We’ve all seen the recent, almost wild eruption of missionary applications that resulted from the change in missionary age. This; combined with the 2013 Doctrine and Covenants (D&C) curriculum makes no surprise that the opening 2013 Visiting Teaching message is of missionary content, includes a quote by the (presumably) female-favourite Dieter Uchtdorf and uses only the D&C in the scripture section. Not a subtle introduction to the year.
I daresay most of us have already heard stories of women between the ages of 19 and 21 who are now engaged in the missionary application process. The thing is, unless we are visiting teaching someone in the age bracket who is eager to serve a mission, this really just feels like a predictable snoozy message.
So- how do we liven it up? Well, how about this quote that I have seen on a few facebook status updates:
“Today many sisters are being called to serve. Many more are preparing to serve. Not because they aren’t married of don’t have anything else to do, but they have the desire to serve. One reason that the Lord wants more sisters to serve is because within the next generation He will send His priesthood army to the earth. He wants to send choice spirit children to mothers who have been prepared, properly trained, and taught in the gospel. What better schooling can a mother have than the experience and growth she gains through serving a mission.”
The quote is attributed to Gordon B. Hinckley, usually with a vague descriptive that it was “from a mission conference in (insert city here).” Here’s the thing: the quote cannot be found in the Conference Citations Index, nor can it be found on lds.org. It can be easily proven that Hinckley believed the opposite; to be true, Hinckley openly stated that women should marry rather than serve as missionaries. So, besides the hugely problematic overall content (one could easily rip the whole quote apart doctrinally as easily as one could rip it apart as matter of historiography), quite frankly, it simply does not appear to be true. In the words of a dear academic friend whom I asked to look for the source (“just in case”) at the Church History Library, “I call bunk. Baloney. Trash. Made-up nonsense.”
“If men (and women) are really humble, they will realize that they discover, but do not create, truth.”
– Spencer W. Kimball, “Absolute Truth“, First Presidency Message, September 1978
Let me be clear. I do not believe “the church is true.” As a matter of ideology or otherwise, my concept of truth will never allow me to accept the church as completely true. I believe the church is a vehicle of, and for truth. I believe in the power of proper priesthood keys as restored to Joseph Smith. I believe the Book of Mormon is an account of real people.
I also believe there is a lot of Mormon folklore that-like the fake quote above, is false. I also believe that some Mormon history, especially polygamy and the overall patriarchal structure of modern Christian church administration, is abusive. So- how can I be a missionary when I have such an inner conflict that is a part of my Mormonism?
Well, I think the answer lies in telling the truth.
“If you do not tell the truth about yourself you cannot tell it about other people.” ― Virginia Woolf
I suggest the same of missinary work: if you cannot tell the truth about the gospel, the spirit will not bear truth of what you are saying.
I recall when I learned of a child who was told at the age of 16 that she was really adopted. Her adoptive parents had lied to her until that point, and because legal provisions came to term wherein the natural mother would have the right to contact the child, the truth was revealed. The daughter rebelled, and had a massive falling out with her adoptive parents. What else had they lied to her about? How could they lie to her about something so important? The situation is still an unresolved, painful, emotional mess.
I believe the same happens when we are untruthful about the church, when we try to cover unsavoury parts of church history or when we don’t own our personal challenges with certain aspects of piety. Whether well-meaning or not, mistruths will never convert someone to the gospel of Jesus Christ; the reason should be obvious: dishonesty is not of Christ.
So… my truth and my message of missionary conversion is this: I have huge issues. Some of my issues are in regard to doctrine; some of my issues are in regard to certain prophets, general authorities and their corresponding speeches. But this list of issues is a powerful part of my testimony because when I own what disturbs/angers/frightens me about this religion, I am strengthened in my personal resolve to seek truth, to seek Christ and seek my personal relationship with Christ. When I own that my message of missionary work is one of truth and bound in a personal relationship with Christ, then I cannot fail. Because it is truth. Real truth.
From the message:
“The Lord … entrusts a testimony of the truth to those who will share it with others,” said President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency. “Even more, the Lord expects the members of His Church to ‘open [their mouths] at all times, declaring [His] gospel with the sound of rejoicing’ … Sometimes a single phrase of testimony can set events in motion that affect someone’s life for eternity.”
But that every man (and woman) might speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world (Doctrine and Covenants 1:20)
So, rather than giving you a stock message aimed at increasing missionary support, I envision this message as a call for truth. It is not a call for missionary tales of intended perfection, nor is it a call of conversion to administrative structure, policy or folklore. It is a call for personal truth, for owning what works and does not, and for encouraging each other to seek spiritual empowerment… because we each have a unique testimony of candour, honesty… and truth.
“Truth burns up error.” – Sojourner Truth
How can being honest about our personal church issues and challenges be a better tool for truth, and therefore, missionary and personal conversion?
What is a personal truth to you, and to the women you visit teach that might not be typical?