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July 21, 2013


I think in the case of the Mormon church the missionary years serve a similar function as the military service for the state once did, a rite de passage into adulthood where the 'serving' in a hierarchical system is the most important part. It prepares them to later serve in both superior and subordinate positions inside the apparatus (He, who shall give orders must first learn to obey them). This military strain has showed up many times in different Christian denominations. It still can be found in the song books (songs that equal being Christian with being a soldier are numerous).

[nasty]Missionary work is like spam. If one in a thousand (or ten thousand) encounters yield even one conversion, the church wins, esp. when the missionaries work 'pro bono' [/nasty]


While I agree with you about the authoritarian nature of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, the comparison of Christians and soldiers is actually biblical. I don't remember chapter and verse, but I think it's from Pauline epistles.

Even the word "sacrament" originally meant the Roman military oath.

The actual social purpose of the mission, it seems to me as an outsider, is to solidify the feeling that the gentile world is difficult and unwelcoming

I would say purpose no, consequence yes.

The end result is the same: the reinforcement of that particular community of believers as different from and rejected by the rest of the world.

There is a strong theme of separatism and deliberate distancing from the 'secular' world in a lot of conservative (theologically speaking, not politically speaking) Christian denominations.

Similar dynamics exist in some other religions - extremely Orthodox and/or Hasidic Judiaism, for example - but the numbers involved in those cases is much smaller.

There is indeed a strain of that but it was not a dominant one until Christianity got co-opted by the Roman empire. Before that soldiers could not become Christians and vice versa*. I read the 'militant' verses as predominantly defensive with far more emphasis on the shield than the sword of faith and the sword more as a spiritual tool than one to kill living humans. Some isolated words attributed to Jesus puzzle theologians to this day ('I have come not to bring peace but the sword' vs. the Sermon on the Mount' and 'he who lives by the sword shall die by it'). The militant streak I spot e.g. in those songs** but also in sermons looks far more earth-bound to me with actual swords (or more modern weapons) not spiritual ones. Even in the most bloodthirsty NT book, Revelations, I see no call for the believers to take up arms (it's G*d that commits the acts of slaughter) and Paul openly opposes a violent approach. Mixed messages no doubt but hardly a call for a church organized like an army (mentioned hierarchy far too flat and clearly elected from below not imposed from above).

*there are no hints in Acts or the gospels though that discriminate directly against soldier as a job (cf. Jesus' praise of the strength of faith of a Roman centurio)
**I never know which I should find more disturbing, the 'spill the blood of the enemy' ones or the 'take a bath in the blood of Jesus' ones

I'd say most of theworld is a gentile world, because gentile = "not a jew" On the other hand, I sense that there are a lot of heathens hereabouts. The kids carrying the signs may not know it, but if you asked me, I'd reckon that the most important part of evangelizing is the refreshments.


Like it or not, the Mormons have appropriated the term "gentile" to refer to a nonmember.

If the purpose were to reinforce tribalism through failure, the Church isn't doing a very good job. All missionaries would be sent to really difficult places (where rejection is the rule). That simply isn't the case. Some are sent to such places and others to places where the Church is growing rapidly and all points in between. And the point is to get past rejection anyway. Why do that if rejection is the goal?

Missions do a lot more positive than simple language learning. I did learn Spanish on my mission. I also had my eyes opened to a culture (really cultures) that I never would have seen in my native Alaska. My view point on immigration is typically very different (and IMHO more nuanced and informed) than most of my political persuasion. That's from the mission.

A friend's son just returned from South Africa on his mission. One of his first Facebook posts was about the culture shock of being back home (overwhelmingly white) and missing the black people of South Africa. Think John Huntsman's mission to Taiwan (or dare I say Mitt Romney's mission to France?).

Missions also include a lot of non-proselyting service and service is emphasized more and more. The missions in the Tri-State are were released from any proselytizing duties and sent out to help, frex.

I do not disagree that although the mission is an extension of what we believe and the mandate in the New Testament to preach the gospel throughout the world, it is also about the individual. It allows for two years of serious reflection, study and service. It is hard work even when successful. But I do disagree that it is meant to reinforce an "us vs. them" mentality.

Hartmut's comments are partly right, IMHO. No doubt the mission is a rite of passage. And there are leadership opportunities that do help train young people for future positions in the Church (and as the Church has a lay priesthood that is important). But it is more about initiative and individual responsibility and stewardship than leadership from above, IMHO.

