Saturday, May 26, 2018

On the nature of prestige

So i think most members of the church would, if asked, initially say that all of the missions of the church are of equal prestige, but if pressed (“No, really?”), they’d cave and admit that there’s a hierarchy, at least for those missionaries being assigned from the United States and Canada. F’rex, Europe is more prestigious than North America, with maybe carve-outs for Qu├ębec (foreign language!) or the United Kingdom (maybe especially England). And within the United States, even, there’s probably a difference between, say, New England (higher prestige) and California (lower prestige, even if only because there are just so many missions in California), assigned language, and so on—and the the jello belt is particularly, um, let us just say looked askance at.

TL;DR: It’s a little complicated, but actually mostly straightforward.

Except.

So my oldest child recently received a mission call, which included an assignment to a Utah mission. The reaction from most of the Mormons who have heard this assignment have been what Mormons might well expect—just that barest little decisecond catch before offering congratulations.

However: I’m in a private social media group made up of parents of kids who graduated high school the same year as my oldest. Among them—non-Mormons all, it’s important to note for the story—as well as among all the other non-Mormons who’ve heard about her assignment, it’s been rather different: No hesitation at all, just straight-up congratulations, often with a ”It’s a beautiful area, she’ll love it!” or “That’s on my bucket list!” or, in one interesting case, someone saying that her (non-Mormon) in-laws live nearby, and that she’s always been jealous of them for living there.

Footnote: The Utah missions are often the highest-baptizing in the world, so we get into a prestige vs. success argument. Note to self: There’s probably some fruitful thinking about othering and exoticism related to this…

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

No more scouting!

So the big news within Mormonism this week is the announcement made yesterday that, effective with the beginning of 2020, the church’s longstanding relationship with the Boy Scouts is over.* I suspect that the long lead time is to allow those boys who were focused on getting their eagle scout award a chance to finish everything up within their current troops, though that’s simply speculation—no idea what the real reason or reasons might be.

And speaking of speculation on the real reason or reasons for things, i find it interesting that some of the analysis of this change (including on National Public Radio’s top-of-the-hour headlines!) draws a connection between the Boy Scouts of America’s announcement just a few days ago that they’re opening their program to girls at all levels and the Mormon Church’s more recent announcement—basically, saying that the Mormon Church wanted to keep their program boys-only, and thus the separation. I have to wonder if the causal chain might have been in the other direction, though—that is, perhaps the Boy Scouts of America either saw the writing on the wall or heard from various sources that the Mormon Church (which is, after all, the source of a lot of their troops and thus income) would be finally fully extricating themselves from scouting, and so it was time to go after market share by expanding their program.

But that is, like i said, all speculation anyway. The one thing i feel pretty certain of, though, is that this wouldn’t have happened under the administration of Thomas S. Monson—he was pretty clearly a fan of the Boy Scouts. Russell M. Nelson, however, well, he may have gone to Mormon Sunday School as a teen but he wasn’t baptized until he reached age 16, and so wasn’t really raised embedded in the traditional youth programs of the church, which means, apparently, that we have the chance to get a fresh perspective on such things from a 93-year-old.

* My wife’s reaction, paraphrased: So does this mean it’s our turn to be happy about something that might push other people to think they might want to leave the church? (I mean, given the number of testimonies of the divine nature of the boy scouting program i’ve heard in my life, it’s not out of the realm of possibility, you know?)