America learns about parents sending their kids on Latter-day Saint missions — from a Real Housewife

Bravo reality show offers a glimpse at how tough it can be on moms and dads.

Since the first Latter-day Saint missionary was sent out to proselytize in 1830, more than a million have been called. And hundreds of thousands of parents have known the pain of being separated from their sons and daughters for 18 months or two years.

It’s not something members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints talk about a lot. And it’s not something that has been shared with a lot with nonmembers — until, that is, the fourth season of “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City,” when the son of one of the Housewives announced his decision to go on a full-time mission.

That shocked his mother, Lisa Barlow, because 18-year-old Jack Barlow kept her in the dark about his mission plans for about a year.

Weirdly enough, the Bravo reality show about women who spend a lot of time fighting with one another offered arguably the best glimpse for non-Latter-day Saint viewers of the workings inside a Latter-day Saint family. In the first episode of Season Four, Lisa got teary when she said, “I’m not going to see him for two years.”

And that’s a continuing theme. In a later episode, Lisa told Jack it’s going to be hard “not having you here for Christmas. Not having you here for Thanksgiving.” Lisa’s husband and Jack’s father, John, predicted that Lisa would cry for a week when Jack left. Jack said his mom would cry “up until I come home, pretty much.”

Lisa agreed.

She continually expressed the emotions a lot of parents feel when their sons and daughters commit to a mission. Weeks before Jack was scheduled to leave for the Missionary Training Center, Lisa was fighting back tears. “It’s just ... I know he’s never really coming home again.” (Meaning he’ll be an adult when he gets back.)

(Charles Sykes | Bravo) Lisa and John Barlow on the "Real Housewives of Salt Lake City" Season Three reunion.

A Utah tradition?

Lisa threw a party for Jack’s mission reveal — when he learned where he was going for his two-year volunteering stint, and shared the news with friends and family. Lisa served an elaborate menu, including a cake topped with a faux Elder Barlow missionary nametag that is “going to make me cry,” she said at the time.

In a confessional, Lisa said, “Oh, my God. Today is the day we are going to find out where Jack is going to spend two years of his life.” And getting your mission call is “a huge thing in Utah — like a gender-reveal party.”

Jack read the mission call and learned he was assigned to the Colombia Bogota North Mission. Lisa’s reaction was predictable, although it was the same reaction a lot of parents would have: “Oh, my gosh, I cannot believe he’s going to Colombia. He’ll probably be held up at gunpoint at least once or twice on his mission.” However, she added, “I mean, overall, it’s thrilling.”

Shopping for mission clothes

Lisa and John accompanied Jack to Odion / Modern Missionary Menswear to outfit him for his impending mission, giving viewers a peek inside what missionaries wear and what they do. The shopping trip itself was funny, because Lisa was so out of her element.

She wanted to buy Jack a teal suit. The salesperson explained that that’s prom attire, and missionaries are supposed to dress more conservatively. “He’s going on a mission,” John said. “He’s not going [to] a dance or whatever.”

Lisa wasn’t listening. She wanted to buy Jack a red, pinstriped suit for the mission to which John remarked, “Maybe if he was going to Vegas.”

A bit later, Lisa said, “I like that one brown-color pant, because I feel like it could be, like, total jungle chic.” Jack rolled his eyes and said he should’ve come shopping with just his father. Lisa said missionaries “don’t need to forget fashion.”

Spreading misinformation

Some of the information Lisa shared about the church and about Jack’s mission on “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” was misleading, and some of it was flat-out wrong.

• The subject of Jack going through the temple came up, although why he did so and what that means was never explained. Lisa left viewers with the impression that she would decide if she would go through the temple with Jack. John would “definitely” accompany their son, she said, and she had to think about that “next-level commitment. … You’re going to have to wear [temple] garments. And I respect the garments [but] I don’t do that.”

(Nicole Weinagart | Bravo) Lisa Barlow on "The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City" reunion.

(Part of going through the temple includes a pledge to wear temple garments, modest underclothing devout Latter-day Saints wear as a private and personal reminder of their devotion to the faith.

• Lisa told viewers “you have to be worthy” to go to the temple. “I might not feel worthy because I drink too much Diet Coke. Someone might not feel worthy because they drink too much alcohol” or “because they’re hitting it with their neighbor.”

There was a lot wrong with that. Diet Coke or any other soft drink won’t keep anyone out of the temple. Alcohol and adultery will. Lisa never mentioned the need for interviews with lay leaders to get a temple recommend. (Or, possibly, that was edited out.)

Jack was not coerced by his parents

It’s clear in “RHOSLC” that Jack was under no pressure to go on a mission. It’s also clear that Lisa would have preferred that he stay close to home and available to her. Both John and Lisa assure their son that if, after he arrives at his mission, he wants to come home, he’s welcome to do so.

John talked about his own mission and hauled out photo albums with pictures from that time in his life. And, he added, when he was growing up, he “had friends whose parents borderline threatened them that if they didn’t go on a mission, that they were going to kind of be kicked out of the family.”

That may not have made church leaders happy, but John was far from the first one to tell that sort of story.

In another episode, Lisa tells viewers, “A lot of people here pay their kids to go on missions. Or blackmail them. Or say, like, ‘Go or you’re going to embarrass the family.’ Like, there’re social pressures in Utah. But Jack has been raised nonorthodox.”

(Presley Ann/Bravo) Lisa Barlow in an episode of "The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City."

Orthodox vs. unorthodox

By accepting a mission call, Jack agreed to live the most orthodox of Latter-day Saint lifestyles, strictly adhering to the religion’s tenets and mission rules. His parents, on the other hand, are not exactly orthodox, which was, Jack told his mother, why he kept his mission plans a secret from them for months.

“And I’m, like, ‘Why don’t you tell us?’” Lisa said. “And he literally said, ‘Because you and dad are different than me.’”

It may have been unclear to anyone unfamiliar with Latter-day Saints, but Jack was likely referencing the fact that his parents are not temple recommend-carrying members. They drink alcohol, for instance.

(Bravo) Jack Barlow on "The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City."

Weird but believable

Asked during the “RHOSLC” Season Four reunion about reports that Jack was seen in Southern California, not in Colombia, Lisa said that Jack “bounced on his mission. He’s not going.” A week later, viewers learned that Lisa was joking — that Jack’s Colombian visa had not yet come through, so he had been sent to SoCal to spread the word while waiting for it.

For anyone familiar with how missions work, that’s not hard to believe at all. Happens all the time.

The apparent circumstances behind this delay, however, were unusual. According to Lisa, the photo Jack sent to Colombian officials was of himself on a boat at Lake Powell showing his “great six-pack.” He “sent it to the [Colombian] government as his visa picture, like, thinking it’s funny, and they denied it. So he had to reapply.”

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