A recurring dream that many returned missionaries find stressful will be familiar to many readers. You’re back on your mission. You have to be busy. You have a companion to deal with, someone you didn’t choose. Suddenly you realize you have a spouse and family back in the states. Wait a minute! How are you supposed to handle all these responsibilities and obligations at once?? You feel a sense of panic (I can’t be living two separate lives!) and dread (am I really back here again, of all places? Do I have to go through this all over again?).
Returning missionaries go through a decompression phase in which normal life just seems meaningless. There’s so much free time! Nothing you do feels as meaningful as what you were doing before. As a missionary, all your time was spent pep talking yourself about the needs of others and the responsibility of growing the Church and spreading the gospel. Those big goals seem so much more important than registering for classes or going on dates or, worst of all, watching TV.
I remember when I returned, and I discovered that I needed all new clothes. I just couldn’t bring myself to care what I wore (pictures reflect this attitude, unfortunately). Fashion was not important. The material world was not important. My education was not even important. Nothing else was important. Does that sound culty? Yes, of course, but it is probably also what it feels like to return from a tour of duty in the military (which, FYI, also rates as a cult according to Hassan’s BITE model). It’s also partly how it feels to graduate from college. It’s how it feels to go through almost any major life transition. Our entire worldview has to shift. Our heightened senses need to calm back down to daily normalcy. The thing which has filled all our thoughts and attention is now gone, and we have a void to fill. We have spent the last two years believing that there is nothing as important as the thing we are thinking about constantly, and now it’s gone.
I hear echos of this hyper-vigilance when I have heard Church members, particularly women, lamenting their unworthiness, their fears that they aren’t good enough or haven’t done enough to be worthy of exaltation. Perfectionism creates a heightened sense of importance to every small act, the details of life, especially for women who have internalized the idea that their lives should be lived in service of others. If only I had called that person. If only I hadn’t gone to the gym. If only I had listened harder to the spirit. If only I had said that differently. If only I weren’t imperfect. If only I weren’t human. If only I could transcend the natural man or woman. I had a ministering sister give me a spiral bound book of General Conference talks wrapped up in a ribbon, and I remember thinking “What a waste of time and money! These are available for free online if I choose to read them (or even listen to them).” Truth be told, though, my life is full enough without treading through these threadbare talks yet again. After all, every lesson and talk at Church is already a rehash of these exact same talks, GAs quoting other GAs, quoting themselves.
Occasionally, as a missionary, I’d stumble across an Ensign article or a book left behind by a missionary. Since we were limited to reading scriptures, I was always voracious for any new material. Invariably, these articles would only foster a scrupulosity in me, a mea culpa depression over my flaws, a renewed vigor to pay attention to the utter minutae of my life choices to ferret out any possible weakness or humanity that was preventing me from immediately being translated. Once I was so bored I read back through the “white Bible,” the book of rules for missionaries, and I made note of all the rules I was accidentally violating that apparently were preventing our success, including accepting a letter of apology from an elder who had told me I looked like a brick house, and allowing my luggage to weigh more than 20 kilos. Missionaries struggle to comprehend the difference between rule violations and sins. If it’s a rule, it must be a sin to break it, even if it’s kind of silly. I always tried to find the “reason” behind the rules to see if I was violating the spirit of the law, and in general I felt like I was doing all right on that front, but then again, that’s how rationalization works, right?
I have never been more miserable in my life than during those moments when I took the rules too seriously. I was recently reading about Draco’s Law, the first written legal code in ancient Greece (7th c BC). Prior to that time, the laws were all given verbally, and the wealthy often exploited them or altered them to their own benefit. By writing the law down and posting it in a public space, everyone was under the same law, and it couldn’t be altered without everyone knowing about it (or at least those who were literate). Nearly all of the rules carried the death penalty, even for minor infractions.
“It is said that Drakon himself, when asked why he had fixed the punishment of death for most offences, answered that he considered these lesser crimes to deserve it, and he had no greater punishment for more important ones”. (Plutarch, “Life of Solon, XVII. gutenberg.org.)
It was also said that Draco wrote the law in blood, not in ink.
