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What should I ask Mormons?
June 16, 2009 12:43 PM   Subscribe

I'm meeting with Mormon missionaries tomorrow for a religious discussion, and they want me to come prepared with questions about Mormon history/ belief/ doctrine, etc. I'm looking for a list of questions that will give me interesting answers and lead to longer discussions about the nature of Mormonism. I'm very interested in their religion, I just don't know enough to know what to ask, and I have three hours with them so I need a good amount of discussion questions. Thanks!
posted by howgenerica to Religion & Philosophy (75 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
Are you actually interested in joining?

A good question would be "If I decide I don't want to join, will you leave me alone?"
Good luck with whatever you decide to do, however.
posted by dunkadunc at 12:47 PM on June 16, 2009


What is the purpose of the discussion? Are you thinking of becoming a Mormon? Are you trying to build some sort of relationship with their organization? Are you just a curious person?
posted by decathecting at 12:48 PM on June 16, 2009


Ask them about the field of LDS archaeology, which tries to unearth evidence that ancient armies battled to the death in North America around the time of Jesus, as postulated by the Book of Mormon. It's really interesting.
posted by Kirklander at 12:51 PM on June 16, 2009 [4 favorites]


Ask them about the whole Proposition 8 in California deal, and why they are so adamantly opposed to gay people being able to marry.

Three hours of religious discussion...yikes!
posted by elder18 at 12:51 PM on June 16, 2009 [7 favorites]


Ask them why they didn't let black people join until 1978, and why God would change his mind on such an important topic.
posted by Damn That Television at 12:54 PM on June 16, 2009 [10 favorites]


Do you any sort of religion in your background? You might start with some of the fundamentals of your own faith (whatever it might be) and ask them to compare and contrast.
posted by jquinby at 12:55 PM on June 16, 2009


You'll have time between now and then to watch Fronline/American Experience's series The Mormons, it should leave you pretty well prepped.
posted by The Straightener at 12:57 PM on June 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


I had a lapsed-Mormon roommate and she wanted to go through the discussions in some kind of attempt to get right with her parents or something, and I sat in on them with her, and let me just say that no matter how prepared you are with questions, the missionaries are more prepared with deflections.

They're not very likely to discuss the more esoteric aspects of the faith with you, because that's specifically the type of thing they are taught to avoid discussing with prospects. I believe the term they use is "milk before meat", meaning that the missionary discussions are for the purpose of sharing the basic message of the LDS church, not for pondering the reasons for conflicting versions of Joseph Smith's First Vision and the backstory on temple rituals. Indeed, the missionaries may not even have a clue about some of the things a clued-in Gentile would be curious to discuss, because a lot of them are not approved church information/history.

Expect a lot of non-answers.
posted by padraigin at 12:58 PM on June 16, 2009 [6 favorites]


Is the story about the Joseph Smith and the hat a metaphor for something else?

How do they reconcile the original Mormon belief in polygamy with the 1890 renunciation of the practice? Was Joseph Smith determined to have been wrong? If he was, how and why? (This is my biggest question about the LDS faith - either they believed in polygamy, or they didn't, but to change their religion's belief system for political reasons calls into question the entire basis for the faith)

What is the deal with the underwear?
posted by deadmessenger at 12:59 PM on June 16, 2009 [3 favorites]


you could start watching this Frontline/American Experience joint piece and i bet you could come up with a gazillion good questions.

PBS Frontline/AmericanExperience Mormons - Full show on line

it blew my mind. but certain things may be more salient to you than me (or anyone else who isn't you).
posted by sio42 at 12:59 PM on June 16, 2009 [4 favorites]


Some friends of ours were visited recently by LDS missionaries and started the conversion process shortly afterwards - padraigin's description is dead on.
posted by jquinby at 1:01 PM on June 16, 2009


Don't worry about preparing 3 hours worth of questions. Missionaries have specific training to steer any discussion to topics they want to discuss. They are just looking for a starting point from you, to gauge how easy/hard of a sell you'll be.
posted by moojoose at 1:04 PM on June 16, 2009


I am a big fan of science. Asking them about how old the earth is, what is up with dinosaurs, where life came from, and their tolerance of rational beliefs that may differ from official doctrine.
posted by munchingzombie at 1:04 PM on June 16, 2009 [3 favorites]


Do you any sort of religion in your background? You might start with some of the fundamentals of your own faith (whatever it might be) and ask them to compare and contrast.

I think this is actually standard LDS operating procedure. They will ask you about your original upbringing, then pose the question of whether, in your background, you were taught that truth could be revealed in prayer. You'll then be asked to pray to find out whether these things that the missionaries tell you are true.
posted by Kirklander at 1:05 PM on June 16, 2009


why does the pearl of great price have drawings of an egyptian funeral rite? (the answer is that the writings that joseph smith "translated" into the book of abraham are actually from the egyptian book of breathing, and offshoot of the book of the dead)
posted by nadawi at 1:06 PM on June 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


Archeology seconded.

