Here’s to Me, Mrs. Robinson

Ku ku kachoo, indeed.

One recent afternoon, two new elders were visiting our neighborhood.  There is another Mormon family up the street, and after stopping in to see them, they came by our house.  For all I know, missionaries have been doing these drop ins for years.  I’ve never been home during the day before, but since my husband and I are starting up a small business, we are now both home during the day until our new office is open.  This was a new experience for me.

I opened the door and after quick introductions invited them in.  The taller of the two elders immediately had a look of awkward panic.  I’ve seen this look before, usually when one of the characters in a TV show or movie realizes that someone has entered the bank wearing a bomb vest.  Imagine my surprise, for in this case, I was the potential terrorist!

He nervously stammered, “Is your husband home?”  In this case, yes, he was sitting about 15 feet away, just out of sight of the door.  Nonetheless, the elder’s non-verbal response was shocking, particularly on the receiving end.  Were they implying that I was going to seduce them, that I was untrustworthy, that I was somehow tainted just because I am a woman?  My son is the exact same age they are!  The thought occurred to me that these are the same boys I was going to slave over a hot stove for a few days later (because I had signed up to feed them), and yet, I was greeted with suspicion in my own doorway.  It definitely didn’t make me feel warm or appreciated.  Fortunately for them, they were able to come in and sit down because my husband was there to protect them from me. [1]

I’ve heard people defend this practice by saying that it’s not because you are untrustworthy, just because some other people might make a false claim.  That’s a bit like being upgraded from presumed whore to presumed liar.  Or because unspecified other people might get the wrong idea if they see elders in the house of a woman without her husband being present.  I’m not sure who these Gladys Kravitzes are, but I am quite certain they are fictional.  Most of the people in my neighborhood don’t even nod or wave hello, let alone know who lives in which houses.  In general, the elders are considered as harmless as eunuchs, for good reason.

This was a guideline that never made any sense to me as a missionary.  My companions and I did not adhere to it, and I don’t remember it being mentioned or encouraged by leadership beyond the MTC.  Perhaps female missionaries were trusted more or suspected less.  Perhaps we were older and less fearful than an 18 year old boy would be.

All I know is that if I’m such a threat, I’m pretty sure my food is going to be spoiled by my girl cooties.  I’ll think twice before I sign up again to feed the missionaries. [2]

  • Is this the norm or was this experience a one off?
  • Is the policy of treating women with suspicion necessary or is it going too far?
  • Does it matter if women are offended since missionaries want to teach whole families anyway (so women without their husbands are not the target audience)?
  • What’s the real reason behind this guideline?  Fear of seduction?  False claims?  Appearances?  Wrongdoing by the elders?
  • Is this policy universally applied or just encouraged based on mission president discretion?  Defend your answer.

Discuss.

[1]  I also noticed that every question, initially, was directed at my husband.  Where did he serve a mission, although we both did.  What did he do for a living, although we both have had careers and my husband hasn’t been working for over 18 months.  Where was he from, although obviously I didn’t spring fully formed out of Zeus’s head.  I might as well have been the house cat.

[2]  We’ve fed the elders and sisters on many occasions over time, and it is seldom that I have felt this way.  If they hadn’t dropped by unannounced, this type of interaction wouldn’t have happened because they would be there for the meal specifically.  I haven’t been treated this way very often which is why it was so shocking to me, but maybe it’s the norm.

Comments

  1. I believe this varies on the mission. On my mission (about ten years ago), the main thing was not to *regularly* visit a lone person of the other sex. I can’t imagine being a missionary with it being a strict rule. Unfortunately, the president in the mission I reside in right now is very strict about this not ever happening. As if the missionaries were not already awkward enough …

  2. As a missionary, it really depended on who I was with. Some companions wouldn’t take that rule seriously at all and then we end up in a twenty-somethings apartment at 7 in the evening, getting dirty looks from the old lady next door. Other times, the members would be the ones who were hardcore about enforcing the rule. For example, a sister in the ward, who was my mom’s age, had us eat outside because her husband wasn’t home yet. So we couldn’t be in her home but her walled back garden was totally fine (Letter of the law).

  3. Daniel Silva says:

    I was lax on this rule until my companion got sent home for doing something with a married-in-the-temple sister right under my nose. Better safe than sorry.

  4. This kind of message goes hand-in-hand with Tad Callistet’s remarks to BYUI students. “Beware of women.” Sort of seamless, in a–bad–way.

  5. Martine, the rule is in place for Sister Missionaries as well.

    A couple of thoughts:

    Missionaries aren’t really taught the reasons behind rules. They are simply given the rule and told to obey without exception and at the cost of the Spirit. Thus, I don’t really think the Elder here was worried about you seducing him, I think he was simply worried about breaking a rule (likely a major rule that is reinforced over and over again by leadership) and in turn was worried about losing the Spirit. Many missionaries are wired this way and would have a similar reaction to the situation.

    Also, as we’ve already seen in a couple of comments, there are many stories from the mission I served as well as my home mission where things have happened to cause this rule to be put into place. It’s probably a good general rule that is there for everyone’s protection.

  6. Angela C. I cannot adequately express the gratitude I feel for your perfect illustration of the life I’ve lived, lo, these many years. Thank you for this. Thank you!

    Yes, in the Utah South (Provo) mission this is the norm. And as I am a single woman (who no longer has a teenage son to chaperon me – my children are 31, 30 and 25 years old, married and gone) I am apparently indeed a potential seductive threat. Therefore, I have fed no elders here for several years.

    My heart is a “missionary heart” at its core. Few things bring me joy equal to the joy of contributing to the welfare of those weak things who have temporarily devoted their entire lives to sharing the gospel. I think of all the moms who fed my daughter and son while they served missions; all the comfort and support my children felt from these good women when they were thousands of miles from home. I want to “pay it forward.” I want to literally feed His sheep. I want to boil water and chop vegetables and use that really lean stew beef I buy at the Creamery on Ninth. And maybe even serve “Bishop’s Bash” BYU ice cream for dessert.

    I want to pray with them and tell them how much I admire them for what they are doing. And maybe send an email or facebook message to their mom in France or California or Montana to say, “I fed your son. He is safe and cared-for. God bless you and your family for sending him.”

    My exclusion from the very motherly, sisterly, neighborly practice of preparing and breaking bread with the elders has at times filled me with varying degrees of rage, sorrow, and confusion. Back in the day when I could invite them into my home I also made an effort to provide names of potential investigators for them – which everyone knows is as important as the food. And which isn’t always easy in Provotown. I still try to do that.

    I’ve loved feeding sister missionaries. (But what if I were lesbian? What then?) And I’ve bought a dozen or so gift cards to MountainWest Burrito for the elders in our neighborhood. But this exclusion of me or other women – especially women old enough to be their mothers! – seriously. . . What the hell! (Wait. . . maybe it’s because I sometimes swear?)

  7. Yes, this rule is enforced in our mission. There’s also a strict missionary dinnertime of 5:00 p.m. Maybe that time works in Utah or “flyover country”, but here in an east coast metropolitan region most people have long commutes and don’t get home anywhere close to 5:00 (repeated requests by local leaders to relax this rule have had no effect). The elders have enjoyed many a meal sitting outside on our deck, while my wife (akin to the harlot Isabel) prepares their food inside. Now we have sisters so this isn’t an issue.

  8. The missionaries need to be coached to handle the ”manless house” situation better. I feel like a child being asked if my daddy is home. And does it have to be my husband? How about an older son, a brother, a group of friends who are female?

  9. As a member of the church who cannot teach his own children’s primary class without a chaperone because, well, I’m male, all I can say is “welcome to the club.” I do agree with the above comments that the policies have a rational basis. And, with the exception of the primary class policy, they seem to be evenly applied to men and women. But in my experience the policies are often overkill. I still haven’t found a way to explain to my 3 year old why she can’t sit on the sister missionary’s lap while our family reads scriptures with them after dinner.

  10. It (and the Primary rule) is a very safe, very protectionary policy to avoid significant consequences. It’s a blunt instrument. But what sort of policy would you trust missionaries with? Missionaries are stupid.

  11. Sometime after my mother’s divorce, she signed up to feed the missionaries, blithely unaware of this rule. And when they came over and found out she wasn’t married, they said they couldn’t come in. I think they were slightly more tactful about it, but she still felt like a pariah/potential seductress (in her late 50s). She had to call her home teacher and ask if he could come over as well so the missionaries could have their dinner. Her home teacher came (his wife stayed home with their kids). But tell me what’s more awkward: two very young boys being served dinner by a woman old enough to be their mother; or a woman inviting a married man over to have dinner with her and two young boys. I think we’ve missed the mark.

    Interestingly enough, this was not nearly as much of an issue when I served overseas in a much poorer country. The sisters visited single men, and the elders visited single women. Seems to be more a western world concern. Sort of like the rule about missionaries not being allowed to hold children on their laps. They taught us that in the MTC – though it was mostly geared towards the elders, not the sisters – but it was a non-issue in the field. Elders and sisters held children all the time. No one cared.

  12. Dave K – the primary rule is entirely unrelated. You and I are not in the same club. Your suggestion that risk to primary children posed by predatory adults is the same as risk to missionaries by single moms is tad bit disturbing. You have either elevated children to adult status (that’s the predator’s club) or reduced missionaries to the level of vulnerability of primary children. Either way it dosen’t fit.

  13. Our mission president had a laid-back approach to this rule–lots of grey areas so follow the spirit. This led the uber-obedient companion to refuse to go in to teach a woman when tracting, costing us a potential investigator–or, on the other extreme, another companion who insisted on going to visit a 20-something attractive married woman who had a crush on him after 8:00 p.m. at night when her husband was out of town.

    Is the rule extreme? Definitely. There’s a big difference between visiting a 40-something married church member and an attractive college student who’s more interested in your companion than in the gospel.

    Don’t blame the missionaries. Blame the rules. Like the missionaries that came to your house, I freaked out when our branch president insisted on leaving mission and country borders with us in the vehicle because it was a “shortcut” and because gas was cheaper in the other country. Thinking back, it wasn’t a big deal, but he did it because he knew it would freak us out because it was a huge violation of mission rules. Many good missionaries don’t like to break rules, no matter how stupid they may be.

  14. melodynew, there is no bar on you having the missionaries in your home for dinner. You just need to have someone else there with you. And what a great opportunity! I hope you don’t do it like MOQT’s mother–but it sounds like she did it by asking a married home teacher only because it was spring on her, something the ward mission leader, the ward missionary assigned to arrange meals, and the elders should not hav let happen. My favorite story in this line came from a sister in another ward. She told me that she told her non-LDS neighbor that she wanted to have the missionaries to dinner but couldn’t do it alone, and invited him to join her. After the elders left, the neighbor asked if they were going to do it again next month. I am sure there are folks in your neighborhood who would be blessed by joining you when you feed the elders. They don’t have to be investigators, just folks who would welcome and benefit from a little contact with the missionaries–and with you.

  15. Melodynew, the principles and purposes underlying these rules are highly related. Both sets of rules treat a person as suspect based solely on their gender. Both sets of rules are designed to protect the people in the situation, as well as the church, from accusation. I can agree with you that there are differences too. If inappropriate contact happens in a missionary context the missionary most likely bears some responsibility. Not so in the case of primary children.

