The fine print
August 16, 2016
Ask any of my exes and they'll tell you — I've got a number of character flaws. I can be stubborn and impatient. I can be blunt to the point of insensitivity. And if I get angry, you'd rather be on a rickety raft in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean during a category 5 hurricane than be around me.
But despite these shortcomings (and probably a whole bunch more), even my worst enemy would have a hard time suggesting I'm not an open-minded person. While I may disagree with any number of people, on any number of subjects, I can agree to disagree and still be accepting of other people's beliefs, religion, culture, and lifestyle. This is largely because I've been exposed to so many of them. I have purposefully cultivated relationships with people who think, feel, look, behave and believe very differently than I do. And quite frankly, I've learned more from those relationships than I ever have from anyone who is similar to me. Which is one of the many reasons I find the recent contract some returning LDS missionaries were asked to sign so disheartening.
To be fair, the "Goal Planning and Personal Performance Contract" seems to have been the brainchild of a limited group of congregations and, according to that stake's president, it is no longer being used. And, in the interest of objectivity, most of the written declarations included in the document were pretty much of the, "I promise to be a good person" kind of flavor. Except for one, requesting return missionaries associate with and date “only people who share a similar commitment to live the principles of the gospel.”
Which is as disturbing as it is counterproductive.
For starters, the contract is as wobbly as green Jell-O. There are no consequences outlined for violating the terms and it's about as enforceable as the one I signed in fifth grade promising never to drink or do drugs in D.A.R.E. class. Then there's that pesky "free will" thing just about every religion values and deems necessary. This contract also seems to contradict the LDS church's more recent attempts to be viewed as welcoming and inclusive to all. But aside from that, how could this contract ever be seen as anything less than thinly veiled coercion? I can't imagine spending two years of my life essentially surviving in a real-life Hunger Games, only to finally return home and be told my mom and dad will ground me if I don't sign on the dotted line. Yep, the contract left room for signatures from not only the return missionary, but his or her parents as well. So basically, these return missionaries could vote for president, die for their country, serve on a jury, buy fireworks, or sue someone… but mommy and daddy still get to choose their friends.
And of course, there's the obvious question: How is it possible to convert people to your religion if you've vowed not to associate with them? Does this mean if I put a sign on my door that states, "Non-religious, wine drinking, equality loving feminist lives here" I'll never get another visit from one of my Mormon friends? Why would a leader in any religion not want church members to associate with people who don't necessarily believe the same? But even more than all of this, one has to ask: How can anyone work, learn or grow if they are only surrounded by people who are adherents to the same belief system? When we refuse to accept and respect our differences, we fail at humanity.
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The fact that anyone considered it appropriate (albeit briefly) to request return missionaries to promise (in writing), to only associate with likeminded people, is both concerning and manipulative. And, as far as I'm concerned, assuming that our differences are somehow a threat to devotion, is a pretty real character flaw.
Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, longtime Park City resident, and the proud owner of two rescued Dalmatians, Stanley and Willis. The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer. Follow her on Twitter @amycroberts.
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