The Problem with APs – and all Equal Partnerships – on the Mission: A Satire

-A Satire-

[Part 5 in an ongoing series about LDS Missions and Missionary Work]

photo source

“And what are you training [missionaries] to do? To go home; to be a husband or wife…”

President Bonnie H. Cordon, General Young Women President, in an interview announcing the new role of sister training leaders (STLs).1

“Mama, don’t let your babies grow up to be APs.”

-a country song I heard one time, I think. 

The Problem

The problem with missionary AP companionships: they operate as equal partnerships. Gaining experience with equal partnerships, especially in a church setting, may result in disaffection and confusion when APs transition into marriage after their missions. 

In AP companionships, neither missionary is the presiding companion. Neither missionary is the head of the companionship.

Why is this a problem?

  1. Poor Training for Marriage

Poor Training for Marriage

In a marriage, only one member presides. In the current church handbook, we read, “When there is no father in the home, the mother presides over the family.” 

The manual does not say, “When there is no mother in the home, the father nurtures the family.” There are some jobs, such as nurturing, which can be done by several people simultaneously, but presiding must be a single person at a time. 

The Problem

Too many of our young people these days are courting within a framework of equal partnerships. Newlyweds may be working in similar workplaces, receiving equal pay, or involved in similar educational programs. The world won’t prepare them for the shift that must happen when their first baby is born or when the husband is called as bishop, stake president, mission president, area authority, or general authority. A mission experience should not add to the equal-partner expectations of our young people. 

Once a husband gets called into church leadership, the wife functions as a junior companion in church settings. She may do some traveling and training with him, but she will not attend the Coordinating Councils or give critical interviews. She will be an informal leader who will be asked to speak once in a while. Because church service is held in such mutually high regard, his time must be considered more valuable. 

The egalitarian companionships among our current APs do not reflect the reality that awaits missionaries in their future roles as married church leaders. 

The Solution

  • The mission president will call one of the APs to preside in the companionship.

A Note to Mission Presidents about Implementation 

  • Your mission will no longer have two APs. You will now refer to your assistants as the “AP” and the “AP’s Companion.” (Companion may be capitalized as a measure of respect.)
  • Only the AP should attend the mission councils and relay any important information (although nothing too sensitive) to their Companion. 
  • Only the AP will speak in meetings when time is short. If the time runs out, the AP’s Companion will save his thoughts for another time. 
  • Except in rare situations, only the AP should sit on the podium during church meetings. Their Companion will mingle with the other companionships in the audience.
  • If both the AP and the AP’s Companion speak at the same meeting, the AP should always speak after his Companion. 
  • The AP’s Companion will use his time to create social networks outside the formal mission structure, a skill that can be best honed in the foyer, not chairing meetings or speaking to large audiences. The AP’s Companion should learn to exercise soft power to uplift and temper the presiding companion; indeed, the AP’s Companion will uplift and nurture all the people around him. The Companion will offer an outside perspective to the presiding companion, a perspective only gained in freedom from church bureaucratic and ministerial assignments.
  • The AP’s Companion must never be called as the AP after serving as the AP’s Companion. This would subvert the stated goal of using missions to help prepare young people to go home and be husband and wife. 

How will the Mission President choose which companion presides?

In a traditional mission, the more egotistical missionary will be asked to preside, and the more spiritual AP will be asked to serve as the AP’s Companion. We know that the more spiritual companion will serve well no matter where he is placed, but the less spiritual companion needs extra visibility to remain motivated. Indeed, identifying the natural-born slacker will foster unity and intimacy between the two companions.

If the mission president feels that his mission is ready for more progressive methods, he may try The Coin-Toss Approach

The Coin-Toss Approach: In some circles, it has become old-fashioned to think that a married couple’s natural gifts and abilities will always align with traditional gender roles; the mission companion roles should reflect this notion. Gender roles at church may be more about maintaining order than natural abilities. Coin-Toss partnerships, in which a coin toss decides the presiding AP, reflect this idea.

The non-presiding male missionary in an AP companionship

The AP’s Companion will grow in understanding of the role that his future wife will fill. 

