There are three things in my life that I credit with keeping me on the right path or at least a path that allows me to function somewhat normally.
Those three, in order of importance, are my wife, my parents and the Mormon mission I served in 1973-1974.
Remove any one of those, and I would have spun off in a whole other direction, one that almost guarantees some of you wouldn’t be doing so well today.
I bring this up because the LDS Church has released standardized interview questions for prospective missionaries. There are 16 of them, and they dive into detail.
Back in my day, there were only general guidelines for these mission interviews. A bishop would ask a vague question and — in cases such as mine — get an equally vague answer.
Bishop Quist • “Robert, have you ever taken drugs?”
Me • “What? You mean like aspirin or something?”
Bishop Quist • “Of course not. I mean drugs that you shouldn’t take.”
Me • “Well, I downed a bunch of Midol once, just to see what would happen. Nothing did. Total bummer.”
If Bishop Quist had asked me the new No. 6 question, “Do you have any legal actions pending against you?” I couldn’t have lied my way out of that one. It was the first thing he checked into when I started making noises about a mission.
The new standardized questions cut straight to the point. If I were 18 years old and attempting to go on a mission today, I wouldn’t make it past No. 3.
Bishop Geertsen • “What does it mean to you to repent? Do you feel that you have fully repented of past transgressions?”
Me • “Does lying in this interview count? I mean, technically, it’s not in the past yet.”
And that would be the end of my attempt to serve a mission. I would have gone back into the Army, drove a truck, sold drugs and probably ended up serving time.
There are “standardized” questions that are welcome changes, particularly No. 8.
“Have you ever sexually abused a child in any way, regardless of whether or not you were charged, you were convicted, or the record was expunged?”
This is an excellent question to put to a prospective representative of Jesus Christ. The last person you want with that responsibility is Elder Lester the Molester.
However, an excellent follow-up question here would be, “Have you ever been sexually abused as a child in any way, regardless of whether or not the perpetrator was a church leader whose actions may have skewed your idea of what it means to be a worthy priesthood holder?”
Question No. 5 breaks down into specifics — being chaste, avoiding porn, paying tithing, living the Word of Wisdom, keeping the Sabbath day holy, and being honest in all you say and do.
Bishop Geertsen • “Have you lived in accordance with all of these standards?”
Me • “Of course not.”
Bishop Geertsen • “Are you now living in accordance with them?”
Me • “No.”
Bishop Geertsen • “Will you live in accordance with them as a full-time missionary?”
Me • “Are you serious? I’ll HAVE to. That’s the point of going.”
This brings up an interesting note about the new standardized questions. They’re public.
Now that Mormon teens know what’s coming, how many who want to serve missions will just abandon the idea rather go through such a humiliating ordeal. I don’t have much in the way of shame, but I’ve been told that most people do.
Worse, if an LDS kid decides not to go, everyone he knows will be wondering which of the listed flaws he has on his books.
I wouldn’t have had that problem, already being something of a criminal. But I’m glad I did what I needed to in order to serve a mission.
That’s where I encountered the person for whom question No. 17 — which I just made up — was just begging for an answer, “Will you marry me?”