The witnessing at ComiCon and the Westboro Baptist Church examples seem to me (not having all that much exposure to such) as nothing like the Mormon mission. Missions are voluntary and served by young adults.

I don't think I even agree with Russell's comment that the result of missionary work is to make missionaries feel the "Gentile" world is difficult and unwelcoming (although I obviously think he is right about that end result not being the purpose). We don't need a mission to know that our religion isn't for everybody. If anything, the mission has the opposite effect. I think I've said this before, but you can't go out for two years and serve people and look beyond yourself and not end up caring a lot about those you serve. That is probably the universal mission experience.

And spam? Really? The Church is always trying to make missionary work more successful and less annoying to those that don't want to listen.

Other Mormon viewpoints on missions here . FYI, of course. I wouldn't proselyte on Sunday!

I don't think I even agree with Russell's comment that the result of missionary work is to make missionaries feel the "Gentile" world is difficult and unwelcoming

I was thinking more of conservative evangelical / fundamentalist Protestant churches, and not really of the Mormon church.

Without knowing it from the inside, my sense is that the dynamics in the Mormon church are different. They seem to be a more confident organization, and less fearful of the outside world, than the more separatist branches of conservative Protestantism.

Just my opinion, based on an outside view (of the Mormons, I have spent time in the conservative / fundamentalist Protestant world).

bc, I would not disagree that much with you. I know that a lot of missionaries (primarily from the mainline denominations) have become in essence development helpers in the 3rd world with proselytizing becoming secondary. But esp. with the more aggressive groups I see very different forces at work. Some, esp. radical protestants, target almost exclusively not 'the heathen' but other Christians (Catholics, mainline protestants). And in some cases I am aware of the mission work strongly resembles pimp/prostitute relationships between the (exclusively male) leadership and the (predominantly female) rank and file, Jehovah's Witnesses being the prime example around here.
As far as the spam remark goes, that method is used by groups (usually US based) in Europe. It's applied mass marketing with a minimal individual success rate due to ignorance of the local 'market'. The unwillingness to modify the methods is compensated for by increase in volume.
The impression I get is that the common German sees Jehovah's Witnesses as a nuisance (while pitying the individual 'missionary') and Mormons as android robots (well dressed and behaved but clearly deep in uncanny valley). 'Romneybot' would be seen as a typical example.
Pentecostals give the impression of freaks and, although the movement is originally European, are seen as typical US American (silly and mostly harmless in this case).

his overall conclusion is that the purpose (conscious or not) of this kind of pointless or mockable evangelism is in fact to have outsiders reject them, because that makes the tribal or insider bonds much stronger.

Hmmm, it seems like this dynamic is at work with any group. I realize that Comic-con is the flavor of the day, but people don't (or at least didn't) wear Sailor Moon or Imperial Stormtrooper outfits because everyone lavished praise on them. As the Ian Frazier line goes 'Your antipathy is like a tonic to me.'

I drop into my you kids get off my yard mode, but I was a Marvel comic book junkie in junior and senior high school, and I certainly didn't feel like I was the coolest kid around because I knew the story lines for the Marvel catalogue.

This is not to dismiss bc's observation. Shared effort, shared understanding that comes with a particular experience creates an inside and an outside and that's can be a good thing. If the point is that these Christian groups are doing it in a particularly obnoxious way for a purpose that is questionable, by getting their children to experience this kind of rejection and turn to their church family for support, I agree, but the claim seems to suggest that other groups don't do this, and I really can't think of a group that doesn't do this to some extent.

At very local level, meaning in my county, I see missionaires as preying on the vulnerable. Some of the most toxic right-wing politicized churches in my locality run serves for the destitute and the desparate in order to suck them into the churches.

I don't have the impression that they keep their new members, however, because their solution to real problems is to pray them away. There isn't much in the way of practical help. It kind of reminds me of Christian charity as described by Dickens or Orwell.

I think lj is right: one aspect of membership in almost any group is a sense of separateness from others. Groups and members of groups handle that in a multiplicity of ways. The sense of superiority that comes from being rejected is just one way of re-enforcing group membership, but an outlier way. It kind of reminds me of how some political groups come across: taking outlandish positions in order to get rejected so as to feel special and superior.

I don't think it is a very effective technique for recruiting members since seeking rejection by others implies rejection of the others. That's where the cultishness comes in, I suppose.

