Mormon missionaries can now call and text home on a regular basis

Missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can now call, text or video chat weekly, the First Presidency announced Friday.

This update to guidelines regarding communication between full-time missionaries and their families follows a decades-long tradition of missionaries only calling home twice a year — on Christmas and on Mother’s Day.

Effective immediately, the Church’s 65,000 missionaries are authorized to communicate with their families each week on preparation day by text messages, online messaging, phone calls and video chats, in addition to letters and emails.

What brought us to this new equilibrium?  The older approach, and its transformative cultural isolation, seems quite attractive to me.  Here is the full story, via Market Power.

Comments

Cultural isolation? This is fanatical isolation. I can't count the number of fundamentalist Christians, isolated within the cult, who broke from it only to be ostracized. I suppose it's better than being burned at the stake. I can't imagine the pain of those trapped in the cultural isolation, and the sense of abandonment when breaking free of it. I suppose it's similar to the cultural isolation of the ideologues: stay a true believer or risk ostracism.

Why not try going without your Facebook, your mobile phone, and posting to this site for a week, rayward, and see if you like it? On a lost bet with msgkings, I stopped posting here for a month and didn't miss it much. Then again, I have near superhuman traits.

Ray, keep posting comments. I enjoy some of them. Are you actually in the Philippines? If you are, what's your view of this book: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/13/books/review-how-to-hide-empire-daniel-immerwahr.html

@rayward - I'm in DC at the moment. The book cited seems derivative, full of fun garden party anecdotes, and I think I'll pass, since I already know this stuff, but thanks.

Bonus trivia: White racists helped annex Hawaii, see https://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/hawaii-petition Is Hawaii better off annexed or independent like some other islands in the Pacific?

Is Hawaii better off annexed or independent like some other islands in the Pacific?

Better off!

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I moved to Japan back when international phone calls were really expensive (and there was no internet), so without knowing it I was behaving like a Mormon missionary. Honestly, it was not that big a deal. I felt neither isolated nor particularly culturally immersed. I was mostly just occupied doing my job and improving my Japanese.

I didn't return to visit the US until a business trip five years later (plane tickets were also really expensive). At that point I did notice that I had changed. Everyone seemed so loud and intrusively friendly. And newspapers and Comes had gotten more expensive.

My guess is that you lived in a city.

The perceived loudness was because you'd lived in Japan. If you'd lived in China it might well have seemed normal.

Excommunication is pretty awesome if the crew you used to roll with were a bunch of abusive jerks.

these small spaces of boredom and isolation left in the world are becoming much more valuable maybe especially because of how rare they are now. stimulus and connection was much more valuable in a world dominated by isolation and boredom and now it's just the opposite. I find myself wanting experience and even wanting to pay for experiences where I might get disconnected and possibly bored and isolated.

If the standard rite of passage of a mission leads to young men abandoning the religion and then to skewed sex ratios (60% female) int the Mormon population....no surprise they're changing the standard rite of passage.

Early generations of Mormons had a different solution to gender imbalance.

There actually was no gender imbalance even in the olde days. The early prophets simply sent men with attractive wives on missions and took the wives and daughters for themselves.

The Mormons (btw, they don't want to be called "mormons" now, but w/e), are deathly scared of Millennials and Gen Z. They keep stats on everything and they know they are losing these two generations. The internet and modern life are destroying their membership and religious participation, in general.

- Reducing age requirement for missionaries from 19 to 18 for males, and from 21 to 19 for females.
- Reducing weekly Sunday church schedule from 3 hours to 2 hours
- Less strict visitation requirements for monthly out-of-church membership teaching
- And now, the weekly call, text, video chat allowance for missionaries

Obviously, they misdirect and obfuscate their true intentions behind these changes. You be the judge. As an ex-mormon, I giggle.

Looks like the Amish have the right idea after all. Tech really changes everything.

as someone who plans to serve a mission within the next 6 months or so, I was disappointed. But it makes a lot of sense, especially with all the mental health issues missionaries had been experiencing, and with how frequent it was for missionaries to come home early.

There is actually a pretty simple explanation for this: the Mormon gender gap. LDS Women outnumber men at a 3:2 ratio in Utah, and the church is concerned about long term demographics.

