Utah-Idaho-Arizona missionaries

Clark says “we treat missions as a way of converting Utah and Idaho Mormons who’ve been in the church their whole life but never had to gain a testimony.” I was converted in the mission field and lived most of my life prior to getting my job at BYU in the mission field. Since then, I’ve several times lived in the mission field for extended periods. In other words, I think I have a reasonably good understanding of both life in the mission field and life in Utah/Idaho, and I would add northern Arizona. I also spent three years as a branch president at the MTC and worked with hundreds of missionaries, and in graduate school I served as ward mission leader for some time as well as in the stake mission presidency. Though there are lots of stereotypes about “Utah Mormons,” based on my experience I don’t think they have much basis in fact. In particular, I don’t think this supposed difference in the level of testimony of some entering missionaries does.

Of course there are differences between the experiences one will have where there is a high concentration of LDS, such as in Utah, Idaho, and parts of Arizona, and the experiences one will have elsewhere. For example, that concentration makes it easier for some who would be inactive some place else to continue to be active, but I suspect that the percentage of core, believing and contributing members is about the same in most places where the Church is relatively well-established, whether in the mission field or not. A number of missionaries, though not by any means even a large minority, came into the MTC struggling with whether they had a testimony or knowing that they didn’t. But I didn’t notice a higher percentage of those missionaries coming into the field from Utah, Idaho, and Arizona. I did notice that young people who had to work on the farm or who had been athletes were more likely to know what it meant to work and that they did so well, and I noticed that urban, bright missionaries often found it difficult to make the adjustment because they’d never before had to work. (Many of the brightest were quite shocked that learning Korean required them actually to study; they couldn’t get by on being bright, as they had in school.) I noticed that women were generally more prepared than men (the age difference makes a huge difference), but there were more exceptions to that than I had expected. I think missionaries who were themselves converts or who came from convert families were usually more prepared, but I’m not sure about that. In any case, what I didn’t see was a significant difference between those coming from predominately LDS parts of the country and those who did not.

12 comments for “Utah-Idaho-Arizona missionaries

  1. Frank McIntyre
    June 16, 2004 at 12:49 pm

    I have vague recollections of hearing about a study comparing being raised in Utah or elsewhere in terms of its effect on activity. There was no significant difference. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen the study so it may a) not exist or b) not be done very well at all.

    From what I saw on my mission and from growing up outside of Utah I agree with Jim. I think there is a strong tendency to overstate differences between Utah and elsewhere. Both in how the state is run and in how the Church is run.

  2. June 16, 2004 at 12:58 pm

    I think my main point was that how we view missionary work is often tainted by putting the missionaries ahead of their tasks – especially in terms of how much we trust them. It is interesting that the restrictions for missionaries are much harsher than say Patriarchs, even though Patriarchs arguably must be far more in tune with the spirit. Now admittedly that’s in part due to the difference between inexperience hormonal 19 year olds and generally older situated men. But I think it telling at the same time.

    With regards to your other comments, I didn’t intend to make it a point about “Utah Mormons.” However I do think the ostracizing and stigma tied to not going on a mission is amazingly higher here than in the mission field (where I grew up). In the mission field most of ones friends are generally non-Mormon while the reverse is true here. Here many women won’t go out with men who aren’t returned missionaries. In the mission field it rarely is that big a consideration. Some women might, but the small pool of perspective members of the opposite sex provides for a rather different social economy.

    To your comments about gaining a testimony, I’ll defer to your much greater experience. I’m going on my own personal experiences. In general those who didn’t have a strong testimony left the church in the mission field, from what I saw. There simply wasn’t the social pressure of being a “social Mormon.” If anything there was the reverse. Whereas in Utah and Idaho it seems there are many social Mormons and a lot more family pressure to go on a mission – not to mention pressure from girlfriends. (Having had the unfortunate experience of serving with some of those types)

    Normally I’m pretty vocal about Utah Mormon stereotypes. I think typically they are unfair. But I do think the “social Mormon” is rather ubiquitous here. When I was younger there was this idea of being wild while a teenager, repenting and going on a mission. That was completely alien in all places I’d been in the “field.” Of course Pres. Hinkley instituted several changes in the early 90’s to prevent that. So perhaps it isn’t a problem.