    But despite these differences, my point still remains. The same feelings expressed in the OP (i.e., being treated as a threat) are felt by many men in the church because of the primary policy. It hurts when you are told, “I appreciate your willingness to sub for your child’s class this week, but we’d have to get another man to sit in with you and so it’s easier just to ask your wife to sub again” (for the 10th straight week). The “club” is the stigma that you are suspect of abuse simply because of your gender.

    By the way, I’m not suggesting the policies are wrong or unnecessary. I too care about safety and avoiding accusation. We live in a fallen world and sometimes we have to err on the side of safety. I just wish sometimes we could be more upfront about the reasons for the policies and emphasize that men (and missionaries) are not inherently a threat.

  16. JrL: u r missing point

  17. When I was primary president, the EQP lived just up the street and we both had spouses and kids. I suggested that we could share a ride to Ward Council and he said OK, but only if I rode in the back seat. His wife suggested that this was dumb and that I should ride in the front seat.

    So it’s not just a missionary thing. But I also agree with Steve Evans – it’s a blunt instrument, but enough missionaries get sent home for having sex with women that it’s probably best. It’s nothing personal.

    And then there’s the whole “Doorbell” Axe commercial from 7 years ago…

  18. When my husband arrived in his first area in Germany, he replaced an elder who was in jail because some investigators had accused him of trying to rape them. The non-accused companion was not asked for corroboration or to provide an alibi, and the elder sat in jail for a few weeks until the investigators disappeared and were thus unavailable to press charges. This was in 1984 or 1985. As far as my husband knew, the companions were never alone with the women who made the accusations. So it didn’t work back then.

    I went to cooking school after my mission and lived at my sister’s house. One afternoon as I was casually lying on the living room floor studying, the doorbell rang and I saw it was the elders. As was the fashion then (1996), I was wearing a rather short baby-doll style dress that showed my tattoos and was definitely not something I would wear to church, though I was still “modest,” or at least my garments weren’t showing. I didn’t think about it until I answered the door and the elders’ eyes got quite large. I suddenly saw myself through their eyes and started laughing and told them that I was just home from my own mission. I don’t think they believed me at first, but it turned out that one of the elders had a friend or relative who was serving either in the same mission or the one next to it, I forget. I didn’t invite them in and they certainly did not ask to be invited in. In fact, they seemed rather relieved that they didn’t have to talk to me for long. It was one of the very few times in my life that I felt I had some power over a male due to my attractiveness as a female. I still laugh whenever I think of it.

    I think the rule is sound, but the missionaries need more leeway to use their common sense. We had several elderly ladies in our mission who would have loved to have the elders over for dinner. Some got someone else to come to their house or took them out to a restaurant. The single mom situation is tricky. Missionaries should definitely be explicitly coached to not act scared or defensive.

  19. The rule applies the same in reverse in missions where the mission presidents have removed any discretion in the matter from missionaries in these situations. In London we had sister missionaries in our ward and as a man I couldn’t drive them to or from our house for eating appointments. They couldn’t visit the house or have dinner with our family (of four daughters) if my wife wasn’t home.

    For me it wasn’t the blatant sexist insult that it was for Angela because there wasn’t the added issue of their only speaking to my spouse once they could come inside. Instead, it was just annoying to think that these good kids working so hard had this added obstacle to deal with.

  20. Angela Robinson says:

    Sometimes they seem like stupid rules until you see the consequences of them being broken. In a perfect world, they wouldn’t be necessary. However, in this case, it serves as a protection to both missionaries and members against impropriety and false accusations. The missionaries should be tactful and proactive in keeping the rule, but it is a rule. They know that they will be blessed when they are obedient with exactness. If the spirit directs otherwise, so be it. I just know what I’ve seen from my experience with a seemingly normal young woman who after further acquaintance was rather disturbed. She would make up stories and accuse leaders and teachers of impropriety (in cases where we knew it was not true). Missionaries never know who and what they’re going to find, so don’t be so quick to judge. Usually the missionaries are just trying to do the right thing.

  21. I know that this is not the point of this post, but I would love it if we could do away with the “drop ins.” There is nothing worse at 7pm than being getting an unexpected doorbell ring. Chances are, I’m in my PJ’s, the house is a disaster, and I’m frantically trying to get my kids to bed. I love the missionaries, but I love them a lot more when I’ve had the time to prepare for their visit, so that I can feel the spirit, not frazzled resentment at having a wrench thrown into my evening. If it was such a big deal that they can’t come in unless The Man is home, then they probably shouldn’t be cold calling.

  22. For me, what is more annoying than the home rule is the car rule, which is rigidly enforced in the mission area I live in. Who knows what might happen if two missionaries get in a car with someone of the other sex! The result is that our male missionaries are often looking for rides to a place here or there during the daytime, and it is has to be from men when (and here I am simply stating a fact as it applies in my ward) women are more flexible during the day.

    In one recent situation, the male missionaries were eating out with a female member at a restaurant. They needed a ride to another appointment and had things fall through with the man who was going to pick them up. The woman was more than willing to give them a ride, but they said it was strictly against the rules and so had to make all kinds of efforts to pester some man in the ward to give them a ride.

    This example shows the importance of at least some level of prudence in these matters. I’m inclined to disagree with people saying these rules are there for good reasons. Sure, sure, we can all think of negative consequences to all kinds of situations, but these need to be weighed against negative consequences that the rules themselves bring. We let missionaries do all kinds of risky things, after all. And, news flash, there are people in this world who are attracted to the same sex. My sense is that these kinds of rules are constant reminders to missionaries and those they serve about sex, and if anything only serves to fuel the appetites for “forbidden fruit.”

  23. Jack Hughes says:

    Rules like this might be well intended, but they also set these young men up for failure after they return home; they often lack basic social skills to function in mixed-gender professional environments. This, I believe, is why we still have a lot of gender-based hang-ups in LDS culture.

  24. You’re on to something Dave. The church has taken a commonly held policy related to protecting children and made it apply to only one sex, which then demonizes men. Every other organization I’ve been a part of requires at least two adult chaperones and doesn’t care if they are both men, women or one of each.

    As to the missionary policy (and the policy that a man and woman couldn’t co-teach a primary class together), it seems there are two camps. Some assume that men and women always act like grown-ups and aren’t ever capable of giving in to sexual impulses so there’s no need to ever restrict circumstances. Then there’s the church’s position that men and women can never be trusted together and so they are shamed for sexual thoughts and feelings. The reality is somewhere in between. If we learned how to deal with sexual energy better, understanding both how natural it is and how powerful it can be, we can set our own limits where they need to be.

  25. As a divorced sister I of course have had to deal with this as well and frequently because the missionaries definitely want to get their hands on my sweet sweet parents–a golden contact if you ever saw one! It was getting very hard to schedule time with them because my _father_ (like I am a baby in diapers) needed to be here and he has an incredibly long commute and although they want to spend time with him the feeling is not really mutual. So I just gave up and asked of my male cat could chaperone but they weren’t amused.

    Now, whenever the ward mission leader can come with them he does but otherwise I don’t even invite them over. I’m not interested in arranging all these perfectly-timed meetings in order to satisfy rules that I had nothing to do with when I don’t really get anything spiritually out of the meeting anyway. When the other Elders were here I could at least have a decent Gospel conversation, but this new crop are robots so no thanks.

    I guess the rule does me a favor by giving me an “out” but in this same mission 18 years ago these rules existed but they must have been optional. I distinctly remember my 18 yr old sister and I being alone in the house with the missionaries upstairs in our bedroom (I was 15), and one of the Elders threw me over his shoulder and gave me a swirlie in the upstairs bathroom. Needless to say I was quite surprised when at 33 they told me they couldn’t cross “the Devil’s threshold” of my front door unless a third male was present.

  26. “I’m inclined to disagree with people saying these rules are there for good reasons. Sure, sure, we can all think of negative consequences to all kinds of situations, but these need to be weighed against negative consequences that the rules themselves bring.” I assume this is why castration was ruled out, but that would also solve the perceived problem.

  27. The real rule that needs to be enforced is keep your pants on or your skirts down. If an 18 or 19 year old cannot be trusted to to behave appropriately in their social interactions with others, then they shouldn’t be on a mission. All these “hedge” rules just convince kids that their libidos are so overwhelming that they simply can’t control themselves absent the rules. That’s not true. They can. Expect them to. Treat them like they can, and ship them off if they don’t. Don’t create social pariahs of thousands of single women–thereby teaching men that women are dangerous and can’t be trusted. It disempowers women, and treats young adults like babies. No one deserves that.

  28. Sounded to me like the kid thought you were hot. If so, take his stuttering ways as a compliment.

  29. The really tricky situation as a missionary is when you’re teaching a woman in her home (non-member or less-active) knowing her husband is in the home, and then you slowly become aware of the fact that her husband left the house somewhere in the middle of the lesson. I once saw a woman’s husband drive off half way through the Plan of Salvation. I decided not to tell my companion.

  30. If Nephi could justifiably break a “rule” and cut off a dude’s head because the Spirit told him to, then I figured my companion and I were OK to teach the single female investigator unaccompanied.

  31. What Steve Evans said in his first comment.

    Also, I don’t mind rules, but I dislike rules justified by bad arguments. If we need to have a policy in place because too many missionaries are having sex when they end up alone with women, let’s not make up different justifications for the policy (especially the really bad interpretation of “abstain from all appearance of evil” that gets used far too often) – and, more importantly, let’s try to change the cultural factors that contribute to too many missionaries having sex when they end up alone with women. (It would be fascinating to see stats on whether or not missionaries in that situation were raised in any particular area or if the issue is distributed fairly evenly for missionaries from all around the world.)

  32. What I think is ironic is that if I *wasn’t* a member, the elders could enter my home no problem, but since I am, I must be some kind of seductress. Yep, a married, temple-recommend-holding seductress in baggy undergarments. Young men, beware!

    The thing about this rule is that I don’t think it actually prevents inappropriate sexual contact altogether. Cuts down on, maybe, but no rule can prevent it – lust will find a way. (If the Church leadership has forgotten this, perhaps a re-read of the Old Testament is in order.) What this rule does is allow us to pat ourselves on the back and say, “Yep! No inappropriate sexual contact going on here! After all, we’ve made A Rule about it!”

    I feel that way about a LOT of the Rules in our church, actually. It’s a sad state of affairs.

  33. In other words, what Karen H said.

  34. Of course you didn’t spring from Zeus’ head – you’re obviously a Titan.

    I agree with those who consider it a blunt instrument. Missionaries (both sisters and brothers) can be stupid and very inexperienced. I know of an instance where an area had to be closed to any missionaries because of the actions of one pair getting themselves into trouble with an investigator, which ended up being known to the entire neighborhood. (Mrs. Kravitz or no, word does get around, if the instance is juicy enough.)

    I prefer the missions that give missionaries some discretion. My companion and I had good success working with a pair of women who lived together and both had severe Multiple-Personality disorder. It was done with extra reporting, just to be sure there was no appearance of inpropriety. Course, we also got a few months of women being afraid to even crack the door open, as there had been a series of driveway assaults by men in suits. Good times.

