Columns Jana Riess: Flunking Sainthood Opinion

Big changes ahead for Mormon missionaries, as “service missions” start in January

Missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2017. On Friday the church announced that in addition to the traditional mission as seen here, some young adults will be called to new “service missions.” Photo courtesy of Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

Service missions, shorter terms of service, and the opportunity to still live at home. These are the main changes that will affect some missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, starting in January 2019, the church announced Friday.

The key word there is “some.” The church is still prioritizing the “proselyting” mission, which a majority of Mormon missionaries will apparently continue to serve. In that more traditional scenario, missionaries don’t know where in the world they’ll be sent, only that their service will last either 18 months (for young women) or two years (for young men).

Service missionaries, by contrast, may be assigned as little as six months as they work in charitable organizations and “church operations” in their local areas. They will continue to live at home under the care of their parents, while their local stake president, rather than the area’s mission president, is responsible for supervising them. Friday’s Mormon Newsroom announcement gave several examples of service missionaries who have participated in trial programs of this nature.

Readers of this column may remember that this kind of service mission was one of the rumored predictions at last month’s General Conference. It didn’t become reality at Conference, but weeks later here it is: one of the most interesting and potentially expansive changes to the missionary program in a generation.

In general, I’m pleased with the policy’s recognition that a full-time proselyting mission is not for every young person. The 24/7 life of a Mormon missionary can be exceptionally stressful, especially in a culture that emphasizes exacting obedience. An article earlier this week in the Deseret News—foreshadowing, apparently—explored the anxiety experienced by many missionaries, some of whom are sent home early.

The service mission has the potential to include many young adults who would otherwise be shut out of the opportunity, including those with disabilities. I think they and their families will be excited and grateful. So that’s a win.

I’m also thrilled, always, to see Mormons get out of our own silos and involved with our communities in efforts that benefit life for everyone. Emphasizing humanitarian service is a real step forward.

My concern is that even though the First Presidency’s letter emphasizes that a service mission is “an acceptable offering to the Lord” and should not be referred to as inferior to a proselyting mission, the way the church has set up the system of who serves what kind of mission actually undermines this goal.

All prospective missionaries will apply online, and follow the usual protocol of being interviewed by their local religious leaders to determine their worthiness. They will also participate in medical evaluations to gauge their health. But that’s where the similarity ends:

During the recommendation process, all candidates will be considered first for full-time proselyting missions. Those unable to be called as proselyting missionaries for physical, mental or emotional reasons may be called as service missionaries. In some cases, candidates will be honorably excused from any formal missionary service.

In other words, there will be a three-tiered system: those who are fit to serve proselyting missions, those who are not but can fulfill service missions, and those who cannot serve at all.

This is not what I was expecting to happen. Early rumors had emphasized choice—that some perfectly healthy people might choose to go on service missions because they had a heart for working in the community rather than for the traditional method of preaching the gospel to strangers. And that they would be serving together alongside people with disabilities, so that the service mission would not be stigmatized.

The new policy not only precludes individual choice but risks creating a class system, a lower tier of people with physical, mental, or emotional disadvantages. It provides them with an opportunity to serve, which is lovely, but it also ghettoizes them with other young adults who didn’t make the cut.

 


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About the author

Jana Riess

Senior columnist Jana Riess is the author of many books, including "The Prayer Wheel" (2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church," which will be published by Oxford University Press in March 2019. She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.

59 Comments

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  • “Ghettoizes” is too negative a prediction Jana and it reads/sounds like a miserable socialist pigeonholing exercise.

  • I was blessed with the experience of service missionaries coming to my home and helping me lay bricks….one of these was a tall handsome young man who was on antidepressants and was therefore unable to fulfill a proselyting mission. He was an inspiration to me and to my nonmember neighbors young mentally ill child. He will go far in this world educationally and otherwise. My concern is that these are being used for manual labor service only… I don’t like that. They were not being groomed for leadership in any way. They were already feeling set apart from the other missionaries….like they were being taught trade labor and not office and people skills, salesmanship, etc…. There were no firesides, teaching meetings, etc for these young people. They just did the hard physical work, like stacking wood, etc…. I hope there is a change in the kinds of service they do and not just the house and field servants service.

