Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Missionary Man

A couple days ago the missionaries knocked on my parent's door, and my mom, though a former LDS member, let them in to talk for a while. Many of her grandchildren are or have been on LDS missions, and so she, of course, wanted to offer these kids her hospitality and let them do their thing. She used to even pay the church some tithing when I came around to pick up the offerings.

Anyway, the whole visit went downhill fast. Small talk led to "the talk," which is fine; she's used to attempts to convert her and has seen it all before. Heck, a group of local relief society members made her into a project a couple years ago for about 6 months. When pressed by this missionary for areas where she disagrees with the LDS church, she eventually brought up my family and the church's active involvement in changing the constitution to keep us from equal rights. Then it got ugly.

Fortunately it was just the one missionary that became combative, while the other kept quiet. This kid began telling my mom our family was illegitimate and sinful. He told her we were selfish because we weren’t raising children. Then, when she corrected him and showed him a picture of her grandkids, he reversed and told her that we were selfish because we were raising children, and even suggested they weren’t really our children because they weren’t biologically related to us both. So are they not “really” someone’s grandkids too? (I don’t think it’ll ever cease to surprise me that so many people do or will consider children they parent only theirs if it’s by biology, as if a change in DNA sequence would change their love and devotion. It’s kind of depressing to think on it.)

Finally the guy had the nerve to say his faith had nothing against either Rob or I. They just want us to basically break up, and pay more in cash and legal intangibles than they do. See, that’s okay, in his eyes. That, in his doublespeak, is treating people with love and respect.

Now my mom, as has been her nature as long as I’ve had the fortune of being her son, didn’t get upset and remained patient but clear (fortunately, my dad wasn’t at home ;-). He'll outright fight for us.). In fact, she related the encounter to me with some amusement. And, at first, it was kind of a funny encounter to me too. But, as I’ve been thinking about it, about what that kid was trying to do, it’s starting to look much worse.

What was this guy’s ultimate goal? To turn my mom on our family? To get her to (“lovingly”) begin to see our home as illegitimate, evil? Our home that arguably has the best, most stable marriage of any of her eight children; that’s what he was hoping to end? To get her to hope, as he was, for us to split up our kid’s home? And then I start to wonder, did he want her to impart such “values” to our children, during the many visits they all enjoy by living so close to us? To teach our children to undermine their very home?

I'm a bit upset. No, more than a bit upset. Today, I’m feeling outright nervous and combative; I’ve even been wondering if staying here is ultimately best. I’ve began to even worry about the LDS kid in Brian’s class who keeps talking to him about going to heaven. I know it sounds minor and it wasn’t a bother until now, but trying to temped our kid’s with the idea of heaven leads to the dogma and allegiances that are the supposed price for that reward.

And I, being agnostic, can’t ethically suggest such rewards and punishments as heaven and hell. I can’t compete on promises of pleasure and pain alone; all I can offer their young minds is a complicated lecture on why I’ve come, after a long path, to see doubt as the more correct and more humane position. But I’d never want them to give that lecture in school; I’d lay down the law if they even tried to debunk Santa there. But this little kid is promising Brian a great deal already, an escape from death for himself and those he loves, and goodness knows that the human mind can talk itself into a lot of varied and mutually exclusive beliefs for that comfort. The research on our coloring of experience alone is quite striking. So what, when faced with these pressures, will happen to our boys?

I don’t know. Such a worry simply comes with being a parent, I guess, along with many others, and I don’t mean to pose it as extraordinary.

I do know no missionary from any faith could turn my parents on us. In that case, it’s just the thought of the missionary’s goal and his complete disrespect for family (if the anatomy isn’t “right”) that makes me upset. But I know, in my teens, I wandered quite a bit from the positions of my parents, and they always encouraged my inquiry. I was everything from Baptist to Buddhist (1, 2); I was even LDS and could have been that missionary, arguing against my family at some point in my life. And I’m sure our boys will wander too… Looking back on it now, I have to admit, I want them to wander. It will hurt, but it’s one of those trials a parent shouldn’t stop (as I guess I already knew :-)).

