At LDS general conference this weekend, President Thomas Monson announced a new rule: young men would now be able to serve missions when they had graduated high school and turned 18, young women can now serve at 19. This age requirement was lowered from the previous threshold ages of 19 and 21, respectively. In response to post-announcement questions by the local press corps, Mormon-owned NBC-affiliate KSL Television reported Apostle Jeffrey Holland stating that: “The demand for missionaries is expanding…” However, before Holland could finish that statement, KSL quickly cut to a commercial and returned to the reporters several seconds later.
I questioned that statement, whether in fact the demand for missionaries was expanding. If it was, whose demand was it? I recalled hearing that many Mormon missions had been closed around the turn of the last century, in the early 2000s. I found a website which I had previously seen, documenting this change: http://tinyurl.com/8ww8m96
The map depicts the closure (blue) and openings (red) of LDS missions since the year 2000. According to the creator of the map, this data is taken directly from official LDS sources. One can see that closed missions are largely in Western Europe, Japan and the US Eastern Seaboard, while newly opened missions are concentrated in Central and South America, Sub-Saharan Africa and the US Mormon corridor. Here we have proof that the educated are rejecting Mormonism and that the Church is now concentrating its proselytizing efforts on those in developing counties and the descendants of Deseret’s original Mormon pioneers—those children who have had little chance to peek beyond the Zion Curtain.
Clearly, the need for more missionaries is not for the educated of the world. The question must be asked: with its theology of other-worldly rewards in exchange for a commitment to sacrifice time, money and resources earned in this life, however meager, will Mormonism truly benefit these developing countries? History tells us that the poor who yearned for a better life followed Joseph Smith and Brigham Young westward to create their own ‘Kingdom of God on Earth.’ Many emigrated from Europe in mid-19th century, selling all they had, for promises of a better life. Many of the descendants of these same pioneers have realized the insidious fraud of the organization and, many after living a life dedicated to its nonsense, have left it. Perhaps this Mormon carrot, clearly beyond its prime in the educated world, can yet serve as nourishment for those people who are not as sophisticated as their European or East Coast counterparts regarding the management of social capital.
As documented in the Trinity College Study of last December, apostasy rates are rising for young Mormon men and the LDS Church overstates its membership numbers (in the US). http://commons.trincoll.edu/aris/files/2011/12/Mormons2008.pdf Less than a year ago, when asked whether Church members were “leaving in droves,” self-identified Democrat, Marlin K. Jensen, then official Church historian, admitted at USU that: “maybe since Kirtland, [Ohio, early 19th century] we never have had a period of, I'll call it apostasy, like we're having right now." http://mormon-chronicles.blogspot.com/2012/02/discussion-of-mormon-apostasy-spreads.html.
As part of the rationale for lowering the age requirements, Church officials explained at the Saturday conference that LDS missionary president[s] have said to the leaders: “Give me more 18 year- olds. They’re sweeter; they’re purer, they’re smarter.” Young Mormons are insulated from the real world at every opportunity by parents and leaders, their time spent at meetings and with tedious and redundant cult-like memorization leading to awards and achievements of questionable value.
More missionaries might be required not only for more converts, but to ensure an increase in the number of dedicated young people, before they have a chance to think outside their familial lifestyle and perhaps chose a different path in life than the Mormon way. Serving a 1.5-2 year mission at 18 or 19 will leave little chance for young Mormons to compare the teachings of Mormonism with other religions or philosophies. These young innocents, lacking any true choice, will no doubt willingly serve to replace the loss of the young men documented by the Trinity Study. For young men at least, if they are whisked away to an intense training center soon after high school graduation, gone is that first year of college, or opportunity to work in the real world, either of which might have provided an alternative glimpse into new and perhaps superior ways of living.
As Apostle Holland declared, the demand for missionaries does in fact appear to be increasing. However, this demand appears to be the Church’s own.