“Consequently, because his laws seemed to be more severe than was expedient, they fell into disuse not by decree and official action but by the silent and unwritten agreement of the Athenians.” (Gellius)
For some, scrupulosity is the entire point of the gospel. Becky Craven’s talk Careful vs. Casual is a recent example of this idea that we have to ramp up our vigilance to be sure we are obeying every tiny little command or suggestion with perfect execution, regardless of the varying levels of importance each of these aspects of life may have. We have to be “careful,” not “casual” about every single decision we make, where we go, what we wear, what we watch, what we eat, etc., etc., and constantly thinking about and obsessing over whether we’ve done enough. Every tiny decision must be filtered through a “gospel lens” which really just means approval of the Church. To me, this doesn’t sound like the surefire recipe for happiness that her talk says it is. To me, this sounds like a recipe for mental illness, for PTSD. Maintaining this state of hyper-vigilance is simply exhausting, and it neither makes one happy nor pleasant to be around.
Imagine you are a soldier, constantly aware that around every corner may be a new threat, a violent burst of gunfire, that could end your life. Every day you must prepare for the potential for battle, carrying with you armor that defends and weapons that can help you escape if a conflict arises. That’s no way to live. That’s why tours of duty, and missions, are brief. We return to daily life. We can watch TV, read books for pleasure, enjoy the sun, relax, grow a garden, laugh with friends. We don’t have to inject every moment of our lives with imagined guilt and terror. Most people don’t.
- Have you lived in stressful hyper-vigilance at times in your life? Were you happier as a result?
- How do you avoid the excesses of scrupulosity?
- Do you think some people are more prone to guilt and obsessing over rules?
- What rules do you see that Church members (the Athenians) tacitly agree to ignore because they just don’t agree with them (like those living under Draco’s law)?
 I suspect at some point in the not too distant future we’ll have a new Relief Society manual just called Oaks Quoting Oaks. On the cover will be a picture of him with a slight smile, next to his wife who looks up at him with worshipful adoration.
I had a mission companion who was the most stringent rule-follower I’ve ever known. Most the time that was fine, but he ran into major problems in two kinds of situations.
First, he had an undiagnosed illness that made it literally impossible to follow a specific rule. It was completely outside his control, regardless of how hard he tried.
Second, with how many rules missionaries are given, sometimes we’d be in a situation where two rules would contradict one another. Someone not obsessed with rules, but still wanting to be obedient, would choose the higher rule (love God, love your neighbor). But to him all rules were equal, and he could not break any of them.
The impossibility of being perfectly obedient frustrated him and his obsession with it did not make him a better person.
Many of us have had missionary experiences like the ones you described. These experiences often included an obsession with mission rules. If you were a black-and-white thinker like I was, you knew you had to obey all he rules in order to have a successful mission.
Looking back, I can see how arbitrary it all was and how my 19-year-old immaturity was part of the issue. But that’s not the entire story. There are mission presidents who try to impose this kind of thinking on their missionaries. Shame on them. They aren’t 19.
A mission can be a wonderful experience and there has to be some level of obedience to make it so. If you’re treating it like some overseas vacation you’re not likely to have much purpose. But exact obedience is far from necessary. I can see that now so clearly. And this applies to Church membership. We sometimes obsess with rules and “standards” when in reality we just need to be more Christlike.
-Have I been hyper-vigilant? Yes. Parts of my mission and also during times in my life where I felt like I really needed something like finding a husband or making a big decision so of course had to “earn” it with my obedience. I would say I never took things that an extreme though, except maybe freaking out after reading “the miracle of
Forgiveness” for the first time – since anyone who read that book knows it’s literally the opposite of the title!!!
My mission was obviously somewhat focused on obedience as most are, but not to an extreme. Although I do remember one talk at a zone conference about how “obedience isn’t a piece to the puzzle, obedience IS the puzzle” – ie, that obedience is the point of existing. Hmm.
-Was I happy? That’s actually a complicated question. It’s stressful feeling like you can always do more. But I tended not to beat myself up over stuff – just feel motivated to do better. And it did give me a sense of meaning and purpose like everything I did *mattered*. So I wouldn’t say it was all bad.
There was a time I had a mission companion who didn’t follow the rules (Angela, she was from the Canaries actually, which I think is where you served!). That was super stressful for me because I was pretty new and didn’t know how to handle it. It was also confusing because in ways she was an excellent missionary. So I think in a way that taught me that just because you didn’t get out the door on time doesn’t mean you can’t teach with the spirit.
I definitely see people who are scrupulous to an extent that they seem miserable, and of course there are people was literal mental illness who suffer a lot. Every time we get a challenge like “read the BoM by the end of the year” I feel for people I know who are actually OCD and will suffer for this. (And yes, for sure there are people who are extra guilt-prone.)
-How do I avoid excesses? I’m lazy. I’m not *that* self-critical. I came from a warm and accepting home and my God is generous and forgiving. My faith has also shifted a lot and that has decreased scrupulosity but honestly mine has never been *that* bad. I definitely think the Church can foster and trigger scrupulously but I also think people’s responses have a lot to do with personality and family history etc.
