Fix This!

Posted by on February 3, 2014 in Changes, feminism, Gender roles, missionary work, Mormon women, religion, Singleness, women | 32 comments

Recently the mission president of the Denver North mission came to our ward to inform us that elders would no longer be able to visit single women investigators without a priesthood holder from our congregation going with them. Our ward has many capable sisters, many who have served missions themselves, who would be excellent chaperones for these types of appointments but apparently this is unacceptable. He told us that this was standard church policy, that it is written in the handbook and that there could be no exceptions.

Unsurprisingly, this has proved to be a significant hardship for our inner city ward that struggles with a lack of priesthood holders to fill all the callings reserved for men. These are good men but they are already spread too thin. They simply do not have enough time or energy to take this on. Which means that my husband, as bishop, is the one that has to go out with the elders so that they can share the gospel with women.

Mr. Mraynes already has a demanding career which the church has now put a second, unpaid full time job on top of. The nights and/or weekends he has to go out with the elders is time away from his children–time that is already in too short supply. What does it profit the church if they potentially gain one soul but lose the souls of our four, young children because their father is never home?

I have not heard about this policy being implemented anywhere else in the world so I suspect that we are living under the tyranny of one man’s interpretation of the handbook. But even so, the church should have seen this coming as it is an obvious extension of policy already in place.

Mormon feminists have been saying for years that it is insulting that, unless there is a man in the home, faithful sisters cannot feed or be edified by the presence of elders. Mormon doctrine clears Eve, and by extension all women, from being evil temptresses but apparently that only counts in theory, not practice. Or if the policy exists to protect women, as I have also been told,perhaps we should not be sending out young men who we are afraid might sexually assault any woman they come into contact with. Also, I fail to see how adding another man to these visits will make a female investigator feel anymore comfortable or safe.

Perhaps I am being unfair to this mission president and it is a church-wide policy. In which case, the church should be honest about its motives. We have heard whispers for years of missionaries being told not to teach single women–this is a very effective way to make sure that happens. The direct effect of this policy is that less women will investigate and join our church, either because elders and ward members feel it is too big of a hassle or the women themselves will rightly be insulted and won’t want anything to do with an institution that treats them this way.

Hopefully this is not a general church policy and is one over-zealous mission president, in which case the church should be explicit in clearing this up. If, however, the church does not want to convert anymore single women then they would save everybody a load of trouble by just saying it out loud. And if this is not the case, then either put sister missionaries in every area or change this stupid policy.

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32 Comments

  1. I am frankly surprised this is an issue in an “inner city” area or elsewhere in metropolitan Denver. In my experience, where there are sister missionaries nearby, they just take over the teaching of single women (and vice versa when sisters come upon single men). These days, at least in decent-sized U.S. cities, it is becoming rare for there not to be sisters nearby who can handle this task.

    • I agree, I can’t for the life of me understand why we don’t get sisters. We had 6 elders and it has just been reduced to 4. Still no sisters.

  2. Oh, for goodness’ sake! Why doesn’t he just assign a pair of nearby sisters to teach women in the area, and vice versa? Your family shouldn’t have to suffer because the mission president lacks effective management skills.

    • It is strange to me that there are no sisters near by. I know the mission has had a huge influx of sister missionaries recently. I wonder if it has to do with misplaced chivalry and worrying about possible dangers in an inner city area?

      • It was certainly the case in my mission (Baltimore). No sisters served in the actual city of Baltimore during my entire tenure as a misssionary.

  3. Everywhere I have lived, male missionary companionship a were not allowed inside the homes of single women, regardless or age, marital status or number of children. This applied to investigators too.

    I think the idea is because missionaries might be transferred every 6 weeks, the local priesthood members would be more stable/connected to the community and thus more safe to allow into single women’s homes.

    Obviously, allowing local women to chaperone would also solve that problem.

    The ways around this that I’ve seen have been inviting the single sister to another’s home for the discussions, or even the chapel if it’s more convenient – after church on Sunday was a good time for one person I remember.

    Hmm. It’s possible it doesn’t need to be a priesthood holder, because missionaries could visit our home while my adult brother (super inactive) was home, but not my little brother (currently 17). (They hold the same priesthood, and the older one is not, erm, I guess “worthy”?)