Eh, and I’ll get over this combative mood too; I always do. All our neighbors and family here in Utah are great, and I’m close to sure none of them hope for us to split up our home. These border skirmishes, however, put me on edge. They start me wondering about when, not if, the local culture will want to intervene in our homes in ways more damaging than making us constitutionally unrecognized. Just the thought that such a huge organization in my state is sending people door to door saying such things about my home gives me chills.

Maybe, when this particular missionary gets married, I’ll go to his in-laws house and try to talk them into understanding how wrong his family is and that they should encourage his wife to leave him. Sure, I’d have little chance, but at least the returned attack might make me feel better ;-).


Paul said...

Where are you going to move? Surely not to Kansas. Fred Phelps and his clan might show up at your door.

In your last response to me on this topic (Letting the Kids Wonder West of Enoch) I recall you saying, “Thank goodness we’ve some years to prepare, and for hearts to soften a bit more.”

Apparently not ... not if Brian’s already got a classmate preaching such dogma.

Why must some (or any) religions believe that are the only right/true religion? I just don't get it.

For me, everything is based on tremendous acceptance of grace and faith. Without proof.

I do hope that you continue to be open in your beliefs (being a Christian-y Agnostic). It seems to be a very rational place to be.

My atheist brother taught his children to mock anyone who participates in organized religion in any way. They've grown up to be very strange, socially isolated adults.

You and I both know that your family will not be accepted by many, many people. No matter where you live. I just hope you’re able to teach the boys to be understanding of those that judge them.


Mr. Fob said...

Sometimes people make me want to be a hermit.

playasinmar said...

It doesn't matter where you live, your kids are going to try religion eventually. Mormonism is a likely stop for them.

What are you planning to do when that happens?

Beck said...

I am sooo sorry!

We can excuse that missionary for being over-zealous, over-bearing, self-righteous, misinformed, you name it... and we can excuse him as the exception to the rule, the bad apple.

Unfortunately, my thoughts go to the fact that such attitudes prevail and are taught to the youth of the church and aren't corrected along the way, leading to such explosions of inappropriate passions. And why do such attitudes prevail? Because enough of us (me) within the church, don't speak up for what is right!

This post has stirred in me something... to stop being so silent when confronted with such hate-speech, and to embrace love for all.

I, for one, love your family!

Chris said...

I just tried to post some insightful comments, but Blogger wigged out on me.

So instead I'll just say that the immorality of the young missionary's sense of morality is what troubles me most about your story.

Brady said...

As a former missionary, I can attest to the fact that they don't know nearly as much as they think they do. And a lot of them believe in things that are wrong (like caffeine being against the word of wisdom, and R-rated movies being banned by the For Strength of Youth pamphlet). That's why my mission president told us to stick to the basics of the gospel when teaching and talking to people.

I feel awful inside when I hear of missionaries doing things like this. And I know that this is probably not as isolated of an incident as I would like to think it is. There are bigots in the church, that's just the way it is. But I still maintain hope that far more people are understanding and real about things. I knew some missionaries in my mission who would have done something like this, but I knew plenty more who would have responded completely differently. Don't let the young missionary's immaturity get to you too much.

Scot said...

Paul: "Where are you going to move? Surely not to Kansas. Fred Phelps and his clan might show up at your door."

Now there’s a reason not to get too high up in the gay rights movement. The guy travels anyway; I went to one of his protests here in Utah.

Kansas, though? Not in my top ten :-). I’ve this Vancouver fantasy, though. I know there will be issues everywhere, and today everything is in better perspective, as I suppose I knew it would be. And your advice is well received. The last thing I want is the boys to take up bitterness or become the opposite of this missionary.

Playa…What are you planning to do when that happens?

This is the plan. Plans are so easy to write ;-).