Ask about the provenance of the Book of Mormon.

Ask why it reads very much as you'd expect if it had been made up by someone in the 1900's with a limited knowledge of history imitating the KJV.
posted by phrontist at 1:07 PM on June 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Have you ever had alcoholic drinks? If so, did you enjoy it or find it unpleasant? Do you wish that drinking was allowed?"
posted by Greg Nog at 1:10 PM on June 16, 2009


Well, you could read the posts here (part 1) and here (part 2) discussing the PBS two-part miniseries on the Mormons. (You can watch the full miniseries from that last link, if you like.)

Full disclosure: The posts were written by a friend of mine whose family is Mormon--as in "came to Utah on the wagon train" Mormon. She is currently working on a non-fiction book about the history of the Mormon church.
posted by elfgirl at 1:12 PM on June 16, 2009 [5 favorites]


Ask how many of your dead ancestors have been baptized. Ask if they will baptize you after you're dead even if you don't convert. And if they will, why convert now?

Ask about the planet Kolob, nearest to the seat of God. (Here's an example of how that conversation will probably go.)

Ask why it's not okay to drink caffeinated beverages (coffee, tea, soda...)
posted by junkbox at 1:17 PM on June 16, 2009 [3 favorites]


Mormon missionaries are not prepared to discuss Mormon history, politics, the inner workings of the organization itself, deep theological issues, archaeology, or really anything at all other than their own personal belief in the central tenets of the religion and the core doctrinal points that they are sent out to teach. The purpose of their lessons is not to educate people on the finer points of Mormon scholarship or anything like that. It is to teach people the core principles of Mormon belief and to assist in conversion and baptism of new members of the Church. They are simply not equipped to discuss those other things, in terms of training, education, or anything else. Some missionaries take it upon themselves to become educated in those sorts of things on their own. But they are not spokespersons of the Church for anything other than the very basic elements of the religion that are communicated to people looking to join the Church. To the extent that they deflect and give non-answers to tough questions, the reason for that 90% of the time is that they truly don't know the answers to the questions.

"Have you ever had alcoholic drinks? If so, did you enjoy it or find it unpleasant? Do you wish that drinking was allowed?"

Why are people so hung up on the alcohol thing? (Also, in my experience, at least half of Mormon missionaries have had alcoholic drinks at some point in their life, and their adherence to the principles of Mormonism, including abstaining from alcohol, are based in large part on their faith, and not on cluelessness about why people enjoy drinking.)
posted by The World Famous at 1:20 PM on June 16, 2009 [7 favorites]


junkbox - it's not doctrine that you can't drink caffeine. it is only doctrine that you can't drink coffee and tea.

besides - the missionaries live for those questions, they have ready to go answers for them.
posted by nadawi at 1:21 PM on June 16, 2009


I'm related to several (converted) Mormons and back in high school spent a few hours with a couple of missionaries for a World Religions project I needed to do. I can assure you that if you're respectful of them, they'll be totally respectful of you. I was very clear that this was just informational, and I got one followup call afterward to see if I was interested in learning more, but that's it -- no harassing me to convert.

Remember that these are often 19 or 20 year old kids doing this -- they're trained to spread a message, not trained in the finer points of theology. Obviously they'll know enough to try to be persuasive, but if they get stuck in a corner don't blame it on them being stupid or maliciously trying to hide something; they could just honestly not know.

There are lots of things to ask about. Some of it is the history of the Church, especially Joseph Smith's beginnings, the split after Smith died, and so on. There's a lot of fascinating political history; the Mormons and the non-Mormon pioneers had serious and violent run-ins over the years and if I remember correctly, Smith even tried to run for president at one point. You could ask about the theological components of the Book of Mormon, about the Lamanites and Nephites, and how these additional "revelations" relate to what we all know as the New Testament. You can ask about the less-publicised theology, like Kolob, or that God was once as we were and we can be as God is some day, and what it actually means to have a "celestial family". [Do you watch Battlestar Galactica? The premise is HIGHLY related to Mormon mythology. Moreso in the original than in the remake series, but all the Kobol/Kolob, 13 tribes/13 colonies, etc is a copy.] You can also ask about the cultural aspects -- no caffeine or booze, the family and community components, the political movements (like Prop 8), and so forth. Ask if any new temples are being built near you; before they're consecrated, they invite in the general public to check them out. You can also attend regular local church services (which are not in temples) if you're curious about that.

I'm a happy atheist and there's a lot to be weirded out by about the Mormons, but my experience with Mormon family and friends is that there is a tight-knit, close community support system that has been invaluable for them as they get married, have kids, move, find jobs, etc... it's an admirable network. Day to day practitioners are really different from the Prophet and the Apostles and the higher ups (just like we can hate on the Pope all we want, but most of us don't hate on the Catholics we meet every day).

