For my #4, I thought I’d redo a fairly recent post of mine. I think it relates to John H.’s recent post about doubt and faith. It’s my own take on some of the seeming inconsistencies in the Church, or at least in my testimony:
Lately some Jehovah’s Witnesses seem to have me pegged as a potential investigator (or whatever they call ‘em). I must say, these Witnesses are very dynamic and interesting to talk to. I think the Elders in my ward could learn a few things from them. But I digress. . .
We haven’t been able to catch each other when there’s been time for a discussion, but I’m not opposed to the idea. Although the JW’s vs. Mormons confrontation seems potentially uncomfortable for many, in my case I think I could actually enjoy it. I mean, I obviously won’t be converted, but it all seems interesting.
Then it hits me. I ‘obviously’ won’t be converted? Why is it so ‘obvious’? Well, because honestly, I won’t give it a real chance. Suddenly it seems a little condesceding to think that way. When I was a missionary, I went around asking people just to try, just to ask God if these things were true, and I promised them he’d tell them they were. In fact, I use that same process regularly even now. But I have no intention of employing it with the message they will share with me.
Intellectually, I have no problem conceiving that the Lord might tell me that I should no longer be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I highly, highly doubt this would ever happen, but as a hypothetical scenario I believe the possibility exists for the right decision for me to be to leave the Church.
Not only that, but in some respects I even consider myself somewhat disgruntled. I disagree with some of the policies of the Church and its members, and I find many aspects of the culture stifling.
So why do I even stay? Because of testimony, I guess. But that’s an interesting one because my testimony of what it means to belong to the "true Church" has changed drastically over the years. It was once something close to "everyone I trust says it’s true, and I think I feel pretty okay about that." I knew nothing in those days about how the Spirit works compared to now! Looking back, I can tell that aspects of my testimony on my mission were not altogether unlike the testimonies of those at Rameumptom (no, silly, not those): I’m so glad I’m one of the few who knows the truth, everyone else is going to hell, I’m their only chance, the world is so much more wicked now than ever, etc. I think it’s human nature to some degree to have an us against the world attitude about groups we’re part of, but I think this "only true Church" bit kind of encourages that.
These days, my testimony of what it means to be in the "true Church" isn’t as neat and simple. For example, I’ve learned as much about listening to the Spirit and about the kind of person I want to be from sources outside the Church as from those in it. Maybe more. Maybe what keep me here are largely the Fiddler on the Roof style tradition/identity issues, to tell the truth. Basically it comes down to the fact that our people have made covenants with the Lord through the proper authority. Many of those symbols are largely arbitrary (I don’t care what people say about the Word of Wisdom — it’s as arbitrary as the sleeve-lengths of our garments), and sometimes frustratingly so, but the point is that it’s how we’ve bound ourselves to the Lord. In other words, it’s who I am.
But that brings me back to my original thought: if everyone the missionaries taught thought like I did, nobody would be willing to put Moroni’s promise into effect. That seems contradictory and even somewhat hypocritical to me.
Anyway, my testimony has become slightly less Moroni, and a little more Tevye. I’m not sure why I’ve just written this thing, but feel free to begin the psychoanalysis.
Some comment highlights:
Steve: Thanks Logan. A great post.
On my mission I found myself wondering what I’d do if I answered the door to the missionaries. I came to the conclusion that I’d never listen to them. It was a slap in the face, that totally changed my perspective on missionary work (and on converts to the church, who are the bravest of the brave, IMHO).
Logan: I’ve mostly come to these conclusions since my mission, although my mission laid the groundwork. Sometimes I’d like to go back and give it a try knowing what I know now. But on the other hand, I don’t think I could give up the sex, so it’s just as well.
But I’m interested, Steve, how did your missionary work change as a result of your perspective change?
Steve: First off, I immediately stopped tracting. I realized that it was a complete waste of time, for the most part (at least, I felt like it was). I started to have more respect for investigators, and began looking for alternative ways to share the gospel & build up the kingdom. More service, more reaching out to the community. It was a scary experience.
Sometimes I wonder if all this means is that I got scared of tracting, and that I shouldn’t have given it up.
Logan: Well Steve, I can understand why you’d wonder if you just get scared of tracting. In my mission, at least, our stewardship reporting was heavily designed to encourage tracting, and thus so was the underlying measurement of how good a missionary one was. It would have been hard to buck that ethos. Tracting was always the easy, safe choice of what to do — you got better numbers and you could tell everyone at district meeting how hard you worked and how many blessings you’d receive for your 12 hours of tracting without getting in the door. If you weren’t baptizing many, at least you got the respect of your comrades.
Not that I meant to turn this into a critique of missionary methods or anything, but I’ve thought about this a lot, actually, having just been ward mission leader and frustrated with some of the culture and dynamics that go on between missionaries and the mission president.
Bob: About tracting… I never really "gave it up". But I did switch strategies toward the end of my mission from "We are missionaries of…with a message to share" to "We represent a Church, which is interested in helping the community. We teach English classes and computer classes; and now we’re interested in knowing what else we can do to help those in this community. Can we come in and discuss some possibilities?"
I’d say that on average I probably "got in" more than twice as much as before.
Kaimi: Great post. I think a big problem with the baptism / retention / temple / whatever tracking is that it has to assume an end point. And in real life, there is no end point.
We can say "5 baptisms — great!" But then the question: will they stay active? We can say "perfect retention through October!" But then the question: what about November?
There’s no end in the process. We like to count numbers, think we’ve reached a finish line, but there’s no finish line. Even death and exaltation (or damnation, as the case may be) is unlikely to give us a finish line, as far as I can tell. So our attempts to put a number, a success ratio, on missionary work, are bound to be woefully under-illustative. (Is that a word?)
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