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I have. It made me sick. It felt like a serious ambush and was very biased. It seemed obvious that a lot of the soundbites were taken out of context to make the missionaries sound like they were trying to trick people or to make them sound like they didn't believe the teachings anymore after finishing their missions. The film also focuses on one bizarre exmo return missionary in particular and treats him as if he is representative of the class of returned missionaries in the Church. As you can guess, he didn't have many nice things to say about the Church or the missionary program.

I saw the last half. They showed a few scenes of missionaries tracting in Germany that were pretty accurate reminders of my own experiences as a missionary in Germany.

They had a lot of interviews with two or three disaffected former missionaries, and none with faithful active RMs, so that part was pretty skewed. I agree with John that not much effort was made to present a balanced portrayal.

They also had interview footage with the missionaries on the mission. I don't think they said anything that a member would find very interesting, just typical faithful mormon missionary boilerplate. I think I read that the church stopped cooperating with the filmmaker when they got the idea that it was going to be a hatchet job.

I also heard that the main missionary they followed around was betrayed, in a manner of speaking, because they portrayed him, through out-of-context quotation, as being a disaffected returned missionary, when in reality he was not. This, however, might be complete hearsay.

Yes, it sure seems like ambush by documentary. It seems odd to see what sounds like an investigative journalism piece (with an obvious agenda, although it was surely hidden when official support for the project was obtained from LDS HQ) being featured under the banner of PBS.

I really wouldn't say it was like an investigative journalism piece (and I was probably wrong to call it a "hatchet job.") It mostly just let the subjects speak for themselves. The main problem was that the selection of RMs was highly unrepresentative, and the viewer might not fully realize that most RMs don't become disgruntled apostates. This skewed perspective probably arose both because the filmmaker was sympathetic to the feelings of the disaffected, and because it's probably hard to get the average 21-year-old faithful RM to say anything very introspective or interesting on camera beyond some expression of belief and happiness at having served.

I haven't seen the documentary, but my perception is that a fairly high number of returned missionaries do "go apostate" or inactive, at least for a period of time. Are there any statistics regarding how common this is?

i don't think i'd call it a hatchet job. the footage of the missionaries was pretty accurate imho when compared to what missions are actually like. but i do think that only having disaffected RMs in the interviews did skew the tone of the piece.

truthfully, watching the guys out in the field in germany made me uncomfortable because it reminded me of all of the feelings of self-consciousness i felt on my mission. there were times where it made me so uncomfortable that i almost had to stop watching, like when they were singing hymns at the train station.

It didn't help either that they chose to follow around a missionary who, apparently, never decided to put the effort into learning proper German. Thus, the documentary was particularly painful for a snobby German-speaker like me who was appauled at his and his companions' errors and lack of ability.

Abner Doon: here is an article with some empirical information that you might find interesting.

Richard J. McClendon and Bruce A. Chadwick, "Latter-day Saint Returned Missionaries in the United States: A Survey on Religious Activity and Postmission Adjustment," BYU Studies vol. 43:2:131 (2004).

Abner, I have no source handy to cite to, but I have heard GAs on several occasions refer generally to LDS statistical information (internal to COB) regarding the positive correlation between missions and later activity in the Church, or between temple marriages and long-term activity. The idea that missions lead to post-mission inactivity or even rejection has little support (although the exceptions are often striking). There's a T&S thread started yesterday about a new statistical treatment of LDS demographics by three BYU profs that might have specific numbers.

Great post. I haven’t seen this thing, but from all the descriptions, it does present all sides which is exactly what I would have expected. Was anyone expecting a one sided puff piece just because the church cooperated with the thing?