It's easy to get caught in the LOLMORMONS LOLUNDERWEAR business but if you want to have a good theological discussion, definitely go for it.

Interesting reading includes Massacre at Mountain Meadow (for political history) and Under the Banner of Heaven (for the religious history and lots about the FLDS church, that group of polygamous incestuous etc crazies that are in the news all the time).
posted by olinerd at 1:22 PM on June 16, 2009 [6 favorites]


under the banner of heaven is filled with mistruths. no reason to pick up one lying book to point out the flaws in another.
posted by nadawi at 1:28 PM on June 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


Ask them about A Study in Scarlet, the 1887 Sherlock Holmes novella, where the Mormon church plays precisely the same role Al Qaeda would play in a contemporary espionage novel -- murderous sinister wackos, hated and feared by all good people.

When I read it, I was laughing -- Oooh the evil Mormons? Then I learned more about the history of the church, and... it made a lot more sense that somebody in 1887 would see them that way.

Is Sherlock Holmes banned from Mormon homes?
posted by Methylviolet at 1:32 PM on June 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Can I be forgiven by God even if I've killed someone?
posted by benzenedream at 1:32 PM on June 16, 2009


If you are just interested in the more esoteric stuff with no pressure to join, Memail me. My husband used to be a Mormon and he would gladly explain stuff to you.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:34 PM on June 16, 2009


Ask 'em about genealogy.
posted by box at 1:44 PM on June 16, 2009


If you are just interested in the more esoteric stuff with no pressure to join, Memail me. My husband used to be a Mormon and he would gladly explain stuff to you.

Ditto this (except for the "used to be" part and the husband part).
posted by The World Famous at 1:50 PM on June 16, 2009


i'm an ex mormon that doesn't have an axe to grind (a lot of ex mormons are a little rabid after leaving the church). i offer the same memail me if you'd like to know more or find questions you can't get good answers to.
posted by nadawi at 1:53 PM on June 16, 2009


Regarding polygamy, what is there to say that an elder cannot have a vision where polygamy is accepted again as a requirement of faith? Great changes and shifts to theology and practice has occurred and I am not sure of the mechanism that those changes cannot be reversed or revisited including:

* requirement of Mormons to live in Utah;
* acceptance of blacks into the faith;
* polygamy
posted by jadepearl at 1:55 PM on June 16, 2009


You may find this previous "answer" I wrote helpful or informative.
posted by loquacious at 1:59 PM on June 16, 2009


Yes, olinerd and The World Famous have good points: any hard "gotcha" questions about archaeology or Joseph Smiths hat (?) will probably be met by blank stares. These (probably) nice young men are inexperienced, uneducated young men with strong religious convictions and respect for your choices. It is very unlikely that they will have any idea what you're talking about. (Disclaimer: I was once one of those mormon missionary guys)

Don't ask the poor guys about prop 8; support for prop 8 was never "official doctrine" from Salt Lake, even though lots of members supported it. Lots of members also did not support it.

Ask them to tell you why they believe what they believe. You may find it laughable, you may find it intriguing, you may find it disgusting.
posted by Barry B. Palindromer at 1:59 PM on June 16, 2009


Ask them if they find any irony in their sect's historical pursuit of polygamy while now working hard to deny non-Mormons their own rights.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:00 PM on June 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ask them if they find any irony in their sect's historical pursuit of polygamy while now working hard to deny non-Mormons their own rights.

Just as a data point on this: Some of us do, yes.
posted by The World Famous at 2:10 PM on June 16, 2009


I think Mormonism is really interesting. I love chatting with Mormon missionaries, though I've never had them come to my house. Part of the reason that I don't have them come to my house is that according to Mormon America (a book intended to be a sort of neutral portrayal, not an attack, but not hiding controversy either), missionaries are trained to cover particular topics in a total of 6 visits. They are supposed to try to have your baptism scheduled after the 6th visit and to do the scheduling at the 3rd visit if I recall correctly.

Since I'm more interested in understanding the theology and particularly how it is understood at the lay level (lay being a not-entirely appropriate word since Mormon men are all aaronic priests at age 12 and those even who serve in clergy-ish positions (Bishops) are volunteers without any additional formal training), I don't see much point in scheduling a home visit.

So here's how I talk to Mormon missionaries: First, I tell them outright that I am not going to convert. However, I find Mormonism really interesting and enjoy talking about it with people who know something about it and I'd be happy to talk to them. But again, I'm not going to convert, so if they want to spend their time elsewhere, I understand. I think this is a respect issue and I don't want to mislead them into wasting their time.

Questions I like to ask:

Theological:
1. What's going to happen when all the souls run out? Will women just stop getting pregnant? (background: Mormon's believe in a pre-existence in which there was a big meeting at which we all (Heavenly Father and Mother's spirit children) voted to come down to earth and be tested. Presumably, one day the last of us will be born.) Potential followup: Is this unfair to the last generation? Previous generations can convert in the afterlife and receive endowments by proxy. The last generation can't receive endowments by proxy, which bars them from the highest level of heaven.

