At the 2012 semiannual general conference on Oct 6, LDS corporate CEO Thomas Monson announced that effective immediately, young men may begin their full-time Mormon missionary service following their graduation from high school, even if they are only 18 at the time. And young women, who have not been eligible for full-time missionary service until age 21, may now begin their service at age 19.
The announcement was met among LDS members mostly with enthusiasm and glee. No more waiting around for a year after high school, piddling with a job or at college. It is expected to have a profound influence on college life across Utah, whose universities bid a temporary farewell each year to thousands of students answering the call of their church, coming at a time when Utah’s public universities are ramping up their efforts to retain students and improve graduation rates.
The effect could divide the state’s youth into haves and have nots. By have, I mean secular knowledge. Many ex-mormons and some active members see the move as a way to plug the seepage that occurs with young adults after high school. Grant Palmer recently told attendees at the ex-mormon foundation conference that along the Wasatch Front of Utah, only about 50% of worthy, eligible young LDS men go on a mission, presumably because many of them fall away the year after high school. Lowering the age by a year (or two for young women) helps keep them from entering the world and learning secularism on campus before they can be fully indoctrinated on a mission.
Will going on a mission really stop the seepage or will it just delay it a few years when the missionaries return and go to college? To understand what kind of special indoctrination missionaries receive, I revisited the current manual for missionary training & discussions. The following comes from the LDS Missionary manual, which is found at this LDS.ORG link (pdf) (or this html version).
The manual is definitely chock-a-block filled with typical Ra Ra sales force psychology. Do as your told, follow the recipe we give you, always be committing, don’t lose the spirit by not working hard, pray-obey-don’t-be-gay. The manual is about taming young (at times wild) men. But beyond the psychological conditioning of the missionaries themselves, the manual is also about training them into shrewd salesmen. Okay, maybe not shrewd, but skilled in certain techniques.
What I found were instructions on how to manipulate others into joining. Not just encouragement to teach or help persuade, but technique on emotional manipulation.
In the section titled, "Helping Others Make Commitments: The Door to Faith and Repentance" is this quote:
"Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taught: “The first thing you will do when an investigator tells you he or she had not read and prayed about the Book of Mormon is be devastated! . . . Much of the time we are just too casual about all of this. This is eternal life. This is the salvation of the children of God. Eternity hangs in the balance. . . . It is the most important path this investigator will ever walk. But if he or she doesn't know that, at least you do! . . . So take control of this situation. Teach with power and authority, and then be devastated if the first steps toward commandment-keeping and covenant-keeping have not been successfully begun” (“Making and Keeping Covenants,” missionary satellite broadcast, Apr. 1997). "
I want to emphasize: "...and then be devastated if the first steps toward commandment-keeping and covenant-keeping have not been successfully begun."
Then in the "Follow Up" section is this quote:
"Make frequent contact, daily if possible, to find out how people are progressing with their commitments... strengthen the spiritual feelings they felt as you taught them...This sustaining influence of the Spirit is vital...remind and encourage them to keep a commitment. Help investigators identify the blessings they have received as they have kept their commitments. Especially help them describe their feelings as the Spirit has testified of the truthfulness of the message. Compliment and encourage people who are succeeding in keeping commitments...Express concern and disappointment when people fail to keep their commitments and thus fail to experience the blessings. "
I emphasize: “Especially help them describe their feelings as the Spirit has testified of the truthfulness of the message.”
Help them describe their feelings as what you were asking them to test for themselves. Then “Express concern and disappointment when people fail to keep their commitments. . .”
Do you see the pattern? Tell them whatever positive feeling they have is a witness of what you’re selling. If they have a negative feeling about what you’re selling, express concern and disappointment and be devastated, and show them that devastation by taking control of the situation in power and authority.
Now, according to the manual, once you get them hooked, committed and baptized, some of the new-members will fall away back into old habits. Some go back to drinking coffee, alcohol or even taking drugs. Is that a good time to express disappointment? Nope, they tell the missionary.
In the "A Plan for Overcoming Addictive Behavior" Section the church actually discourages manipulation. Missionaries are told they “should not be shocked or discouraged” by the bad behavior. In fact, missionaries are instructed: “They should show confidence in the individual and not be judgmental if the person yields to an old craving. They should treat it as a temporary and understandable setback.” Because “condemning. . .a new convert is never helpful and will likely lead to discouragement, failure, and inactivity.”
See the pattern? Act devastated if the investigator doesn't do what you say before being baptized. After baptism, don't act devastated, be all understanding!
Additionally, missionaries are continually told to seek the spirit, but not to discuss too many specifics. Just seek it generally, point it out whenever the investigator has a positive experience or feeling. But don’t share specific spiritual experiences. In the section "A Word of Caution" missionaries are told:
“Revelation and spiritual experiences are sacred. They should be kept private and discussed only in appropriate situations. As a missionary, you may be more aware of spiritual experiences than you have been earlier in your life. Resist the temptation to talk freely about these experiences.”
Why would they want missionaries not to talk freely about these experiences when they all but start out discussion One with Joseph Smith’s first vision of God? What they’re saying is, if you talk about all the religious craziness that happens in your head, people will be less likely to keep their commitments--we only accept a certain level of crazy; follow the prescribed plan.
The haves who go to college instead will be way ahead and can avoid being manipulated and learning to manipulate others through emotional trickery. That’s not what the LDS corporation wants; they desire a 50,000 strong sales-force that is virtually cost-free labor.
The Campus Life. (Ann Arbor, 2006)