This ratio is driven by men at the margin of their faith who are filtered out by the rigors of a mission experience:

"We suggest that the mandate to serve a mission forces the hand of young men in Utah, and essentially “outs” those who don’t want to go as less committed to the church. Being thusly “outed” then lowers the costs of, and provides a pathway for, eventual disaffection. And this contributes to a rising sex ratio disparity among Utah Mormons that doesn’t manifest elsewhere."

https://religionnews.com/2015/09/16/more-mormon-men-are-leaving-the-lds-church-say-researchers-but-especially-in-utah/

I suspect that the Mormon church will announce other ways to make the mission experience less daunting for these kinds of men, or create alternative coming-of-age rites that don't drive so many men to just leave.

Just a quick glance at the top leadership positions of the church shows a number of them did not complete missions. On the other hand, they, on average, senior citizens. When did completion of a mission become a requirement for the church?

It became a "requirement" in the 70s and 80s:

"During his tenure as president of the Church, 1973–1985, Spencer W. Kimball emphasized that “every able, worthy young man should serve a mission,” a guideline that more than doubled the missionary force in 12 years."

https://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/history-of-missionary-work-in-the-church

I think the gender imbalance is fabulous. I've made a few trips through Utah. Lots of hungry women around. Sweet, pretty, and hungry.

I would not have guessed that the empirical statistics would show such high inclusiveness of women. Certainly goes against some of the stereotypes about Mormons, and social conservatives more generally.

It's pretty well known that women are more religious than men

Yeah this is true of literally every religion. It’s the women insisting on FGM for their daughters, it’s the women demanding honor killings...

The “patriarchy” narrative skews reality. The reality is Homer Simpson sitting at home making waffles while Marge drags the kids to church.

'it’s the women demanding honor killings'

Yet it is men who do the actual murdering - which would seem to fully confirm that “patriarchy” narrative.

Not true of every religion. Orthodox Christianity, Islam, and the most orthodox Jewish congregations tend to skew more male.

It might not be an equilibrium.

well, OK -- let's start cataloging all the silly customs & beliefs of the world's religions.
Shouldn't take more than a year or two.

I vote we start with abstinence for priests.

Damn. Agreeing with McMike again.

All these economists working on tenure papers...where’s my “likelihood function of children being sexually abused, Episcopalian versus Catholic” paper.

I would trust my kids with the local openly gay (and married to a man) Episcopalian reverend without a second thought, he’s more religious than I but is certainly a man trying to make the world a better place. I would never leave them alone with a Catholic priest for literally any amount of time.

Estimating likelihood with the availability heuristic as applied to headlines is a very effective way of reaching idiotic conclusions. Then actually basing decisions about your kids' safety on such imbecility . . . well.

I trust you've similarly refused to vaccinate them in order to protect them from autism?

At this point, the Catholic Church's practice of cover up and shuttling pedophiles around, rather than dealing with the structural implications, is a well-established fact. The victim count and incident count is known only to God, but likely exceeds any other institution's similar crimes, ever, in terms of scope and persistence. No school sports program, no Olympic training facility, no cub scout pack comes close to the level of institutionally-tolerated and protected depravity that the Catholic Church has imposed on its members for generations.

Given the stark contradiction with the church's putative mission and abuse of its special position of blanket trust, the only "imbecility" is to continue to entrust your children in an unreformed atmosphere.

Any other institution with a serial sociopathic track record like that would be stripped of its authority and privileges, de-funded, and banished to the history books, it's leaders disgraced and imprisoned.

The Pope's recent statement regarding systematic abuse of nuns being the first inkling of any decency on the matter from the top.

There is, in fact, no evidence whatsoever that Catholic clergy are more likely to abuse children than (as Hmmm suggested) Episcopal clergy. Nor is there evidence that the Catholic Church is more likely to cover it up than any other church. Rather, what data (partial and imperfect, granted) that exists indicates that clergy of all denominations commit child sexual abuse at about the same rate.

What we do have is rock-solid evidence that the Catholic Church in the US is 23 times the size of the Episcopal Church, which means that same rate translates to 23 times more cases. And, of course, the size also translates to far more social importance and audience relevance, making it far more newsworthy on a national basis.

But if it gets you off to think of the Catholic Church as a uniquely perverted institution, hey, what you do with one hand while you type with the other is your business.

You claim to have a lot of evidence.

Citation for sexual abuse of children is similar in Catholicism compared to Eliscopalianism?

You need the evidence here. The fact that self selecting “celibates” are overwhelmingly paraphiliacs compared to the general population is ...settled science.

