18 July 2007

Does Mormonism encourage cheating?

Over at T&S, in a discussion about the merits of the HT program (trust me, the post didn't start out that way), a commenter brought up lying about your HT/VT numbers and why people do it. This commenter brought up lying about your numbers on the mission. That got my mental juices flowing. In the interest of full disclosure, I will say the following: I never lied to a mission leader about how many discussions I gave in a day; however, I may have on occasion misrepresented the quality and thoroughness of those discussions and I may also have misrepresented my opinion of the prospects of several investigators approaching baptism. I don't think that is out of place for most missionaries' experience.

But clearly anyone who has been on a mission knows that missionary perfidy extends much farther than simple subjective misrepresentations. There are the baseball/basketball/(insert popular youth sport here) baptisms, the copying of names from tombstones for baptismal records, etc. (not to mention the more grievous personal sins that missionaries commit. It is tempting to say that these are urban legends and that their frequency and significance have been blown far out of proportion by generations of missionaries telling and retelling these stories. However, the recent David O. McKay biography spoke in depth about the problem relating to Church records and growth in Latin American that necessitated cleaning up after this mess. (If anyone does not know what I am talking about and wants some explanation, just ask).

The mission is, in my opinion, a very "business-school" type experience, particularly as it relates to the focus on numbers and results. HT/VT is a little less intense, but really no different. Admittedly, counting and measuring (profit, inventory, etc.) are key to a business enterprise. I think this fits perfectly in the larger observation that Mormons do very well in business. They learned it on the mission. Unfortunately, it creates competition, which is good for young men's motivation, but corrupting of their principles. In fact, missionaries are almost universally disgruntled with the fact that they are measured in this way (and yes this includes very good, hard-working missionaries too). There is enormous pressure for numbers. In fact, at least in my mission, anything that did not involve giving a discussion was not counted, thus discounting the value in the eyes of most missionaries of many other worthwhile activities (working with less actives, service). I know that the experience of others will be different, and mission administration practices change all of the time, but if most of us have not personally experienced it, we have at least heard about it at some point.

Going back to HT/VT, I have never lied outright about whether I did my home teaching, but I may have massaged the precise contours of our visit and how much "teaching" was done. The pressure is the same. There is a sense that the bishop is looking at the HT numbers to see who gets the really good callings. if you look at a lot of EQPs, they are usually guys with good HT numbers. I don't think this is any accident, just like the assistants on the mission being the guys with the highest baptisms, regardless of other factors. I don't think the competitiveness in HT is the same as in the mission; in fact, I don't think it exists. Most male members are involved in different enterprises and professions during the week, that is where the competition takes place. In the mission, we are all missionaries, all the time. Nevertheless, the incentive to cheat and lie still exists. Not doing HT somehow puts us out of the mainstream "good member of the Church" (even though it seems that a majority of the priesthood does a poor job of HT), and we will do anything, even lie, to get back in that august company.

So what do you think, does Mormonism encourage cheating?

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