  • The old paradigm of MLM associates selling a defective product door to door was failing miserably. When 80% of converts were inactive within a year the corporation of the President needs a “money-back” guarantee to indoctrinate young lifers. Meanwhile, the exMormon reddit pages staggering growth will be hitting 100k members this month. If anyone is interested in finding out why so many members are leaving the church, skip on over there.

  • I imagine there will be an opportunity for the applicant, during the interview process, to express a preference. And if they say, “Listen, I’m not really interested in a proselyting mission, but I’d love to devote six months to a service mission,” that wish will likely be granted. It would be foolish for the church to send someone on an 18-month/2-year regular mission who has clearly expressed their displeasure at the idea. But I suspect they are using the procedure outlined in the press release to preserve the fiction that they are retaining complete control over the process.

  • So you’re comparing a Church with slowing but still positive growth, and with millions of active members, to a reddit page, whose growth may have more to do with the popularity of Reddit than with actual numbers? Cool story, bro.

  • Intelligence is not his strength.

    Bigger question though is *Why does Jana encourage anti-LDS hatemongers to post on her site ?*

  • I don’t think she encourages, but merely tolerated it in the interest of free speech. And in the interest of not mediating petty fights.

  • The catholic author on RNS just bans those who attack catholicism but Jana wants those who attack the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to post their attacks here.

    The people that attack the church here are lost, they’ve made their choice- Jana provides them with oxygen to push anti-literature.

  • I dunno, seems like a proper job interview trying to weigh strengths of the applicants. Missionary work can be mentally and physically demanding and having some type of delineation of who is fit for it seems entirely rational. I’m not quite following why suddenly the article makes the leap to disparaging “tier” and “class” stratification comparisons.

  • I have to agree with Jana that the possibility is real, and needs to be guarded against. It’s still an excellent idea.

  • I hope there is no such possibility–that every member offering to go on a mission is ready and willing to serve the full 2 or 1-1/2 year proselytizing mission. That way, even if in the end that isn’t what they are called to serve, they will always be able to say that they were willing to make that sacrifice.

  • I got a knock on my door a few weeks ago by a couple young, strapping Mormon man-boys…except myself and my wife were not home and they left their propaganda material with my elementary school age kids….Irresponsible, as usual here — I’m about a half mile from a Mormon church and you see them regularly. (Oops, not “Mormon”– I meant “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints” man-boys, — Sorry!)

    I thought they write down house numbers of Heathens to avoid…Last time I opened the door on their smiling faces — they left grimacing,,,after I kept trying to pin them down on whether my daughter could become clergy and of course they dance around gay marriage questions completely.

    I have no sympathy for this organization…never met a non-pretentious or a likable Mormon…Dang, there I go again…Meant likable member of the Church-of-Jesus-Christ-of-Latter-Day-Saints !! — Such an easy name to remember/say compared to “Mormon” — what is wrong with me !!

  • Absolutely every church and denomination has a plethora of antagonistic ex-whatevers out there, and the internet has made it a popular hobby.

    Of course as the largest church, the Catholics have the largest gaggle.

    It should not impact either the church or the existing members in the slightest.

  • If you’re dealing with your own unhappiness and internal discord, it is difficult to critique those who do the same.

  • “Bigger question though is *Why does Jana encourage anti-LDS hatemongers to post on her site ?*”

    To get to the nub, you aren’t really against criticism of Jana from the doctrinally pure, such as you. You only object to criticism from nonbelievers. In sum, you appear to believe you should be able to come onto Jana’s blog, criticize her, and do so unmolested. Good luck with that.

    I suspect (don’t know) Jana’s priority is on getting her ideas out there, and doesn’t get too worked up when the arguments start. I don’t think she’s looking for an amen chorus.