Go rant about evolution being a “devil’s trick” somewhere else.

No, the numbers are in line with most of other professions, like accountants. Trouble is that they are supposed to be better than that, and obviously, bo accounting firm involves itself with a coverup.

Such is life in Trump's America

I served an LDS mission in Fortaleza from 09-11 and found that the rule was particularly onerous. My family lost our house during that time and they could have used the additional emotional support that a simple phone call or video chat provides. My little sisters already felt like the world was crashing around them; a short conversation and some encouragement from their older brother every week or so would have gone a long way. It would have helped me to hear from them when I was quarantined for tuberculosis, or when I was temporarily blinded by disease. Being unable to talk with my family during those trying times didn't transform me, or commit me more to learning Portuguese, or inspire me in my evangelism. It made me depressed, anxious, distracted, and angry at God. Respectfully, Dr. Cowen, you tend to romanticize Mormons and their quirks. There are many great things to say about their community and traditions, but some of their practices and beliefs are indeed harmful. Good riddance to at least one of them!

It so happens that I served in Fortaleza 1997-1999. We were allowed as many letters as we wanted, but no email, and phone calls twice a year. It honestly wasn’t that big of a deal at the time.

I can’t remember it ever coming up, but I wouldn’t be surprised if either president I served under had allowed someone to call home if the family were to lose their home.

I was surprised by loosening up the rules. To be honest, my best guess is that it’s motivated by the fact that missionaries go out at a younger age.

That's wise. The LDS church leadership asks for a remarkable level of emotional and intellectual maturity from its young missionaries. The MTC doesn't do enough to prepare elders and sisters for the experience of devotion towards the victims of poverty, violence, disease, and social strife who, eager for any assistance, often flock to their churches in many countries.The experience takes a large psychological toll on many young people who are encouraged to rely mostly on faith and church protocol for the serious problems they encounter overseas. This could at least give missionaries better access to their family members for emotional support. Many people find vocal conversation with their loved ones more insightful and/or encouraging.

I think you're right, LDS mission presidents aren't monsters after all, instead they tend to be, in my opinion, some of the most compassionate and self-sacrificing people alive today. Exceptions to the missionary rules in certain circumstances are made for pragmatic reasons. Yet, humility is a very difficult quality to learn, especially in one's youth. In the LDS subculture as I remember it, mission presidents aren't generally viewed in the same way as therapists. It can be hard to divulge sensitive information, especially when you want to signal strength and capability in order to, for example, be trusted with lauded assignments and titles. There's a variety of reasons why some young missionaries, especially the men who tend towards stoicism, would keep a crisis at home or elsewhere hidden from those who are there to help.

One problem with exceptions to the rules is that it isn’t obvious how or when to request them. Even if I had a problem that I thought be improved by a call home, I personally would feel bad or guilty just asking for it. Instead, I would have laid out the details in my next interview and made the saddest face I could, hoping for the president to read my mind.

This very much depends on the mission president. There are many great guys who are compassionate and probably would have. But there are also many sticklers who wouldn't even let you call home if a parent died. And it's the later type who gets talked about in faith-promoting stories the church perpetuates about how the missionary didn't even call home when the parent died and that turned out to be a big blessing somehow for following the rule.

Here's a fun story about the Mormon Temple in Rome:

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/17/world/europe/rome-mormon-temple.html

“There’s a strong sense of family, of respect,” Maria Giordano said after taking the tour. “We’ve lost this in Italy.”

When Italians feel that they've lost their sense of family, that is really saying something.

I'm surprised the no one has mentioned that, at the time when such rules were put in place, long distance phone calls (let alone international calls) were expensive, and people didn't make them all that often. So, not making them didn't seem like a huge hardship to people - you just wrote letters. (I was in the Peace Corps in 1999-2001, and I spoke on the phone to my family twice the whole time I was there. We did sent a lot of emails and actual letters, though.) Now, however, "long distance" calls are not even a thing, and even international calls can be pretty cheap and easy (and texts might even be free.) So, not only is it not something to be avoided by costs, but it's also something that people are not used to thinking of as something to be avoided. Given that, it has become a hardship to give up, even though it wasn't much of a hardship that many years ago. I expect this is a really large % of the reason for the change.

Former Mormon missionary here. I left Mormonism in my mid 20s. First, this was an obviously bad rule back in 2003-2005 when I was out. When the rule was first put in place it was expensive to call home internationally, but even by 2003 it was essentially free.