    Y’know, it’s possible the missionaries reaction had very little to do with you at all. Could be they recently had an experience that made them especially awkward around women at all. It’s possible they just didn’t know how to act around women, of any age, they weren’t related to. Ah, young and stupid. So glad to be further from the stupid (and extremely inexperienced) I was.

  35. The rule doesn’t work – missionaries are still sent home for having sex. If the rule doesn’t work, get rid of the rule.

  36. Good point. This is why I’m all for legalizing murder as well.

  37. First, I don’t want this to come off like I’m endorsing this rule. I’m not. Just providing some perspective as to the missionary’s specific reaction.

    You have to understand how missionaries are conditioned in regards to obedience in the mission field. Mission Presidents drill obedience into the Elders in a very real and almost menacing way. There were times on my mission when I remember feeling that, because I broke a rule, there was some investigator out there who wasn’t going to be able to hear the gospel because I screwed up, and I was someday going to be held accountable for it.

    I know that sounds crazy. And it is. But that’s reality for many missionaries.

    So, don’t hold it (or your body…kidding) against this poor young lad. He’s just reacting as he has been conditioned.

    But, yes, continue to rail against the policy/rule/doctrine/practice.

  38. Shawn H, respectfully, that’s like arguing “traffic rules do not prevent all traffic-related fatalities; therefore, get rid of all traffic laws.” The rules do provide some benefit. Rather than discard them wholesale, I’d prefer an allowance for exceptions and personal judgment. Unfortunately, as Steve Evans pointed out, allowing personal judgment is tricky with 18-20 year old idiots (a judgment I make primarily by knowing my own mindset at that age).

  39. I have a cousin who is inactive who is kind enough to keep up contact with the church and be kind to these boys stopping by all the time. She did tell me recently she was ticked when they stopped by and her husband was in the other room with the flu and couldn’t get out of bed, and since he wouldn’t come down in the same room they told her it was inappropriate for them to be there. Not helping guyz, you are not. helping.

    Is there a two-fold reason? Liability wise to minimize cash losses through lawsuits of he-said-she-said (which I’ll bet is rare), but also because of the missionaries who can’t control themselves (which I bet happens more often)? We often end up creating these lines in the sand and it has unintended consequences – like seeing women as sexual-temptress-time-bomb ready to explode. ditto what Karen H said. It’s part of our culture that creates married students and their wives in grad programs at BYU that call up the department/teachers and request to be reassigned to a different group because there is a female student in their group they may have to interact with one on one. Is it just a rumor that I heard the MBA program had to add a gender class as a capstone because it’s graduates were having issues interacting with women in the workplace like a normal human being?

    I didn’t realize how different men and women interact in the workplace until I worked for two years in Virginia. I enjoyed sitting down with mixed gender groups of friends for lunch and interacting and just seeing each other as equals and friends. Sometimes I was the only girl in the group. I can hardly get a man to make eye contact with me at church to say hello. And any time I bring up that as an accountant I want to be a ward finance clerk people have heart attacks that even though you can keep the door to the office always open, I would be crossing the gender interaction lines.

  40. We met with single women all time in my Japanese mission in the mid-1990’s. And not once did one try to seduce me, or vice versa. I must have been doing something wrong. In Japan, if you don’t get to teach women, you don’t get to teach. So any listening ear was welcomed. Men rarely take the Church seriously over there. And they are rarely home, even late into the evening. So, women were about all we had to teach. There were exceptions, of course. But the women are far more available, and more receptive.

    Was it still against the rules to meet with a lone woman? Yes. Did the Mission President seem to care if we did it? No. It was one of the few things he wasn’t rigid about. Strange.

  41. Please try to understand what standards are, why they exist, and how they work.

    Standards are pre-determined limits to behavior that exist to protect us from bad- or worst-case scenarios. They allow people to NOT have to make in-the-moment judgments and/or circumstantial judgments that may or may not be in the person’s best interest.

    Some scenarios and hypothetical situations can make this clear:

    The standard in this case is “male missionaries can’t enter the home where a female is not accompanied by an adult male.”

    The writers assertion is that it should be okay, or that the missionaries should be left to make the judgment for themselves.

    Is it okay for Elders to be alone with a woman if:

    The woman was 80 years old and in a wheelchair?
    The woman was 80 years old but not in a wheelchair?
    The woman was 60 years old, and not very attractive?
    The woman was 40 years old and fat and unattractive?
    The woman was 20 years old and fat and unattractive?
    The woman was 40 years old, single, and attractive?
    The woman was 40 years old, single, attractive, and wearing revealing clothes?
    The woman was 40 years old, single, attractive, and (unknown to the Elders), was sexually interested in young men?
    The woman was 40 years old, married, attractive, and uninterested (sexually) in young men?
    The woman was 40 years old, married, not happy in her marriage, and wanted attention of young Elders?
    The woman was 30 years old, attractive, and sexually interested in the Elders?
    The woman was 25 years old, attractive, and sexually interested in the Elders?

    The point is, the Elders have no way of knowing who these women are, what their situation is, or what they are capable of.

    Think about it. What if the woman writing the post was widely considered to be extremely attractive by neighbors and/or church members? People WOULD say things–NOT GOOD for the missionaries regardless of whether or not anything inappropriate were to happen. Don’t say “people shouldn’t judge that way.” That’s a naive and stupid thing to say.

    Should it be okay for the Elders to stop by there once a month? Once a week? Once a day? Once an hour?

    This leave us with “It’s okay if the woman writing the post was widely considered to be fat, ugly, and sexually undesirable–and if the missionaries only go over there once” People wouldn’t talk in that scenario–that’s almost a sure thing.

    But that leaves our poor Elders making judgment calls about the appropriateness of a situation based on how old and/or attractive the woman is. NOT GOOD.

    New Policy: Elders can enter into homes of women as along as A) they are ugly and/or fat, B) they are at least 55 years old, and C) the woman is not suspected of having any sexual interest in young Elders.

    Is it okay for 2 Elders have dinner with a 20 year old girl?
    How about a 21 year old girl?
    What bout 22?
    23?
    24? 27? 29? 33? 36? 39? 42? 45? 50? 57? 62?

    Anyone who thinks it’s okay for 2 Elders to have dinner with an 21-year old female is just plain stupid.

    Where ISthe line, people?

    Standards exist in many contexts and situations, and they serve to protect us:

    The speed limit on the main street near my house is 40; I can safely drive 55 on it under normal conditions. So why is there a speed limit?

    I don’t watch rated R movies. We could debate this all day long. But I can guarantee you this: there is zero chance my life will suffer for missing any given rated R movie (including Passion, Schindler’s List, etc.). And yes, some PG and PG13 movies are just as bad or worse. BUT THE STANDARD HAS TO BE SET SOMEWHERE!!!! Don’t FAIL TO SET A STANDARD because it is not always perfect.

    We should smoke ZERO cigarettes and drink ZERO beers.

    Cigarettes are addictive. I’ll give that one to you. Why not a single beer, though? Or a daily glass of wine?

    Should I be able to say the word FU#K in front of children? What about SH!#? What about DAMN? What about HELL? What about CRAP? I don’t know for sure, but the cutoff seems to be somewhere between damn and sh!#.

    The whole flare up about Callister’s article is infuriating to me. The “date rape” culture comments are STUPID. We have standards for dress to protect our girls AND our boys. It’s as if these people complaining about Callister don’t want ANY restrictions on what our girls/women wear at all… so here’s my question: should there be ANY LINE DRAWN (standard) anywhere at all? For example:

    It’s not a girls’ job to govern what a man’s thoughts are in reference to what she is wearing. Okay. So you are saying I should control my thoughts when I see an attractive woman wearing:

    A floral pattern dress?
    A really tight dress that hugs her boobs and hips?
    Jeans and a t-shirt?
    Jeans that have a thong hanging out of the back?
    A skirt?
    A mini skirt?
    A mini skirt so short that it shows her underwear?
    A see through blouse and a see through bra at the same time?
    No clothes at all?

    Surely we can all agree that nude is inappropriate? But why is it inappropriate? Because nude would cause some men to have inappropriate thoughts and would surely put the woman in grave danger. What about the see through clothes? What about the thong?

    There has to be SOME standard somewhere people. This is called REALITY. People just seem to want to get offended by where the line is set: Strapless should be okay. R rated movies should be okay. Elders having dinner with a single woman should be okay.

    Let’s take a more mature and realistic approach, people.

  42. Ricardo I am sorry to say that is one of the most stupid comments I have ever read. I know you put a lot of time and effort into it. Sorry. Really dumb.

  43. Kevin Barney says:

    Great post, Angela. To answer your question, no, you are not an outlier at all, this is a very common situation, and my impression is that thjis sort of rule is virtually universal in the Church today. Which always seems weird to me, as no such rule existed when I was a missionary (but here I’m giving away my age). I always thought that the idea behind having a companionship was at least in part to have a built in chaperone at all times. So if we knocked on a door and a woman was willing to let us come in to teach her a lesson (admittedly not a very common occurrence, but it did happen), we went in the house and taught her a discussion. So I have a hard time relating to these newfangled rules, which seem way overbroad to me.

    Rules like this usually have their genesis in a specific “bad facts” case that happens close to where the GAs live, often in Utah. It kind of reminds me how the 2A *almost* went completely extinct under HJG, in part because some Idaho farmer was bragging about having received it [you're not supposed to tell anyone]. Now, at the time, recall that most considered the 2A a salvific ordinance; so your remedy is to take away a salvific ordinance from the entire church just because of some doofus Idaho farmer? But that’s the mindset with these overbroad rules.

  44. Ricardo, the end result of your comment is the burqa and, basically, Afghanistan-like rules about the interactions between men and women.

  45. Our mission had a rule for a while that the missionaries had to be fed at 5:00pm, no exceptions. Of course no men were home from work by 5pm, which meant that the women were expected to make dinner and transport it to the missionaries’ apartment. I thought that was a stupid expectation, so I just didn’t feed the missionaries. Then we got sister missionaries in our ward and we didn’t have to worry about transporting the food, so I felt obligated to feed the missionaries again. Unfortunately, since my husband wasn’t there, I had to make all the small talk, which was really difficult with these two particular sisters because they were two of the most socially inept people I’d ever met. (Coming from me, a preternaturally awkward person, that is indeed damning.) It might have been the longest hour of my life. I was so glad when they were replaced with elders and I could ignore them again.

    This is just my cynical take on things, but I think this rule about missionaries not being alone with a member of the opposite sex is there mostly so when something untoward happens, the church can say, “Dude, we have a rule about this!” I don’t know any men who appreciate being viewed as a potential child molesters, but most of them understand people’s tendency to mistrust rather than trust. I’m not sure a Primary child is that much more likely to be molested by a male ward member than two elders are likely to be involved in some sexual impropriety or accused of it. Whether this general mistrust costs us more than it benefits us depends on your point of view, I guess. I do know that the Church cares about how stuff looks, and they would rather look sexist than look like they’re not taking precautions to prevent things like molestation, assault, and illicit sex.

