I heard it again yesterday: Someone referring to the world outside of the Mormon West as “the mission field”. The problem this time was that the individual using the phrase was someone I have deep love and respect for. I’m starting to wonder if I’m over-reacting.
Yesterday was a stake/regional conference broadcast to New York and New England from Salt Lake. I really enjoyed the whole conference and the final talk by President Eyring was as powerful as any other talk I’ve heard him give. The man has never really given a talk that didn’t deeply move me. The minor hiccup was the reference to his days in New Jersey as “living in the mission field”. Following is an explanation of why this phrase offends me and also why I might be overacting.
Why this phrase offends me:
1. I heard this term every other day while serving a two-year mission in Southern Utah. It made me furious because it usually followed a list of reasons why sharing the gospel in Utah was impossible (i.e. “there aren’t any non members living here”, or “we take things for granted here – we can’t help it”).
It also was a constant reminder that, at the end of the day, we were serving a mission in Utah.* After a plethora of insults including condolences, condensations and outright mocking that we weren’t on a “real” mission, hearing that we were serving in the area not described as “the mission field” was the last straw.
2. In general, I think the term feeds the apathy of members in predominantly Mormon areas. As I mentioned above, there seems to be an attitude among some Utah Mormons that they don’t really appreciate the gospel and can’t really help it. After all, they don’t know anyone without it. My goal as a missionary was to convince them that A. there were actually many of their neighbors with different religious beliefs. (i had met them) B. It was up to them to seek these people out and develop genuine friendships. They are the majority – the ball is in their court.
Why I might be over-reacting:
1. I realize that this phrase was useful at one time. The congregations outside the Mountain West were once a collection of Missions, Districts and Branches. Calling the rest of the world “the mission field” was once a very accurate description of what it actually was at the time. While I’d prefer people say “what once was called the mission field” or even “the Mormon Diaspora”, I understand the use of the term among the 50+ crowd. I don’t think they mean it in an offensive way – the way it comes a cross to me.
2. I’m the first one to argue that the congregations of the church have a very regional identity – in spite of correlation. The church in Utah is a prime example of that. Activity in the church really is a different experience in Utah. To ignore that fact would be brushing over the good (unity) and the bad (exclusion) aspects of predominance. I might have spent so much time legitimizing my missionary efforts in Utah, that I let a harmless phrase cause offense.
So, there it is. Am I:
1. A justified victim
2. An over-reacting crybaby
*My non-member friends back home were so confused by my call to serve in Utah that they started calling it a pilgrimage.