After having a chance to Not-Preside in a missionary companionship, the AP’s Companion will be more eager to represent his wife’s voice someday when he is in church leadership councils, and she is not. His experience as a Non-Presider will help him have empathy for all non-presiders in his stewardship.

Preparing wives for the church leaders

Women who understand separate-but-equal will be prepared to be married to church leaders. Therefore, one set of sisters should be called to fill a leadership role on par with the APs. These Super-STLs will be prepared for their future involvement with church leadership, specifically as spouses of church leaders.

The Super-STLs will function like APs. They will be called the “Super-STL” and “Super-STL’s Companion.” Only the STL (not the Super-STL’s Companion) should attend mission councils and sit at the front during meetings.

The presiding female missionary in a female companionship

A presiding Super-STL will grow in understanding of the role that her future husband will fill. 

After sitting in church meetings that her Companion is not required to attend, the Super-STL will understand how hungry her husband will become at church meetings. She will feel more satisfied in the future when she has the opportunity to prepare meals for her husband when he is gone. 

She will learn from first-hand experience how significant and taxing church administration can be. This will help her be patient when her future husband (bishop, stake president, mission president, general authority) is preoccupied with church concerns, why he must be on-call to church emergencies at all times of the day and night, and why it’s apostasy to expect him to prioritize their relationship over the needs of church members who are really struggling.  

Actually, ALL companionships need a Presider.

Actually, ALL companionships need a Presider, not just the APs and Super-STLs.

Since we are training all missionaries “to go home; to be husband or wife,” ALL missionaries need experience with Presiding and Not-Presiding.

The solution: One companion will now be referred to as the “presiding companion” in every companionship, not just the APs and Super-STLs. 

Mission presidents often pair a senior companion with a junior companion. Senior companions will now be called the “presiding” companion.

It’s unnecessary to refer to these missionaries as “Missionary” and “Missionary’s Companion.” These companionships are comparable to the couple in your congregation called “Br. and Sr. Jones” (in contrast with the couples known as “President and Sister Jones” or “Elder and Sister Jones”).

The presiding role is not as public in these companionships but must still be active in the home (i.e., the missionary apartment).

Resolving 3 Common Concerns

Concern #1

You may feel that a false dichotomy has been assumed from the very first paragraph, between equal partnerships on the one hand and presiding partnerships on the other. You may think that it’s possible for an equal partnership also to have a presider. 

That’s wonderful. You will not be troubled by the recommended changes for AP companionships in the mission field. Dividing the AP companionship into separate-but-equal roles (AP and AP’s Companion) will be an easy transition for you. If you had a son on the mission, you would be equally pleased to hear that he had been called as an AP or as an AP’s Companion.

Concern #2

You point out that only a small fraction of men are called as bishops, stake presidents, mission leaders, area authorities, and general authorities. A small fraction of women are these leaders’ wives. An even smaller fraction of women are called into leadership positions at a comparable level to the men’s callings under consideration.

If only a small fraction of adults are called into leadership positions, then you might wonder if it matters that our missionaries form habits of equal partnership without a presider. 

Consider, however, that one member of a marriage partnership has been appointed to preside in the home – not just at church. Young missionaries should start working out what this means; otherwise, as marriage partners, they may assume that ‘presiding at home’ simply means ‘deciding who will say the prayers.’ 

Since there is some confusion about what it means for a husband to preside at home in a marriage relationship of equal partners, then perhaps these young missionaries, once properly divided into presiding and non-presiding roles, will be able to work this out for the rest of us

Concern #3

You may be thinking that it’s a stretch to think of the mission companionship as a mini-marriage

True. The analogy breaks down quickly. However, since one of the stated purposes of full-time missions is to prepare our young people for marriage, every reasonable effort should be made to facilitate this important goal. 

Conclusion

Serving in equal partnerships, without a presider, is setting up missionaries for confusion and disappointment in their future marriages.

The notion and practice of presiding should be introduced during the mission to help missionaries prepare for their future roles as husbands and wives, church leaders and their spouses.

