We were sitting at McDonalds in Sunnybank, Australia, relaxed. Laughing with each other. Enjoying our time. And then they told us they wanted to go see a movie. We told them we couldn’t, and we needed to get back to work. Leslie looked up at me and said, innocently,
“I always forget you aren’t real people.”
Twenty minutes later, we were sitting at the bus stop, and something in me knew she was right. Real people actually get on the bus. Real people don’t sit at the bus stop for hours collecting the phone numbers of strangers who might be interested in their church. Real people can care about people because they’re people, and not potential baptisms.
That night, when the day finally ended and my companion and I were back at the flat getting ready for bed, I felt for the first time like missionaries were counterfeits. I saw an incredible irony: our entire mission was supposedly to love people, but the very parameters of our mission experience inhibited us from doing just that—
Like they had when we stopped meeting with Andrea. She had become a good friend of ours. We cared about her. She cared about us. And we had to stop contacting her because she decided she didn’t believe the Book of Mormon was true. She didn’t want to go to church anymore. And when we stopped hanging out with her I realized that instead of loved, she must have felt used.
It was easy to forget—we weren’t real people.
Counterfeits aren’t just fakes. They’re fakes that are trying to pass as real. They’re fakes that are carefully designed to be nearly indistinguishable from the real thing. There’s an element of deception in a counterfeit. Maybe that’s why it stung so deeply this last weekend when L Tom Perry inferred that LGBT relationships are a “counterfeit lifestyle.” Maybe that’s why I had so much internal conflict when I felt that night on my mission that missionaries were counterfeit. I didn’t want to deceive people—and I wasn’t ever purposely doing that. But when you offer friendship to someone, and then take it away when they don’t live up to your expectations, you’re deceiving them.
Offering love only to take it away when someone doesn’t meet your expectations is to lie.
Offering acceptance with the hidden agenda of getting someone to behave a certain way is to deceive.
It really is that simple.
Something else interesting happened at this conference weekend. People were in uproar that anyone would dare decent when President Uchtdorf asked if “any were opposed” to the sustaining of the General Authorities. It was shocking. And that is fascinating.
It is shocking to answer a question honestly. Honesty is only shocking where deception and self-censorship are the norm.
And I think that among the greatest deceptions is to say that someone else is a counterfeit. Because we are deceiving ourselves into believing that we know something more than it is possible for ourselves to know: the content of another person’s heart; the intent of their soul.
I’m not calling missionaries counterfeit people. Missions are far too complicated to call any one thing. And I don't think that all the relationships I made as a missionary were counterfeit. But I am confessions something: I spent parts of my mission as a counterfeit. In fact, I spent 22 years as a counterfeit: deceiving others and myself into believing that I was something I wasn’t.
Honesty was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. Because when I finally was willing to honestly raise my hand in opposition to doctrines I find inhumane, people were shocked.
Because honesty is shocking where deception is the norm.