Mormon missions are depressing. I haven't had a single day of unhappy thoughts, except when I was on one. And then it was almost constant. A large percentage of missionaries have depression problems.

The extreme cultural isolation significantly contributes to them. For many people, this drives them closer to the church. Everyone else seems to hate you and the church is the one refuge where people aren't mean to you. At the same time, the church berates you for minor rule infractions or for not baptizing enough people or knocking on enough doors. You’d better learn to be obedient and stick out your mission because if you go home early no girl will ever want to marry you. And what will your family think? In the past, this tended to result in dependency on the church. They had the only solution to the problems they were creating—do what they say and you get rewarded and promoted and praised. And you're out alone in the world where you no nobody and there's no where else for you to turn. So you do what they say. Now you’ve been out in the miserable world and learned first-hand that the only way to be ‘happy’ is to do what the church leaders tell you.

All this started to change 20 years ago. Cultural isolation is almost impossible with the internet. There are so many “sub cultures” that you can get connected to that match you much better than the church. And they don’t gaslight you! It’s not uncommon now to see current missionaries posting on /r/exmormon and asking for help from that community. 30 years ago you almost never heard of a missionary going home early. Now it happens regularly. Everyone knows several.
The church has been holding steady with membership at best and probably shrinking for 20 years (they have creative ways of publishing membership numbers but if you look at numbers that are harder to fake, like babies being born or male 18-21 year old missionaries, their numbers haven’t been increasing for decades) and so they’re finally starting to change some of the really obvious things that even loyal members would chat among themselves about.

For example, women no longer have to veil their faces or swear obedience to their husbands in the temple. Church is now 2 hours. Missionaries can now leave at 18 (right after graduating high school so they don’t lose a year of college by going mid-semester). Missionaries can now phone home. These were all things I remember members talking about 15 years ago.

The phoning home in particular makes a lot of sense from the church’s perspective. When I told the church I was unhappy and wanted to leave my mission, they had me call my family. That seems to be standard practice from talking to others. Most Mormon families want their sons on missions and are loyal to the church. Talking to their parents regularly will hopefully genuinely help missionaries be less depressed. But it will probably slow down the number of missionaries leaving early as (most) parents will encourage them to tough it out.

Here is a counterpoint to all the naysayers.

The Church, or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, wants to take care of their people. Even the haters must understand that The Church needs to take good care of their people. If they threw missionaries in cages and tortured them there wouldn't be any more church.

So The Church is trying to help the youth. Did you stop to think about why that might be? The United States leads the world in suicides, fentanyl deaths, and more. We have grown weak.

Our fellow Americans are suffering, there is no denying it. Hello, remember The Complacent Class?

Good for The Church for stepping up and doing more to take care of their people.

Possible, but your theory doesn't fit well with the LDS Church's recent policy shift trend of gradually caving to secularism. Like every religion, it cares about membership numbers. Unfortunately, Ol' Joe Smith didn't foresee the Age of the Internet.

(P.S. Your claim of the US leading the world in suicides is laughably false.)

https://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2019/02/mormon-missionaries-can-now-call-and-text-home-on-a-regular-basis.html#blog-comment-159908982

So it is. I was thinking of a certain type of suicide.

You call it "gradually caving," I call it taking care of people, and trying to better live the faith. I was baptized three years ago, at the age of 28, and since then nearly 500,000 converts have been baptized.

For months, and months, and months, I asked my friends to tell me every bad thing about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I read /r/exmormon for days. You know what I found?

More than anything else, I feel sorry for the "exmormons." Honestly, I do. Look at our interaction here.

I point out that the church is trying to take care of missionaries. You swoop in to tear me, and The Church, and Joseph Smith, down. You just want to tear us down. You must be thinking "Oh look at that sucker, he doesn't know anything about how evil his church is."

Meanwhile I am spending time with my beautiful wife and our first child.
I have a great family, and I owe my family to The Church.

We are going to live healthier than average lives, and longer than average lives, because of the Word of Wisdom.

Everywhere we move, we will have a network of people with similar values. We'll have potential buddies everywhere we go.

My children will grow up knowing an alternative to Hollywood values because of Sunday School and the renewed emphasis on teaching in the home.