I had mission experiences where entire days were ruined by getting out the door late. We felt everything that went wrong was because we broke a rule. At another time, a senior companion encouraged me to sacrifice by getting up at 5:30 AM to do community service by cleaning sidewalks so we could have blessings in our missionary efforts. I unfortunately carried on this tradition with at least one future companion I trained. I ended up getting so sick that I lost 2 or 3 weeks or work at the end of my mission.
I think many brethren started to ignore home teaching because so many impossible expectations were conveyed by leaders. Many many months near the end of the month shaming efforts would be made to try and induce compliance. I think long-term frequent shaming regarding home teaching increased apathy among some brothers. Some brothers would internalize such criticisms and embrace some self loathing; others were happier because they learned to ignore such ‘encouragement’. I think home teaching was dropped by Pres. RMN to remove one impediment to participation by males. Who wants to keep coming to church if you’re going to get chewed out frequently for not home teaching.
You struck a chord with me on this topic. Hyper-vigilance is a good description. The distinction between rules and commandments is blurry for a lot of people and the two get comingled. Missionaries are highly susceptible to this blurring. I think on the whole I respond poorly to rules. If it’s not a commandment, then the rule is just a guideline. I love the scene in Catch-22 of the Great Loyalty Oath Crusade. The men in the bomber squadron are required to show their loyalty and patriotism in ever more ridiculous ways so that no one ever thinks that their squadron is less loyal than another squadron. The men have to take oaths of loyalty, then they have to say the pledge of allegiance to get their food from the mess hall. Soon, this is not enough and they have to sing the national anthem to get their food. Then multiple verses must be sung. All the while, the war goes on. Mission rules are a lot like this.
Oun Area Presidency has decreed that missionaries are not allowed to eat meals in members homes so that they can be finding and teaching at this time. That’s about the dumbest most counter-productive rule I can think of as far as missionary success. The best thing to happen would be for the mission president or individual missionaries to do just like the Athenians did in the original post and go on eating meals with members because the rule interferes with the more important work of preaching the gospel. Hyper-vigilance doesn’t allow that.
As Nathan mentioned, there is gratefully a trend recently to relax the hyper -vigilancy and to focused on being like Christ rather than on strict obedience. The culture of obedience is so deeply ingrained though that it may be a while before many people can imagine getting in the chow line without singing a few verses of the Star Spangled Banner.
Another musing on mission hyper-vigilancy. I never participated in the “get up earlier than required to show increased obedience” efforts that many missionaries do. I wonder, though, why did we never hear about any missionaries deciding that they were going to stay out later than 9:30 PM to show increased obedience. Why did that only work in one direction? Or if it ever was tried, why was one accepted and one dismissed as “disobedient”?
Ah yes, those dreams when you’re on a second mission and wondering, “why did I do this?” I still keep having those.
Imagine having that dream minus the spouse and kids. Hint–I doubt it’s better.
This remind reminds me of the quote by Cecil Samuelson: “Just as we should not lower the standards that the Lord has established for the conduct of his servants, we are also not authorized to raise them. . . . Be sure that you do not have higher standards for yourself or others than the Lord has established.”
oh I totally forgot about the “wake up extra early” mission ideas. Yes, we had those. What a recipe for illness (physical and mental). And when / where I served, we were told to exercise, but we were also told that we couldn’t exercise during official hours, so the only way to exercise was to wake up extra early. So although I wasn’t too hard on myself, waking on my my mission was REALLY hard for me and I definitely did feel constant guilt about that.
Between early morning seminary & waking up extra early on missions, I’m sensing a theme about how Church leaders seem to think sleep deprivation is a good strategy.
I didn’t serve a mission and so was spared all of that psychic agony, for which I’m eternally grateful. I do think that the church has made obedience THE litmus test of faith in part as a way to try to “double down” on the members in order to keep them from paying attention to “the world”. The problem, of course, is that “the world” often does provide more accurate information and more evolved outlooks; therefore, the obedience strategy, as with so many other church strategies is doomed to eventual failure.