2. If, as many Mormon's believe, Jesus was conceived in the same manner we all were -- with God and Mary doing the deed, does that mean that God cheated on his wife?

3. I ask why it makes any sense to convert in this life given that you can convert in the afterlife and once we're in the afterlife we'll be sure we're right. This is particularly relevant for me because I"m not too interested in reaching the top level of heaven (Celestial Kingdom, where I (or rather my husband) would get his own world, so it doesn't matter if I never receive endowments by proxy. Terrestrial or Tellestial kingdoms are fine by me. (According to one mormon missionary I spoke to, pretty much the only people who go to hell are those who rebelled and joined Satan in the pre-existance. Even murderes and such go to the lowest level of Heaven. Obviously opinions on this topic may differ.

4. If God was once like us (human/mortal) and was exalted (became God) just as we can be exalted by proving ourselves worthy in this world and earning a place in the Celestial Kingdom, then why did we have the meeting in the pre-existence to decide how we would decide who would be exalted (leading to the whole war in Heaven where Satan was ejected)? I mean, couldn't God basically say "Well back when I was human and had my own Heavenly Father, we did it this way.." and then we could have skipped the cosmic brainstorming session?

5. What is the most interesting thing about Mormonism?

About their experience:
1. I know that missionaries are allowed to make only two phone calls home per year (Christmas and Mother's Day). What's it like being so suddenly isolated from your family?

2. Besides giving up 2 years of their lives, missionaries *pay* to do their mission -- granted it covers their room and board and expenses, but still -- so I ask what made them decide to do a mission and if they always knew they would do one, and (for women, who are not required to do missions), what made them choose to do it even though it's not required.

3. I ask them about their experience of learning a new language at missionary training. Missionaries learn their new langagues in 6-12 weeks depending on the language. I think that's amazing. Don't assume that if you're in a predominantly english-speaking country your missionaries didn't learn a new language. Missionaries who come to my Toronto neighbourhood learn to speak Chinese, Korean, and Portuguese so they can minister to immigrants. So how did they find learning a language so quickly?

I have more questions and if I remember them I'll post. But most importantly, if you want people to talk to you seriously then keep a respectful attitude. I don't believe Mormon theology (and I tell them this) but I do want to understand it better and understand how *they* understand it better. That's not going to happen if you go in on the attack. Also, remember as someone above said that these are 19-21 year old men or 21-23 year old women. They're not PhDs in theology. Understand that you're getting folk beliefs and understandings, not scholarly theology.

And as I said above, on a home visit, they may have other ground to cover and steer things towards there. According to Mormon America, they don't talk actual beliefs in your home visits until after your baptism.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 2:19 PM on June 16, 2009 [12 favorites]


Ask them about "Jack Mormons." I met a man who lives and works amongst many Mormons, and his wife practices, and this was what he used to describe himself. He also drank caffeine and alcohol. Much like many atheists, I don't think he thought about the religion much (to paraphrase House M.D. "I'm only an atheist on Christmas and Easter, the rest of the year it doesn't matter."). I just think it would be cool to get their perspective on non-believers that live in their community.

Ask why you don't ever really see woman missionaries.

I once had some Mormon missionaries knock on my door. I pointed to the sign that said "Day Sleeper," and told them I'd be happy to talk to them at 3 AM when I was awake. They came back. Made me respect them just a tiny bit more. Not as much as if they had read the sign, but still...
posted by cjorgensen at 2:19 PM on June 16, 2009


As others have iterated, Mormon Missionaries will not be equipped for in depth theological disputation. They are not particularly interested in your intellectual or spiritual curiosities. They're not nefarious, they're just innocent, earnest young people following their tradition a substantial part of which is two years committed to winning as many people as possible to the Mormon faith. They are not theologians or Mormon church historians.

They have a basic training and up to two years of practice (one of them will be the elder elder and the other will be a junior I can almost guarantee) attempting to frame conversations that attempt to lead the person they are speaking with to one ineluctable conclusion: I should become a Mormon. They will be nice clean cut, inoffensive American boys who see your encounter as having one goal: conversion. They have likely not deeply critiqued or examined their own faith at their age and attempts by you to do so will be met with incomprehension that quickly changes or reframes the subject and pre-packaged answers.

I think the best question may be the simplest and possibly the most irritating: why?

Ultimately they will only be able to appeal to the authority of their choosing: their own incorrigible faith, God, the Book of Mormon, etc.

