Burning Bosom

Theology, History, Culture, Politics & Life from a LDS (Mormon) Perspective

“The church must be true, or the missionaries would have ruined it by now.”

Posted by Kerry on March 11, 2008

Have you ever heard that statement? It’s kind of funny, and in some cases, probably true. I have to admit I did some pretty stupid stuff as a missionary. Good thing we didn’t have Facebook or MySpace back then. 🙂

LDS Church issues apology in missionary vandalism case

LDS Church apologizes for ‘senseless’ vandalism of Catholic church, shrine

“Olsen said the LDS Church has initiated a “thorough investigation” of the incident and has arranged for a meeting with Catholic leaders to offer apologies.

‘We are providing the names of those involved to law enforcement officials and will continue to cooperate fully with those investigating the incident as well as with officials of the Roman Catholic Church. Those missionaries who have since returned home will face disciplinary action from the church,’ the statement read. ‘The missionary who was still serving in Colorado has also been disciplined and his mission terminated.’ “

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20 Responses to ““The church must be true, or the missionaries would have ruined it by now.””

  1. Shawn L said

    This is a very interesting story. I see a few issues tangled up here. I think we can all agree that physical destruction/desecration of property is taboo and should be punished by the Mission President. Should that be grounds for formal “church disciplinary action” beyond being shipped home early, as mentioned in the article? Since there was a crime committed, I think I’m OK with that idea.

    But what about taking disrespectful photos? Certainly this was in very poor taste, but thinking about what’s in my own mission photo album, I can think of a shot or two that could be seen as tastless. But is that enough to merit discipline? I’m not so sure about that. I can get beind sending them home, but I don’t the sin merits harsher punishment. What ought to result is a stern message (or, even better, some training) from Mission Presidents everywhere to their missionaries that they are to treat other religions and their holy places as sacred, no exceptions allowed.

  2. hawkgrrrl said

    I find this story pretty disturbing, and as a parent, very sad. My concern is that this may be treated as just a PR exercise (which it also is), but that the deeper lesson needs to be sending missionaries out there with a genuine respect for other faiths–not in competition with other faiths or dismissing them as inferior.

    It’s easy to see how 19 year old boys armed with little life experience would be largely ignorant of others’ faiths, even as they try to “bring them the truth.” Understanding other faiths was not at all emphasized when I was at the MTC, but there is a lot to learn within that short time. Perhaps a few well-timed talks, some additional rules in the mission rule book, and some information in the missionary study information would be helpful.

  3. Personally, I think the present system should be scrapped and D&C 4 fully enacted, be they of what age they may be. The whole “all young men aged 19 who are worthy to serve a mission are expected to serve a mission” doctrine creates a system of pressure that produces poor missionaries and loads of guilt for those who don’t or can’t serve. Before I went on my mission, I remember being told by an older LDS co-worker that there were more 19-year old boys in the mission field than elders. I took it as merely his opinion until I got in the field myself and saw it with my own two eyes. The reasons for being in the mission field ranged from getting a promised car, to girlfriends who would only marry an RM, to college, etc. I was dumbfounded at how many missionaries were there for reasons other than desire to spread the gospel. There was no doubt, too, that the age of the missionaries was far too young. I spent a good portion of my mission “babysitting” for the mission president a “bad-boy” missionary who had girlfriends, pierced his ears and ran off with other missionaries to other countries (outside of the mission boundaries, of course.) As I look back over those years, I can see that it wasn’t just that these were bad apples, but that the whole system was skewed and produced such behavior. Even the “raising of the bar” nonsense contributes to this behavior. At any rate, I don’t think the current system will last very long. I truly believe the church will be undergoing a complete overhaul in the near future, including in its missionary department, rules and policies.

  4. Fifthgen said

    An interesting aspect of this story is how behavior that was always unwise and insensitive in the pre-internet age is now highly damaging to the Church, and therefore much more problematic. Unfortunately, I think many, many missionaries have engaged in conduct similar to that represented in these photographs. Of course it was always wrong. But a simple google search shows you that what these boneheads did (especially posting the photos on the web!!!) has created a PR disaster for the Church and set missionary work back. Maybe in the age of YouTube, missionaries need a different kind of training about cultural sensitivity and general deportment. Scary Thought: Someone dcides to follow Mormon Missionaries around and video tape, then post video on the web. Granted, there would be a lot of good behavior, but think of what might show up!