When I was a brand new convert at BYU in the mid-80s, I had all sorts of roommates, from those who did just enough to not get excommunicated so they could take advantage of the insanely low tuition (850.o0 my first semester!) to those who had such a difficult time adjusting to post-mission life that they kept on following a lot of the rules (getting up early, praying constantly, hours of scripture study, etc.). I was lucky that I had roommates who were fairly committed to church but also pretty relaxed about things/rules that just didn’t make sense. I got a bit into the hyper-vigilance mode for a little while, but all it did was make me unhappy, so I stopped and was much more relaxed. And I still am. I told my Sunday school class last week that I didn’t give a crap what happened to me in the afterlife; I just wanted to enjoy the only life I know I’m going to have. We’ll see if I get any blowback. BTW, BYU was a difficult place for me, a new convert, because I hadn’t yet really worked out what was the gospel and what was BYU/Provo/Utah culture. I had some pretty good roommates who helped steer me in the right direction.
Of course, now problem with all of this obedience stuff is that it not only sets one up for failure, but also for smug self-righteousness. People who are good at taking orders and following rules will mistakenly think that that somehow makes them better people than those disobedient people (tares) that surround them. Extremely toxic and unhelpful thinking, IMHO, but also the exact kind of thinking that the church rewards with leadership positions and therefore more influence. Not good.
I was a bit hyper-vigilant as a young adult, which in retrospect I can ascribe to natural mild OCD/scrupulous tendencies. I was raised an active member, but my parents were not super orthodox and they didn’t get too carried away with Church stuff. But when I moved away for college I found myself surrounded by (what I perceived to be) “super righteous” Utah Mormons for the first time; people who I envied, who had what I wanted but made me feel inadequate by comparison. I would get into cycles of trying to be “righteous” (scripture reading, prayer, temple attendance, home teaching completion, etc) but then beating myself up when I inevitably fell short of some arbitrary self-imposed spiritual goal, so then having to double down and repeat the vicious cycle. Anything negative or disappointing in my life I attributed to lack of “worthiness” or other perceived spiritual failure.
It took some time and maturity to undo these harmful thought patterns, along with some deconstruction of my belief system (thanks to a faith crisis in my late 20s-early 30s). A few important realizations I made along the way, that I wish I could share with my younger self:
-The spirit of the law always trumps the letter
-Obedience (especially Mormon-flavored “exact obedience”) is one of the central pillars of Satan’s plan, while God values critical thinking, agency and individual responsibility
-No amount of prayer or obedience can override another person’s agency (such as when missionaries pray and fast for more people to teach)
-“Pray always” does not mean “pray constantly”
-You are not under any obligation to tell a bishop anything
-The Church, the Gospel, and Church culture are all completely different things. Only one really matters.
-Laws/rules exist for a reason, but stupid/pointless rules need to be challenged through appropriate channels
-There are no blessings for obedience to arbitrary made-up rules
-God is not a vending machine; a proportional “obedience in/blessings out” model is not how the universe works. Injustice and unfairness are more common than you think.
-Nothing in this world is as black-and-white as it seems; people, especially, are complicated
-Personal revelation always trumps prophetic/priesthood revelation
-Prophets and other Church leaders are human beings who sometimes make mistakes–and not just small, easily forgivable mistakes like misplacing car keys or driving barely over the speed limit, but they also sometimes make huge blunders that have consequences for the whole Church. And they are General leaders: some things they say just don’t apply to everyone.
-Public testimonies are performative and filled with affectation; those 20-something RMs who pound the pulpit using phrases like “I know…” and “with every fiber of my being” are most likely faking it, perhaps trying to convince themselves. A better, more Christlike way of “bearing testimony” is through action, like acts of kindness to others.
-A lot of Church members don’t enjoy going to the temple, and that’s OK
-Pioneer stuff is stupid and lame and you don’t have to like it to be a good Mormon
-A lot of things in the Church are negotiable, probably more than you realize
There are probably others I can’t think of at the moment, but these are some of the simple life lessons I wish someone would have had enough insight to pull me aside and teach me when I was growing up; it would have saved me years of heartache and self-loathing.
My mission had a surprising effect on me – at the beginning of my mission I was fresh from BYU, straight A, and terrified I’d break a single mission rule. I remember hearing stories like a certain companionship went for a hike outside of their area, accidentally died, and will no longer merit the celestial kingdom. They weren’t doing anything bad (like hiking with girls) but they disobeyed a rule that turns out can be somewhat unclear in some missionary areas. I was definitely on the scrupulous / OCD side of things. By the end of my mission, however, I was so dang physically and emotionally tired, I didn’t care any more about the little rules. That trend has continued on as an adult. There are simply too many rules to keep track of so I ignore virtually all of them except for the big ones. I honest to God believe God doesn’t care as long as we’re nice to each other.