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1https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/missionary-department-podcasts/sister-training-leaders?lang=eng. Website accessed April 19, 2021.

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Personal note from the author:

I know that sarcasm is not the best way to resolve problems or communicate hurt, so why would I write something like this?

An article in the Scientific American describes the pitfalls and (possible) benefits of my indulgence: 

“Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit but the highest form of intelligence,” wrote that connoisseur of wit, Oscar Wilde. Whether sarcasm is a sign of intelligence or not, communication experts and marriage counselors alike typically advise us to stay away from this particular form of expression. The reason is simple: sarcasm expresses the poisonous sting of contempt, hurting others and harming relationships. 

And yet, our research suggests, there may also be some unexpected benefits from sarcasm: greater creativity. The use of sarcasm, in fact, promotes creativity for those on both the giving and receiving end of sarcastic exchanges. Instead of avoiding sarcasm completely in the office, the research suggests sarcasm, used with care and in moderation, can be effectively used and trigger some creative sparks.”

In my opinion, gender and sexuality are two of the topics that need the greatest amount of curiosity, compassion, and creativity in our faith community now. May my first, undoubtedly-awkward public satire be accepted as such an attempt, and may it trigger some ‘creative sparks’ on both the giving and receiving end.

Comments

  1. lastlemming says:

    If I am translating the satire accurately, I gather that your point is that equal partnerships should be equal partnerships. Period.

    With that in mind, allow me to extend the missionary analogy a little to zone leaders. (I could probably stick to assistants, but we hardly ever saw them so I can’t speak as confidently about their relationships.) In my mission, the zone leaders were a companionship with no senior or junior designation. But whenever we had contact with them, there was no ambiguity about which one of them was in charge. It didn’t matter who was running the meeting and we knew both had equal access to the higherups. But there was always one whose opinion was dominant–the other one always deferred to him.

    If your objection is to the dominant role being automatically assigned to the male, then I’m with you. But if your objection is to a dominant role existing at all, I would respond that such will happen even if institutional equality is the norm. (And to be clear, the existence of a dominant role does not imply unrighteous dominion. Some of the dominant zone leaders did exercise unrighteous dominion occasionally, but others were just more effective at using persuasion and long suffering.)

  2. Left Field says:

    In my mission, we didn’t have any junior or senior companions. Everyone was designated co-senior. It worked just fine.

    I don’t know if AP assignments are done the same way in all missions, or if they are the same now as in the past. In my mission, they were called Mission Assistants and there were three of them in the mission. I don’t think they had designated companions. They mostly worked in the mission office and went to zone conferences. It seems like they probably just had ad hoc companion assignments with another MA or with the mission president as needed.

  3. Geoff - Aus says:

    If a mission is preparation for marriage; is it wise to have same sex companions even for the straight ones? It might be habit forming to spend time with same sex companions?

  4. Angela C says:

    I wish this was satire.

  5. My mission didn’t have the concept of a Senior Companion, when you had a new missionary you were a trainer/trainee but after the first month it was equal partnership. District Leaders were just District Leaders, but Zone Leader’s companions were called Zone Leader’s Companions.

  6. One of many thoughts.

    On a superficial basic level, the church needs to eliminate the AP position and reform the mission leadership roles. It is rot for abuse, corruption and conceipt. LDS missions are not about leadersip learning, serving communities, or even following Jesus Christ. lds missions are about obiedience and silly rule following. The system is FULL of spirtutual and eccesiastical abuse.

  7. APs function on seniority basis just like the Q12. Senior-most AP is the senior AP. Same way with Zone leaders. The junior ZL had to do the finances, the senior ZL did the statistics.

  8. Brilliant, Holly! I love it! I think Angela’s response is exactly right too.

  9. I literally was so close to tears reading this because this topic has been really bothering me recently. If the wives of mission presidents are sacrificing as much as their husbands and putting as much work in to the mission (which was the case in my mission, but I know not all), why is their only title “Mission President’s Companion”? And the same with the general authorities wives. It just seems ridiculous and really reinforces the idea that the work women do somehow isn’t real work or isn’t as important.