I wonder what the prevailing American viewpoint would be if, say, Saudi Muslim missionaries came to rebuild (e.g.) inner-city Detroit while (as a secondary mission) proselytizing to the folks they were helping.

bob, the Rightwingers already believe that to be happening (or at least claim so). Don't forget that Obama is the chief agent of the Muslim Brotherhood and that the commies in the state department (we have a list!!!) have been replaced by other puppets of the sinister ragheads (we still have a list!!!). Thousands of mosques get build every day and the states have to fight an endless retreating battle to stamp down on the implementation of sharia law. Terror babies swamp the land and the majority of the illegal aliens are not actually Mexicans but sand n-words in disguise (same as during WW2 when they were all Japs). Or how else could one explain all the beheaded corpses in the desert?
Jokes aside, the Saudis do invest large scale in the ailing US economy and those parts of the GOP leadership that do not peronally profit from that due to business relations see this as part of a sinister Islamization plot aimed at the Christian US.
Paul (not Ron or Rand but St.) was a bit ambiguous. On the one hand he was the chief proselytizer, on the other hand he recommended isolation of the Christian community from the outer world. Admittedly this was in part to keep the outer world from seeing the unending quarrels inside.

"the younger ones try to shove tracts and leaflets into the hands of people who — if they take them at all — immediately throw them on the ground.

These children looked miserable. They looked sad. "

they needed to be handed COMIC BOOKS. If only there were a nearby convenient source! Oh, wait!

(and I'd imagine that their elders would snatch away the comic books and immediately throw them on the ground)

Regarding militant imagery in Christianity, perhaps the best response ever is one I found in my great-uncle's IWW songbook, a verse which I used in my novel, The Christmas Mutiny:


@Hartmut: bc, I would not disagree that much with you. I know that a lot of missionaries (primarily from the mainline denominations) have become in essence development helpers in the 3rd world with proselytizing becoming secondary.

I wonder how much of that is a desire to perform service and how much is an attempt to back their proselytizing with deeds. The words are nice, but when it comes to recruiting people there's no substitute to showing how great it is to live your principles.

Roger, that was some original intent but A) it rarely works that way and B) already in the 19th century some people became missionaries to get into the 'deed' position, not for actual conversion activities (some famous enthnographers of modest means took and take the same route). There are lots of missionaries that complain that the 'natives' are happy to accept their help but have no intention to actually convert (or do so only outwardly). In some regions (prominently Greenland) missionaries used dirty tricks by setting conversion conditions that broke local taboos in situations where the targets had no choice, so there was no way back. Otherwise they could expect that the people would only act Christian when the missionary was in sight (nothing new, baptized Vikings were notorious for that).
And of course there are the missionaries that 'go native' themselves and switch sides religiously.

I feel I ought to chime in, because (1) my parents were missionaries (in China) and (2) I grew up in a fundamentalist tradition that placed considerable emphasis on "witnessing," although not in the awkward confrontational way described here. In my parents' work and lives I saw no hint of a motive to "solidify tribalism," so that's clearly nothing like a universal. (If anyone cares enough to track it down, I've written a short essay on my mother's career: "This One Thing I Do" in Bonds Across Borders, ed. Priscilla Roberts and He Peiqun, 2007)

Nor did I catch much of this growing up in fundamentalist churches in Southern California half a century ago. (I understand from "Slacktivist," among others, that things have changed in that community; but this was there, then.) We "knew" already that we were "apart from the world" - "in it but not of it" - and felt no need to be publicly opposed in order to validate this knowledge.

Rather, we responded to what we understood to be a Biblical mandate: "Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel . . ." It was, in effect, written into the implied contract. If you believed, this was what you should do. Nothing like as organized as Mormon missions, but no less obligatory in a spiritual sense.

(And neither my parents nor these churches were much into the "social gospel" of providing health care or education or other this-world benefits to the world around them. It is not that they were ungenerous as such; it is that these kind of good works were off the point, which was strictly spiritual.)

But putting this precept - Christians Should Witness - to which I fully subscribed, into practice was another matter entirely, especially when it seemed to involve fronting up to people uninvited and "sharing" with them the Good News of Christ. It was impossible with friends; it was worse with strangers. My inability to do this was a step on my path to leaving the church entirely.

Yet when I think about how awkward and uncomfortable I felt, I am reminded of one time I felt even worse. I was a paperboy (for the Los Angeles Examiner, now long defunct) and one day we were summoned to go out to a new subdivision and knock on people's doors and ask them if they'd like to subscribe. (And if they did we'd get some kind of bonus.)