I say this only half tongue-in-cheek: since my faith transition I’ve sort of given up on the idea of a celestial kingdom anyways, which helps with the scrupulosity. If my level-best isn’t good enough without constant stress I don’t want to be there. Plus I think eternal bliss will get boring. Yes really.
One note that Hawkgrrl may find interesting. My former BYU roomate miraculously helped keep me sane without breaking the rule of reading only approved material like scriptures, Ensigns, etc. He found a stash of of church magazines from the 70s that had fascinating articles in them, like the history of the bible, history of the printing press, articles by Hugh Nibley, various scholarly articles, etc. He photocopied and mailed these articles from the middle of the Atlantic Ocean (island of Terceira in the Azores) to SLC to be sent to Guatemala in pouch mail. So I got a trickle of semi illicit articles each month that I could use to stay intellectually stimulated while still keeping the rules. I still have those articles.
@Jack Hughes that is a brilliant list! I’ll have to steal a few of those bullets for myself. I’m going to incorporate that into the next talk I give. I’ve already got the title ready: “The Blessings of Disobedience”
Oh my, this brings back some wonderful mission memories, the kind that never would pass correlation.
I think I was a good missionary, but I also felt comfortable bending the rules when appropriate. I had worked my way through college working in the dorm cafeteria, starting work at 6 AM. I then went into the Air Force and had to get up between 5-5:30 AM regularly. I then went on my mission as a 25 year-old and got to sleep in.
But I couldn’t. An automatic alarm clock boinged in me each morning. Too hyped up, I guess. I tried to sleep late, but the latest I could ever make it was 6:15 AM. Oh well.
I spent 4 months in the Mission Office on a special assignment writing cultural lessons for missionaries, and was part of a threesome companionship. We used to call it San Wei Yi Ti, Three in One, the Chinese term for the Catholic and Protestant versions of the Trinity.
One Saturday, when I was in Trinity Status, I got a call from my Mission President instructing me to not go proselyting that night with my regular companions, but to wait for him; we were going out together on a special assignment.
My MP showed up at the Mission Office at 7 PM, and he told me he needed a break and was going crazy, and we were going to the movies together.
We wound up seeing “High Anxiety” (Mel Brooks)—that’s hardly Disney material but it was the only thing showing.
When I was a Zone Leader for seven long months (my time in the Gulag), I would up spending a lot of time listening to missionaries talk. When a 6 foot 3 inch muscle bound quarterback is bawling his eyes out because the work is hard, it makes more sense to just find a small park together to talk things out. One Elder who was particularly distraught was cheered up by a non P-day visit to the National Palace Museum.
I was lucky to have a MP who emphasized doing the right things for the right reasons, and who was down to earth and had common sense.
Missionary Service CAN be a good experience. But I think if we transposed my 1977-1979 experiences to today, the offending missionary might be burned at the stake.
As a parent and fan of Richard Rohr, I am very conflicted about this issue. A rigid Mormon upbringing (including the mission experience) by and large produces good people who work hard and have grit. Richard Rohr says that it’s good to have rigid lines, even if it gives teenagers something to push against. The problem is what you articulate here, that the people who internalize and take the rules too seriously are the ones who pay the price. A mission president gives a fiery sermon to motivate the 15-20 missionaries who don’t care and never proselyte and the most obedient missionaries think it’s for them and get depressed and anxious. The people who fare best in the system usually view the rules as guidelines and keep them by and large but are comfortable bending and breaking them. I have nuanced views, but am glad I saved sex for marriage and hope my kids would do the same. I think that is great about the Church. But, for every college student who confesses, is shamed and penalized for minor sexual transgressions, there are 5-10 who are doing the same thing and don’t care and don’t tell anyone. I’m not sure what the answer is, I find great value in the Mormon first half of life experience, but the scrupulosity can be extremely unhealthy for some and cause major damage.
In the world of family/couples therapy, one of the clearest points of consensus between theories/methods of therapy is that boundaries should clear and flexible. That way the other person(s) will understand what and where the boundaries are, and we’ll be ready to work through it when someone crosses them.
I imagine the same applies to relationships between other entities, too, not just in a family.
In our relationship-boundaries with the Church as an institution, the clarity isn’t there as often as we expect for all our talk about exact obedience. And for all our talk about mercy and grace, there doesn’t seem to be much flexibility.
It makes me happy to read stories like Jack Hughes’. I’m glad people are sharing the ways they learned to be kind to themselves.