    As far as my posts, I can get pretty combative. I think she’s read enough of my posts that she understands something about me. I try not to make attacks personal. But many people who fervently believe something will perceive any counter argument as a personal attack. It’s ok, people. Research says this is how we are hardwired. It happens in politics, global warming, and other matters, too.

    But ideas and beliefs are open season. Just because I believe in something strongly, there’s no reason why my belief should be respected in a forum such as this–unless I can back it up. There is no right for an idea to exist except on its own merits. If your views cannot withstand scrutiny, this fact suggests those views should be re-examined. If religious exclusion is your thing, go to r/lds. You’ll love it. No dissenting voices are allowed.

    I see nothing in the name “Religion News Service” more than a declaration of its subject matter emphasis. Nothing in the name suggests that only believers may comment. My perception is your priorities are first to protect the Mormon church and secondarily act as Jesus would. (For most of the Christian world, this would be a stinging comment. I suspect you don’t even care.) My conclusion is based on another post where you justified your ugly comments by citing to Joseph Smith shooting at his attackers at Carthage jail rather than taking Christ’s example when he was mocked by the San Hedrin. When I challenged you, you did not deny.

  • Are you stalking me? That’s creepy! Do I need to make my profile private to slow you down?

    The day that I post the fill-in-the-blank-phobic, misogenist, bigoted stuff that douchebag posts in LDS threads, It’s time to ban me. And I won’t come back with a new account like you have.

  • Are you claiming I am stalking you? That’s creepy!

    Do I need to avoid commenting on your posts to avoid false and frankly neurotic allegations?

  • I’m just wondering why you feel the need to come to a tread where you have no history with the content because it isn’t your faith and never has been, to make smartass comments to me, as you do elsewwhere. Yes, it feels like stalking.

  • “Yes, it feels like stalking.”

    Sounds like a neurosis.

    I have read, commented, and upvoted in the Riess are many times before.

  • No, in short, my question is *Why does Jana give oxygen to views that drag people away from the gospel?*

    You basically claim that if ideas can pull people away from the gospel then it is the testimony of the individual that wasn’t that strong to begin with- the individual’s testimony is at fault. Well, that’s Satan talking right there Danny/Jana for a testimony must be nurtured with truth, not with the ideas of man.

    Jana’s intent is to lure people toward confusion- she isn’t uplifting anyone or benefiting anything other than her bank account, when her trash book is released.

    And yes, I am glad Joseph Smith shot back but why now are you behaving like the Sanhedrin in your persecution and continuing criticism of me? Sounds to me like you haven’t cast the beam out of your own eye danny/jana as the big picture of wealth at any cost is most important to you.

  • Well, she isn’t pulling me down into her pit but I am beginning to question whether commenting helps? Seems like all the excommunicated slime she allows, thrive on trying to pull good people down.

    Christ didn’t hang out with the Sanhedrin as they were a waste of his time.

  • RNS in general has been an attractant to anti-religious, anti-LDS, anti-Catholic, pro-LBGT, etc, etc for quite some time.

    It seems to have begun ebbing recently.

    My feeling is that folks who don’t post read, and saying something intelligent once in awhile probably helps them keep their perspective.

  • Let’s make a distinction between arguments as to existence of immortal beings vs doctrines, history, and behavior. Those are much better examined and weighed. If you want to believe in a God, fine, I can’t prove he doesn’t exist.

    But when somebody makes an absolute statement that God sent an angel with a drawn sword to force him to polygamously marry a 14 year old, or somebody says banning blacks from the priesthood was God’s will, and then in 1978 it no longer was God’s will, or that God’s prophet (Kimball) says Johnny touching himself has committed a sin next to murder and is on his way to lunacy and bestiality, I think we ought to see if those things make sense and can be justified rationally.

    Because the credulous who just accept anything coming from the mouth of a leader, even when contradicting another leader, well that’s dangerous. Ask relatives of people who lived in Jonestown, Guyana. Like the people in the Willey handcart company. There can be a real-world consequence to following leaders who think themselves messengers of God.