    And, LDS Anarchist, I find your comments intriguing. What is your basis for your belief that the church will be undergoing a complete overhaul in the near future? And what will the overhaul look like?

  5. Andrew said

    I thank the Lord that nobody had a video camera to record some of the stupider things I did as a missionary, such as:

    Turning my windshield fluid squirters outward so I could squirt motorcyclists, one of whom had testy words with me but unexpectedly backed down when I asked him whether he wanted us to pull over. Thankfully it was p-day and no proselyting attire was involved (maybe it was those three big Indians sitting on our back seat that scared him off!)

    Then there was the Vanilla Ice wanna-be who I squirted in the face at a stop light who then repeatedly threatened to kill me and kept swerving in front of our car and throwing unknown foreign objects at us (again, p-day, no pros).

    And then there was the time we chased bike-bound elders in our car along the dusty dirt roads that ran along drainage ditches while my companion leaned out the window and unloaded two dozen farm-fresh eggs on them (which we had just been given by a ward member).

    I could go on, but you get the picture. It’s not just the weak things of the earth that do missionary work. It’s the weak AND DUMB things of the earth.

  6. Shawn L said

    Hawkgrrl — what leads you to the conclusion that this is nothing more than “PR exercise”? I agree that more is needed in the way of education, but concluding that the solution being meted out to the current problem seems unnecessarily skeptical. Is there something I’m missing?

  7. Shawn L said

    LDSA — what are you imaging the missionary program will look like after an “overhaul”? Quite frankly, I don’t see the need. Groups of LDS missionaries are just like any other group of young men and women — they’re going to make stupid decisions sometimes. No matter how well organized the program, that fact will never change, period. Similarly, no matter how high the proverbial bar is raised, there will always be missionaries who go out for the wrong reasons. I have had differing experiences, which lead me to the conclusion that things have been improving over the past few years, this incident notwithstanding.

  8. hawkgrrrl said

    Shawn L – I don’t conclude it’s a PR exercise, I just hope it will truly go as deep as needed to help missionaries develop genuine respect for other religions. Many years ago when I served my mission, there was no mention of other religions in any of the instruction we received in the MTC. Missionaries brought with them whatever knowledge & experience they had, which was very limited in some cases. Missionaries receive many messages about how special their role is in doing the Lord’s work. So it seems logical that some 19-year old boys with little life experience, no awareness of other religions, and armed with a newly inflated sense of their purpose would view other religions with dismissiveness at best, contempt at worst.

    If a PR solution is applied, the focus would be on adding rules to prevent missionaries from getting into situations that would create negative press. If respect for other religions is desired, there will be much more open dialogue and ongoing reinforcement of those respectful messages. My hope is that the approach encompasses both. I would go so far as to say that a missionary should feel uncomfortable if an investigator is bashing the religion they are leaving to join ours. There is no need to tear down other faiths in embracing the truth.

  9. Kerry said

    Andrew, I was laughing out loud reading your comment. Thanks for some good comedy.

    LDS Anarchist, I have to say that I agree with Shawn. My experience was that the bad apples were the exception and not the rule. In any organization with 50,000 plus members, there will be some bad apples, especially an organization made up of 20 year old guys. However, I believe that the net impact for good far outweighs some of this baggage that we deal with.

    By the way, LDS Anarchist, you are becoming a fairly regular commenter. Thank you for frequenting our blog, and I hope you keep coming back and expressing your ideas.

  10. Shawn L said

    #8 — sorry to put words in your mouth. I agree with you that we need to do a better job teaching our elders to have healthy respect for other faiths. Looking back, I never heard any such message either in the MTC or from my mission leadership. They did not denigrate other religions, but they never proactively endorsed an ecumenical approach to the work.

