The newspaper in my town, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, ran an article about Mormon missionaries over the weekend. Along with the article was a revealing companion piece: “Young missionaries live by rigid rules.” Drawn from a “four-page list of rules for male Minnesota missionaries,” the article listed twenty-seven for Star-Tribune readers.
The LDS Church wants its representatives to be recognizable (conform) and above reproach; therefore, many of the rules have to do with a clean-cut appearance or avoiding potentially compromising situations with children and people of the opposite sex.
The ‘appearance rules’ include things like the appropriate length of sideburns (above mid-ear), tie styles (no pink or purple), and hair cuts (no buzzes). While appearance rules are understandable, the necessity of this one baffles me:
All missionaries wear a part and comb their hair to the side. You will be the minority and feel out of place if you do not.
The ‘cautionary rules’ listed state that the missionaries should not become too familiar with children; no tickling, hugging, or allowing children to sit on a missionary’s lap. In addition,
Always obey the Rule of Three: In order to enter a home to teach or visit a member or nonmember, there must be three men or three women 16 or older present in the same room. A person in the next room does not count. … The only exception to this rule is that you may enter the home of a person of the opposite sex who is 70 or older. If a person 70 or older is home with someone younger than 70, you must follow the normal Rule of Three.
There is wisdom in setting up these sorts of rules. They are a hedge against false accusations.
Several of the other rules have to do with safety or cleanliness: wear a bike helmet; clean the apartment for an hour every prep-day; dry clean suits often; do all bike repairs outside. When remembering that the missionaries are young men only 19-21 years old, any mother would say these sorts of rules are a must.
But we should also remember that the LDS Church claims these young men have received a personal calling from Almighty God to go into the mission field. They have been individually prepared and equipped for their service: “Whom the Lord calls, the Lord qualifies,” said LDS President Harold B. Lee (quoted in Ensign, November 1995, 50).
Because of this, some of the missionary rules seem out of place to me. Consider a few:
- You may only call other missionaries within your district.
- You may call home [only] on Mother’s Day and Christmas for 45 minutes.
- Missionaries may only access mldsmail.net, lds.org, mormon.org and josephsmith.net.
- Internet usage [allowed only one day a week] is only permissible if companions can see each other’s screens. No exceptions.
- Missionaries may only e-mail family.
- The following music is approved: Especially For Youth, church-produced music, LDS hymns, Mormon Tabernacle Choir, appropriate Christmas music (i.e., no rock) and classical music.
- Please strictly follow the Elbow Rule: Always be near enough to your companion to hear him at a whisper while outside of the apartment. Do not separate for long periods of time within the apartment.
- Missionaries may watch “The Other Side of Heaven” [a movie by Mormon filmmaker Mitch Davis] on preparation day only.
- 100% on the plan: Out of bed by 6:30 a.m. (not 6:31). One full hour of personal and companionship studies (not 59 minutes). Out of the apartment by 10 a.m. (not 10:01). One hour for lunch at the most. One hour for dinner, the latest time being from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. Be out of the members’ houses by 6 p.m. (not 6:01). Be in by 9 p.m. If you are teaching, you may be out until 9:30 p.m. at the latest. Plan the next day’s activities starting right when you get in the apartment. Be either in your bed or praying by 10:30 p.m. (not 10:31).
Rather than supporting the idea that these young men “have been set apart for [their] sacred calling with the promise that the Spirit will be given as [they] meet the requirements set by the Lord” (Preach My Gospel, 4), these rules reflect an assumed immaturity (social and spiritual), plus a lack of trust in the missionaries’ judgment and inspiration.
They’re told who they may (and may not) email, what music they may (and may not) listen to, when and who they may (and may not) call on the phone and how long they may talk, how long they may linger over a meal, and what time they need to be in bed. Don’t these missionary rules sound like something given to middle-school kids as they head off to summer camp? These young men, set apart and equipped for a “sacred calling,” are not trusted to have the ability to make good choices regarding even the most basic stuff of everyday life.
I don’t doubt that the Mormon Church’s long experience with their missionary program has necessitated the institution of such rules. What I don’t get is why we’re supposed to believe these kids have power and authority from God when even the LDS Church doesn’t seem to believe it.