    You don’t know Jana’s intent. She hasn’t told you personally, I’m sure. You can infer all you like. But her threads are mostly about furthering the Mormon faith according to her opinion. You are of the “shut-up-and-do-what-you’re-told” authoritarian-patriarchy variety of Mormons. I was one of them. If you disagree with Jana, state doctrinally and rationally your disagreements instead of slipping into ad hominems and sarcasm.

    What exactly do you hope to accomplish with your naggery to Jana? Are you going to brow-beat her into your version of good Mormon membership? Who elected you scold? Do you think your tone of voice is best calculated to changing her heart and mind?

    “Wealth at any cost”. Huh? That came out of left field. I’m not persecuting you. If you post on other forums, I wouldn’t know. I don’t care. Once in a very great while I might surf other Religion News blogs. But, as a general matter, I don’t. So I’m not following you anywhere. Quite the opposite. I just don’t like your brand of Mutaween policing of other (Jana) members. If it happens here, you’re going to get pushback. Make defensible arguments and you’ll do better.

    You may be glad Smith shot at his attackers. I’m not glad about any of it, including his death, or the suffering of his deluded followers. He was in the wrong. He destroyed a printing press to keep it from exposing his lies about not practiciing polygamy in Nauvoo. I think his death was nothing more than chickens coming home to roost. Karma is a bitch.

  • “Because the credulous who just accept anything coming from the mouth of a
    leader, even when contradicting another leader, well that’s dangerous.”

    There’s some footage of my old mission President on youtube here:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zT1OfP8CqKo&t=70s

    Back in 1987 he told me that he followed the prophet on the earth’s counsel and at that time in 73, that was the prophet on the earth’s counsel.

    All of the brethren followed the prophet’s counsel for that is the order that God has established on earth.

    # When Moses disobeyed God and touched the rock with his staff, and the rock gave forth water, the power of God was with the prophet regardless of the prophet doing the wrong thing. The Israelites drank the water and were not condemned for the miracle had provided them with water. Moses was forbidden from entering the promised land- the punishment was on his head, the punishment was not upon the drinkers of the water.

    *Brigham was wrong but the doctrine was from the prophet and was to be obeyed.*

    Danny boy, you need to learn to follow the prophet because he is the instrument God has put on the earth and God will punish the prophet when the prophet strays.

    What you’re suggesting is trying to better the prophet through your foolish Jana-inspired beliefs and it’s a course that will lead you to ruin because the foolish philosophies of man will become more important to you than God’s mouthpiece on earth.

  • What about young men who are physically and mentally fit but have no desire to fill a proselyting mission. Will they be able to apply for a service mission. Will a service mission allow missionaries to travel to other missions throughout the world??

  • Alexander,

    You’ve pretty much conceded to my arguments. No rebuttal = concession. Fine. It’s not like I”m fist pumping.

    Your response is basically
    #1 Cite to an as yet mythological character for whom absolutely no evidence exists. (As a side note, check out the basic elements of Krishna’s life. There are parallels to Moses, ie all males being killed, being raised by a different mother, water and reeds, leading people from oppressive rulers, being saved by some miraculous watery miracle)

    #2 Cite to a person who’s every original doctrine is now disavowed by the current church.

    Seriously? That’s the best you have?

    Your position is I should follow the Mormon prophets. I’ve played the song Follow The Prophet so many times in primary I can still remember a verse or two. Now it’s just unsettling to me that I participated in such damaging indoctrination of little children.

    Ok. So, maybe you can just answer this. I’ve not researched it of late. Name me one…single..original and unique…prophecy, or hell, suggestion, by ANY of the so-called latter day prophets of the Mormon church, that later events have shown to be prophetic. If you have an answer, please use something not anecdotal, but can be independently verified through more than one source. If Moses lived today, and parted the Red Sea, that would be no problem at all.