    If Aaronic priesthood and not adult male is sufficient, young men could perhaps be encouraged to help the bishop?

    That’s for the immediate practical concern. The theory behind it is insane. Especially when combined with local rules such as “missionaries must leave the member’s home by 6pm unless an investigator is present”.

    • Olea,

      Unfortunately, it is NOT acceptable for our faithful sisters to go with the elders to chaperone them. Hence the frustration–we have lots of wonderful sisters who could do a great job helping the missionaries.

      I know when I was a FTM I benefitted greatly when female members of the ward participated in discussions. Of course that can still happen, but only if ANOTHER adult male is along for the ride.

    • Hmmm…so maybe this is an old policy that was never enforced in our mission before? I did not serve a mission and this wasn’t a requirement in my husband’s mission so perhaps this policy is being applied unevenly around the world. As you point out, ere are work astounds but all of them are less than ideal and problematic. It would be much simpler to ax the rule entirely or have traveling sisters whose entire job is to teach single women investigators regardless of area.

  4. Lame policy, for sure.

    Adding weirdness: my sister is a missionary in NorCal. She informed me that the opposite is true for her — if they teach a single man, another sister from the ward has to come along. That is, apparently, the rule for the sisters.

    So I say have your bishop husband petition for sisters in your ward! Particularly since they would have much more “member missionary” success with the particular demographic of your ward.

    • We were hoping to get sisters this past transfer but the just reduced our missionaries instead. Hopefully next time!

    • I served in Northern California from 2005-2006, and it went both ways. The Elders were not to be in the home of a woman if she was unaccompanied by a male, as the Sisters were not to be in the home of a man if he was unaccompanied by a female. We mostly got around it by teaching people just outside of their homes, in their yard or front porches. We also made allowances for individuals over a certain age. I can’t remember now what the magic number was. 65? 70? Nor can I remember if it was an allowance we were supposed to make, or if we just did.

      My admittedly limited experience makes me believe that the rule is not to limit the numbers of women being taught, though it may have that result. It was a frustrating and cumbersome rule as a missionary as well. I always was given the impression that it was for protection, either actual (physical or sexual) protection, or as a witness against accusations. You do bring up the pertinent question of who it is trying to protect, because if I were alone by myself, I would much definitely feel safest in the company of two male strangers if another women was present, not another unknown male.

      Better distributing the Sister missionaries does seem like a prudent solution.

  5. This is a church-wide policy. On my mission, the only standing exception was the sex of your taxi driver, as there was no way for the sisters to get around quickly without occasionally ending up in a taxi with a male driver. For us sisters it was bearable, but for the elders it was a pain. It’s almost impossible to find a whole family that want to be taught together and has availability during the day in Argentina.

    • I find it so disappointing that this is a church wide policy. It’s easier to forgive if it’s just one guy’s interpretation. I can’t imagine how much more difficult this makes missionary work. It makes me sad for the poor sisters and elders who have to work around this inane policy and frustrated for the rest of us that are put out.

    • I don’t dispute that it’s a church-wide policy, but I guess my area ignored it, at least at one point. I know I’ve attended discussions with 2 elders + 1 single woman and that’s all (no male “chaperone” – I hate that word). I’m sorry this is so tough on the Mraynes family. I think the needs of your four precious kids trump all. God bless you.

  6. This policy was just mentioned in our Mississippi ward yesterday by the 75 year old widow bearing her testimony about how much she loved visits and was grateful that the three missionaries would find a ward member to come with them to visit her.

  7. This sounds like what we’ve always had in our ward. However, we were finally able to trade one of our sets of elders for a set of sisters (first time in 9 years that I’ve had sisters in a home ward) so I’m hoping it will alleviate some of the last minute scrambling for a priesthood holder.

  8. The missionaries made a brief contribution to a R.S. lesson recently and while they were in front of the class I noticed a man standing in the corner of the room near the door. I tried to catch his eye, thinking he wanted to make an announcement or needed something/someone. When the missionaries were finished the teacher thanked the man — calling him their “chaperone”. I was a livid Relief Society President! I turned to my counselor sitting next to me and whispered that I was furious and extremely insulted. Who wasn’t safe? The two missionaries or the twenty five women in the room? I sent the bishop an email about it letting him know how insulted I was and he agreed with me and talked to the elders who apologized to me the next Sunday. We have a large number of single women in our ward who cannot feed the elders “without an entourage” (those are my words) — honestly I don’t even know what the ratio is. I hand the elders treats every few months and call it even. I sometimes feel bad that I don’t feed them in my home and can’t enjoy having their spirit in my home but it’s my choice to not feed them plus 1 or 2 or 3 others. We have repeatedly asked for sisters to serve in our ward and hopefully one of these days our wish will be granted.