I am not, though, paying for a mission! :-P

Beck: I am sooo sorry!

Oh man, don’t be. Individuals are responsible for their own actions, and you’ve been nothing but a reminder of what’s good about the LDS church to me.

Chris: I hear ya. Amongst some of the worst deeds in human history there are too few done by people who weren’t certain of their morality. It’s a scary thing to me, even in such minor doses.

Brady: "I can attest to the fact that they don't know nearly as much as they think they do."

Hey, who among us did at 19 ;-)?

"I knew plenty more who would have responded completely differently"

I’m sure, and I hope, in my temper, I didn’t disparage all missionaries. Some of my favorite nephews have been them (not to mention the guy I married!). Like I said, by my mom’s account, it was only the one missionary. The other kept quiet, and hopefully he wasn’t of the same mindset and did say something to his companion when alone.

J G-W said...

Wow, I wish I had discovered your blog earlier. Thanks for posting on mine and drawing me here.

Very interesting story. I feel fortunate to have devout LDS parents who also stick up for me, and who are trying, in their own way, to be a leavening influence in their ultra-conservative Springville, UT ward. I could tell some stories.

Over the years, many desperate parents have come to my parents saying, "My son/daughter is gay! What do I do!" And they have quietly counseled love, patience, and educating oneself. I have come to believe this to be the "true" LDS position, not the frantic, judgmental posture of the missionary in question...

If it were easy to build a society, church and culture based upon love and equality, we'd already be living in the Millennium, wouldn't we?

J G-W said...

I should add... My parents are VERY protective of my relationship with Göran. I don't think they would put up with the kind of flak that missionary gave your (former LDS) mom any more than your mom did.

One of their favorite movies is The Family Stone, and their favorite scene in that movie is the dinner scene, where Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker) starts to make homophobic comments, and Sybil (Diane Keaton) goes all mother lion on her ass. I think my mom would get the same way. Do not mess with a Finnish mother.

Forester said...

My children have not yet asked about gay relationships, still too young. But, I'm trying to form my views now before they do and decide what to say. I hope they will never be harsh or mean to anyone regarding the subject. I hope that I have taught them the principles of love and acceptance.

elbow said...

I just can't even imagine what that feels like. To have kids and to feel so invested in their happiness and the safety in the community they are rasied in for that type of toxic energy to be directed at anyone, let alone your children is enough to make me want to move too if I were in that situation.

You know respect you so much. I want to be just like you are your family when I grow up. Whatever you do, know that you are still a huge inspiration to those who read what you have to say. I'm equally as passionate as you are about this topic and as frustrating as it is, it never seems to subside because there are always going to be bigoted people out there. But that doesn't make it any easier does it?

I love you guys. Your life is beautiful to me. Thanks for sharing, even though it sucks sometimes.

Scot said...

J: “I have come to believe this to be the "true" LDS position, not the frantic, judgmental posture of the missionary in question...

Man J, I hope you’re right. Glad to hear about your folks too. I don’t know where I’d be without supportive and loving parents.

Forester: My children have not yet asked about gay relationships, still too young.

You know what’s funny? Our kids haven’t asked about it yet either, at five. They just take their parents as a given, as I suppose most kids do, without questioning the difference. I always thought it’d come up by now at school or from their observations of friend’s families but not a word yet. They don’t even know what gay means as far as I know.

“ But, I'm trying to form my views now before they do and decide what to say.

Amen to that!

I hope that I have taught them the principles of love and acceptance.

And that.


Thank you very much for the kind words.

But that doesn't make it any easier does it?

Yeah, they’ll always be there. But it’d make it easier if the mentality was less prominent. I know there are anti-LDS bigots, even in Provo ;-), and I’m sure LDS families there give the issue much less thought than I do. The question, for me, is if I should go find the Prove for my family. I don’t know. We’re doing great here, for now, as long as I keep my worries bottled up and undetectable when I’m around our boys. It’s a good thing there are blogs :-).