    In other words, show me why the Mormon prophets are prophets.

  • Hang on Danny, you said you were a member of the church- so, you’re not now, huh. You are a bitter little former member Danny who has more respect for street chanters than for the word of God.

    I showed you how the Lord works and you defile it, just as Jana wants.

  • Alexander, where did I say I was anything but a former member? In the last relevant post I said “I was one of them.” Past tense, my man. Basic grammar. Try to keep up. I can’t understand it for you.

    You’ve ducked my questions consistently in this and other threads. You have no decent responses to any of my challenges. Don’t you have one…single…instance of a Mormon prophet acting as such in anything but name?

    Here, let me help you. Joseph Smith predicting the Civil War. Oops, doesn’t hold up. Joseph Fielding Smith saying man will never set foot on the moon. Oops, again. The Saints will return to Missouri. Still waiting.

    Anyone? Buehler?

  • Danny, you want proof of what the prophets of The Chruch of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints say as being the word of God but then you quote the story of krishna to me, which says to me that you don’t want proof as that is your faith now.
    I show you Moses touching the rock and how prophets work and you instantly trample on it, while believing in the story the hari krishna’s tell you instead.

    Dude, I don’t believe in the atonal street chanting religion but, in saying that, I don’t go to krishna websites and attack their beliefs. For some weird reason, attacking the church and the beliefs of saints, positively excites you though.

    You demand pearls yet you’re the filthiest of swine Danny for you don’t listen to the spirit- you listen to populist nonsense and proclaim it as virtuous.

    # Jana has given you haven here- it’s somewhere to attack the church and make her money from her dreary book.

    ## Hmm, now I seem to recall Pres Hinckley stating about 3-4 times from 2006-2008 that the Saint’s personally needed to get out of debt. Sure, there were some people in the world talking about the coming economic collapse but Pres Hinckley validated that and then when the mortgage crisis occurred, those who listened and got out of big mortgage debt were spared the grief.
    The prophets of God’s true and only church on the earth don’t bang on about trendy over-population or sea-level rise or the virtues of vegetarianism and yet some loud voices in the world do now.

    If you never had a personal miracle or heeded the words of the Prophet and found joy from doing that whilst a member, then that’s totally, 100%YOUR OWN FAULT Danny.

  • So, diatribe aside, you continue to rely on the story of Moses and water, and Hinckley’s stay out of debt. So, is Dave Ramsey a prophet? Because he’s had a radio show since about 1993 where he advocates to get out of debt. Seriously, this is the best you can do?

    Actually, that is pretty funny. Because just the other day I mentioned to my wife the complete dumbing down and trivializing of the concept of “revelation” by Rusty Nelson changing church to 2 hours and insisting people not call you Mormons cuz…Satan. Here you go validating that observation. An ancient prophet makes water come out of a rock, and the best you have in modern times is Gordon saying stay out of debt. Personally, I think you sold Gordon short.

    A gem from Gordon in general conference. “Likewise the piercing of the body for multiple rings in the ears, in the nose, even in the tongue. Can they possibly think that is beautiful? It is a passing fancy, but its effects can be permanent. Some have gone to such extremes that the ring had to be removed by surgery. The First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve have declared that we discourage tattoos and also “the piercing of the body for other than medical purposes.” We do not, however, take any position “on the minimal piercing of the ears by women for one pair of earrings”—one pair.” Hey, no more than one pair for girls only! None for men. Now that is deep, man. Right up there with “In the beginning, was the Word…”.

    “You demand pearls yet you’re the filthiest of swine Danny for you don’t listen to the spirit- you listen to populist nonsense and proclaim it as virtuous.”

    Ouch. I’m a filthy swine. Alex, name-calling? Thank you for confirming you can’t hang with the grown-ups. The Spirit you mention, would that be the same one that told Abraham to murder his son, or told Nephi to cut off the defenseless Laban’s head? That one? You are right. Voices in my head are not my thing. I believe rationality, evidence-based thinking is the way to go. And I believe there are perfectly sound secular reasons for being honest, truthful, charitable, etc. Anybody who does good to rack up heavenly points is lesser to me than somebody who does good simply because it’s the right thing to do.

