The Psychological Cost of an LDS Mission

Like so many Mormon women, I was thrilled with the front-page, above-the-fold story about how “Missions Signal a Growing Role for Mormon Women” in the Sunday March 2 New York Times.

Laurie Goodstein and Jodi Kantor produced one of the best pieces of reporting by non-Mormons about Mormons that I’ve ever seen. Joanna Brooks lists five reasons to love it; as a returned missionary, I can add a few more.

By and large, it was scrupulously accurate. The tone was perfect—respectful without lapsing into the reverence or romanticizing a church publication so often displays for missionary work; curious and interested in what’s unusual and unexpected about missionary life without treating the missionaries themselves as oddities.

I was especially pleased that it highlighted how few results tracting yields—I really hope that the church expands its efforts to replace futile activities like that with more productive ones like service.

I was glad it reported that “sister missionaries are outperforming male ones in recruitment.” This was true in my mission as well and was one reason my first mission president was always asking Salt Lake City to send him equal numbers of male and female missionaries. Instead, elders outnumbered sisters two to one. 

I have only a few quibbles with the article.

One was the rather cursory way that organizations like Ordain Women were dealt with, though the Times absolutely made up for that on March 6, with an article detailing emails from women about changes they would like to see in the church. These are requests borne of deep, genuine pain and confusion—not spite or unrighteousness or hard-heartedness or querulousness or a propensity to take offense when none is intended, as is so often alleged.

I was also a bit taken aback by this statement:

holly.welker@gmail.com'

Holly Welker [@hollywelker] has an MFA in nonfiction writing and PhD in literature from the University of Iowa. Her poetry and prose have appeared in publication ranging from Seventeen to Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought to Bitch to the New York Times. Born and raised in southern Arizona, she currently lives in northern Utah.

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