If you are seeking information from them facts, history, etc. You would do just as well to look online. If you just want to have a bit of fun asking uncomfortable questions about talking into hats, polygamy, racism, extraterrestrial planets etc. there's plenty on the web about those as well.
posted by MasonDixon at 2:25 PM on June 16, 2009


"Don't ask the poor guys about prop 8; support for prop 8 was never "official doctrine" from Salt Lake"

i'm all about honesty when it comes to the mormon church - both for and against them. so lets be honest here.

We ask that you do all you can to support the proposed constitutional amendment by donating of your means and time to assure that marriage in California is legally defined as being between a man and a woman. Our best efforts are required to preserve the sacred institution of marriage.

letter sent from the first presidency to be read in every congregation - that's about as official as it gets.
posted by nadawi at 2:29 PM on June 16, 2009 [3 favorites]


Mormons love genealogy.
posted by elder18 at 2:32 PM on June 16, 2009


As noted, they aren't going to either know or want to talk about the oddities associated with mormonism. They will very likely want to use all three of those hours, regardless of how done you are.


support for prop 8 was never "official doctrine" from Salt Lake

bzzzzt try again

posted by Big_B at 2:33 PM on June 16, 2009


I am a member of the church and have answered a few other AskMe questions about it. Feel free to look at my history (I also made a few comments in the thread loquacious links to above) or send me a MeMail. I think you have gotten some good answers here and some noise. I would strongly agree with The World Famous above, and Kirklander. I even went on a mission so I know what it is like. I agree that the missionaries will likely not be experts on every topic, however, they will have probably been asked most of the questions posed here at one point or another. If you ask questions because you sincerely are interested, you will get honest responses.

Also, as MasonDixon does point out, in the end there definitely is an appeal to authority. One of the main parts of the missionaries message is that while they believe what they are teaching you, you should only convert if you also come to believe those things. That is why they will encourage you to independently read the Book of Mormon and pray.
posted by bove at 2:38 PM on June 16, 2009


I think the best question may be the simplest and possibly the most irritating: why?

Or you could ask them why they need to proselytize if their religion is so great. (that's what I'd ask.) Honestly, 'gotcha' questions probably won't help much.

I think the direction you want to go on the questions really depends on whether you want to find out how Mormonism works, or if you're actually interested in joining. If it's the former, you should just talk to nadawi or St. Alia of the Bunnies' husband: If it's the latter, you should talk to the aforementioned people and then talk to the missionaries.
posted by dunkadunc at 2:41 PM on June 16, 2009


Ask them if they're hungry and if they say yes, please give them a snack.
posted by elsietheeel at 2:44 PM on June 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


I would definitely want to have read Under the Banner of Heaven before I did any talking. It looks like John Krakauer has acknowledged factual errors in the paperback printing. I would assume any history book is going to have factual errors, I don't think it makes the premise and research of the book false.

It's a truly frightening book.
posted by sully75 at 2:45 PM on June 16, 2009


Most of the questions suggested above, while interesting, would be pointless to ask the missionaries. Most missionaries don't actually know a whole lot about the true history of their church, and, as someone else mentioned above, the "hard-hitting" theological and historical questions would be met with stammering or double-talk. The missionaries' sole purpose is to bring people into the fold, so expect them to steer any discussion back towards presenting a sanitized story of Joseph Smith's supposed epiphany and pressuring you to acknowledge that the LDS church has "the Truth".

If facts are important to you, and if you believe in objective reality (a "real" world where "real" things happen), you are going to want to examine histories of the LDS church as written by outsiders, as opposed to the rewritten/falsified histories the Church produces. There are many things the missionaries will not tell you, either because they don't know about them, or because they're instructed to hold back on certain doctrines until you've already joined.

Definitely take a look at this article, which is specifically written for people considering joining Mormonism.

Joining the LDS church is not like joining, say, the neighborhood Protestant church, or even the Catholic church. Once one joins, it's not easy to leave. Be sure you've done plenty of research before making such a decision.
posted by Maximian at 3:08 PM on June 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


One for calling Mormonism a cult is because they have doctrines and practices that are secret. The missionaries won't tell you anything specific about their temple worship, for instance.
posted by RussHy at 3:18 PM on June 16, 2009


One reason for calling ...
posted by RussHy at 3:19 PM on June 16, 2009


Were it me, I'd be very uncomfortable with some of the suggestions being made. They strike me as very disprespectful and almost combative questions. People have given you lots of starting points here, and by all means ask about whatever may interest you, but I would encourage you to come to these people with the same sincerity they will bring to you, and not use this as a time to score invisible points in a "gotcha!" manner.

For the record, I'm not a fan of the Mormon religion, but I have universally found the missionaries I have met to be earnest and respectful. I would just like to encourage you to be the same, even if you come from a completely opposite world view.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:28 PM on June 16, 2009


"Don't ask the poor guys about prop 8; support for prop 8 was never "official doctrine" from Salt Lake"

i'm all about honesty when it comes to the mormon church - both for and against them. so lets be honest here.

