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Pressured to serve

February 27, 2011

The ward had a missionary-themed primary activity yesterday. Our boys received a letter saying they had been called to serve in the Bogota-Panama mission and the Thailand mission. Members told the kids about the languages they learned, the food they ate, and shared faith-promoting stories. Sounds all very delightful, right?

But it was pure childhood indoctrination.

The prospect of traveling somewhere exotic to experience another culture is very enticing. Most of what members talked about focused the magic of these other places. Members who had served stateside weren’t asked to talk – that wouldn’t excite the children as much.

Toward the end of the activity, one of the primary leaders raised her hand and asked, “Who here wants to serve a mission?” Every child’s hand shot up. I asked Ethan later, “Did you raise your hand because you want to serve a mission, or because you want to travel?” He said he actually just wants to travel and that he had confused that with serving a mission.

A new missionary in the ward got up to “bear his testimony” about missionary work, saying that he knows Heavenly Father is very pleased when we serve a mission. The implication, of course, is that God is very disappointed in those who choose not to serve a mission.

Then the primary presidency put on the video, Called to Serve. Within the first 90 seconds, a boy in the video says, “If you teach somebody the truth, and I’m sure that they’re going to feel good, and you’re going to feel good, and Heavenly Father’s going to feel good. “

Meaning if you don’t teach others your “truth,” then you’re going to feel bad and Heavenly Father is going to feel bad.

This is psychological manipulation, plain and simple. Statements like these are designed to make young people feel guilty if they decide to make their own decisions in life.

Let’s say I want to instill in my children a desire to go to college. I would never say, even if I believed in God, “Heavenly Father will be pleased with you if you go to college.” The reverse is implied, that God will be disappointed in you if you don’t go to college. I’d rather take responsibility for my own hopes for them and tell them why going to college is a good idea, that they’ll likely earn more or become who they want to become with an advanced education.

Isn’t this also a form of pressure? Perhaps. But at least I’m not telling them that they’ll be disappointing GOD if they have other plans for their life. Who needs that kind of guilt?

The missionaries came to visit us this morning. The same missionary who uttered his guilt-inducing testimony yesterday admitted that he felt a lot of pressure to serve a mission. Why? Because he turned in his papers seven months into his nineteenth year instead of turning them in right away.

If any of my boys decide to serve a mission, that’s fine. But I want them to do so because they truly believe church doctrines and not because of guilt trips and social pressure.  Now if they’d prefer the freedom to actually decide where in the world to travel to, how long they’ll stay, and what they’ll do there, if they’d prefer to form authentic relationships and not relationships with the agenda of teaching others some institutionally-imposed beliefs, then I want them to know that there are other options. They can travel on their own. They can join the Peace Corps. They can study abroad.

Young adulthood is a precious time. As long as they’re not hurting anyone, my wish for my boys is to have a fulfilled, happy life, without feeling guilty about making their own decisions.

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  1. Nelson permalink


    “Remember, the worth of souls is great in the sight of God; For, behold, the Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him. And he hath risen again from the dead, that he might bring all men unto him, on conditions of repentance. And how great is his joy in the sould that repenteth! Wherefore, you are called to cry repentance unto this people.”

    “Listen to him who is the advocate with the Father, who is pleading your cause before him— Saying: Father, behold the sufferings and death of him who did no sin, in whom thou wast well pleased; behold the blood of thy Son which was shed, the blood of him whom thou gavest that thyself might be glorified; Wherefore, Father, spare these my brethren that believe on my name, that they may come unto me and have everlasting life.”


  2. Carrie permalink

    I think it was irresponsible for that activity to not have a stateside missionary talk. Most Americans will get sent stateside as Latin American and African missions get filled with locals.

    I’m glad I didn’t go stateside. It took a long time for me to learn the language (Spanish) so I have an empathy for immigrants who come to America and try to assimilate. It’s not easy. I also learned about a new culture and a different system of government. I don’t regret serving a mission, even though I’ve left the church now, because the friends I made are still really close friends. I was more focused on making friends on my mission than making converts and that served me well.

    If I have children of my own, even though they won’t be serving LDS missions (unless they convert themselves) I will offer to pay for them to have a semester abroad, and encourage a homestay. The only way to learn another language, and the only way to develop a healthy worldview is to travel and meet people from other countries. Suddenly what happens in the news is real, not just figures on the screen.

    To answer Nelson who likes to quote scriptures like they end the debate, I believe people do have inherent worth – not because of some supernatural being who, according to scriptures, neglected the human race until 6000 BC (although humans had been on the earth for at least 994,000 years prior) and has allowed horrible atrocities to happen to people since then, but because we are all human beings. We are the same species and if we are to survive on this planet, we need to help each other. Since I believe there isn’t a next life, there’s no time to waste in wallowing about the past (aka repentance) but time to go forward and try to help people live better lives. I think we need to take responsiblity for our own actions and not try to throw them on a scapegoat (aka Jesus). Instead of preaching “repentance” how about we just be friends to other people and not be judgmental. I think friendship would have more of a power in influencing people instead of going around and saying that they are sinning because they coveted their neighbor’s boat.

    • Carrie permalink

      Oh I’m sorry – man didn’t exist on this earth until 4000 BC (although the city of Jericho dates back to 9000 BC…)

  3. Lesya permalink

    Giving you another perspective here…

    How about a missionary coming to speak the truth to the place whose religion is at least two thousand years old? How would you react to a speech where a teen barely out of his parents’ nest assures you that everything you and your folks, and your folks before you believed is nonsense. Just listen now, because this inexperienced high school graduate, ignorant of your culture, will enlighten you, :-)…

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