  46. Dave K – i respectfully disagree. It’s not like that at all. It’s like “traffic rules don’t prevent people from breaking traffic rules, so let’s get rid of traffic rules”. Except it’s not that at all. You’ve set up a nice straw man. People don’t die when missionaries enter a single woman’s home. I never said get rid of ALL rules; this one, though, does not accomplish its stated purpose, and causes untold grief to many people, and as such, should be eliminated

  47. I’ve had a similar deer in the headlights look from sister missionaries so we sat outside in the heat rather than inside with the air conditioning. There had to be a 20 year age difference, it’s so juvenile.

  48. When my husband was ward mission leader (age 65) he and the elders were meeting with an 84 year old woman. That stopped when a sister in the ward who knew the lady confided in my husband (young enough to be the old lady’s son, even at 65) that the woman thought he was hitting on her. I go with him now whenever he has to visit a single woman. I don’t like it, but there are nuts out there. How is an 18-20 year old supposed to recognize them? Don’t hold it against the boys for holding to the rules too carefully and without tact. Once the elders were over and my husband stepped out to get something from the car. The boys got up embarassed to leave the house, also. I told them to stay where they were and stood in the doorway while my husband was outside, but in sight through the open door. Silly? yes, beyond silly. The idea of giving them more instruction on how to handle such situations is excellent. Understanding and doing what you can to help them is also a good idea. All you had to say was “come in, my husband will be so glad to see you, also.” Also, if you were radiating the anger you expressed in this OP they may have been afraid to talk to you, not ignoring you.

  49. This brings to mind a line by the late, great singer/songwriter (whose mother was Mormon), Warren Zevon:

    I got a part-time job at my father’s carpet store/
    Laying tackless stripping, and housewives by the score.

  50. john f – I thought you were going to say that Ricardo’s comment is “the burqa” because, even on a 17-inch monitor, it manages to cover the entire screen. Sorry for piling on Ricardo. I also give you an A for effort.

  51. “They allow people to NOT have to make in-the-moment judgments and/or circumstantial judgments”

    My “Satan’s Plan of Salvation” alarm is going off, right in my ear.

  52. A few years ago we had sisters assigned back to our ward after having elders in there for a few years.. not long afterwards they began soliciting folks to take the sisters around on appointments and such – ‘splits’ or I think the now more politically correct ‘team-ups’.

    I found it quite curious that any married male over 30 could take the two sisters around for these appointments. I don’t know if that is COB or MP policy, or what, but it just felt strange to me given how indoctrinated the separation of men and women is when dealing with missionary situations.

    I suppose with today’s ‘double-dating’ missionary program a lot of things have changed.

  53. While I was on my mission in Europe, my non-member sister (mid-late 20’s at the time) saw two elders riding bikes in LA. She pulled over, rolled her window down, handed them her business card and said, “My little brother is a missionary for your church. Call me, I’ll buy you guys lunch and you can tell me what he’s doing.”

    She drove away. They never called.

    Opportunity missed. She’s mentioned it to me a few times: how odd that they never called? Well, to me it makes sense… Attractive girl tells a missionary to call her, he sings a hymn and tries to forget about it.

    Wasn’t there a member they could have dragged along with them? Were there no sister missionaries in Los Angeles, circa 1997? Couldn’t they just meet her in a crowded restaurant at lunchtime and talk about missions? etc. etc. Opportunity missed. Their loss.

  54. I’m trying to understand the arguments here, so please don’t come down hard on me. I have a question about Ricardo’s reply. Can someone explain exactly what is wrong with his post? All I am seeing in response is that he is stupid. That’s not helpful in my trying to understand the arguments. I don’t think I agree with his argument, but I’m not advocating the elimination of the rule either. I honestly don’t know what the best solution is. I am sure the rule has some merits, reducing the possibility of lawsuits, and other issues, but it has problems. PLease help me understand.

  55. It is a widespread rule. This is why we don’t have the missionaries over for dinner. DH doesn’t arrive home until 6:45 PM at the earliest. Given meal time restrictions and the time they need to be home, it doesn’t work.

    I also have one anecdote – A good friend of one of my sisters converted during high school and was gung-ho about going on a mission. He (and his family) were not aware of the general church culture and definitely not aware about the general boundary and tattle-tale issues that are prevalent. He saved a bit of money and his extended family was very generous and donated most of the funds so he could go on his mission. He left NY and went to a mission in Utah. Apparently, he and his companion ran into the issue of “every member a mission president.” They would arrange to meet single female investigators in a public park or restaurant, but since the companions weren’t literally joined at the hip, there was a constant barrage of “I saw him with this 20-year-old” “they must be dating” “the companions are both wrong” “they aren’t following the rules” to both the bishop and the mission president. Both of the companions got fed up fast and went home. The stigma of the early return home and the later issue of the extended (non-member) family’s donation being kept by the church, which is a policy I don’t think anyone had knowledge of in advance, eventually caused him to leave the church.

  56. When I was on my mission, the mission president asked me and my companion to role-play teaching his wife a discussion. She was in her 60s. During the role-play, she asked me to go get something in the other room. So, I pretended to. As I stood up, the whole room went “Ahhhh.” My mission president then lectured us that we weren’t to leave our companions even if it was an older woman. He did say he didn’t think it was a big deal, until he heard a story of a senior citizen propositioning an elder who was alone.

    So yes Angela, this stupid rule has been around since you and I were on our missions. Despite the role-play, I still tried to use good judgment in situations of “being alone” with a female, and didn’t pay the rule much attention on my mission.

  57. Ann: “if you were radiating the anger you expressed in this OP they may have been afraid to talk to you, not ignoring you” OPs must not convey tone that well, but I certainly wasn’t angry at the time. I was bewildered (“shocked” as I said in the OP). I was unfamiliar with the rule being followed. These are nice kids. Even though I was subsequently ignored, I have social skills and was able to insert myself in the conversation naturally, putting everyone at ease. Ironically, perhaps those are skills I learned on my mission.

    For those who advocate this rule, what about (celibate, obviously) homosexual missionaries? What about sister missionaries meeting behind closed doors with mission presidents? Young girls meeting with bishops in their offices? Female pedophiles? Those situations likewise exist and can create opportunity to slip. It seems we are only protecting straight males, not gay people, and not women.

  58. Brian F.–Ricardo’s point is that men’s libidos are like radioactive waste. We don’t want anyone to accuse them of causing cancer, so we have to dress women in hazmat suits and lock them up in small rooms to keep everyone safe.

    It’s a decidedly limiting approach to human interaction.

  59. On my mission (2009-2011) in Texas, the rule was in place and emphasized, but under my second mission president there was a “good-sense exception,” if the woman was elderly. What exactly constituted elderly was left to our own judgement.

    That there was any leeway is interesting, because he had been a stake president before being called as a mission president, and had had to deal with the fallout of several missionaries being sent home to his stake because of false allegations regarding inappropriate behavior.

  60. It would be interesting to know the number of missionaries sent home due to either actual misconduct or “false allegations” compared to the number of stories circulated in missions about such occurrences.

  61. Our ward had that 5:00 pm dinner rule too. Poor guys never got fed. What a terrible idea.

    We live right by the church, and are one of only two or three families that do. We’ve had the missionaries drop by all the time. The best was when it was 6:30 at night, my resident physician husband was not home, and our basement had flooded. A foot of water had filled our entire basement from melting snow, rain and a sump pump that was not working. I had been trying to get the water out all day by myself since my husband could not leave work for really any reason at all. I was entirely unsuccessful. Even after spending literally ten hours at it. Could the missionaries come in and help me? Of course not.

  62. Could the missionaries come in and help me? Of course not.

    That is truly sick. I only have to hope that if General Authorities knew that this rule were being interpreted this way by mission presidents and missionaries, that they would not approve.

  63. Someone above asked the question about “attractiveness.” I knew a guy who was an LDS dentist. He was congratulating himself on his discriminatory practice of never hiring any female he personally found attractive. How is that a fair labor practice? It’s incredibly sexist and objectifying. It seems obvious in a work context (at least to me). Attractiveness or the lack thereof is just part of life. God didn’t say only the ugly people should come unto Christ. Again, attractiveness is about the person who is looking at them, not the person being seen superficially. Sexuality is not a live grenade we need to fear will go off. We just need to have good manners and see people as people, not as potential sexual partners.

  64. Ricardo makes some good points. How can you draw a line on ANYTHING? This same logic has led me to pay 100% tithing and not date until I’m 86 (even then it will only be very large group dates . . . )

  65. Angela, that sounds like a real morale booster for his staff.

    “Are you ugly? We want YOU to work for US!”

  66. Sarcasm aside: I had one mission president who wanted this rule strictly enforced, and another who told us to use common sense. Under both presidents, Elders who wanted to fool around found a way, and Elders who wanted to play it safe did. I think that the main people that the rule might protect are Elders who are too innocent to recognize a risky situation until it’s too late. And that’s where more healthy cultural rhetoric about sex would go a long way.

  67. When I was a missionary, I was never without my companion and alone with a woman. Which worked great until I had a companion who was as much as a pervert as I was, and a voyeur.

  68. The only time I taught an investigator alone is when I had to tie my companion to his bed to prevent him from masturbating. Talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place! But we all had some good laughs about it, in the end.

  69. It’s important that you never leave your companion’s side. Otherwise, you might not be there to punch him out cold when he makes homosexual advances towards you.

  70. So can a missionary request only unattractive companions, to avoid SSA temptation?

  71. Based on my own experiences dealing with this rule as a missionary about 15 years(!) ago, I would say my understanding of the rule was more about avoiding appearances or false accusations and less about getting into potentially tempting circumstances. I’m relatively lukewarm about those as reasons for the rule, but whatever. Following the spirit of the rule is ok (I guess), but a rigid letter of the law approach definitely strikes me as problematic.

    I don’t recall my mission being fanatical about keeping to this rule – it was a “do your best” but we let the spirit/common sense dictate most situations. I had plenty of meals with older sisters from the ward, often let things slide if there was ANYONE else present (kids, other female friends/family members) – the work would have ground to an absolute standstill otherwise – and would usually do a first lesson with a single woman. I hope I had enough courtesy to never create a situation like one described in the OP. I doubt that particular elder was focused on the “gender dynamic” but rather a lot more focused on the “rule dynamic” – still the end result of alienating others as you’ve described is problematic.

  72. I don’t mind piling on Ricardo (although I suppose he would mind it because I am fat and his comment must have mentioned how universally unattractive we all are at least 50 times) because I think his comment warrants a pile on. It was ridiculous in every sense, and was a rambling mess of incoherent nonsense.

  73. We never passed up an opportunity to teach a woman based on this rule. It would have made reason stare to knock on a door and be invited in by a woman and then say no, we can’t teach you because we have an internal administrative rule that says we can’t be alone with a woman unless there is a chaperone present. Instead, we fulfilled our missions and taught the woman. In at least one case, we baptized such an investigator (a woman in her late 60s).

    Common sense, people. And if your companion is fooling around, rat him out. If there seems to be something suspicious going on but you’re not sure, bring it up and make sure he understands you’re not cool with that.

  74. Rigel Hawthorne says:

    Melodynew,
    My elderly Aunt was a widow and she joined another widow or two in taking the missionaries out to a Mexican restaurant for their opportunity to feed and visit with the missionaries. The missionaries loved the food and the women loved getting together and socializing with the Elders.

