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The Missionary Position

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Keith Moore
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Novelist and poet
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Served mission in eastern Canada, 1950-52

What was the most sanctimonious moment of your mission?
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Picture it: missionary conference, April 19, 1952, a Toronto rec hall, all the elders and lady missionaries occupying several hundred folding chairs. President J. Melvin Toone from Minidoka County, Idaho, his gussied wife Anna anent him on “the stand,” is giving the climactic sermon, or admonishment: “Oh, brothers and sisters, some of you are trying to give the impression you’re perfect out here in the mission field. Oh, elders and sisters! What do you mean doing this?” I look at Anna'hands clasped on her dusty-blue gussyish dress, eyes looking down, octagonal rimless glasses, seriously, portentously. The president goes on. “Shouldn’t you all be ashamed? Gossip. Backbiting. Jealousy.” Then he paused and got white-and-scary in the face and put on that ultra-authoritarian grimace and said, “Oh … brothers and sisters … masturbation in the mission field.” Two things followed: The deepest silence for 15 seconds I’ve ever heard. The most talked-about missionary conference of the era.

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