    But as I said, my real point was about how we look at missions and missionaries. I think we spend an awful lot of time assuming the worst about missionaries and acting to protect them rather than treating them as people with a task to do. Perhaps this is less due to the culture in high concentration areas of the church and simply a ubiquitious problem within the church. I do think, however, that it is a problem. Especially when contrasted with how missionaries were treated and viewed prior to the 1960’s.

  3. Bob Caswell
    June 16, 2004 at 1:51 pm

    But Jim, there is something about Provo, which makes me feel like I’m being judged while just walking around. And there are few places in this world were there is an “honor code”, which is so easily extrapolated into being some sort of standard for what constitutes a “good” vs. a “bad” person. Are you saying this has nothing to do with Mormonism and that I would feel it no matter where I live?

  4. June 16, 2004 at 2:14 pm

    As a RM from a Utah mission, if there is one thing I hat the most, it is when people refer to everything outside of Utah (or even Utah/Idaho) as the mission field. This implies that there is no missionary work to do in Utah (or even Utah/Idaho) This mindset was one of the hardest obstacles we faced as missionaries there and one of the largest reasons for such a very poor baptism-per-stake ratio.

  5. obi-wan
    June 16, 2004 at 2:37 pm

    I’m afraid that my conclusions are rather different than those of Professor Faulconer, although many of our life experiences are parallel. I have observed that growing up in an area where there are few Latter-Day Saints makes an enormous difference to one’s mission preparation. As a practical matter, representing the Church on a daily basis in a high school or college where there are perhaps three or four other members — and sometimes where there are none — inevitably has an effect on one’s attitude toward the gospel and toward presenting it to others.

    Perhaps more important, it has been driven home to me over and over and over again that many missionaries from centers of LDS population have been “coasting” most of their lives. Where there is no social pressure to serve a mission, or even to remain active — indeed, where all the social pressure is *against* activity, let alone missionary service — the majority of those who haven’t developed a firm personal conviction regarding the Church tend to wash out before they ever get to the missionary stage.

    And although it is off topic, I continually find the differences in attitude between members from Utah and those from elsewhere to be profound. Perhaps that is a topic for another thread. I won’t even get into Frank McIntyre’s invitation to discuss how the state is run. Every time I return to Utah I am astonished, and usually not pleasantly.

  6. Thom
    June 16, 2004 at 2:39 pm

    I have to second Jim’s point about farm kids knowing how to work. I was probably one of those bright city kids who had always breezed through school, and had I had a difficult time learning the work ethic of the MTC and the mission field. I pretty quickly gained enormouse respect for the Elders who grew up on farms in Idaho, despite my preconceived notions about their lack of sophistication. They had real testimonies, they worked hard, and they never complained about anything. They even enjoyed getting to sleep-in until 6:00am in the MTC. I’m still in awe of them, and several are still my best friends today. I’m trying to engineer a way for my own kids to spend summers on a farm somewhere when they get a little older, so some of that culture and ethic will rub off on them.

  7. Dr. Tarr
    June 16, 2004 at 7:41 pm

    My father grew up as a poor but honest farm boy. He put his farm-bred work ethic toward ensuring that his children would have the means and education never to have to endure the “simple life” of pastoral squalor that he experienced as a child.

    For which I will be eternally grateful.

    “Work smarter, not harder,” he taught us. If more of my missionary companions — both the agriculturally and the non-agriculturally trained — had adopted that motto, we might have accomplished a great deal more than we did. Motion is not the same as progress.

    Thanks, dad.

  8. chris goble
    June 16, 2004 at 11:53 pm

    Coming from the “deepest coal pits of Nova Scotia” there were relatively few members around who had gone on missions. I believe there were only a couple RM’s around when I left. I think this had a rather large effect on pre-conceptions of what a mission would be like. I think I was a little bit more subject the members “ideal” view of missionary work with miracles every few hours.