  75. It’s like when the missionaries have a car and pass by a member of the ward walking in the pouring rain and don’t stop to give her a ride because she’s a woman and there’s that mission rule that has to be prioritized over common sense and Christlike interaction with fellow human beings.

  76. You encountered a geeky young Elder who is probably 19 and still awkward in dealing with uncertain situations. Probably out on his own for the first time and working to overcome an introverted self and found himself faced with a situation where he had to ask an awkward question.

    I know it’s fun to make this all about you or gender differences Angela and the shocking idea of why they should think adult women are seductresses. But this rule stems from further back than when you were a missionary and it was gender indifferent then just as it is now even though the rules have shifted some.

    Now Mission Presidents may decide which parts they want to emphasize and how they want to emphasize it, but the rules were fairly clear in the handbooks we’re all given.

    1980’s circa White Bible rules:

    Never be alone with anyone of the opposite sex.

    Never associate inappropriately with anyone of the opposite sex.

    Do not flirt.

    Do not date.

    Do not communicate via phone or letter with anyone of the opposite sex living within or near mission boundaries.

    Do not visit a single or divorced person of the opposite sex unless accompanied by a couple or another adult member of your sex.

    Try to teach single investigators in a member’s home or have missionaries of the same sex teach them.

    Always follow the above rules, even if the situation seems harmless.

    Current Missionary Handbook rules:

    OPPOSITE SEX

    Never be alone with, flirt with, or associate in any other inappropriate way with anyone of the opposite sex. Do not telephone, write, e-mail, or accept calls or letters from anyone of the opposite sex living within or near mission boundaries. The only exceptions are for communications between sister missionaries and their mission leaders, mission-related telephone calls (such as calls to confirm appointments), and letters of support and encouragement to converts (see “Communicating with Converts” on pp. 36–37). Report immediately to your mission president any situation that might cause you or your companion to violate this standard.

    You and your companion should not visit or accept rides from individuals of the opposite sex unless another responsible adult of your own sex is also present. Always obey this rule, even if the situation seems harmless. You can often avoid these situations if you emphasize teaching families and involve members in every teaching appointment, if at all possible.

    Do not counsel members or nonmembers on personal problems. Refer members who need counseling or professional assistance to their bishop. If you feel a nonmember needs such assistance, talk with your mission president.

    Do not counsel missionaries of the opposite sex, even if you are serving in a leadership position. Such talk can lead to inappropriate feelings and relationships. Always refer such cases to your mission president.

    Notice nowhere does it say the rules are different for Sisters. Since we’ve had both Sister and Elder companionships in our Ward we’ve encountered numerous different challenges with supporting the missionaries due to fairly strict application of these rules. But the work goes on.

    When I was serving in France we were far flung from the Mission office and rarely saw the APs or the Mission President outside of Zone Coferences. So the influence was there but not as extensive as you might find in our closely confined missions here in the States. So my companions and I used to joke about doing things like putting a bed in a doorway and sleeping the same bed but not in the same room just to innocently flaunt the rules,

    And we would regularly teach women alone in their homes both young and old since they were the ones who most frequently opened their doors to us. We were supposed to hand off individuals of the opposite sex who showed real interest in being taught IF there were Sisters serving in our city but often that simply wasn’t the case and the closest pair of Sisters were hundreds of miles away. And even if they were nearby the hand-off only happened if the investigator was becoming “too attached” to the missionaries in question. We all (Elders and Sisters) joked about how often the Sisters were extremely successful in baptizing older men who seemed to enjoy the visits from these young women and how as a result they often led the area in baptisms.

    However, I can recall two specific situations where I was grateful to have received the instruction and remember the rules were there. Once, on an winter evening, we were wrapping up our fruitless tracting efforts when a teenage African girl opened her door to us and invited us in to teach her. As we started talking I looked around and started wondering, how would this look when her mother or father returned home. She was 16 or 17 and I grew more uncomfortable the longer we stayed. After 15 minutes, even though the discussion was proceeding well, my companion and I looked at each other and both nodded that we needed to leave. We never should have entered the door in the first place. But we were cold and tired of knocking on doors and grateful to find someone friendly and willing to speak with us. Sometimes common sense gets overruled and it was good to have the rules reinforced in our heads to remind us what we should do at moments like that.

    Another time, we had a woman – mid 30s or 40s – who was a perpetual investigator and frequently invited us over to teach and happily attended Church meetings, a tabernacle choir production, and many other events. She just couldn’t decide to commit. Only it was after I was transferred away did I get a letter from my companion explaining that the day I was transferred (transfers regularly left a missionary alone for sometimes the better part of a day) he received a phone call from her inviting him to come over and have dinner with her. She called him several times trying to convince him to come visit her. She explained to him that she really wanted to spend time with just him and it quickly became apparent that she was interested in us only because she was trying to get closer to him.

    With that said, I do recall two beautiful young women in one area who invited us over regularly and it was clear that they were just interested enough in the gospel to keep us interested in teaching them while thoroughly enjoying the flirtation of spending time with and enjoying dinner with two American young men. I loved spending time with them and even stayed in contact after I was transferred because we all became such good friends – and not in the “we’re friends only because we’re not allowed to date way.”

    I think the rules are important. Whether or not the young missionaries, especially many who are out on their own for the first time, have the common sense necessary to understand how to manage the complexities of what those rules are intended to protect them from and deal with those nuances on their own without the rules is really the question.

  77. I can say with certainy that other than health, the member one reason missionaries were sent home was because of inappropriate actions with the opposite sex.

  78. OD, why did you specifically mention that the girl was African? Hmm, racist?

  79. Nice Steve and I realized in the back of my head someone would ask but I hoped not. I knew from my interactions with the African families we taught that there would be an even more severe response to an unknown adult male found in the home with their daughter than would be experienced with the average French family.

    Satisfied? Sheesh.

  80. The area really bites, is the older single sisters. Two of our ladies have had the missionary rejection because the Elders can’t enter their homes. Both of these women are clearly senior in age, they move slow, one tripped twice in a parking lot last year. One had a hip replacement. These are no Mrs. Robinson’s by any chance, but rules are rules. So No Elders over, even for a dish of ice cream.

  81. LOL

  82. Let me rephrase: “African families are just that way.”

  83. Steve, do you want to go into cultural nuances here? African Muslim families in general, especially those from Senegal, are just that way. You can’t spend all your time skewering Mormon cultural norms with regards to women and then try to play the card in the other direction when it’s concerning another culture.

    I realize you’re having fun at my expense but the jab is uncalled for.

  84. OD, I get it. Most of the African refugees we taught in Germany were African Muslim as well, and there were some very violent reactions to overstepping their cultural norms. Even if they were African whites.

    Talking about racism and racist assumptions….*LOL*

  85. I’m so glad I was unaware of these requirements when I was a young(er) single mom. I would invite the missionaries to dinner with me and my 9 yr-old son. We usually had pizza (shout-out to Feed My Missionaries), and the missionaries were familiar and friendly faces to my son. As a side note, my home teacher (one of the most amazing that I’ve had) always visited faithfully, whether I was home alone or not. I don’t know if he was ever assigned a companion. The biggest issue, or inside joke, was when I car-pooled with a similarly aged father. I teased one morning as we left the elementary school where our children attended, “People must think that Mormons have a really good deal. You get out of one car with a beautiful woman and get into another car with a different beautiful woman.”

    What ever happened to “teach them correct principles…”?

  86. This rule was often followed in my mission in California in the early 2000s, although many missionaries ignored it for the elderly and many missionaries ignored it if were too inconvenient. The members were often aware of this rule as well, which lead to what I call my mission date.

    I was covering a singles ward and some women in the ward occasionally signed up to feed us. Because they were aware of the rules, they signed up in groups of three. One time, one of them was unable to make it, so instead of cancelling the dinner, the other two offered to take us out to eat. As a result, two elders and two twenty-something girls had a nice dinner at Outback Steakhouse. The dinner was fine and I don’t remember anything awkward about it, but I do remember wondering what everyone else thought–missionaries tend to stand out after all–and I do think it is somewhat common knowledge that missionaries are not supposed to date. I especially wonder what any members would have thought if they would have seen us. Perfectly within the rules though.

  87. So were those missionaries who were sent home for inappropriate relationships with the opposite sex saved by the rule? Of course not. If you want to sin, you’re going to find a way. As it says in Dangerous Liaisons (the novel), if you put enough obstacles in their way, they may just fall on each other.

  88. In trying to speculate about the purpose of the rule, I always thought it was designed to protect missionaries against false accusations, whether from the person inside the house or from others such as neighbors. I never thought it was designed to prevent the missionaries from engaging in so called inappropriate relationships. It seems like the rule requiring missionaries to stay with their companions is a sufficient rule for the purpose of avoiding inappropriate relationships with the opposite sex. How many missionaries have engaged in inappropriate relationships while still next to their companion?

  89. Chris Kimball says:

    On setting rules: In many circumstances we work with an error rate. If 2% error is normal (not to say “good” or “welcome”, but just normal or expected), and we notice that errors have crept up to 5%, then we write a new rule and make something change. But the world of Mormons and sex often exhibits a zero tolerance policy. One person (one missionary), one time, one place, is too much. That makes for some awkward rule setting, that doesn’t seem to get us to six sigma status anyway judging by the stories we share.

  90. Rigel Hawthorne says:

    Throughout my mission in Japan, we would turn over single female investigators to the sisters when in an area where sisters were serving. As we were all biking missionaries, we would find a place to meet and then ride to the home and introduce the sisters before we left so the investigator felt a comfortable transition. It was always fun.

    At the end of the mission, we got the memo, ‘no more of that’. From then on, missionaries were supposed to just give the sisters the address and let them find the place and introduce themselves. I felt a bit insulted that we were not trusted to have that slight bit of Elder-Sister 2 on 2 public domain interaction. I don’t think our mission president would have liked the 2 on 2 Outback Restaurant Elder-female ward member date described by Mike RM.

  91. Kevin Manning says:

    Don’t at all think it is only a female thing. I called as ward mission leader and had almost the exact experience with the Sisters that are assigned to our ward. Beyond that, we as men have been portrayed as predators for many years , even with young men. Sad that we live in this odd world, but welcome to our world.

  92. Mike R.M. My thoughts exactly. I was as black and white as missionaries come, but somehow my companion managed to make out with a sister missionary, and I didn’t know until he told me later. He obviously was able to get away from me, maybe on splits. We can make rules proscribing every possible scenario that missionaries can get into and how they are to interact in each scenario, but they don’t stop those that want to ignore them. We should get back to basics. Teach correct principles, as Charlene says, and deal with those that choose to misbehave.