As far as some of the more moronic quotes from wayward RM’s, such as “I spent two years knocking on doors trying to convince people that American Indians were really from Israel and that they practiced Christianity before Columbus and wrote in Egyptian. I am embarrassed about that because I had read many books. I was supposed to be an educated, well-informed person. A lot of missionaries have this same feeling.”, the church is full of such morons including many of the GA’s who believe the church holds such absurd positions. They aren’t hard to find at all. We shouldn’t be surprised that a fair documentary would quote such an easily found moron amongst us. For all I know, his mission Pres so instructed him to teach people and he foolishly went along with it. The preamble parts of the BofM aside, even from a casual read of the book, it clear it’s discussing a small civilization in a small geography and make no claim against multiple entries of humans into the Americas or that today’s American Indians are largely descended from BofM peoples. It’s unfortunate GA’s, including JS made such false conclusions, but there’s no reason to not clarify such nonsense today. In any event, it’s also perfectly acceptable to take the BofM as allegory and not real stories about real people, which isn’t my personal position, but certainly a very respectable one.

My first mission pres taught that G-d had sex with Mary (even though the scriptures refer to a virgin birth). I had comps who would rail against evolution to investigators, which always profoundly embarrassed me. I remember one missionary (the hedge hog killer I’ve commented on elsewhere) who would teach investigators about the dead sea scrolls. In short, my mission was full of morons who seemed to teach everything but our Christ centered discussions that focused on faith, repentance, baptism and the gift of the HG that people needed to hear. Then we base our teachings on the nature of G-d based on an account of a vision. Now that’s really dumb; did Moses teach the almighty is a burning bush? Obviously things haven’t changed much in the generation since I served. Kudos to a filmmaker who did some digging to present all sides.

And let’s face it the church organization and LDS culture does use and abuse the missionaries and forgets they’re young volunteers. Many do go less active for a time to come to grips with the abuse. Some trainers do encourage missionaries to bear more than the testimony they have. Many of our members and missionaries do teach all sorts of weird stuff because we have no reform mechanism to periodically bring us back to the essence of Mormonism (the message of the protestant reformers combined with restored priesthood authority). And then there’s the you leave on your mission a boy and come home a man BS. Sorry sonny, but you were biologically a man long before your HS graduation, and you were fully a man, not a boy, in our society before your mission.

Kudos to a filmmaker who did some digging to present all sides.

The side that was missing was that most RMs are very fulfilled by their missions and come home to a life of activity and further contribution to the Kingdom of God on earth. The documentary did not present that aspect; nor was any reference made to the fact that that is the norm rather than the exmo RMs they preferred to quote in the documentary.

I think what we have here is a genre problem. "Documentary" and PBS stand for (in my mind, anyway) something like fact-based, objective treatments of interesting issues or organizations, with fair coverage given to all reasonable views. "Investigative journalism" implies a story with an agenda and reporters who aren't afraid to let their biases guide their thinking and reporting. That's a stark summary, but you get my point.

Unfortunately, the investigative journalism style has infected the documentary market, Michael Moore being a fine illustration of the development. He and others are free to produce and market their films, but it should be noted that they are borrowing (and depleting!) credibility from the documentary genre in order to market their agenda-driven films.

"Get the Fire" seems to be doing the same thing. You can get a sense of the hidden agenda if you visit the website of the sponsoring organization and their page promoting the movie.

Dave, you should really the show. I think that some here are painting it in a more negative light than it deserves. Yes, they talked to RM's that were a bit disgruntled with the church. But how many faithful RM's who DID have negative experiences, both physically or spiritually, would get up and say so in front of a camera? Not many, I assume.

I hardly remember the post-mission interviews that were shown. What has stuck with me was the awkwardness of the street singing and the proselytizing on the train. These types of situations would have made me extremely uncomfortable, had I gone on a mission.

I think one of the big problems is that anything that paints the church in a not-mormonad-worthy light is viewed as entirely worthless and anti-mormon piece of propaganda. Additionally, upon checking out the links to the promotion page, I noted this on the bottom: Major funding for this program was provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Additional funding was provided by the New York State Council of the Arts and the Utah Humanities Council. Presented by ITVS, the Independent Television Service I would imagine that these organizations would not qualify agenda-driven organizations. Also, this show was part of the PBS Independent Lens series which, I understand, is not a news-based series. Had this been on FrontLine, I am sure that the show would have been different.