    Coming off a fairly tough job in the bush, the amount of work required in the MTC was fairly minimal in comparison. Never really having had much first hand discussion with former missionaries, I found it was a bit too easy to be idealistic. I think the missionaries form strong church centers were more prepared for the inevitable mission conundrums – what to do in the afternoon when no one is around, how do you handle a lazy (or over zealous) companion, how much should you take advantage of member support etc. I think missionaries who had lots of friends who had returned from the field were prepared with standard solutions to these problems. Often this meant they new the expected behavioural bar much better than I. Of course, like anything, this had its good and bad points.

  9. Ivan Wolfe
    June 17, 2004 at 1:01 am

    I wasn’t a farm kid, but my father was.

    He taught high school, but ran a landscaping business over the summer for the sole purpose of teaching his children how to work. I grew up working 10-14 (or occasionally longer) hour days during the summer.

    This is a prelude to an interesting event on my mission.

    At an all mission conference, the mission president asked us to indicate, by show of hands, how many grew up working on farms or ranches.

    3 missionaries raised their hands (though one of them was one of the laziest missionaries in the mission). Then he asked how many of us had parents or grand parents who worked on farms/ranches.

    95% of the missionaries there raised their hands.

    The president looked out and said: “This is the problem with you missionaries today. Your parents and grandparents knew how to work. Only a handful of you have even a clue of how to work. The rest of you need to learn fast.”

  10. Susan
    June 17, 2004 at 2:29 am

    The Idaho/ Utah axis has been crucial in my church life.You’ll have to indulge my meditation on the differences. I grew up in southeastern Idaho, near Rexburg. Mormon potato country. In my small village the church lists had more people on them than the sign at the boundary of the village that said “population 350.” In other words, the church encompassed pretty much everyone in the village–and beyond its environs. And there was an interesting pattern in the village. Children and women–post 40 years old–and men–post 60–were the ones who went to church. You grew up, dropped out in the teen years. Sent your children to church. Women came back when the children came. Men when they started to face the end of life. I was odd in my teen years because I was a true believer, a religious fanatic. Who in the world was that? That was my church growing up (pre-correlation by the way).

    We were pretty white I admit. But we were a cross section of that society. From Idaho I went to student wards–at BYU and then a graduate ward at the University of Washington. In retrospect, I realize these were again pretty narrow ethnic slices of society. But there was a certain diversity as far as income and professions went.

    From there I went to a ward on the east bench of Salt Lake City. The ward must have encompassed two to three blocks. All of the houses pretty much exactly the same size. The men in a narrow slice of professions. The women at home, and far too many ironing the children’s play clothes for my comfort. The church there was a shock for me. Such a very narrow cultural and economic slice. Such homogeneity. In a way I hadn’t encountered the church before. I wasn’t comfortable. That ward was the first one that troubled me.

  11. Mark
    July 5, 2004 at 2:20 pm

    I am of the opinion that the chances of being an active LDS member are greater if someone grows up in an area like Utah where there are many other kids who have the same beliefs. I feel that if someone is wavering in his or her belief in the principles and teachings of the church it may be easier to believe & live the teachings if one is around others who are living & believing the same principles. Example: Two teens are taught the same thing growing up that you don’t drink alcohol. The teen growing up in Utah where there are hundreds of other teens who have been taught the same thing have an easier time not drinking alcohol than a teen raised outside of Utah would simply because the teen outside of Utah will most likely have friends that have no problem with drinking alcohol or rather find it a normal part of teen life.

  12. john fowles
    July 5, 2004 at 2:52 pm

    I don’t know about that Mark. One could argue persuasively that it is more difficult in Utah b/c many that are taught the same defy those teachings and drink anyway, which makes it more difficult for others to choose to be obedient, when the “cool” LDS kids are being disobedient (but still passing the sacrament, etc.). Along those lines, one could argue that the LDS kid growing up outside of Utah has an easier time abstaining from alcohol even though everyone else is drinking precisely because that kid knows that the other kids are not taught the same and so are not held to the same standard, or rather, are not drinking in spite of receiving the same teachings. As someone who grew up outside of Utah, but who married someone who grew up inside of Utah, those are my observations.

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