  93. Last year my 40ish divorced best friend who lives in the “mission field” of the upper Eastern United States Seaboard divulged in me she was not able to help herself falling for an Elder. She even went to her Branch President for counsel because he, who had gone back to his mission after being released and married an older women (by 12-15 years or so) was held as an example of how it might yet work because they are after all still sealed and together. But he did point out 20 years is a bigger span to overcome. Huh? He contacted the Mission President, the Mission President told him to handle it there locally. Meanwhile, my friend and the Elder were still exchanging pass-along cards in giggley exchanges of favorite bands at ward socials in the cultural hall. His was rap, hers were…well not rap. I finally told her I thought it was pathetic. Yes, my friend, the Young Women’s President, finishing her graduate work at John Hopkins was giving me all kind of convoluted reasoning of how now writing this newly transferred Elder now was innocent (which is against Mission Rules also to write someone within your mission) and said she would even let her own missionary age son and daughter read their correspondence.
    Uh-huh. Okay. One too many Women’s Studies Courses there, huh? The Mrs and Sister Robinsons out there have officially become sexually full of themselves and can’t even get out of their own way at this point.
    I gotta a missionary son out myself right now. The thought of a 40 year old ward sister stalking him…well anyway, I called the Mission President in her area. It was an awkward call at first but he let me know this wasn’t his first rodeo (out 2 ½ years) with lonely women after Elders. No more is it the mom’s trying to snag an Elder for their daughter (and I’ve seen that too—back in the day). Nope, Sister Robinson’s, the age of missionary-age moms are the number one concern at Salt Lake Missionary Headquarters these days. Who knew?
    So all you single, divorced and married home-alone missionary-mom aged sisters, if you are not a “Sister Robinson” then get over yourself cause this rule ain’t for you. I’m sure you are charming, trustworthy and missionary minded. And I’m one of you. But apparently there’s new predator generation this one’s written for.
    There isn’t a week goes by that a 30 or 40ish year old female school teacher mug shot isn’t up on a news story (and it doesn’t matter the city or state), for her rendezvous with her 13, 14 and 16-ish year old young male student(s), (although female students are caught in the troll also). Awesome. Do we really think it’s just the younger generation whose been sexualized to be full of themselves?
    My friend I did not consider an off balance lonely divorced sister— and as I mentioned she was serving as the Young Women’s President and working on a graduate degree from John Hopkins. But her reasoning made my head spin—the way it does when I see story after story of predator school teachers
    I don’t know what mission y’all served in but I even saw it on my mission 1985-ish, Elder’s spending A LOT of time at a bored housewife “Sister Robinson’s” house—it always felt creepy and I knew something was off.

  94. There’s an elderly missionary couple in our ward and my husband and I have become really friendly with them. A few months ago I attended at a ward party after returning from a long trip and the wife gave me a big effusive hug. I then turned to hug her husband and he backed away so fast he almost fell over… so embarrassing! I hadn’t realized that the rule about not hugging the opposite sex applied to couple missionaries.

    I have found that some elders are weird around me (not looking me in the eye or calling me Sister X while addressing my husband by his first name) but it depends a lot on the elders. However, I hate when the elders come to dinner and mostly talk to my husband except to thank me for cooking. I’ve actually made it a rule that whenever the missionaries come, my husband cooks.

  95. The last mission we lived in allowed Elders to visit and (gasp!) even ride with women who were 30+ years old. My wife was simultaneously pleased that she didn’t have to leave the missionaries outside anymore until I got home and offended that she was now officially considered too old to be a potential sexual threat to them. Apparently having our 5 year old around didn’t count, either.

  96. My husband is a grumpy inactive who tolerates the missionaries at dinner, but that’s it. So I’m the one who verbally entertains them throughout dinner while my husband communes with his food. So whether they’re awkward around women or not, they’re stuck conversing with me for an hour straight. Sucks to be them.

  97. Those missionaries are protected from accusations that they raped you. Unfortunately it’s the kind of world we live in. People are assaulted, seduced, falsely accused.

    Same applies to the primary and youth calls for men.

    Now to the rudeness of not knowing how to talk to a woman… Well lots of Elders are like that. Sometimes I’m not sure how to handle a conversation where I almost feel like I’d be viewed as flirting or “interested” in a sexual sense. My wife has told me several women she knows have confided in her that a couple other men made them feel uncomfortable with comments or staring, etc. With some people I don’t know reasonably well, I’d just assume not be accused of leering as a result of a vacant stare etc. It’s a shame I admit.

  98. Angela,

    “What about sister missionaries meeting behind closed doors with mission presidents? Young girls meeting with bishops in their offices?”

    The church is concerned with these as well but feels the meetings are necessarily private, They still have rigid policies to try and mitigate the risk. A Bishop meeting with a woman at church on a weeknight must have someone sitting outside his door. Typical the exec secretary is given babysitting duty in situations like that. The exec secretary stuck in a traffic jam? Sorry Sister Robinson, we’ll have to re-schedule.

  99. Now we have sisters, we feed them, but not the elders as my husband cannot guarrentee to be back in time for the start of the meal.
    Am I alone in finding missionary dinner appts take far longer than a normal family dinner? So much so, that I’ll only have them over Fridays when the kids are less stressed about the homework and other things they need to be getting on with. If it were simply a matter of having them come in eat, leave, I’d be more flexible, but what with the longer mealtime and sharing a message afterwards before then getting down to clearing everything up once they’ve left, it seems to occupy at least 3x the time normally allotted to a meal in our house.

  100. Mark Brown says:

    When the church raised the bar for missionaries, I wish we would have raised it high enough to weed out the dumb ones who need such idiotic rules.

  101. Mark Brown says:

    It is not a strict policy for a bishop to require another adult male to be eavesdropping at the door to his office when he meets with a woman. For hell’s sake, what is the matter with us?

    A stake president who found out a bishop cancelled a meeting with a woman because his babysitter wasn’t present should release that bishop immediately and call a grown-up to replace him.

  102. 7.4 When a member of a bishopric or stake presidency meets with a child, youth, or woman, he asks a parent or another adult to be in an adjoining room, foyer or hall. A parent would usually be available for a child. The leader should avoid all circumstances that could be misunderstood.

  103. Bro. Caiaphas says:

    When I received the discussions about 20 years ago as a teenager in SLC, I was taught by sister missionaries. There were no chaperones, and I even drove them places a few times. This was all divinely inspired, because nearly ever elder serving in that district was an incredible idiot and I don’t think I would’ve made it through discussions taught by them. A pair of smarter, more mature women inspired much more patience in me. A much different time, since rules have obviously changed a bunch.

    My mother-in-law (who lives with us) recently joined the church, and it was kind of hilarious how the gender rules impacted her teaching. I usually don’t get home until 6-7PM, so regardless of whether or not my wife was home, the elders had to find an additional male member to accompany them to my home. The result was that there was no effort made to accommodate my schedule, and I never really got involved with the teaching. Not a terrible thing, but kind of funny having a relative and potential church member treated like a roommate or neighbor through the whole process.

  104. “avoid all circumstances that could be misunderstood.”

    That pretty much makes it clear–we’re not actually concerned with protecting women and children; we just care about the reputation of male leaders. Ugh.

  105. it's a series of tubes says:

    we’re not actually concerned with protecting women and children; we just care about the reputation of male leaders

    Kristine, is this truly what you believe about the leadership of the church?

  106. I think it’s a risk mitigation policy, designed to avoid risk and to protect the organization.

  107. iasot–No. That’s what I think the policy statement conveys, particularly in a context where women are structurally disadvantaged. (I agree with Steve about the likely intent of the policy; it’s problematic mostly because of its context and the fact that women don’t have input into the policy discussions, or even access to the stated policy (!)) I think Church leaders are well-intentioned and do remarkably well at making a fundamentally unjust system work humanely. It would be better, though, if they could be helped to do that by the policies and structures we have in place, rather than managing to be kind in spite of the policies.

  108. Hmmm. This is the instruction to the leader: “The leader should avoid all circumstances that could be misunderstood.” I can see that instruction itself being misunderstood.

    Interpretation 1: (cautious leader with good social skills) I should be careful how I word things and make sure the person feels safe and supported and that nothing I say will make her feel threatened, uncomfortable, or sexually harassed. I should stick to basics, assume she knows the terms, and not elaborate. By doing this, I will avoid all misunderstanding.

    Interpretation 2: (hardliner bishop) I’d better be very clear in my word choice, explicit even, to make sure that the person knows exactly what constitutes sin and that there are no misunderstandings about the Lord’s standards. It will be tough, but I should err on the side of saying too much, being graphic even if necessary. By doing this, I will avoid all misunderstanding.

  109. It will be tough, but I should err on the side of saying too much, being graphic even if necessary.

    Like explaining to a teenaged girl what oral sex is. Yes, this has happened.

  110. Sometimes the rules work, sometimes they don’t. One of my best friends at BYU had her introduction to the Church be a make-out session with a missionary at a party he probably shouldn’t have attended. I never had the nerve to ask what it was about him that impressed her enough to investigate and then join the Church.

  111. As I read your piece the list of Elders and Sisters who would have been well served had they decided to abide by such a rule scrolled through my brain. It’s a long list. Our mission wasn’t known for obedience and certainly not prudence. I know it’s repulsive to even consider a relationship with an Elder but sadly, some of the women were in their 40’s. ICK!

  112. The missionaries in our ward (two pairs, elders) asked to meet with our bishop weekly, so he meets with them Sundays at 7am. He would pick them up, since they didn’t have cars. When one set of elders was replaced with sisters, special permission was obtained from the MP for the bishop to drive the sisters without another grown woman in the car, but the condition was the elders are picked up first.

    The bishop still meets with the YW individually. Apparently, there’s something just a little more sexually dangerous about missionaries…

  113. Seems to be plenty of anecdotal evidence in this comment stream alone to warrant the need for this rule. It may be inconvenient to some, but overall I would say necessary.

  114. This is one of the most irritating rules. I actually had elders nearly bang so hard on my door as to knock it over. And when I answered, they asked if my husband was home. He wasn’t so they couldn’t come in. They knocked on my door to tell me they couldn’t come in! Right.
    How about calling ahead first like people with manners are taught to do?

  115. P.S. But when the mission president needed the elders to live in my home it was fine if my husband wasn’t there constantly. He could go to work or the store and the boys didn’t have to stay outside until he returned! Go figure.

  116. A young married women in my ward planned on picking up her brother in law at the airport over the holidays because her husband could not get away from work to do it. When the brother in law heard this, he actually said ,”Do you think that’s appropriate? I don’t.” And he took the bus instead! This separation of the sexes business is getting ridiculous.

  117. Everyone has indeed piled on me. Lots of you completely twisted my words (100% tithing, really, that was my point?). But through all the bashing, nobody answered my question:

    Is it okay for two Elders to have dinner with a 21 year old woman?

    How about 22?

    23?

    30?

    30, but only if she’s fat and ugly?

    40?

    Where should they draw the line people?

    Clearly, an 80-year old woman is easy to make an exception (per one commenter from a Texas mission).

    But what about the 25 year old? or 35 year old?

    Telling missionaries to “use judgment” would lead to many of the following negative outcomes:

    1. Missionaries visiting women they probably shouldn’t have and getting themselves into actual trouble.
    2. Missionaries visiting women they probably shouldn’t have and getting accused of doing wrong things even though they weren’t.
    3. Missionaries visiting “borderline case women” and offending them because now the woman interprets that as the missionaries thinking she’s “old and ugly”. And if you think this is false, consider the original nature of this post: a woman being offended. No matter what, you’re going to offend women. Don’t dismiss this out of hand as stupid. Use your brain and think about it for 10 seconds and you’ll see the problem here is real.

    So, haters… where is the cutoff?

