This post first appeared, in slightly modified form, at the now-defunct Sons of Mosiah blog on July 15, 2004.
There are sins you confess to God, and there are sins you confess to the Bishop. In the mission field, there are sins you confess to God, and sins you confess to the Mission President. Getting the repentence process right is important, so understanding the difference between the various types of sin is crucial. My first mission president – bless his heart – wanted to be as helpful as possible to the missionaries as we tried to comprehend the whole process….
“I KNOW YOUR SINS!!” proclaimed “President C” at a Zone Conference. His teaching went something like this… Whenever a missionary commited a sin on the mission, that missionary had a choice: He could either confess his sin to the Mission President, or not. But a missionary’s decision to confess had no actual impact on President C’s knowledge of the confession-worthy act. For President C would “know” our sins, whether or not we chose to confess them! This superhuman power apparently came with the “mission president” job description. (Picture a sin committed, then beamed up to a satellite, then beamed back down into President C’s head). Thus, at the end of our missions, when we were undergoing our final exit interviews, President C would know exactly what we had and had not confessed to him. But would he confront each of us with our unacknowledged wrongdoings in our interviews? Of course not. Rather, he would just keep the information to himself, sign our temple recommends regardless, release us honorably, and then let our sins be on our own heads!
Now that we all “knew” there was no fooling President C with respect to whatever indiscretions we were committing, our incentives to fess up to all sorts of bad acts had changed. Or at least that was the idea. This teaching apparently had various comical repercussions, particularly in light of what President C defined as “sins.” For example, according to President C, “wet dreams” were against the Law of Chastity. (“Los suenos mojados son pecados.”). Rumor has it that more than one early morning telephone call was made to mission headquarters by elders who had awoken to discover their “sinfulness” and who wanted to confess their iniquities. But I digress.
Keeping track of all the potential sinful temptations on the mission was difficult. That’s where the “White Bible” came in. It listed lots of “do’s” and “don’ts” for the missionaries, and it could always be consulted with profit. Some of the prohibited activities seemed so obviously inappropriate, it was a wonder anyone felt the need to write them down. Others seemed so off-the-wall or obscure, it was a wonder any elder was ever in a position to commit them. (“Don’t help facilitate adoption proceedings?” “Don’t pilot or travel in small airplanes?” Huh?) But my trainer and I learned the hard way that if you’re not vigilantly assessing your compliance with the White Bible, you might forget a rule when it really matters.
Christmas Day, 1991. Elder “Z” and I were visiting mission headquarters for a zone conference. Elder Z wanted to spend time with a member family in one of his previous, nearby areas, so we arranged to have Christmas dinner with the family, along with the two sister missionaries currently assigned to the area. The four of us enjoyed a wonderful meal with these folks and afterwards, the man of the house wanted to show us something in a back room. We went to the rear of the residence, where this veteran of the Falkland Islands War showed us his impressive collection of firearms displayed on a back wall, many of which were clearly military issue.
“Do you want to go out back and fire my machine gun?” we were asked.
Elder Z and I were wide-eyed. “Sure,” exclaimed Elder Z with glee. He had never fired a machine gun before!
We promptly proceeded to the back yard, where a series of targets were set up for our amusement. We both took turns firing the machine gun. This was also the first time I’d ever handled a fully automatic weapon, and it was quite a thrill.
Eventually, we said our good-byes to the family, and all four missionaries started the long walk back to the bus-stop. Along the way, as Elder Z and I were talking, we suddenly noticed that the sisters were unusually quiet, each with a sullen and despondent look on her face.
“Sisters, what’s wrong?” asked Elder Z.
“Elders, you were firing a machine gun! That’s against the mission rules! The White Bible specifically says not to use guns!” They were right. There is a rule in the White Bible prohibiting the use of firearms! Elder Z and I had gotten so excited, we had completely forgotten about this rule.
Elder Z quickly turned to me and explained our predicament. “Elder Brown, it’s really important that we go and confess our sin to President C right away! If we don’t, the Lord will know what we’ve done, and we’ll feel guilty for the rest of our lives!” I didn’t say anything in response, but I remember feeling a bit less motivated to confess than my companion did.
And then it happened.
One of the sisters, having overheard what my companion said, turned to Elder Z and responded, “But Elder Z… President C already knows.”
Elder Z paused for a moment, and then replied solemnly, “Oh yeah, sister. I guess you’re right!”
I waited for what seemed like an eternity for Elder Z or the sister to acknowledge the joke, to make a sarcastic smirk, give an obligatory laugh, or even to roll their eyes. I wanted some sort of recognition that President C’s alleged omniscience wasn’t being taken seriously. It never came.
We boarded the bus and returned to our areas. Elder Z and I never talked about the incident ever again. As far as I could tell, Elder Z assumed that since President C already “knew” what we’d done, there was no hurry to tell him. And eventually, I figure he just forgot about the whole thing.
But I didn’t. Not any of it. You never forget your first voyage to the Twilight Zone.