    “The prophets of God’s true and only church on the earth don’t bang on about trendy over-population or sea-level rise or the virtues of vegetarianism and yet some loud voices in the world do now.”

    Nice straw-man argument ploy. Really, what you find important from the so-called prophet says more about you. I really don’t care about over-population. I think technology and the earth can feed its billiions. I do care about climate change, which is scientifically confirmed. How about war, famine, pestilence, human-trafficking? Crickets from your boys.

    “# Jana has given you haven here- it’s somewhere to attack the church and make her money from her dreary book.”

    If it bothers you so much, why come here? If her words are so useless to you. again, why are you here? I’ve explained myself a number of times. You have not.

    “If you never had a personal miracle or heeded the words of the Prophet and found joy from doing that whilst a member, then that’s totally, 100%YOUR OWN FAULT Danny.”

    Typical Mormon gaslighting. Or maybe what you perceive as a miracle is a manifestation of your confirmation bias. Most believers have it. Google it.

    Let’s flip the tables, Alexander.

    Since you are a member of the only true and living church on the face of earth, having the fulness of the Gospel, and having the Gift of the Holy Ghost with the right to receive revelation, but God doesn’t inspire you to answer the simplest questions and instead duck, hedge, prevaricate, deflect, or simply not respond at all, then that’s totally, 100%YOUR OWN FAULT Alexander.

    Have you been touching yourself Alex? Go read The Miracle of Forgiveness, because, God loves you and wants you to be clean. You, too, can be forgiven.

  • Don’t know who dave ramsey is but the point is that there are people saying such and such all the time but the Prophet is the one to follow.

    The prophet made those points and many saints listened because they follow the prophet- the saints didn’t bother listening to the failed end of the world predictions via Y2K, CERN start up or the Mayan apocalypse of 2012, because the Prophet didn’t mention it.

    If you want to listen to the populist ‘we’re all going to die from sea level rise’ type diatribe that the left extols now then you go right ahead Danny. Ha haa ha ha..

    OH HAHAHA AH HA yeah, oh, trying not to laugh as I type…

    don’t be upset that I’m laughing at you Danny, for you wallowing in crap amuses me.

    # You and Jana go right ahead and follow the world.

  • Actually, I thought she was being bluntly honest in her assessment, perhaps too much so for her own safety with nutty old “Profit” Nelson at the helm of the Church. He sort of reminds me of the “High Sparrow” in Game of Thrones.

  • More people believe in Bigfoot or Aliens than believe in Mormonism. You comprise far less than .10% of humanity. The insignificance of Mormonism is amazing. And it is growing more so each day.

  • I agree – both the Church of Jesus Christ of the latter-Day Saints and the Catholic Church continue to grow.

  • Wanna bet? They are shedding members for a reason. If they were so great people would be flocking towards them.

  • What’s the point of your trolling? You’re responding a second time to a comment that is nearly a month old. Are you really that desperate for attention and validation? If the Church is dying, then your work is done. Your insecurity tells me that you don’t believe your own message.

  • The entire “NONES” thing is a statistical artifact.

    The Muslims are NOT growing by watering down Islam.

  • With a less than 1% growth rate, you aren’t even keeping up with the Octogenarians who are dying off. Mormonism is terribly unpopular everywhere outside of the Morridor. It comprises far less than 1/2 of 1% of the world’s population, especially when you consider that 2/3rds of members want nothing to do with the high demand cult and haven’t attended in years for a reason.

  • You know, if it serves pizza and beer it might step up the membership.

    If it added marijuana it might do even better.

    If the goal is membership, not a revealed religion, the sky is the limit.

    So, how does that work out in practice?

    Take a look at the Episcopal Church. It has last roughly half its membership in four decades.

    End of story.

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