We ask that you do all you can to support the proposed constitutional amendment by donating of your means and time to assure that marriage in California is legally defined as being between a man and a woman. Our best efforts are required to preserve the sacred institution of marriage.

letter sent from the first presidency to be read in every congregation - that's about as official as it gets.


My bad. I wasn't aware they read that from the pulpit in CA, the prop 8 analog in AZ 102, never got that treatment.
posted by Barry B. Palindromer at 3:29 PM on June 16, 2009


They have a certain charm and turns of phrase such as 'The glory of God is intelligence" ask them about the nature of intelligence and what this has to do with the atonement . (according to Cleo Skousen On Atonement Christ's murder reset galactic intelligence like a system restore point)
posted by hortense at 3:54 PM on June 16, 2009


As someone else said above, definitely go for "Why?" and "How do we know?" and that sort of thing. There's a ton of religions out there so it would make sense to ask why Mormonism is the right one, or at least the one you should choose.

Also, there was a pretty informative episode from -- of all things -- South Park. I'm told that it's pretty accurate, though I'd like to hear from Mormons here on that. The creators of South Park definitely weren't Mormon, but respected its strong focus on happy, loving families.
posted by losvedir at 4:18 PM on June 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


For more information about Mormons & Mormonism, you can look at the incredibly active
exmormon.org Recovery from Mormonism board. It's always entertaining.

The mishies are just naive salesmen, with a prepared pitch and only as much knowledge of the product as they need to make a sale. Everyone is mean to them, so after a short time they are inured to it. They deal with 'gotcha' questions all the time too, mostly by going right back to the prepared pitch.

One thing that might be fun: they are instructed to reflect your pose and diction -- if you cross your arms, they will cross their arms. So you could try posing and see if they follow--feet wide apart, then together, the over-the-head ear scratch, hands clasped behind your back, etc.

And if you want missionaries to leave immediately, say what I once said. "Well, hello. I used to live in Salt Lake."
posted by hexatron at 4:38 PM on June 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


I would ask: "if Mormons have The Truth (as they claim), then why have so many 'revelations' from their Prophets have changed? (i.e. changes in the Book of Mormon, changes in the Temple Ceremony, changes on who gets to 'have the priesthood', and other stuff I can't think of at the moment)
posted by mrmarley at 4:38 PM on June 16, 2009


they are instructed to reflect your pose and diction

This is incorrect. It is, however, human nature to subconsciously reflect pose and diction in a conversation. Again, though, there is no instruction of which I am aware that tells missionaries to reflect pose and diction. Much of the time, at least one of the two missionaries is just struggling not to fall asleep out of boredom.
posted by The World Famous at 4:44 PM on June 16, 2009


Sorry, TheWorldFamous. I have a source
The NY Times on last June 12, in an article about a Utah alarm company hiring ex-mishies as salesmen:
But Pinnacle’s salesmen are also applying skills learned in the mission field, like “mimic and mirror,” a technique of adapting one’s posture and bearing to the person being spoken to as a way of inducing trust — if his arms are crossed, you cross yours; if she tilts her head in asking a question, you do the same.
so if you don't like it, you have a beef with the fine paper that gave us Jason Blair, not me.
posted by hexatron at 4:58 PM on June 16, 2009


so if you don't like it, you have a beef with the fine paper that gave us Jason Blair, not me.

First, I have no beef with you or anyone else. Second, read your quote carefully: It does not say that missionaries are taught to mimic and mirror. It says that they learn that skill in the field. Perhaps things have changed since I was a missionary and in the years since I was in a position to be well-acquainted with the most current missionary training techniques. But I am not aware of any training that missionaries receive that includes teaching them to mimic posture and diction. Even after reading the quote you provided from the Grey Lady.
posted by The World Famous at 5:03 PM on June 16, 2009


Ask if they know any good secret handshakes.

Ask if they can confirm or deny any of this Mormon folklore (please report back with your findings, especially wrt. the Cain = Bigfoot hypothesis).
posted by mullingitover at 5:09 PM on June 16, 2009


I ask them about their experience of learning a new language at missionary training. Missionaries learn their new langagues in 6-12 weeks depending on the language. I think that's amazing.

Even for an intensive program, that's pretty good, assuming they're able to hold a basic discussion of theology and doctrine in their L2. Can someone comment on what the language learning program is like? Maybe someone here who has served a mission can talk about how prepared they did or didn't feel when they finally went out in the field?
posted by spaceman_spiff at 5:13 PM on June 16, 2009


while i can agree that the missionaries don't have the in depth historical knowledge of the church, if you're very interested in the religion, you should find satisfactory answers to any questions you have (or any this thread brought up) before you go for the baptism. if the missionaries can't answer the questions satisfactorily, ask for a meeting with the bishop.

also - it's not hard to leave the mormon church if you have even the tiniest iota of a spine. there is definite pressure to stay and you'll probably lose a good deal of the friends you made while you were a member, but if you can withstand social pressure, walking away is quite easy.
posted by nadawi at 5:18 PM on June 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


I agree that many of these questions aren't trying to help the OP or the missionaries. Don't try to waste their time (or your own). A lot of missionaries walk to each appointment, so it's a bigger deal than you think for them to visit you.