And I HATED it, like nothing else in my life. Ever since then, when speculating about "If you weren't in your present job, what would you like to be?" I have equivocated (Broadway lyricist? Sex researcher?), but when thinking about what job I would least like to have, it automatically comes up "cold call" or door-to-door sales. I shudder just to type it.

Which, in essence, is much the same as witnessing. You get in people's faces (or their ears, if telephonic) and intrude uninvited into their lives and try to get them to "buy" something they don't think they want and 99% of the time they don't, but you keep on doing it because that's your job. Or your calling.

But no one suggests that door-to-door salesmen are deliberately seeking rejection in order to reinforce their solidarity with other door-to-door salesmen. Nor does that annoying woman who calls to ask you about your insurance coverage rejoice in her martyrdom when you hang up on her abruptly. She's not doing it for kicks; she's doing it because that's the job at hand, and a 1% return rate is better than nothing.

Those, at least, are my thoughts on the general topic of witnessing - none of which may be germane to sending kids to "picket" ComicCon, an activity that falls far from my experience, barely within range of my imagination.

Not that I'm paranoid or anything, but are we sure the NSA isn't running "Captcha" on us? On my previous comment the "words" to recognize were: tocmany clergymen

I'm not convinced that missionary failure is a feature rather than a bug, but Christian tradition does have two tendencies that can make responses to failure particularly pig-headed. One is a "Green Lantern theory" of missionary work: if you have enough faith you can move mountains, therefore if you haven't suceeded it's just because you haven't tried hard enough and you need to pray more rather than change your tactics. The other is the confusion between missionary work and prophecy: a model in which you tell the unpalatable truth to people about their wickedness and they then reject you is not actually a good way of converting people. The end of the book of Jonah is surprisingly funny about this. Jonah finally preaches to the people of Nineveh and they do convert - and then Jonah sulks because they're not going to be punished by God after all. It's a lovely illustration of how complex and flawed missionary thought can be.

the younger ones try to shove tracts and leaflets into the hands of people who — if they take them at all — immediately throw them on the ground.

Sometimes I wonder if the fundamentalist urge for witnessing to complete and total strangers isn't a giant plot designed to make Jack T Chick a wealthy wealthy man.

Or maybe just give people who can't draw well a venue for their work.

Jehovah's Witnesses also are for-profit on this (with higher production values though). That's what I meant when I said that JW rank and file are the prostitutes pimped out by the leaders.

Since I'm no longer a Christian, I probably shouldn't have a voice in this particular matter, but this personal essay on witnessing seemed relevant, to individual believers if not to the original issue of children handing out tracts and carrying placards.

It didn't take long for the Gilberton, PA Sheriff to s*ck his own d*ick:



The Gilberton police chief’s handgun that discharged during a scuffle in a borough bar early Sunday has yet to be recovered by state police.

Troopers are investigating an incident where Mark Kessler, who was off-duty at the time, became involved in an altercation already under way among patrons inside a crowded 2nd Street Pub about midnight when his pistol discharged, shooting him in the hand.

Sgt. Barry Whitmoyer, commander of the Frackville station, said Friday the weapon had not been accounted for and it is not known if the gun was fired intentionally or went off by accident.

“We don’t have the weapon and still have a lot of questions to answer,” Whitmoyer said. “At this point we really don’t know what we have.”

Barney, just gimme the gun.

And Gomer, take the barrel of that thing out of your mouth.

You beat all, ya know that?

As if in celebration, one of those Carolina states further loosened concealed carry laws to let righttards, libtards, and f*ckwads carry in bars and other establishments that serve alcohol, among other locales.

So why can't I drink at the public library?

Or carry a full can of gasoline into church?

What were the other items that were just as hohum risky and accident-prone as guns, I forget?

I'm going to start a petition in my State that if a gun discharges for any reason anywhere outside the threat of imminent danger to the carrier, we send the owner to Texas for quick execution, since Governor Perry wants to steal the executioner jobs, too.

Welp, wrong thread.

Maybe not -- tribalism, etc

Just what do evangelical Christians have against a miscelanious collection of sci-fi geeks and comic book fans? Why not picket strip clubs and bars?
Maybe the whole point of Christianism is to say, 'We're goin' ta Heaven an' you're not. So There!' Remember Jesus' story about the guys praying on the street corner so everybody would see them and know how pius they are? They already have their reward on earth.

This is a nice one ;-)
Can't you feel the love? And the voice of the guy is not that far off from some proselytizer bots one can encounter occasionally.

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