Darren, I will certainly watch it if I can find it. Netflix doesn't have it, Amazon doesn't list it, and it retails for $295 at the publisher's site. Where did those who saw it see it?

dave, i have a copy of the film on my computer and could burn you a copy. the quality is not great though. email me if you're interested. joeblow10@gmail.com.

Hey check out filmmaker Nancy du Plessis’ Q&A at http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/getthefire/qa.html.

It seems a new mission pres screw us by greatly changing the ground rules, access and allowable questions when he showed up. Sound like a very plausible typical Mormon abuse of authority thing. How much you wanna bet the AH was short and stocky too? She claims as a result she had to do her own digging to get a full story to complete the film. She sure sounds sincere and plausible to me. Here are some key quotes:

“I love long-term observational studies: I enjoy seeing how people change.”

“At first, I would have liked to just follow a girl, but as I was developing my project I got more ambitious. It was also obvious that the almost obligatory two-year mission for boys.....was the real story.” Beyond that, I am fascinated by cross-cultural themes, “American innocents abroad”, as well as questions of belief and behavior.”

“When I requested permission, I had been researching for almost two years and had developed a good relationship with the then Mission President, who liked the idea of making a film.”

“The Mormon authorities didn’t want me to interfere or try to influence the outcome of the mission in any way. That was fine with me! I wanted to observe. To obtain authorization to film, I had to agree that I would throw away all the material should my subject give up and go home. So to hedge my bets, I had to follow three young men (instead of just one).”

“In GET THE FIRE! I approach the full-time, young Mormon mission as a rite of passage. Not only did I study anthropology and learn to think in such terms, but as Mormon parents always say, "They go away boys and come home men!" “

“I planned a strictly observational film, following a young Mormon from before the mission until after the end.”

“Although the first missionary who ever approached me was a young "sister", it became obvious that this is a boys' story: young men have long missions and as Mormon males, have more responsibilities.......”

“But my film was not intended to be about sexual inequality among the Mormons. Nor was it meant to explain Mormon history or beliefs: it was supposed to show the mission as the stage for the transition from Mormon childhood to adulthood.”

“I would like viewers to get a sense of what the 60,000 young people who are knocking on doors and approaching people in public transportation and pedestrian zones and saying the same thing in lots of different languages all over the world are about..............I made a film about young people who went through this experience and came to different conclusions."


These quotes show how one of our own screwed us big time:

“Hoping to show the differences between male and female realities on a mission, I did also follow one young woman. Unfortunately, her arrival coincided with a newly arrived Mormon Authority who imposed severe restrictions—14 months into the shoot. After I had to explain that he could not control the contents of my independent film, I suddenly was no longer allowed to set foot in the missionaries' apartments. I could only shoot in members' homes and public places, where the sound quality was miserable.”

“Because my subjects chose not to respond to any number of questions, and I needed answers as well as divergent viewpoints to tell the whole story, I later taped former missionaries who did address these issues. At the same time, since I had observed the full-time missionaries for 26.5 months, I did not make the former missionaries’ elaborations an equal part of the film.”

The fact that the director *ever* got full access to film several missionaries as they proselyted, visited members, and hung out at their apartments is remarkable, rather than the fact that such access was eventually terminated. She was still given permission to interview the missionaries, which is a far cry from terminating the project.

Furthermore, she sounds either dissimulating or naive when she asserts that "I had to explain that [the Mission President] could not control the contents of my independent film" after she had been granted unprecedented access and cooperation. No one grants that kind of access without some idea of what the focus of the project is and some understanding of what the resulting product would be, in the same way that neither PBS nor the other financial contributors bankroll such a project without a good idea of what it entails and what is going to come out of it. She doesn't sound sincere and plausible to me, she sounds self-serving and quite selective in what she is disclosing on certain key points.

