Tuesday, July 12, 2011

You Can Check Out Anytime You Like, But You Can Never Leave: Breaking away from the Mormons

My father used to ba a Mormon. That was after he was Catholic the first time but before he was Catholic again. My mother has always been a Catholic. My brother and I were baptized, first-communicated, and confirmed Catholic, but we were also blessed as LDS children. This laying on of hand was against our will (okay, against MY will; my brother couldn't have cared much less) and without our parents' knowledge, but it still somehow makes us Mormons as far as the LDS church is concerned.

Most churches pretty much let members or attendees come and go as they please. Someone might show up at a church on most Sundays for the better part of a year. The person may even go so far as to formally become a member of that church. The rituals associated with becoming a member of a church vary from being baptised by immersion (I've heard the Moravians dunk you three times, face forward) to baptism by sprinkling to simply agreeing to some sort of general creed, often the essence of which is that the prospective member agrees not to kill anyone except in in self-defense or to steal or commit adultery except among the most extreme of circumstances. Sometimes the member sticks with the church. Other times the person decides he or she has better things to do with his or her Sunday mornings or whatever day the church worships, which may or may not involve attending another church. Some people take joining a church about as seriously as filling out a membership card for the P. T. A. (My parents once signed our Golden Retriever up for membership in the PTA because they didn't have correct change for just rhemselves and didn't want to send a check.) Other people change religious affiliation with about the same degree of regularity that some people change their underwear. I have no problem with any if it, except withthose who don't change their underwear regularly. The framers of our constitution guaranteed us freedom of religion. While not everyone agrees with me, I would interpret this as freedom from religion as well. In any event, most churches do not send their own ecclesiastical equivalent to the CIA after individuals who choose to no longer participate in churches with which they've been formerly associated.

Then there's the Church of Jesus christ of Lattter-Day Saints. . . My dad uses a quote from an old Eagles' hit, "Hotel California," in describing how easy it is to sever ties from the LDS Church: "You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave."

That has been our family's experience, and things we've heard from other families who were once LDS but decided to no longer continue the practice lead us to believe that our experiences have been far from unique.

In the olden days, such as the 1980's, whenever Mormons tried to break away from the fold, it was the duty of other members of the congregation to fellowship, harass, or otherwise brobeat them into returning to full activity in the church. (In the really olden days of the Church, such as when Brigham Young was still in charge, individuals acting on Church authority use to literally kill those who tried to leave.) Lately, we've noticed a change in this trend (both the trend of using local members to re-fellowship backsliders and the trend of literally killing dissenters.). Whether it's becuase Mormons simply refuse to harass their neighbors and co-workers into returning to church because it's a socially awkward practice, or whether it is because the world is a more dangerous place than it once was, and it is no longer safe to send ninteen-year-old boys or twenty-one-year-old girls door-to-door in search of potential converts, full-time missionaries now have taken over the bulk of the job of luring lapsed members back into the fold.

Whether this approach is any more or less successful than the previous approach of delegating the chore to the local rank-and-file members, it's decidedly less discommodious both for the local membership and for the full-time missionaries. It must certainly be less embarrassing for local members not to have to badger co-workers, parents' of children's friends, or casual acquaintances in the name of religion. At the same time, it must be slightly less daunting for full-time missionaries to knock on the doors of former members than to seek out total strangers in a similar manner. While the former members more likely than not won't be all that receptive to anything the mishies have to share, chances are that neither will the former Mormons invite the young mishies in, chloroform them, and dismember them with chainsaws. I'm not suggesting such a thing happens often to missionaries, or even that it has ever happened to to any missionary in the history of the LDS church, but the way we've all grown up with warnings of nefarious strangers and the fates even worse than death that we might suffer if we speak to them, much less enter their homes, the thought has to be lurking in the minds of at least some of the mishies.

