Monday, August 10, 2009

Dear Abby and missionary service

I usually try to keep posts here strictly legal, but this topic was too interesting to pass up. A family member mentioned this Dear Abby column that ran in a newspaper about a week ago, and it raised a lot of red flags. The question and answer are brief so I will reproduce them in their entirety:

DEAR ABBY: Our nephew recently asked family members for money to help him go on a mission for his church. Apparently he is supposed to gather 50 sponsors to pay a "tax deductible" $50 to $100 per month for two years (via direct bill or credit card), according to the forms from his church.
We love our nephew and his parents, but we do not share their religious beliefs. And quite frankly, the request has upset more than a few members of the family because the amount requested is obviously not just to support the young man, but a way to support his church.

I generally think the new Dear Abby distributes poor advice, but she's right-on this time. I wanted to know more about the situation. First and foremost, is this a Mormon mission? The two-year time period and Arizona location would seem to support this possibility, as would the family members' disapproval of the church in question. But if that is the case, I'm just as embarrassed as the writer in Arizona.

I'm sure the Mormon Church has methods or forms to enable interested family members or friends. However, I'm reasonably certain that mass-mailings are discouraged, if not prohibited. I find it particularly troubling that the young missionary-to-be was seeking a fixed number of sponsors (50) that were supposed to donate a certain amount per month ($50-100). While that may be a legitimate fund-raising tactic in other areas, it seems to run against the personal sacrifice aspects of Mormon missionary services. I find it extremely hard to believe that the Mormon Church would instruct its missionaries to gather sponsors in such a way. In fact, the general guidance is for young men and women to save money in their teenage years to pay for the cost of serving a mission.

I see two possibilities behind the Dear Abby question. The first is that this aspiring missionary is actually a member of another denomination that performs missionary service. If that is the case I have no problem with it. It seems somewhat in poor taste, but they can set their own rules. The second possibility is that this is indeed a young man going on a Mormon mission who is misrepresenting the LDS Church's missionary system in order to defray the cost of service. I wish I could say that it was impossible that a young man or family would try to pass on the cost of a mission, but I can't. I hope that it is not the case.

Is anyone aware of specific LDS Church policy prohibiting missionary funding schemes like this? I don't have immediate access to a Handbook of Instructions, but I can check. I can't find any specific policies on mission funding on the LDS.org missions page. The most guidance I can find is the following passage from the LDS Newsroom page on the Missionary Program. It states: "Missionaries fund their own missions — except for their transportation to and from their field of labor — and are not paid for their services."