Decoupling the Church from God was what helped me break out of being fixated on personal worthiness and hating myself for falling short (I was one of the chumps who actually went to the bishop and confessed all the minor things). As stressed by others here, a lot of the “commandments” are Church rules that do not hold up to scrutiny, like the tea/coffee WOW prohibitions. However, I love the Richard Rohr quote: “People who know how to creatively break the rules also know why the rules were there in the first place.” With a lot of my ExMo friends, I see many of them totally toss out all of the Mormon values and face some harsh consequences. I don’t think there is anything wrong with drinking alcohol. But, I also think it’s easier to avoid a lot of misery with abstinence. If there is a total disregard with boundaries with things like sex and alcohol, a lot of bad can come from it.
@felixfabulous, I agree, but the problem with Church is that it doesn’t give people workable boundaries or principles when it comes to alcohol or sex. It gives black-and-white rules: no alcohol, ever. No actual discussion of drinking in moderation or appropriates times and places or warning signs of alcoholism or responsible drinking. W/R/T sex, it’s similar: sex before (heterosexual) marriage bad; all gay sex bad; sex after heterosexual marriage is good. There is no discussion consent or any other factors that inform a principles-based sexual boundary. And frankly, I think both the no alcohol and no intercourse before marriage (and no gay anything) are arbitrary rules. So, when a person no longer believes in the rule, they have no principle or other more pragmatic boundary in place, such as drinking in moderation or an actual robust sexual ethics based on consent, self-respect, and respect for partner (and probably some other factors I’m not thinking about because, well, I don’t know much about sexual ethics since I followed the rules!). I agree that rejecting the rules and leaving nothing in their place can lead to poor choices and negative consequences but I think we set people up for that. This is why replacing scrupulous obedience to written rules with principle-based, informed agency / consent would be an upgrade over what we’ve got.
As for the Richard Rohr references from comments, I agree that it’s a tricky spot to figure out how we give young people structure and rules without creating the downsides we’ve discussed here. I’ve thought a lot about that as a parent who certainly benefitted from the rules I grew up with but now think they are a little bit arbitrary and came with some downsides. I actually think Rohr would be supportive of the principles-based approach I’ve described above – it is not a completely wild wild west, it’s just more grounded in actual values and principles than arbitrary lines. For those who have read Falling Upward and remained puzzled about how to do first half of life for kids when you are living more second half life for yourself, I highly recommend Brian McLaren’s “Faith After Doubt.” Unlike Rohr (who doesn’t have kids …) he expressly addresses how to create first half of life “containers” within broader second half principles that give structure and guidance without some of the dogma and downside. It’s honestly one of my all-time favorite books; the minute I finished it I started re-reading it.
During my mission to France and Belgium in the mid-1960’s, I wasn’t big on rules. We had no White Book (or Bible). I wasn’t interested in tracking (with an occasional lesson), 10 hrs a day. So a did what I thought was reasonable, and spent my “extra” time reading whatever I felt like, traveling widely, and enjoying the European culture.
So I wasn’t overly structured when I got home. But I was without a belief system. That took some adjustment. I’m not really rule oriented. Coffee anyone?
My MP rules were crazy on steroids. He was protected by his MP, who was then a GA.
I still have resentment from this 30 years later. I stayed TBM active for another 25 years, until I saw the pattern of SP and increasingly within the decision makers and the Bednar types.
When I asked,why? Why does God permit this. It never made sense.
One answer provided was, well missionaries are going to break rules anyways, so when they break them they are still imbounds. So they just shift the goal posts. So why harm the obidient crowd, for those who do not follow rules.
Then the cognitive dissonace. Why are missionaries and members told to ALWAYS follow your MP/SP/Bishop/etc and the rules.
I say shame on the Q15 and the decision makers for creating and allowing thus harm to the missionaries. Shame on ANY leader who uses rules to manipulate people. Shame on the LDS church for being the church of pharasees and not what it professes itself to be. The LDS church negates freedom and is a instuition full of dictators.
For those who want to down vote me, you won leadership roulette. Some of us lost leadership roulette and did not experience or belong to the same church of those who had positive experiences.
The only rule Christ taught was to love one another.
This is a pet peeve topic of mine…so i may comment more
Why are young people told to go on a mission to serve people and the best 2 years…….and then blindsided once in tbe.field about rules and then being yelled out.
Why do we allow this generation after generation? This is eccesicastical abuse.
Missions are NOT about service, or even getting converts as the COVID missions are showing…it solely about decision makers on power trips in the limelight and creating sunken costs for the missionaries.