    • I was one of those single women–single mom of 3 boys, at that–who had to quit having the elders over for dinner when they “required an entourage.” Before the rule, my kids loved having the missionaries over and as a single mother, I felt it was a way to bring good male role models into our home for the boys. I don’t know who this rule is protecting, but I sure know who it is hurting.

    • Ellen – I appreciate this story. Good for you for calling out such bad behavior. As a single sister, I hav been upset for years that I can’t feed the missionaries … unless I make a complete production of the situation. Suzette

  9. I remember when I watched “New York Doll” that the guy in it was taught by two sisters. I noticed because that would not have happened in my mission. Of course, we had enough missionaries in my mission that single people could easily be taught by missionaries of their same gender.

    And I had a pretty laid-back mission president–for instance, when missionaries were delayed at the MTC because their visas didn’t come through and I ended up companionless for a week because my companion finished her mission and went home, my mission president let me be in a trio with my DL and his companion instead of my roommates.

    But I will say something that drove me nuts were the really LONG baptismal interviews I had to sit through, and how unhappy our investigators often emerged from them. As bad as it might be for a young girl to be asked questions of a sexual nature by an older man, it’s also pretty awful for a 30-something woman with children to be asked about her sex life by a 19-year-old boy with very little sexual experience. Our investigators often found it extremely humiliating, and one of them found the business so traumatic that she decided not to be baptized after all.

    And even if the two people in the interview didn’t object, there’s still something untoward about a 19-year-old boy spending hours alone in a room with a teenage girl who has little choice in the matter. I still wonder what the hell went on in a couple of interviews conducted by a DL whose interviews we could predict the length of by how young and pretty our investigator was. The worst was over four hours long, with a really beautiful 16-year-old. Even when we asked him point-blank what the hell took so long, he wouldn’t tell us, except to say that it’s hard to interview someone in Chinese.

  10. 2 things.
    1. This is standard practice in our mission, DC South. It has been for the past 10 years. I think it is ridiculous. What woman investigating a new religion is going to feel “safer” having 3 men come to her home instead of 2. And I am practically old enough to be the mother of the missionaries. Why would I not be able to accompany them?

    2. Solidarity, sister. My husband is the bishop of our ward. Dynamics sound very similar to yours. I found out this morning that he will be gone every. single. night. this week. Including Friday, when I get to join him and get a babysitter for a church event. I really have nothing to offer other than solidarity. It seems like a hard road to walk some days.

  11. This has been a policy in my area for many years as well. It’s a pain when we have Elders scheduled for dinner and I get stuck in traffic on the way home because they can’t enter the home until I arrive, which sometimes mean they miss dinner. I’ve seen some interesting “work arounds,” such as sister missionaries having dinner with a single male investigator by moving a table halfway out a sliding glass door so that the investigator ate “inside” and the sisters ate “outside.” I kid you not.

    My understanding of the policy rationale is that the church wants to avoid situations where missionaries break the law of chastity. Thus, having a female chaperone for two Elders and a single woman investigator actually exacerbates the problem because now there are two men + two women = ideal situation to pair off in separate bedrooms. Of course, this seems a little absurb when the investigator is well into retirement age (as was the case with our sisters and the inside/outside dinner), but I guess allowing exceptions for age would just draw attention to the real purpose of the policy. FWIW, I imagine the majority of concern leading to this policy reflects a lack of trust in 18-20 year old Elders more than in single female investigators.

  12. The missionaries are at risk and the church by extension is also at risk when allegations of misconduct made by investigators against missionaries or vice versa takes place. I think it is an issue of “better safe than sorry” than an issue of sex.

  13. this was the policy we adhered to on my mission 15 years ago. i was just told by my RS prez (70 years old sister) that within the past year they slightly modified this policy. she said it was now okay for elders to go in the homes of temple worthy sisters that are over the age of 55 or 65 (can’t remember exactly).