With that said, some of the supposedly snarky questions above SHOULD be asked (...of a member. As was said, missionaries usually won't discuss some things on a first visit) and I think would rebound on the person who originally asked, perhaps because they don't understand certain subtleties or facts of Mormons like they think and are just looking for an easy mark. Examples:

"Ask them why they didn't let black people join until 1978.."

"What is the deal with the underwear?"

"I am a big fan of science. Asking them about how old the earth is, what is up with dinosaurs, where life came from, and their tolerance of rational beliefs that may differ from official doctrine."

"Ask if they will baptize you after you're dead even if you don't convert. And if they will, why convert now?"

OP, don't let your naivete in posting a question like this to AskMetafilter get in the way of enjoying your appointment. But by all means, do your research. If you're already religious, then pray about what to ask (why not?). I suspect most people already know what they'd ask in the same situation, anyway, and don't really need other people's "questions." And if you decide you don't want the appointment, especially after reading this thread and before tomorrow, please call them and let them know. But your mindset seems gracious and open, so I hope you have an interesting experience, regardless of how it goes.
posted by artifarce at 5:29 PM on June 16, 2009


If it is a hot day offer them a cool drink, ask them to tell you about where they are from. Then drill in on the necessity of the atonement in the grand scheme.
posted by hortense at 6:20 PM on June 16, 2009


Just a couple of quite notes (as an active mormon):

"Ask them why they didn't let black people join until 1978."

People of any race/color have been able to join the church since it was founded. Unfortunately it's the priesthood that wasn't extended to black members before 1978.

"I am a big fan of science. Asking them about how old the earth is, what is up with dinosaurs, where life came from, and their tolerance of rational beliefs that may differ from official doctrine."


If you do some research, (and not base it on peoples personal opinions) you'll find that the current word on that is that the earth is billions of years old, evolution is a pretty reasonable scientific fact, and that tolerance for other beliefs is highly valued except in cases where it's seen as attacking or undermining belief. It's also the position of the church to avoid making statements on stuff not directly related to doctrine, and the church is quite willing to say "we don't know". That's one thing I've always liked about it.

"Ask if they will baptize you after you're dead even if you don't convert. And if they will, why convert now?"

Like many religions, we believe that we're each responsible for our actions in this life. Baptism means nothing if it is not accompanied with a willing heart and mind.

As for the whole gay marriage thing, yes it's an issue that is very controversial in the church, and the vehmenance and hate spued by some members is very disturbing. My own person views are that gov'ts shouldn't have anything to do with the regulation of marriage. Eliminate them, and you eliminate many many problems.
posted by blue_beetle at 6:35 PM on June 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Just a few more notes
People of any race/color have been able to join the church since it was founded. Unfortunately it's the priesthood that wasn't extended to black members before 1978.
Only members of the priesthood--virtually all men over the age of 12--have any meaningful role in the control and conduct of the church.

Like many religions, we believe that we're each responsible for our actions in this life. Baptism means nothing if it is not accompanied with a willing heart and mind.
Then why do it to the dead?

My own person views are that gov'ts shouldn't have anything to do with the regulation of marriage.
It isn't just a wedding, it's can you visit your spouse in a hospital, inherit freely, receive survivor benefits, etc. The gov't is deeply mired in the definition of marriage. If you really feel that same-sex couples should have the same rights as male-female couples, would you mention it to your bishop when you ask for a temple recommend. He might be interested.
posted by hexatron at 7:08 PM on June 16, 2009


I started a post responding to a few of the things hexatron and others have said here, but then I remembered that this is Ask Metafilter, and that it's not supposed to be a discussion venue. Can we answer the question?
posted by The World Famous at 7:14 PM on June 16, 2009


Hexatron and others are answering the question just fine.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:11 PM on June 16, 2009


The question I would ask depends on what you want out of religion, any religion. Whatever that is, be it comfort, guidance, support, atonement, etc, ask how living the mormon/catholic/jewish/muslim/any religion life will help you towards your goal.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:00 PM on June 16, 2009


If God can create the Universe, why would he/she care if I worship him and why would he care if I don't drink/have 3 wives/not work on Sunday-Saturday/wear headscarf/not cut my hair/not eat pork-meat. etc
posted by lamby at 5:01 AM on June 17, 2009


I ask them about their experience of learning a new language at missionary training. Missionaries learn their new langagues in 6-12 weeks depending on the language. I think that's amazing.

