Get it on, Falun Gong

One of the drawbacks of living in the BEST CITY ON EARTH is that you have to put up with a great deal of foot traffic.  As someone who works in Times Square, it can be frustrating to wade through the hordes of tourists gawking at the billboards.  Well, it’s recently gotten even worse, thanks to the pamphleteer armies of Falun Gong (a/k/a Falun Dafa, or Wheel of Law).

Time Out magazine wrote, "If it seems like you’re practically tripping over peaceful, yellow-shirted
demonstrators, that’s because Falun Gong (or Falun Dafa) practitioners have
descended on New York en masse in the past month."  Yeah, no kidding.  Several days over the last few months the subways have been jammed with Falun Gong-ers; I once received a pamphlet at 103rd Street (!) and again in Times Square during a single trip.  It seems like they had thousands of people working for them.

Their demonstrations, while peaceful, graphically depict violence allegedly perpetrated against Falun Gong practitioners in China.  See here for an example.  Even more effective than these shocking scenes is the sheer scale of the assault on NYC.  As a result of these efforts, the group has gotten tremendous media attention, and it seems that their strategy of raising awareness is working.  Heck, the fact that we’re blogging about them speaks volumes!

After initial irritation at the inconvenience these protesters present, I was struck by their zeal and their devotion to the cause.  Every day, hundreds of regular people don yellow T-shirts, put on torture makeup and hit the streets — and are met with (some) success.  Most people ignore them; some scorn; but some stop and listen.  I can’t help but feel a little jealous of how relentlessly energetic the Falun Gong are in their missionary work, compared to our own religion.  We don’t come close in our efforts and energy to these younger, more marginal faiths like Falun Gong or even the Scientologists (who have recently begun their own Times Square onslaught — beware of the "Free Stress Tests").  Pound-for-pound, we can’t compete in our missionary efforts, fancy new manuals notwithstanding.

It wasn’t always this way: missionaries in the early days of the Church cut broad swathes through Europe like scythes harvesting ripe fields.  Fervor and zeal were the watchwords of the early saints.   Fearless heroes like Dan Jones went forth and baptized thousands, never ceasing their efforts.  Today, mormons have essentially outsourced all recruiting efforts to a small
corps of full-time missionaries.  While nominally every member is a
missionary, we’re weak-willed and largely apathetic as a body.  As ward mission leader, I found out the last time someone had been baptized in my ward from a member referral — it had been years, and no one seemed to notice.  What happened to us?  Is this shift in missionary work a bad thing?

Personally, I’m envious of these new faiths.  The Dan Joneses of today’s world are with the Falun Gong.

Comments

  1. Davis Bell says:

    If this is indeed the BEST CITY ON EARTH, I want a new earth.

  2. Man, once you emerge from your cocoon of Morningside Heights, you may begin to see what I mean. Did you get a lot of F-G up there?

  3. I know the activists for Falun Gong are out in droves in different parts of the world trying to draw attention to the systematic onslaught in China. I haven’t seen any personally so I don’t know if they are preaching Falun Gong as much as they seem to be drawing attention to thier persecution.

    This would be more like our missionaries going abroad and not preaching but showing people the extermination act and other ways we have been persecuted in our own country. I’m not sure which would be more effective.

    As for our own missionary efforts. I think the reason there are less member referals is because we are asking a large part of the LDS population to step out of thier comfort zones. I for one was baptized after I was no longer able to serve a mission. I suspect many of the converts out there were in similar situations. Without that background or those experiences the comfort of breaching religion among friends is pretty low with most Americans.

    The up side is that these referals are often more enduring. The church can only control its missionary efforts with the full time missionaries. Granted, its still voluntary, but the member missionary work is far less organized, and in places where pocits of LDS are heavily populated the chances of members having friends or family out of thier immediate comfort zones is more challenging.

  4. Charles, you’re right of course that the Falun Gong aren’t really trying to win over new converts so much as raise awareness of abuses. So I am talking about apples and oranges to a certain extent. At the same time, zeal is zeal, and I’m envious that these people are willing to publicly show their devotion to their cause in ways that mormons now disdain (even the thought of street meetings is very unappealing to me).

