my permission.  All of a sudden, my in-box was being flooded by e-mails about temple trips and branch activities.  
          So I sent an e-mail out to the list-serv at large, pointing out that I had not asked for my e-mail to be added and that I had not been notified of this decision.  That prompted a flurry of e-mails.  About half of the e-mails were from people that wanted their names removed as well.  The other e-mails were from members that were bewildered as to what the problem was about --- didn’t I know that I could just have my name removed, without having to make a big fuss about it?  But the issue was not about the e-mails; the issue was about my invasion of privacy.  
          Eventually the list-serve administrator contacted me.  He introduced himself; he was friends with one of my brothers.  My father had contacted him and asked him to “make me feel welcome”.  I told him that what he had no right to add my e-mail without my consent or knowledge.  Then I told him I wanted out --- I wanted to officially resign from the Church.  He forwarded my e-mail to the branch president, who then contacted me.
          A week later, I met with the branch president.  He was a professor so we met on campus at the ice cream store.  We made some small talk about research; he was a biology professor and I was a biology major working in a genetics lab.  We had some common acquaintances; I had interned in the lab of one of his good friends.  His wife was also my spinning instructor.  Then we moved on to the matter at hand.
          “I want to resign.” I told him.  “I don’t believe this Church is true and I can’t support the authorities.”  
          At that point his eyebrows rose and his tone changed from friendly to dismissive.  “I guess we can’t all be believers.” he said, his shoulders shrugging.  Then he gave me some papers to sign and I left.   
          I am still waiting for my letter.