My brother and I have been directed never to answer the door to anyone we don't know, which includes most LDS missionaires. If they appear when my dad is nearest the door, he usually hits the mute button on the TV and tells us all to shut up. On the rare occasion that he has opened the door expecting someone else, only to find two youmg men in suits and ties facing him, he tries to politely tell them that he's not interested, nor is anyone else in the house. He's been a nineteen-year-old missionairy himself, and he won't be outwardly rude to them. If they look hot, he'll offer them bottled water and allow them to sit on the swing on our shaded front porch until they feel sufficiently rested to go about their duties. Sometimes the missionaries have hung out on our front porch for hours. If either missionary looks especially pale or hungry, he'll load them down with bags of fruit, beef jerky, and granola bars.

The missionaries strike gold when my mother answers the door. She briefly invites them inside. She explains to them that we're staunch Catholics. (This is semi-true; my mother a relatively staunch Catholic with the exception of her objection to people who have neither the financial means nor the child-coping skills to breed like cochroaches relying upon Natural Family Planning as their sole means of birth control. I'm somewhat adherent to the faith, at least as far as believing in Jesus and treating people decently are concerned. My brother picks one of the ten commandments and follows it each week until he's covered all ten, then starts over, or that's what he says, anyway. My dad attends mass most weeks, donates money to the Church, and otherwise keeps a low enough profile as far as the Catholic Church is concerned that no one who hasn't spent enough time in our home to hear his rather extensive R-rated vocabulary questions his devotion to Catholicism.) Anyway, my mom explains that while my father formerly had ties to their church, and that the two children in the family were indeed blessed though without her knowledge or consent, that their time as missionaries would be better spent trying to convert Paris Hilton or the Kardashians than any of us. On the other hand, my mom explains to them that she would be more than happy to invite them to dinner at our house soon. The ground rules for this meal taking place are that one of the missionaries may give a prayer to bless the food, and that someone can even say a closing prayer just before they leave if it would somehow make them feel more justified in spending time with us. Otherwise, religious proselyting is off limits during the time they are with us. The missionaries have taken my mother up on her offer more times than I can remember.

The missionaries usually show up at about 6:00 and eat hors d'ouvres. They're not supposed to watch television. If an important sporting event is in progress while they are there, it's usually on a TV in another room. It is their prerogative to watch or not watch. Uusually at least one of the two mishie wants to watch. If his missionary companion (that's waht they're called" "companions") is a complete tool, the other one usually stays away from the TV. If both missionaries are somewhat cool, they usually watch along with my dad and my brother.

Most of the evening after dinner is usually spent playing and singing music, as that is something that one companion cannot get another companion into trouble for as long as the music doesn't venture too far into rock territory.

My mother serves the missionaries an elaborate meal with dessert. She tries to make enough food that she can send leftovers home with them. She has also told them that if they ever run out of money to buy food, they should call our house 9she gives out our number), and we will deliver food to them. She usually doesn't come right out and say this to them, but if she gets the feeling that it's an appropriate thing to say, she tells them that if there's ever a reason they need either to be in contact with a member of their families or if they need to go home and have no other way of getting there, they should come to our home and she will help them. My mother has actually driven one misionary to the airport and put him on a plane to Hawaii, mostly at her own expense. While my father doesn't get actively involved in my mother's effort to aid and abet in the escape of missionaries, she has his full support.

The Eagles' line, "You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave," continues to apply, but my mom has put a different spin on things.
The LDS Church knows nothing of the nature of the missionaries' dinners with my family. The young missionaries know a good thing when they see it. My mom says she hates to think of kids just a few years older than my brother and I being so far away from home with so few creature comforts.
Still, even when we move, the LDS Church will not let us go. They'll track us down with their usual CIA-like precision and continue to visit us. If the missionaries there are as smart as are the ones here, they'll take advantage of my mom's hospitality and keep their mouths shut.


  1. I can say that I haven't had dealings with the church in a very long time. I told many missionaries that I am now Pagan (which I think seriously has scared a few of them) and not to bother, that I am much happier now. I also sorta wonder if they say away because I have been known for "corrupting" missionaries, in that we watched TV (South Park, no less), drank soda (and sometimes something stronger) and just hung out. All when I was single, and the male missionaries weren't supposed to visit single females for any reason. Oppsie!

    Good for your mom :)

  2. I remember the time when a 19-year-old missionary was sent home in disgrace for being found having sex with a woman of 36.

    That caused some ructions, as you can suppose.