  118. THESE ARE STUPID QUESTIONS WHICH IS WHY NOBODY ANSWERED THEM. THERE IS NO CUTOFF FORPETESSAKE.

  119. Ricardo–the answer to all of your questions is yes. Adults should be trusted to behave as adults. And, as all the anecdotes presented here show, people who are intent on sin are going to find a way to commit it. Punishing all women and teaching impressionable young men that the primary characteristic of women–the one they should be thinking of ALL the time–is that it is possible to have sex with them is a steep price to pay for the hypothetical possibility of preventing a few actions by people who know perfectly well that what they’re doing is wrong (and thus, by definition, will not be stopped by hedges around the law).

  120. Although jill, bad motivations notwithstanding, getting one car off the road in favor of public transportation is certainly a win! (And I totally mean that seriously; now if only he had chosen the bus for environmental or traffic reasons, instead of pretend temptress reasons . . .)

  121. Ricardo, to put it simply, no one is proposing a “cut off”. Everyone can plainly see that any cutoff would be unacceptable. Any comments mentioning it (aside from yours) were simply being facetious. It’s either keep the rule or not. Your very long posts are begging a question that wasn’t even asked.

  122. Ricardo: “100% tithing, really, that was my point?”

    No, that point was all mine. It seems that some people have the attitude that “If a little bit is good, then a lot must be better” and “if a lot is bad, then a even little must be bad too.” And that logic can one to overextend his or her perspective of good and bad to the point of absurdity.

  123. Two root canals at the dentist yesterday was less painful than some of these comments.

  124. If the primary purpose of being a missionary is to preach the gospel, not to have sex with random strangers, then make a rule that we don’t have sex with random strangers (it’s called the law of chastity – still applies on a mission), and move on. If we instill fear in the elders of the very people whom they are sent out to teach and serve (do women need the gospel message or not?), we undermine their purpose being there. If they can’t be trusted in something so small, they shouldn’t have been sent in the first place – send them home! It’s pretty simple.

  125. I thought that the “companion rule” was there to protect us all–missionaries and others. If one companion isn’t enough, maybe we should just add more. That way, if you see 14 missionaries showing up at your door, you’ll know to throw the bolt and hide in the closet.

  126. First, lots of mission rules seem dumb. Companions must be outside the car to help ensure that the missionary driving doesn’t back into or onto something….totally stupid.

    Second, most rules come from some egregious violation which had dire consequences. Missionaries that want to engage in sexual activity will do so, that’s a fact, but the rules are there to prevent those who might not see the signs of a dangerous situation. As for the “appearance” problem, it’s not just to protect the Church, it’s to protect the missionary. Once we lay members label a missionary, (arrogant, picky-eater, stupid, immature, too cool, hot, stuck up, holier-than-thou) those labels are HARD if not impossible to live down. In some cases, once a missionary gets a less than good label, he/she has to be transferred in order to save that missionaries effectiveness.

    While I agree, and I argued as a missionary 15 years ago, we’re either Temple-endowed members (Elders also hold Priesthood) or we’re not, as such I should be expected to live by my COVENANTS, NOT a stupid piddly set of rules which are indeed the lower law. The longer I served, and the longer I’m away from it, I see the rules as a help to live the covenants, which are essential for those who are working on their ability to stand in holy places and be not moved.

  127. Trust. These rules just show that we don’t trust either the missionaries, or the members.

    Fear. These rules reveal that we are teaching young men to fear women’s sexual availability — instead of “every member a missionary” it’s “every woman a likely seductress” — rather than teaching these boys that they should not be viewing women as automatically sexually available to them in the first place. In sum, we are teaching them or reinforcing the idea that the likely outcome of a man and woman alone together is that they will have sex with each other. And that circles back to trust, see above.

  128. I often think about this type of rule/situation. I get the idea of commandments protecting us. I was a missionary back in the day. Many of the rules did indeed protect me. But when the last set of elders were visiting and were discussing some of their other rules…..no talking with sister missionaries unless both companions are involved in the conversation, no getting together with more than 3 sets of missionaries on p-day, only a certain amount of time aloud in a members house for dinner…..gosh! When did it turn into “Let’s Play Pharisee!” Are they going to start counting how many steps to get to church on Sunday as well? I feel that it is a gross disrespect of Agency. Isn’t it missing the mark of our purpose in this life? I thought it was Lucifer’s plan to control all the activity on the Earth so that we returned home. Granted, I wouldn’t want my children repeat my mistakes, but I respect them enough to teach them and then let them screw up. And especially let them come to the healing balm of the atonement on their own terms.

  129. You can call my question stupid all you want, but still, nobody has answered it.

    Is it okay for two Elders to have dinner with a 21 year old woman?

    Can we all at least agree the answer to that question is NO?

    And if not, at what age (of the woman) DOES it become appropriate?

    Sex with random strangers? Really? Jumping to patently absurd examples and scenarios does nothing to help the discussion.

    The church standard on this topic (for missionaries, per the white handbook) CLEARLY is “no association with members of the opposite sex.” To all the people who are saying this is a stupid rule, here’s a challenge: Write a better rule. I’m all ears.

  130. Per OD above, here are the rues as currently written; rewrite them:

    OPPOSITE SEX

    Never be alone with, flirt with, or associate in any other inappropriate way with anyone of the opposite sex. Do not telephone, write, e-mail, or accept calls or letters from anyone of the opposite sex living within or near mission boundaries. The only exceptions are for communications between sister missionaries and their mission leaders, mission-related telephone calls (such as calls to confirm appointments), and letters of support and encouragement to converts (see “Communicating with Converts” on pp. 36–37). Report immediately to your mission president any situation that might cause you or your companion to violate this standard.

    You and your companion should not visit or accept rides from individuals of the opposite sex unless another responsible adult of your own sex is also present. Always obey this rule, even if the situation seems harmless. You can often avoid these situations if you emphasize teaching families and involve members in every teaching appointment, if at all possible.

    Do not counsel members or nonmembers on personal problems. Refer members who need counseling or professional assistance to their bishop. If you feel a nonmember needs such assistance, talk with your mission president.

    Do not counsel missionaries of the opposite sex, even if you are serving in a leadership position. Such talk can lead to inappropriate feelings and relationships. Always refer such cases to your mission president.

  131. Is it okay for two Elders to have dinner with a 21 year old woman?

    Yes. Unless you take a far dimmer view of missionaries than I do; I may be old enough to consider missionaries (and, for that matter, 21-year-olds) as barely adults, but they are, nonetheless, adults. If our missionaries cannot control themselves in the presence of women–even without a heroic man there to run interference!–then clearly we’re teaching them wrong.

  132. Is it okay for two Elders to have dinner with a 21 year old woman?

    Of course it is okay. We have to trust them.

  133. Hmm, so I wonder if anyone has paid close attention to the impact on baptisms due to the over emphasis on these rules has had in the last decade? In response to Ricardo’s challenge, I would wager that if you went back and completely removed the ability for missionaries to meet alone with someone of the opposite sex in order to teach them you would see a statistically significant drop in conversions.

    And the question is whether lowering the age for missionary service coupled with the earlier “raising of the bar” has resulted in more obedient missionaries?

    There could be something there. If being led by the Spirit conflicts with the rules – let’s think Nephi and Laban but in this case it’s Elders Bentley and Oakley faced with entering the home of a single, 40 something woman who wants to learn from them – do the missionaries have the spiritual maturity to recognize the call to act in spite of the rule structure they’re saddled with?

  134. “Is it okay for two Elders to have dinner with a 21 year old woman?”

    As others have said, yes, why not? As I mentioned earlier, any protection against sexual sin should be accomplished by the rule requiring missionaries to stay with their companions in practically every situation. So the rule forbidding “one” elder from having dinner with “one” 21 year old should be sufficient if for some reason you are concerned that missionaries won’t be able to control themselves. The missionaries that are willing to break that rule and leave their companion aren’t going to then be stopped by the rule forbidding two missionaries from being with a woman.

    I personally have a hunch (but no actual evidence) that the origin of this rule was probably designed to protect against the accusation of abuse or impropriety against a missionary–likely triggered by an accusation that really happened and where the testimony of the other companion wasn’t considered persuasive–and not from a need to prevent sexual sin. I am not suggesting this is a good rule based on that reason, or that its application is consistent or makes sense, but I think we miss the point when we say this rule was put in place because the church doesn’t trust missionaries. I think many other rules were put in place because the church doesn’t trust missionaries, but I’m not sure this was one of them.

  135. Ricardo,

    You seem sincere, so I’ll give you a sincere response. Here’s my first pass at better guidance. I’m open to suggestions:

    “You are 18 to 23 years old, so you probably have strong sexual desires. But remember that you have covenanted to obey the law of chastity. This means that you should not have sexual relations of any kind during this phase of your life.

    “You will work with people of the opposite sex on your mission, including church members, prospective church members, and other missionaries. Don’t let sexual thoughts or desires control your relationship with the opposite sex. Treat them as sons or daughters of God. Use good judgement in situations where you and your companion may be alone with people of the opposite sex. Avoid situations where you might face sexual temptation beyond your ability to resist, or where someone might falsely accuse you of sexual misconduct. Help your companion to do the same. If you have questions about any situation, talk to an appropriate mission leader.”

  136. Ricardo: “Is it okay for two Elders to have dinner with a 21 year old woman?” Yes. “Can we all at least agree the answer to that question is NO?” No.

  137. john f and CE, you are my new favorite people. I’m already a big Kristine fan . . . but to all three of you, a resounding “thank you!”

  138. CE, I would add: “Listen to the promptings of the Spirit. If you feel uncomfortable or if you are unsure about a situation, politely excuse yourself as quickly as possible. Be sensitive to the feelings of others. Do not be alone with a member of the opposite sex (except in very rare instances such as an interview with a mission president or doctor’s appointment). Do not leave your companion alone.”

  139. I’m a single mom, and I no longer attend church. I am still on the records, so male missionaries from the local ward drop by my house occasionally. I invite them in every time, and they (sometimes politely and sometimes awkwardly) refuse. I wonder why they still drop by? The records must show that I’m head of household, right? It’s all a bit confusing and kind of funny.

  140. John F. I’d add that it’s not just fear of women’s sexual availability. It’s fear of their own sexuality too. We are doing both sexes a huge disfavor by being so terrified of sex. As you say,we are teaching that a man and a woman, alone together, will have sex, that adults are unable to control themselves. We are crippling these people, and I will be the first to admit that I still struggle with the consequences of this very teaching I received as a young man, and it really makes me angry.

  141. CE & Villate: I appreciate your willingness to thoughtfully consider the rules and not simply issue a dismissive, condescending retort. I think you both gave fine answers, and if the rules were to be changed, I would support the rules the way you have written them.

    I am still, shocked, however (and I mean it genuinely–shocked!) at the 4 or 5 people who simply say “Yes, it should be okay for Elders to have dinner with a 21 year old woman because they are adults and we should trust them.” And while I am speechless, I won’t let that stop me from trying to utter a few more words :).

    A “use your judgment” policy for Elders would be a complete and utter disaster on many levels. Yes, they are adults. And yes, they should try to avoid dangerous situations, etc. But the reality of the situation, coupled with the law of large numbers, makes this a train wreck waiting to happen.