@Elisa, you raise some good points. Unfortunately, I do not think children, teenagers and some adults who are in the first half of life know how to do nuance and respond to black and white. I wish we could figure out a way to do a gentle deconstruction and reorientation for people after their missions. We have left people to figure it out on their own and totally pulled the rug from people when they learn the truth.
@felixfabulous I agree that developmentally kids and teens tend to be black and white. I still think they can be taught nuance and that we can create “rules” that have nuance built in. Like a “rule” of: “don’t have sex until you are in a committed relationship where you are able to talk about the implications of sex, discuss birth control and STD prevention, and understand consent. Also, high schoolers are generally not mature enough for sex and you should consider waiting until you are married or in your 20’s and mature enough for the responsibilities that sex can bring.”
That’s a rule. It’s just not the binary and IMO arbitrary married / not married rule and it’s principles-based. It is the beginning of a discussion about sexual ethics and not the end. I think kids are capable of having that conversation.
Again, McLaren addresses this in his book and he is fully aware of developmental stages.
I do *not* think the solution is to keep people in the box till they are back from their missions and then help them deconstruct. Maybe I’m misunderstanding what you mean by that but I don’t think that’s honest. I’m not teaching my kids the correlated version of Church and to follow the prophet just because I think it’ll keep them in line as kids only to then break it to them that I didn’t believe it. They are getting an age-appropriate authentic version and they are getting support as they explore their own paths and beliefs. TBD how they turn out since they are young but I will not set them up for the betrayal I experienced or to internalize sexism and homophobia and scrupulosity or to surrender their personal authority to Church leaders.
There has to be a better way that is not motivated by fear that our kids will mess up but instead by treating them as human beings who deserve respect and honesty and guidance in developing and then learning to live by their own values.
Thoughtful, nuanced list to little Jack, Jack Hughes!
Clever missionary reading work around, Toad!
Good comments all around!
@Eliza, those are good points and you’ve got to do what you think is best with your kids. I would say we are raising our kids fairly traditionally although my wife and I are nuanced. However, we try to be open where we disagree with the Church and encourage some healthy questioning. My kids know I drink coffee and were totally dumbfounded during the recent lessons on the WOW that people were even talking about it. We had a good discussion about caffeine being a personal interpretation, when we grew up a lot of orthodox members didn’t have any caffeine. Now all of their friends’ parents drink Diet Coke and I’ve decided I’m OK with coffee. We talked about being reasonable. But, we also stressed the dangers of addiction to drugs and alcohol and all the alcoholics in our family tree and that avoiding addictions and eating healthy foods and exercising were things we found worthwhile in the WOW and believed in strongly. Probably not one right way to parent, I’ll have to check out Brian McLaren’s book, I read another book of his and liked it.
As a tangent, I have to say that I appreciated Elisa mentioning that it’s a good idea to teach that sex should be saved for a committed relationship where both parties recognize and understand the need for emotional maturity, including emotional consequences of sex & intimacy, and are capable or accepting the physical and emotional responsibilities of sex, understanding birth control, etc.. The funny thing regarding this is with young marriage ages (which I consider under 22-23yrs) encouraged in the church, plenty of these newlyweds probably aren’t ready for and/or capable of understanding a sexual relationship, even if they think they’re ready for marriage. Which also plays into hyper- vigilance, I think….
@Allison right. We use marriage as a proxy for all those other things, but we don’t ever actually teach those other things, and it is not necessarily a good proxy. After Holland’s talk there was a really great MormonLand podcast with Michael Austin as a guest that addressed this.
Not all sex before marriage is bad, and not all sex after marriage is good.
I just want to personally endorse Brian McLaren’s wonderful book. It’s been a lifesaver for me personally. I can also recommend his masterful book “The Secret Message of Jesus” which is all about understanding and living the Sermon on the Mount which he calls Jesus’s Kingdom Manifesto. If we members were to take the Sermon seriously rather than heap on rule after rule and try to enforce exact obedience to the leaders as well as to the often nonsensical or outdated rules the church would be a very different entity and we would be a very different people as a whole than we currently are. We would actually be a religion that seekers would want to actively investigate and one that would invigorate and inspire members of all ages to truly commit their lives to loving, following and serving the Savior and everyone that they come in contact with.
@a poor wayfaring stranger I will check that book out. Another good series on the topic of what Jesus was actually telling us is Rob Bell’s 11-part “Jesus H Christ” series on The RobCast. You gotta bear with the intro, Rob can be a little annoying and self-indulgent, but once he dives into the actual content it’s amazing.
How does our Church culture compare to the Pharisees?