I ran into some Mormon missionaries here in Salzburg who claimed to be fluent, but when I spoke to them in German they couldn't say much more than "ja", "nein" and "das ist toll"- they certainly didn't seem to know enough to talk about religion. In retrospect I should have taught them some dirty words.
posted by dunkadunc at 5:19 AM on June 17, 2009


Wow, TheWorldFamous, wind your neck in!

My question would be what thing, or things, sets Mormonism apart from other religions or faiths.

What I mean is, all faiths think they have the right path, and they all have their own reasons for thinking so. What is the thing that they believe sets theirs apart.

I'd imagine the first answer is, praying and receiving confirmation from God. But assuming to have heard the voice of god seems presumptious to me. Do they have anything more solid/objective?

That might be a bit of a foolish question in some people's eyes, but it's just what came to my mind!
posted by greenish at 8:27 AM on June 17, 2009


Mormons are big on divine authority,what sets them apart is priesthood authority,via laying on of hands based on Joseph Smiths anointment by God, Jesus and, the holy ghost, and if I recall correctly none other then John the baptist on the banks of the Susquehanna River.
posted by hortense at 9:56 AM on June 17, 2009


I didn't realize my neck was wound out, greenish. I think there is a temptation for those (including me) who believe they know about Mormonism to discuss Mormonism here, rather than answering the question asked by the asker, which was what might be good questions to ask of Mormon missionaries.
posted by The World Famous at 10:30 AM on June 17, 2009


Were it me, I'd be very uncomfortable with some of the suggestions being made. They strike me as very disprespectful and almost combative questions. People have given you lots of starting points here, and by all means ask about whatever may interest you, but I would encourage you to come to these people with the same sincerity they will bring to you, and not use this as a time to score invisible points in a "gotcha!" manner.

This may be mormon chatfilter, but I think it's entirely reasonable to ask a missionary ANYTHING you want to ask them in any manner you want to ask it. They are there (that being, here, in Somerville, MA, which is a truly wacky place for a Mormon to look for converts), walking around, knocking on doors and (in my honest opinion) being really annoying. They have beliefs that are totally contrary to mine. But I don't go to Utah telling them what to believe. So if they are looking to meet the OP on his or her home turf, with the presumed goal of converting them to a religion that (IMHO) is based on very dubious ideas, I think that's totally fine.

The only reason I'd participate in a discussion of this sort would be to perhaps put a few seeds in their heads that what they are talking about is (again IMHO) really pretty far out, in the not-true sense. And I think that in itself is entirely reasonable. Their goal is going to be to convert you, and I think having the likewise goal is entirely within reason.
posted by sully75 at 11:21 AM on June 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


sully75: This may be mormon chatfilter, but I think it's entirely reasonable to ask a missionary ANYTHING you want to ask them in any manner you want to ask it. They are there walking around, knocking on doors and (in my honest opinion) being really annoying.

Let me be really clear on this point. When they knock on my door uninvited, they get a very polite but firm "No thank you, enjoy your day" and a shut door. I will not entertain that sort of thing and I find it invasive and offensive.

The question was not the arguably fair game "How can I annoy the Mormons who ring my doorbell unsolicited?" The OP appears to have willingly made an appointment for the declared purpose of actually discussing the Mormon religion. Therefore, I think it's rude to use this meeting as a Mormon-scorning session. The better option would be to simply not make or not keep the appointment.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:36 PM on June 17, 2009


DarlingBri, I hear that. I wasn't necessarily talking about annoying them. But I think that's what they want to happen, people to come to their houses so they can be converted, and they can return from their missions as successful mormons. My desire would be to instill some critical thinking into them about what they are trying to transmit and maybe be the one person in their life who actually said, doesn't this all sound just a teensy bit wacky to you?

While I'm at it I should mention I stayed with a friend's parents in Utah last summer and they were awesome, atypical mormons and I wish I could head back there right now. I only got to stay overnight with them. But they were extremely low on the missionary front and I think I could have talked with them about whatever I thought and they would have accepted it. So I felt no need at all to bring it up. But people who are in your community for the express purpose of converting you, to me that's open season for giving them what for. That would go for Jehovah's Witnesses, Catholics, whoever else is up for it.
posted by sully75 at 4:37 PM on June 18, 2009


My desire would be to instill some critical thinking into them about what they are trying to transmit and maybe be the one person in their life who actually said, doesn't this all sound just a teensy bit wacky to you?

Well that's the point at which you and I diverge then. You're comfortable with what I basically see as disengenuously setting them up, where I would not want to do that. MOST religions - including perfectly mainstream ones - contain rather a lot of what I would consider to be wackiness. I'm not going to run around trying to convert Catholics to birth control or Jews to the joys of bacon, however.

On top of that, your average missionary is pretty upfront about their agenda. The OP was prefectly clear on the intent of this meeting, whereas the missionaries in your scenario are not at all clear that you are, essentially, planning to anti-convert them. That seems like dirty pool to me.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:12 PM on June 18, 2009


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