  11. Fifthgen (#4), in the Doctrine and Covenants there are prophecies to the effect that the church will be cleansed (by the Lord). The judgments pronounced upon the world are first to come upon the church, then after the church has been cleaned, the judgments will go to the world and it will be cleaned. It’s the whole wheat and tares prophecy, which refers to the church and not the world. We are living in the time when the tares in the church are being allowed (by the Lord) to grow up among the wheat in the church. Then comes the time when He cleans house. I’d go into more detail, but this is a topic worthy of its own post, which I’ll probably do on my own blog. Thanks for the topical suggestion.

    Shawn L (#7), you stated, “No matter how well organized the program, that fact will never change, period.” Your statement highlights what I view as the core problem: organized programs. We need to get away from organized programs and into reliance upon the Spirit, which is much more dynamic than following a simple program. I am an anarchist so I have no problem with simply allowing people the freedom and responsibility to take the Spirit for their guide and be directed by it in missionary work, although that thought probably scares most people. Doing so makes for a more dynamic missionary force, that can truly baptize thousands of converts. I foresee ordered anarchy in our church future, including in missionary work. Top-down order is counter-productive. It is effective up to a point. To pass that point, we need prophets in our midsts, not just missionaries. Right now, all LDS look to 15 men as prophets and everyone else is a non-prophet. That isn’t the will of the Lord. It’s like Moses said, “Would to God that all men were prophets.” The current ordered system is still too much a “command in all things” program, despite the recent change in missionary discussions. The Lord is affording us a time to make the appropriate changes ourselves, painlessly, instead of the house-cleaning He has in store. But the Spirit whispers to me that our time is nearly up.

    Kerry (#9), I agree with you that bad apples are the exception. Most of the missionaries I met on my mission, as well as before and afterward, were really good people. Some baptized more, some baptized less. Some went into the field angry and confused and came out penitent and converted to the Lord. My first MTC companion was such an individual that did a complete 180 in his time. But my experience as far as missionary work and effectiveness was that there were very few missionary prophets among us, meaning that the spirit of prophecy and revelation was had by the elders (and sisters) sporadically and in lower manifestations. I found only one prophet missionary and had heard of another missionary in my mission who was purported to be a prophet, but never had the chance of meeting him. The one prophet missionary I met was the District president who went on a two week mission at the request of the mission president. Also, I was not surprised when investigators rejected my testimony, but was blown away when I found that many of my own companions also rejected it. Revelation and prophecy were virtually unknown among those I worked with. My estimation was that it wasn’t necessary to have the spirit of prophecy and revelation in order to complete an honorable mission. Simply following the rules and working hard was enough to get one through it. This organized program produced average missionaries, with average number of baptisms, and very few gifts of the Spirit were manifested. When we finally break away from having to be told what to do in all things, we will have to rely fully upon the Spirit in order to survive, and that is when convert baptisms will explode.

  12. Fifthgen (#4), I took a look at my blog and discovered that I had already posted some of these scriptures in Scriptural Discussion #6: Tribulation Upon Church, back in October of 2007. Add the parable of the wheat and tares found in the New Testament (Matthew 13) and the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C 86) to complete the picture. Many people look at the tares as being sown by the devil outside of the church, but the parable/prophecy indicates that the tares were sown among the wheat, meaning among the church. We get a double fulfillment of the prophecy, then, of the primitive church (containing tares) and the restored church (also containing tares.) At some point the wheat will be gathered out from among the tares and the church will be cleansed. You may also look at D&C 64: 37-40, which also pertains to the same house cleaning prophecies.

  13. Shawn L said

    “We need to get away from organized programs and into reliance upon the Spirit . . . .”

    I agree with you that we, both collectively as a Church and individual members/missionaries, need to be more in touch with the Spirit. But, logistically speaking, how can the Church run a worldwide missionary program without centralized authority? If we turn these young men and women loose with their only instruction being, “let the Spirit guide you” or “look for and follow the prophets in your midst,” aren’t we setting ourselves up for even more incidents such as those at issue? What if missionary is led to believe that the Spirit has instructed him to reinstitute the “true order of marriage”? What if elders teach that the time has come for us all to move back to Independence, MO? That would be a disaster.

  14. Shawn L (#13), I am not saying we should remove central authority. The keys of the priesthood are there to direct the work, to make the appointments/calls and to regulate the church. Any person in the church who has a calling to teach can teach anything they want to teach, with subsequent regulation by those same keys, whether they are held by a bishop, stake president or mission president. The danger of missionaries teaching incorrect or false doctrine is as great or as little as any teacher in any calling. If the keys are being used, the church will be regulated.