Creative nonfiction authors often face a challenge in getting sources to divulge information. To get cooperation, they sometimes resort to misrepresenting their intention or agenda in order to gain or keep access and cooperation. Whether that happened here, I can't say, but the outcome suggests there was a realization by the new MP that her project was not playing out as originally advertised.

Dave, Forgive me if I missed it, but you don't seem to address that by her side of the story, she was operating under an agreement for 14 months into the shoot, and our new guy changed the rules and made things more difficult. That couldn't have helped us. It certainly isn't the how to win friends and influence people approach(BTY, that Carnegie book, although dated, should be a must read for missionaries after they know their discussions. I had an employer that made us read it before my mission, and the principles made for a very effective mission.). In any event, to tell the story, anyone would have to present both sides and it seems she did, just not the way she originally planned.

The interesting thing for me from the PBS web items on this movie is the encounter of this director with something so far outside her frame of how the world is and ought to be. It's a reminder of how foreign and wrong we are for many people. It fleshes out the teaching that "whoso receiveth not my voice is not acquainted with my voice, and is not of me," and that "the whole world groaneth under sin and darkness even now."

Steve, you quote from Nancy's comments the following passage:

I would like viewers to get a sense of what the 60,000 young people who are knocking on doors and approaching people in public transportation and pedestrian zones and saying the same thing in lots of different languages all over the world are about..............I made a film about young people who went through this experience and came to different conclusions.

In other words, she made a film to show that missionaries, after spending a forced two years doing their "rite of passage" come to "different conclusions" after having done it, in other words, come to the conclusion that the Church is a big bad institution and the doctrines unsound, and the missionary work awkward and manipulative. This was not an objective effort. Where are the representatives of the majority of RMs who loved their missions and the people they served there? Why are there no interviews with active and enthusiastic returned missionaries who carry the same fire with them out of the mission that they carried with them into and during the mission. Darren might not believe that such exists, or he might believe that such, if they exist, would never say something bad about the church or their missions. If this is true, which I think is uncharitable to the intellectual honesty of the majority of returned missionaries, then the fact of it is beside the point, unless you are admitting that the point of the film is indeed to portray an unbalanced view leaning only to those who will say negative things about the Church. Thus, if it is true that Nancy would have been hard pressed to find a returned missionary who would say bad things about the effects of their mission or the insights about the Church that they learned on their missions, then that is also part of the story that Nancy should have expressed, and expressed very clearly: that the majority of RMs do not have these bad things to say about the Church and their mission. Instead, because of the absence of that side of the story, this film is by definition unbalanced and biased, and is driven by a conscious agenda.

Dave, I might have a video tape of it laying around somewhere since my father-in-law wanted it taped so he could see it.

You guys could be right about her malintentions but, to me, she seems sincere. If we wanted a puff piece, the church could have produced our own film, but who outside the church would be interested in such a thing? At the end of the day these things have to entertain. It seems we had the opportunity to provide entertaining aspects to her film that occur in everyone’s mission, but we didn’t, and she filled in the gaps. That’s my take on it until I see the thing.

[edited]

I’d also show what a neat guy the second pres could be with his colorful language, his tossing stupid rules that didn’t make sense, and I’d convey that those missionaries that relaxed, loved the people, lost themselves in the work and taught the simple basics of faith in Jesus, repentance, baptism and the gift of the HG all bettered the people they served and themselves.

Why edit my PG, maybe PG-13, remarks regarding the more raw but true and common aspects of missionary life? Now if it were a film showing the result of the most evil missionary on the planet throwing the hedge hog out the window of our 8th floor apartment, that would probably put us in R territory, but I didn't do that. Was it the anti-English ethnic slur? The disrespect to the pompous mission pres and his wife?

Quoting my comment policies: If your comment was edited or deleted and after reading these policies you still can't figure out why, email me and I'll explain.

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