Here’s how Pharisees are described:
A religious party among the Jews. The name denotes separatists. They prided themselves on their strict observance of the law and on the care with which they avoided contact with things gentile. Their belief included the doctrine of immortality and resurrection of the body and the existence of angels and spirits. They upheld the authority of oral tradition as of equal value with the written law. The tendency of their teaching was to reduce religion to the observance of a multiplicity of ceremonial rules and to encourage self-sufficiency and spiritual pride.
They were a major obstacle to the reception of Christ and the gospel by the Jewish people. For the Lord’s judgment on them and their works see Matt. 23; Mark 7; Luke 11:37–54.
“For some, scrupulosity is the entire point of the gospel.”
Yes! So true. Unfortunately, it seems like people who believe this are more prone to rise in the ranks in the Church. Scrupulosity is correlated with commandment-following (of course) and loyalty to the institution, so a person who loves to make and keep a million little rules, and push those they preside over to do the same will be seen as a great candidate for GA.
I also really like the point Elisa raised and others have commented on that there are clear personality differences in how rules and rule-keeping and the whole discussion affect them. I’m a neurotic person, and especially as a kid and right up into early adulthood, I think my tendency to be anxious interacted badly with McConkie-ish tendencies in my family of origin and in the ward I grew up in to make my church experience often difficult. I worried about *so* many things when I was young, mostly because GAs and their disciples told me to, and I was a dutiful kid who added everything I heard to my anxieties checklist..
In the OP, Hawkgrrrl asked about rules people tacitly agree to ignore. I think birth control is an obvious example. Right up through the 1980s, GAs remained adamant that it was OF THE DEVIL, and anyone who wanted to artificially limit the number of children they had was pretty openly flirting with Satan. But of course all the threats they could breathe out ran smack dab into economic realities that made having more kids more financially burdensome, and some positive trends that actually started to take women’s physical and mental health seriously. Plus, people’s sex lives are just hard to regulate, and if they’re using condoms or the pill, who’s going to know? And in a few decades, which is an eyeblink in church change time, they (we!) crushed the rule. Oh, sure. GAs like Elder Andersen are still apoplectic that people are daring to regulate their own fertility, but he’s obviously fighting a rearguard action. The fight is mostly over, and the fundamentalist GAs have had to concede defeat, changing the Handbook to say that it’s up to a couple and God to decide how to handle birth control. That would have been unimaginable to someone like Joseph Fielding Smith or Ezra Taft Benson, say. But noncompliance just made the rule look comically out of touch, and they changed it.
Abou Ben Adhem
BY LEIGH HUNT
Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw, within the moonlight in his room,
Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,
An angel writing in a book of gold:—
Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
And to the presence in the room he said,
“What writest thou?”—The vision raised its head,
And with a look made of all sweet accord,
Answered, “The names of those who love the Lord.”
“And is mine one?” said Abou. “Nay, not so,”
Replied the angel. Abou spoke more low,
But cheerly still; and said, “I pray thee, then,
Write me as one that loves his fellow men.”
The angel wrote, and vanished. The next night
It came again with a great wakening light,
And showed the names whom love of God had blest,
And lo! Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest.
In the original post, hawkgrrl talked about Draco’s Law, in which even minor infractions were punished with the death penalty. The law ultimately fell out of use because no one wanted to enforce it. It seems to me we have a similar issue with the Church. The penalty for even minor infractions is loss of the Celestial Kingdom and thus not being able to spend eternity with your family. The same penalty applies to someone who drinks coffee that applies to someone who cons grandma out of her life savings. It just gets a little ridiculous to penalize minor rule infractions with the one and only biggest penalty ever.
I also was hyper-vigilant to the point of misery. I can’t even reread my mission journal because the whole thing is one unending guilt trip about how I’m not doing enough. It’s painful.
Late to the table here –
As I read this post, my anxiety levels shot up. I was pulled back into that scrupulosity mode that is all too familiar.
This week, I found taped to the front door the agenda for an upcoming stake Women’s Conference. The topics triggered the same feelings:
– Striving for a Fullness of Joy While Navigating the Trials of Family Life
– Run and Not Be Weary – A Healthy, Happy You
– Hearing and Understanding the Voice of the Lord in Our Daily Lives
– Choose Joy!
– All is Safely Gathered In – Food Storage
– Hear Him . . . Studying and Loving the Book of Mormon
– Senior Missions – So Many Options – Come and See
I hope that I’m not being too harsh, but this seems to embody the church’s MO of setting an impossible standard, which engenders feelings of inadequacy, and then presents itself as the solution to the anxiety, stress, and dependence it created.