    The real danger is what we have now. For example, when I went on my mission, I met maybe one or two elders who actually had read the entire Standard Works. The elders didn’t have to read the entire volume of scriptures prior to their missions because they taught prepared lessons.

    Now these sons of Mosiah were with Alma at the time the angel first appeared unto him; therefore Alma did rejoice exceedingly to see his brethren; and what added more to his joy, they were still his brethren in the Lord; yea, and they had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth; for they were men of a sound understanding and they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God.

    The elders I was surrounded with, the vast majority of them, were men of unsound understanding. I include myself among that number. We were, for the most part, just 19-year old boys who were doing what we were told to do to the best of our ability. Immaturity was the rule, not the exception, at that age.

    But this is not all; they had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and when they taught, they taught with power and authority of God.

    What was sorely lacking, besides scriptural understanding, was the spirit of prophecy and revelation. Hardly anyone had it. Nor was it sought out, for it wasn’t needed. People listened to the discussions and then were asked to go pray about what we said. Some asked and received answers, others asked and received no answers. Those who felt the Spirit (and others who felt “good” in the presence of the missionaries) got baptized. When the missionaries moved away, most went inactive while a few did not.

    The scriptures in Alma 4: 20; 5: 56; 6: 8; 8: 24; 17: 3; 23: 6; and 43: 2 show that the word of God is supposed to be preached according to the spirit of prophecy and revelation. Currently, we are sending inexperienced young adults, who have not learned the doctrine for themselves, having never read the entire Standard Works, many of which go for reasons other than strictly serving God, who may or may not have a testimony of the gospel, many of which do not possess the spirit of prophecy and revelation, out to the mission field. We put pressure on them to go, a stigma on them if they don’t go or are not worthy to go, and give them only a worthiness test and a bare minimum of scriptural understanding (having them read the Book of Mormon.)

    Alma said, “For because of the word which he has imparted unto me, behold, many have been born of God, and have tasted as I have tasted, and have seen eye to eye as I have seen; therefore they do know of these things of which I have spoken, as I do know; and the knowledge which I have is of God.”

    There is a direct link between the preacher and the convert. What Alma was trying to say in the above verse is that his converts had the same type of spiritual manifestations that he had had, which is why they saw eye to eye as he had seen and tasted as he had tasted. Alma was a preacher possessed of the spirit of prophecy and revelation, who received revelations, prophecies, saw visions, angels and the like, therefore, those who heard his words and converted had similar experiences. This is the principle expounded upon in D&C 50. It is instructive that Alma’s converts didn’t have a high rate of inactivity, like we currently do.

    We need this caliber of missionary. Such a missionary can really baptize thousands. Under the current system, we can’t get to where we need to be and are destined to fail with both retention and baptisms. We can make the changes now ourselves, painlessly, or have the changes forced upon us later, but either way, the church is destined for major changes.

  15. Shawn L said

    Here’s the latest — A Colorado Catholic Bishop has asked all local Catholics to “be forgiving” towards the missionaries. A link to the story is below, but here’s the money quote:

    I ask that we as Catholics, who believe in the forgiveness of Christ, will ourselves forgive, and pray for the young men who showed such a lack of tolerance and understanding . . . . I especially ask the members of the San Luis community to help the healing process by removing any anger that exists in their hearts. This is the time that we can show our love of Christ by forgiving and loving our neighbors.”>

    Full story: http://www.chieftain.com/metro/1205992800/3

  16. Kerry said

    Wow, that’s an amazing quote. I am very impressed with that Catholic Bishop. Good for them.

  17. Shawn L said

    Kerry — I agree. It’s nice to finally hear a voice of reason and forgiveness in connection this ugly incident.

  18. Becky Rose said

    #11 LDS anarchrist- I’m trying to find the quote “would to God that all men were prophets”. Yours is only one that popped up on my Google search. I thought is was Joseph Smith. I’ve already searched the TPJS and could not find it. You’re saying it’s Moses. Can you provide me with a reference? Thank you.

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