  5. john fowles says:

    How interesting. I know something of the abuses the Falun Gong faces and some of the things they have done to try to redress them. The Chinese government claims they are an “evil cult” and arrests and tortures adherents pretty regularly. I wrote a law review article that touched on one of their strategies to combat this persecution–civil lawsuits under the Alien Tort Claims Act–that in some senses has backfired on them in a scary way. Check out pages 1149-1152 of this article for the bit on FG and its ATCA suits.

  6. Does anybody know whether early church missionary work used persecution of the saints as a tool? Just curious to see if we ever used these tactics.

  7. Davis Bell says:

    No, no F-G up my way, at least that I’ve seen. Just drug addicts.

  8. I think that there is a fairly simple explanation for the difference between the zeal manifested by groups such as Falun Gong and oru own zeal for our own missionary work. What they are doing is effective. Their goal is to raise awareness about their plight, and they are succeeding. Most of our missionary efforts do not work. You can encourage all the split offs, and pass along cards and dvd’s and invitations to hear the discussions you want. But when people don’t believe those efforts will be effective in achieving their goal, then they won’t do them. The vast majority of our friends simply do not and will not respond positively to our efforts. Many will respond negatively. I think it is that simple.

  9. Along the same lines as what Gary just said. With the F-G efforts it takes little effort to raise awareness to hundreds if not thousands of people. Our missionary efforts are centered around personal conversion which can really only be effectively achieved in a small group setting, say one on one.

    Another thing is that we are not as high profile. We don’t have stands showing abuse, or the plan of salvation for that matter. We are not putting on makeup or doning bright yellow t-shirts. Simply put, the church is not very high profile in the everyday world.

    I think the church would benefit from a resurgance of PSA spots, not only on family values but also including public community values. Those can be tied into family values as our local communities are an extension of our own family. Reaching out beyond the insider’s club and even offering talks or workshops in local communities.

    When more people are aware of the local interest the church has I think that would go a long way to gaining people’s interest.

  10. Steve,

    Yes, I’m sure that Conan’s friend, Triumph the insult dog, would agree with you that NYC is a very fine city. :-D

    As far as missionary work goes, I guess I’m not as concerned as you seem to be. I think there is a natural ebb and flow to these things, and now we appear to be at low tide.

    The next two big developments I see on the missionary work horizon are:
    1. When the people who served missions as young men and women in the 70s and 80s retire and serve as couples.
    2. When members finally figure out how to be friends with people who are different, and accept them.

  11. I’m surprised no one has mentioned the title — I was hoping someone would bring up T Rex and accuse me of being built like a car.

  12. I think one big reason for the lack of zeal is because there is a lack of zeal. I mean, judging from myself, members I talk to, and comments I read here, it’s hard enough to keep the gospel strait in our own heads; let alone try to convince other people that modern-day Mormonism is a their best option. Given the challenges and sacrifices associated with being a member of this church, well, honestly I don’t know if it’s something we wish on our close friends. I’m not saying this just to sound negative, just trying to put my finger on why many of us seem so apathetic and indifferent to missionary work.

    To look at it another way, even though it’s one of the prongs of the 3-fold-mission of the church, I don’t know that missionary work is something we truly have a testimony of, except in principle. A zealous missionary program is something that works for a religion trying to build Zion or prepare for the Millenial Reign…but for a church who’s main motto seems to be “Carry on…and on, and on, and on…,” a zealous missionary program doesn’t work. The current lifestyle promoted by the church doesn’t jive with dramatic conversion. I mean who needs a spiritual revelation to ‘know’ that families are good and the Golden Rule is good for society.

    Again, this isn’t meant to be negative. It’s hard to look at yourself objectively; but I think it’s a good starting point for truly progressing. Maybe the missionary program is really kept around as a way to distinguish ourselves from the world. It gives us a way to test our loyalty to the Church. But, of course, when something is a test, usually a bare minimum effort to pass is all that people put forward. So, that explains the lack of zeal….

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