I’ve never been a pacifist. I guess I’ve always considered war a “necessary evil.” That’s not to say that I necessarily agree with every war that we have ever engaged in or are currently engaging in, but rather that I consider war inherently unfortunate, but not inherently immoral.
It must be difficult to be a pacifist in this country. Even when we’re not at war in the sense we currently are, there’s always something going on somewhere. Combine that with the fact that most all of us know someone that has been in the military, and a pacifist is left with a lot of people that have engaged in (or were willing to directly engage in) something they considered to be wrong. If you’re against the Iraq War, for instance, you can say benignly assume that the soldier didn’t know he would be used for such nefarious ends. But if you’re against war at all, it gets more difficult.
To a lesser degree, the same is true with people that support political positions that you disagree with. They may be the nicest people in the world and they may be doing what they do with the best of motivations, but any way you look at it, they spend time, energy, and money in opposition to your ideals. Benignly and unintentionally, they are your opponents.
The situation I constantly find myself in has more to do with the latter situation than the former, but some days it feels like the former. These people do more than just agree with me, but additionally they support an institution that makes my life more difficult. And previously directly engaged in behavior of those I was regularly annoyed by for more than a year.
The term out here is RM: Returned Missionaries.
My boss and friend Willard is a Returned Missionary. So are roughly half of my coworkers and a number of other acquaintances. They spent two years of their life (assuming they made it the whole way) going out and trying to get people to convert.
It’s a lofty idea that I can appreciate. Right up until they’re knocking on my door. When you’re in their crosshairs, it’s a different feeling entirely. They keep stopping by long after you’ve told them to leave. When they’ve done all they can, they just send a new set.
Shortly after moving up here, I made the mistake of letting some in and accepting their Book of Mormon. Further, I read the sections they asked me to and even the whole books that included them (3 Nephi and Moroni). I asked them questions.
The whole time I was very clear with them about my intentions. I wanted to learn more about the faith so that I could better understand those that live around me. I wanted to understand what they believe and why. I did not want to convert. I told them if they wanted to rack up some conversion numbers, they were wasting their time. They stuck around anyway, I assumed because they were just glad to get someone that wasn’t outright hostile.
It can’t be easy to be a missionary. You’re parachutted into a community that you are most likely very unfamiliar with, and then you’re expected to go proselytize. Most of the people you meet will dislike you. Some will spit at you and others merely curse you. The whole time you are expected to remain on an even keel. In my limited experience dealing with them, they actually do it.
So I have a certain degree of sympathy. Up until it’s time to go on a mission, remaining in The Church is the path of least resistence. But once you’re a missionary, you’re walking the walk. You’re agreeing to be spat upon and cursed. You’re agreeing to being cut off from your family (not entirely, but for the most part) for two years. You’re not only agreeing to move around every two years, but you can’t even really become a part of the community you’re in. You’re there on a mission (figuratively and literally, I suppose) and you haven’t the time. You get one day off, but even then things such as TV are off-limits.
The ability of The Church to motivate young men in their prime (19-25) to do this is a testament to the loyalty they command and achieve. The ability of men to make such sacrifices is, however inconvenient to me personally, extraordinarily admirable. It’s no coincidence that most of the most honorable and upright Mormon men out here that I know are RMs.
So I had some sympathy and thought that they might appreciate some friendliness, even if I wouldn’t be a notch in their belt, so to speak. It didn’t work that way, of course, just as Clancy told me it wouldn’t. The missionaries I had the understanding with were swapped out with others and then others still. None of them would take “no” for an answer.
It got to the point that I did not want to be in my own place on the Saturday afternoons that they would stop by. All the while, I was working beside people who had spent two years doing to others what was being done to me. Besides the cognitive dissonance that this generated, it also had an isolating effect. I wasn’t partnered with Simon at work yet and had no one to even talk to about it. I wanted to ask my RM friends up here how to get rid of them, but the people who would help me most I was least able to ask.
Even the non-RMs were not particularly approachable. The missionaries are extremely highly regarded. Those leaving on mission get a mention in the paper in between the engagement and Eagle Scout announcements. Anyone who has driven down the Interestate has seen an area devoted entirely to signs put up to welcome returning missionaries. To suggest irritation with them is like cursing the military outside the big city: not kosher.
I finally turned to a web site called ExMormons.org and asked what I could do that would make the missionary playbook tell them to leave me alone. The answers usually include “Leave Deseret” and pestering the local LDS Bishop. We’re stuck in Deseret for another year or so and the Bishop is a co-owner of the company I worked for. They said such things were not uncommon and wished me well.
It wasn’t all for naught, though. I found out that while they will follow former members from state to state, if you’re not in their registry they won’t. The bad news is that the “Do Not Contact” list they apparently have for former members (to avoid harassment charges, I suppose) they do not have for folks like me. They also did suggest that we not leave a forwarding address when we moved from the apartments to the basement so long as my landlords were members of the Brethren, so we didn’t.
The good thing about a basement apartment is that it’s not as easily accessible in streetsweeps (where they knock on every house on a block), so we haven’t had to deal with them since. It’d be nice if the Jehova’s Witness folks let that stop them, but I don’t have the social pressure to be nice if worse comes to worse.