Missionary works double sided

Published On:
Friday, February 26, 2010
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It is often said that missionaries act admirably, virtuously and altruistically when they dedicate months or years of their lives to the service of other people.

Unfortunately, I do not think that any of those titles can, or should, be applied universally to all missionaries and the work they do.

Missionaries seem to think they have a special relationship with a god, such that they feel as though it is their responsibility to dedicate part or all of their lives to helping people. I find the good work they do commendable, but I cannot avoid taking issue with the intent on which many of them act, as explicitly declared by many people and organizations that promote and engage in missionary work.

“We do missionary work in order to baptize and confirm,” said Dallin Oaks, an apostle in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, in a 1992 seminar.

According to the New Tribes Mission, another organization that encourages and participates in missionary work, “NTM exists to … evangelize unreached people groups, translate the scriptures, and see indigenous churches established that glorify God,” according to MinistryWatch.com.

The Mission Station, a different independent group, aims to promote Christian missions.

“We believe that spreading God’s Simple Plan of Salvation is the ‘soul’ purpose of Missions. We are here to support God’s servants in their ministry of winning souls to Jesus Christ,” according to Missionaries.org.

And the list goes on.

In other words, many missionaries are not doing good deeds for the sake of doing good deeds. They are not helping people for the sake of helping people. Rather, their specific intent is to spread the words of the holy book they subscribe to because it is what they think their god demands of them.

This realization makes the good things many missionaries do seem less convincing, less sincere and less worthy of praise.

Consider an example. Suppose two people work for a company. The first employee says she is going to volunteer because she just wants to help other people. The second employee says that he is going to volunteer because the boss asked him to help unemployed people by giving them a job. Because he wants to please the boss, he complies with the request and does not take into consideration whether the unemployed people he finds are even looking for work.

Many people would think higher of the first employee because her motives seem to be significantly more sincere than those of her counterpart.

In much the same way, the help missionaries provide seems to be degraded in a way due to the intent that’s behind it. While I commend the good deeds that missionaries do, their intentions, as they have proudly and openly stated them, make those deeds less praiseworthy than they otherwise would have been.

When people commit the fatal error of ignoring the intentions behind actions, it allows them to reach the sometimes unjustified conclusion that missionaries should be honored, admired or respected.

Reach Austin at acyost@asu.edu