Or, Ned's Unethical Post about Unethical Missionaries.
I'm not a big fan of Randy Cohen, the self-styled "Ethicist" of the New York Times. I think too often he misses the forest of common sense for the ethical trees. Also, I doubt he'd approve of this post.
An acquaintance of mine recently forwarded me several pictures of a wedding in an email. Apparently, she forgot to delete a couple emails between her and a friend that were attached. Her friend is currently serving as a sister missionary in the south of Argentina. As neither my acquaintance nor her friend speak English or read the bloggernacle, I think it will be safe if I transcribe (and translate) a disturbing paragraph from the sister missionary's letter. Sure, it may not be 100% ethical, but I think it's interesting enough (and harmless enough) to post.
Here is the relevant passage. I have translated with my rapidly atrophying Spanish skills, so I will gladly post the original in Spanish if anyone wants to clarify any subtleties I may have smudged over in my translation.
"Another thing going on is an investigator that we have; the elders taught him years ago, and later sisters, and now I have taught him since I arrived. He is not too old but he suffers from paralysis, walks with a cane, is incorrigible, and has extremely young children. He is 70 years old, and lives alone with his kids.
"The fact that he can't stop smoking is a big problem. We tried everything; we made him do the Seven Day Program [Ned's note: I assume this is some sort of mission program] with no success, with the result that now the Elders are teaching him. They cleaned out his house which was a nest of rats, and smelled like grime. He doesn't even bathe, but he is so nice, and he makes us laugh so much with all his stories. The Elders even cut his hair, and made him smoke a cigarette soaked in milk, which is disgusting, but nothing works.
"We went to his house and I saw him through the window and he was smoking. One of the Elders was really angry, and we were all sad too. The Elder threw a picture on the floor and told him to step on it. [Ned's note: she doesn't say what picture, but I assume it had to be the Del Parsons' Jesus, the Temple or Joseph Smith. Missionaries don't carry around too many other pictures or laminas.] He said he wouldn't do it and the Elder bore his testimony so strongly that it made me cry. We chastised him a ton, but I didn't say anything because I felt so bad. We all felt a little sorry when we left for all the things we had said, but that man needed it, and Sunday he showed up at the church alone."
Perhaps some people will think I'm making too much of this, but is this what missionary work has come to? Challenging people to step on Jesus to make a point about smoking? Sure, from a strictly medical viewpoint, this guy needs to quit smoking for his children's sake, but is this the way to do it? I harassed so many people on my mission, took away so many packs of cigarettes after the fourth discussion, but did anyone ever quit?
I remember one cranky guy I met on my mission who had a wife and two teenage daughters. His first daughter was baptized before I arrived, we baptized his second daughter, and his wife was taking the discussions after that. We were stalled on the fourth discussion for quite a while because she just couldn't quit smoking. The husband never had any interest in us, but he became really angry one day because we were making his wife feel so bad about her smoking. He didn't care what we did if we were making his family happier, but he wouldn't allow us to hurt his wife.
Looking back on it, we're probably lucky he didn't smack us around (though I'm sure he was tempted). There's nothing wrong with some positive encouragement, but let's not bully people into making the right life choices. As much as I don't like Del Parson's art, I think stomping on it is a bit much.