  14. It is church policy as far as I know. It was true on my mission and here. I have offered again and again and again to help our Elders. I’ve offered to meet their investigators with them at a park, or to meet at the home of the investigator, or to have them bring the investigator to my home. They have never taken me up on it. We had sisters in our ward for six months, and I went out with them almost every single week, as did our young women.

    You would think having a companion would be proof against accusations, you already have a witness. I think it is much less threatening in the sister version, when three women enter someone’s house v. three strange men (at least from the pov of the investigator).

    It is very frustrating from my point of view as a member. I remember my mom having the missionaries over and they wouldn’t darken our door without a priesthood holder. My brother had graduated and my dad doesn’t have the priesthood. Turns out they were fine with just a man, but he wasn’t home. So they ended up eating on the back patio and we ate on the dinner table and the whole atmosphere was frosty. I have dealt with frustrating situations because I can’t let them in my house to eat dinner until my husband gets home from work which doesn’t always work. I have not children. How old would a son have to be to make it all okay?

  15. Honey’s comment makes sense to me. Legal liability for the institutional church is a valid concern. However, creating a rigid, behemoth, dysfunctional rule to avoid a few potentially litigious situations seems like over-kill.

    Also, I feel insulted that I am seen as a potential seductive threat to young men who are five years younger than my youngest child – simply because I don’t have a man in my home. If a woman (or man) wants to get sexually involved with a vulnerable missionary (or investigator), s/he will find a way to do it. Married or not.

  16. In my mission in Korea that was the rule, although it usually just meant that the Elders were forced to give us their investigators, which was fine with me. It was a bit more strict though, sisters weren’t even allowed to proselyte to men or vice versa. If an interested opposite sex person talked to you, you could talk to them of course, but you weren’t ever supposed to reach out to anyone of the opposite gender. That one was mostly culture, I think. We had an area though where there were only sisters, no elders, and it was a bit tricky to find women to go with us to teach male investigators.

    Can you contact the mission president and express your concerns? I know that there are always alternative ways to address an issue. Maybe they would allow young men preparing to go on a mission to accompany the missionaries or somehow allow a set of sisters, even if they don’t end up moving to your area full time, I’m sure they could make allowances to visit investigators in your area. If we taught in a public area then we could teach without another sister around, although you then had to compete with the noises and distractions of being in public.

  17. This rule was in the handbook and definitely followed in my mission as well, with single female investigators referred to sister missionaries and single male investigators referred to the elders. In areas without one or the other, an adult member of the same gender was required to accompany the missionaries. I never saw an official explanation, but it was explained to me as, with the missionaries being so transient, a member (considered to be a member of the community in good standing) was required to be present to help discourage any untruthful accusations and/or appearance of impropriety. The reason for the member being same gender was to avoid the appearance of a “double-date”. It was never a super-persuasive explanation to me either. But then again, I’m not privy to the legal and liability issues that the church encounters on a global basis. Maybe the way around it, is to call some sisters in the ward as ward missionaries and have them teach female investigators without the missionaries present. That might encourage the mission president to assign sister missionaries to your area.

  18. When I served a mission many, many years ago, such rules did not exist. We taught unmarried females, and the sisters taught unmarried males. It simply wasn’t an issue. Somewhere along the line there was a case of inappropriate behavior between a missionary and a female contact. Church policy has always been if it happened once, then establish rules to prevent it from occurring again–no matter the difficulties and hardships that may result. It is a kind of teach them correct principles, but make sure by erecting a fence too.

  19. Sometimes I want to say “prove me now herewith”. Open the doors to single sister … and then see if there is a problem. I’m betting it will be very small if a problem develops at all. I’m also betting that the missionaries will be feel more loved and be more fed that otherwise.

  20. While I appreciate the liability concerns, it seems this would be less of a problem nowadays with the influx of female missionaries. At our stake conference when they got up to sing, 20 of 57 were sisters.

    So it is not like that everywhere?

    • Our area got a big influx of sister missionaries as well. Now we have a problem providing meals to the elders. We used to have 0.5 pairs of missionaries in the ward (shared with another ward), now we have 2 or 3 at all times, and lots of our families have dads who don’t get home from work in time for a man to be home when the missionaries are available for dinner appointments.

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