Oh, let's talk about tithing. The average American spends more than 10% of their income per year on the usual vices - gambling, alcohol, Starbucks, you name it. I cut my vice spending to zero and increased my tithing to 10% and I have more money. Yes, I have *more* money.

So to summarize:
The Church: Trying to take care of people, in this case the missionaries.
Me: Living my best life.
You: Trying to tear us down.

> "You swoop in to tear me, and The Church, and Joseph Smith, down. You just want to tear us down."

Take a deep breath and read my reply again. Then read the quotation of yours I supplied. Are you sure you're 31 and not 15? You're sensitive. I wouldn't be labeling other people weak if I were you.

Tearing you, your church, and Joseph Smith down? Seriously? And then you launch into some non-sequitur list of supposed LDS Church benefits, all because I gave my opinion of what I think are the church's motivations behind the consistent pattern of their policy changes? Bravo.

You can characterize the motivations behind all of the changes under the grossly broad and indefensible term of "people caring" if you want, but that doesn't describe the consistent pattern their policy changes in any meaningful way.

(P.S. Of course you have more money. You decreased your spending by at least 10% and you increased your tax-deductible charitable donations by 10%. Rhetorical question: why did it take a religion for you to make obvious healthy and financially sound life decisions? Again, I wouldn't be labeling other people weak if I were you.)

If it makes you happy, great go for it. But what most Mormons don't understand is that Mormonism doesn't make everyone happy, including many current Mormons.

Missionaries in particular are often very unhappy. If your hypothesis was correct that the primary objective of the church was to take care of missionaries we would have expected them to make this change 20-30 years ago, at least. From their own perspective, the primary goal of the church is to save as many souls [i]in the next life[/i] as possible. It's frequently stated that you might have to put up with a whole lot of misery, including misery the church kind of forces on you, but that it will all be worth it because of the next life. Go look up "Sacrifice" in the back of your bible:

"In ancient days, sacrifice meant to make something or someone holy. It has now come to mean to give up or suffer the loss of worldly things for the Lord and His kingdom. Members of the Lord’s Church should be willing to sacrifice all things for the Lord. Joseph Smith taught that “a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has the power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation.” In the eternal perspective, the blessings obtained by sacrifice are greater than anything that is given up."

--https://www.lds.org/scriptures/gs/sacrifice?lang=eng

The church made the rule change because they decided it's causing more people to leave/not join the church than it causes people to stay/join the church. The rules caused depressed missionaries now and caused them 20 years ago, but what has changed in the last few years it the number of people leaving Mormonism, especially current/former missionaries inspired at least partly by how unhappy being a missionary made them.

It's really one of the first major "shelf" items for many missionaries. The church says they have the only recipe to true happiness. For some people it works well. But for others it does not. For those that it doesn't work for, they absolutely know that the church can be wrong about major claims they're making. Which opens the door for them to be wrong about others. etc.

As the other exmormon commenter, just wanted to say that tearing members like you down and the church in general has never been my intention even since my apostasy. I just try to be honest about my perspective and experience. There's lots of great things about Mormonism, Dr. Cowen has mentioned many of them before on this blog. It truly is an exemplary faith group as far as they go. I'd much rather run into LDS missionaries on the street rather than a scientologists or Muslims, even though they aren't so bad either. I'd just like to give you my testimony that I am truly happier since I left the faith. It was the greatest decision I've made in my life. I do think that the Word of Wisdom has a lot of wisdom in it... addictive substances and practices truly are harmful and have caused me a lot of grief so far in my life as an apostate. Realizing that has been a challenge. But still, the religion wasn't for me, it never was, and I'm not alone. Some people just really aren't cut out for the Celestial Kingdom lifestyle, and I'm glad that the faith doesn't believe we're doomed to eternal suffering because of that. I have more relatives who are Latter-day Saints than I can count, and I still love the hell out of them even if they don't understand my choices. I have no ill will for you because of your beliefs, and I wish you the best in your journey! Cheers.

My mission to Australia 20+ years ago was fun and hard. It made me face things that I would have rather not faced, but I'm very glad I did. I think being out of contact with family (letters took 2 weeks one way) contributed to that growth.

But times change, generations change, and it's good to see that the church can change. There's probably nothing wrong accommodating the rising generation.

The exodus from organized religion (particularly among men) is not unique to Mormons. In fact, there's some indication that it is less pronounced than with other faiths (e.g. Southern Baptists). Something in the avocado toast makes men forget God.

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