    First of all, there are a percentage of missionaries–let’s call it 10%–who are absolute goofs in the first place. I’m talking rule breaking, loafing, boundary-stretching guys who would have a field day with this policy. Make one of these guys a senior companion with a fairly new and unconfident missionary and it’s a mortal lock that there would be a TON of dating that occurs. It wouldn’t look like traditional dating–it would be two Elders who visit the woman of choice multiple times per week while developing very close friendships. Currently, the “good” companion could sniff this out and report the other to the MP. With the rule change, the greenie would be far less likely, because after all, “nothing happened and no rules were broken.” Until that one night when he wakes up and finds his companion missing. Let’s be clear: This already happens even with the current rules. But with the revised rules, it would become rampant.

    Next, you have the 40% of missionaries that would be in that 10% if their wasn’t enough social pressure by the MP, companions, members, family back home, and situations/circumstances. If you don’t believe me that this is true, you’ve clearly never been a male missionary (I have). These guys could go either way. Give them this rule, and you start sliding more and more of them into the category (and its attendant problems).

    The top 50% would even be affected by this rule change–even the top 10% (of rule keepers, I am talking about). Given chances to meet with women, there would be more and more situations where “investigator” relationships turn into friendships that then go to bad places. It happens. Trust me, it happens. This rule would make it happen more.

    How may 20 year-old elders have never had a steady girlfriend? Or have very little experience with women, in general. Answer: A LOT. Now they are sitting at dinner with an attractive young woman who is giving him attention. She seems to “like” him (in an appropriate way). He keeps going to her house. He calls her “just to check up.”

    This is playing with fire.

    I am shocked that the “just trust them” card is being played so heavily.

  142. Thanks, Ricardo. But don’t give me too much credit: I’m in the same camp with those who think there’s nothing inherently wrong with Elders (together as a companionship) having dinner with a 21-year-old woman.

  143. Ricardo, those of us who think trusting missionaries is a good idea are not unaware of the risks you point out, nor are we stupid. But it turns out that people often live up to lovingly and consistently conveyed expectations, and respond to being trusted by becoming trustworthy. The rules we have now, and the justifications we offer for them, teach missionaries that they are immature and incapable of controlling themselves. That is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

  144. Kristine touched on a point that I was just mulling over. Forgive me if I try to elaborate.

    Ricardo, I don’t really disagree with your observations that “boys will be boys.” I’ve been a young man and a missionary too. But I’m afraid that our policies and cultural attitudes make things worse, not better. By stigmatizing interactions with the opposite sex, we a) sexualize many situations that are inherently sexual, and b) reinforce the notion that men cannot control themselves and are at the mercy of women, the so-called “guardians of our virtue.”

    We basically tell our young men this:
    “You have strong sexual desires. You can’t really help yourself, so the only way we can keep you virtuous is to keep women fully covered and at a safe distance away from you.”

    When really we whould be telling young men this:
    “You have strong sexual desires. So does pretty much everyone else. You need to learn to control them. You are responsible for your own feelings and actions.”

    Our cultural attitudes about interactions with the opposite sex would never fly in other contexts. I work in a professional office. There are many times when I’m assigned to work with a female colleague. If I were to tell my manager “You need to change staffing on this job because I can’t be alone with another woman – there might be too much temptation to have sex . . .” I’d wind up in a meeting with HR real fast. Outside the church culture, that’s called sexual harassment. But in the church, we encourage this kind of attitude. We tell everyone that there’s sexual tension whenever you’re dealing with someone of the opposite sex, then we fret over the results of the sexual tension we’ve created, so we double down on the policies and rhetoric that caused the unnecessary sexual tension in the first place.

    Our cultural attitudes about modesty do the same thing. We create a fetish about seeing non-private parts of a woman’s body (like shoulders and knees), then we fret about the fact that members fetishize these things, so we push harder on the policies and rhetoric that led to this unnecessary fetish in the first place.

    This thread is pretty much dead, and no one’s reading anymore, but hopefully this helps you see why I disapprove of our current missionary policy and the broader cultural attitudes that it springs from.

  145. CE: you’re entitled to your opinion; I was simply saying “thank you” for treating by questions/concerns as though they were actual, legitimate concerns instead of simply dismissing them out of hand as absurd. Your proposed rule change was well thought out and nicely worded.

    The logic gap in your argument is that this is a sexual thing. Rarely would a missionary go into a situation where it was permitted for Elders to have dinner (or teach lesson, or whatever legitimate activity) thinking “I want to have sex with this woman.” It starts off far more subtle than that. It starts as a friendly liking, then moves to a “liking” liking. Then more and more dinners/appointments/discussions are held. It leads to nowhere good.

    Let’s assume for a minute that 1 in 200 Elders currently–with the existing policy– “gets into trouble” while on his mission (either actually having sex, or more frequently, developing a non-sexual but still inappropriate-for-a-missionary romantic relationship with a woman. The number could actually be higher or lower, but let’s go with it. Change the rule and I flat promise you the number of incidents would increase by a bare minimum of a factor of 10 times. TEN TIMES. Instead of 1 in 200 (half a percent) , we’d see 1 in 20 (5%). It’s like playing with fire. It’s simply not a good idea.

    Yes, there are still over 90% of Elders in either scenario that are unaffected in either scenario. But the church has an obligation to minimize risk. And this is a REALLY risky situation–the downside of your proposed policy is so much worse than the downside of the current policy (an occasional baffled/offended housewife) that it’s not even close. It’s as if you’d like the brethren, in that alternate rule scenario, to look at those Elders and parents after a problem has occurred and say “well, he knew what the standard was.” Of course he knew! But it’s still dangerous.

    This isn’t a discussion of “how people should act” or “how we are supposed to act.” This is a discussion of how people DO act and how they WOULD act if rules were different.

  146. There’s an unfortunate type in my 10:36 am post: In the 2nd paragraph, I mean to say that

    “By stigmatizing interactions with the opposite sex, we sexualize many situations that are NOT inherently sexual . . . ”

    (I accidentally left out the “not.”)

  147. Molly Bennion says:

    We have both elders and sister missionaries in our ward. Few husbands are home at 5 or 5:30 so the sisters get fed pretty regularly but the elders go hungry. Their budget is inadequate. Some of us can hand them food at the door, many can’t. At the risk of hyperbole, I suspect they are literally malnourished. The most recent solution suggested at ward council was to give them fast food gift cards. (Huh?!) Can’t we have a little more play in their budgets so young men in poorer and more urban wards stay healthy?

    The rest of the discussion leaves me gasping for hope church men and women will ever have a normal, productive working relationship.

  148. Okay, one more. Ricardo, you say that “The logic gap in your argument is that this is a sexual thing.”

    That’s not a logic gap in my argument, it’s the opposite of my argument. Interactions with the opposite sex should have to be, and are very very very often not, sexual in nature. But we have adopted policies and attitudes that make all such interactions suspect . . .

  149. Correction: “Interactions with the opposite sex should NOT have to be, and are very very very often not, sexual in nature.” I left out a crucial “not” once again.

  150. Left Field says:

    The white missionary handbook from my 1978-80 mission has this to say: “Never be alone with anyone of the opposite sex or have any inappropriate association with those of the opposite sex. Single members of the opposite sex should not be taught except in the presence of an adult chaperon.” That’s it.

    Nothing that would prohibit two elders from visiting or having dinner with a ward member without her husband, or from visiting or having a meal with an unmarried church member or nonmember as long as it does not constitute an “inappropriate association.” As best I can recall, my mission president took the position that we were allowed to visit and teach anyone who invited us in while tracting. I think if a pair of female college roommates had invited us in, we would have visited and taught a discussion (as long as it didn’t turn into an inappropriate association). Once we started making return appointments with an unmarried woman, then we were supposed to make arrangements to have a ward member with us.

    In two of the four apartments I lived in on my mission, we shared living quarters with an unmarried (middle-aged or elderly) landlady.

  151. Left field: That was how it was interpreted in my mission also. Your companion is always with you; therefore, you are never alone with the opposite sex one on one.

  152. “The logic gap in your argument is that this is a sexual thing.”

    Speechless. (Quite an accomplishment. Congratulations.)

  153. OK. Let’s get serious here. We’re all adults who have done the “dating” thing. How many members of the opposite sex did you want to date who wanted to date you? And exactly how many did you have dynamic sexual chemistry with and just smitten with?
    I bet you can count the number on one hand and it’s less than 3. Most people aren’t attracted to most members of the opposite sex. That doesn’t change over time as people age. Men and women can associate without feeling they want to have sex with this person. Most people don’t want to have sex with most other people. Why does our church culture seem to expect us not to be able to control ourselves around the opposite sex? This is crazy absurd.

  154. BTW–Susan B. Easton, professor of church history at
    BYU shared a wonderful story with her class. She and her roommate were freshmen at BYU and decided they’d go to SLC and find the pres. of the church at the time, David O. McKay, I believe. They went to the the Hotel Utah and someone in the hall told them his apt was right over there. Well they were giggling and went to knock on his door and they did but her roommate left her there and he was home and opened the door to find this young girl star struck and speechless. He invited her in. He was alone. And they had a lovely chat that wound up changing her life and giving it new direction. Was he wrong to have done that? Did he know he shouldn’t be alone with a young girl? No, he was being normal. I’m glad he invited her in.
    It’s terrible that today everyone is so obsessed with sex that the sexes can’t be normal with each other.

  155. Come to think of it, thank goodness this wasn’t a rule when I was in high school or maybe I would not have been taught and converted! I lived with my single mom. Yes, just the two of us. I will say that looking back on the situation, there were times the elders seemed uncomfortable being with us.
    I just wish that all the time put in to making rules, sharing those rules, then enforcing said rules, would instead going to empowering the missionaries to recognize and follow the spirit. I think that my own mission was at it’s best when I operated in this manner. It is the way I am raising my children.

  156. Margaret Curtis says:

    Back in the late sixties when I was a stake missionary I often went out with the missionaries, two elders and me, a female sister. No one seemed to think it was wrong, and nothing embarrassing ever happened. I had some great teaching times with the elders. Now as a 66 year old sister I can’t have the elders in my home unless my husband is present. I have grandsons serving missions and look on the elders like my grandkids. So sad that things change.

  157. Your experience is pretty much what I’ve experienced in both San Diego, CA and now in Adelaide, Australia. Of course here I can’t be alone in a car with *any* male in the congregation (and by alone I mean in the accompanied by my two rambunctious children sense of the word alone).

  158. Samurai6 says:

    Even if I can stomach the rules from a missionary perspective I get very frustrated when it bleeds over into adult interaction. My wife walking home in the rain from church was told by a passing HP that he would give her a ride (10 min drive or less) but he was alone so he couldn’t pick her up. And having recently moved back from living overseas to the heartland, I find it is more difficult to engage with women in the ward. My wife’s non-member friends used to give me a kiss on the cheek and we could develop a real friendship. Here the women go to the kitchen to talk and the men sit and talk about sports. If I could paint a picture of hell it would be a bunch of overweight mormon men sitting around talking about sports while eating chips and drinking 2L bottles of diet coke. I appear to have meandered a bit off topic here. End.

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