Wo unto them that draw iniquity with cords of vanity, and sin as it were with a cart rope; That say: Let him make speed, hasten his work, that we may see it; and let the counsel of the Holy One of Israel draw nigh and come, that we may know it.
—2 Nephi 15:18-19
In this series, we've examined a sampling of the unbeliefs that are damning us. They take the form of false doctrines, false quotations, and mythical stories designed to promote "faith." And yet, rather than learning from the past, we seem intent on continuing the problem and amplifying it. This concluding post in the series will examine the making of a modern, Mormon myth.
We testify fervently and often that we KNOW the current President of the church is a prophet of God. We also like to throw in even more literal titles like "the Lord's mouthpiece on earth" or "the Lord's anointed." We teach this church is founded upon revelation, run by revelation, and currently receiving revelation. We're certain of it because we KNOW it (not merely believe it) with every fiber of our being (whatever that means.)
We up the ante with our Ninth Article of Faith, canonized as scripture:
We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.And yet, nothing new has been revealed in a very, very long time. The prophet doesn't actually prophesy, publish revelations, or claim to deliver any message he got directly from God. He mostly tells stories about himself and his good works, reads us poetry and thoughts from philosophers, quotes scripture, reminisces about the past, and encourages Christian living through positive platitudes. In the face of a world exploding in unprecedented wickedness and crumbling to chaos, God's mouthpiece tells us...well...pretty much the same thing he's told us the last umpteen times we heard him speak. God, evidently, has not much else to say.
Now I completely support President Monson's right to receive revelation for the church. He has our collective common consent, and the unequivocal right to preside over the church. Whatever keys the church has, he holds them. That's not my point. I sustain him in his office and pray for him to be inspired and guided, to receive the revelatory guidance we so desperately need.
My point is that we have received no new prophecy, revelation, vision, or word from heaven in a very long time.
Faced with the cognitive dissonance of viewing the obvious gulf between the Joseph Smith definition of prophet and the Thomas Monson definition of "prophet," we deal with it in the way our Mormon culture has taught us to.
We invent myths.
We're so desperate for genuine revelation, for the "great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God," for proof that our leaders are, in fact, in direct contact with heaven, that we ascribe heavenly sources to the most mundane of acts. In other words, we INVENT revelation where there is none. This obvious fact shouldn't come as a surprise, as we've already discussed in this series how we're perfectly comfortable with inventing history, inventing doctrine, and even inventing miracles to satiate our need for the divine.
We're not above putting the words in our leaders' mouths that God didn't put there. We'll even ascribe our invented words to God Himself if necessary. And soon, we'll believe we have ourselves some bone-a-fide revelation, a cause we can get behind, a testimony of it to share, and lots and lots of meetings to discuss, explain, and encourage the myth. Oh, we do like to keep busy and distracted.
It's fascinating to watch, much like a train wreck in slow motion, only even more tragic.
Allow me to illustrate:
A curious problem began to percolate in the church around the year 2002. That's the year the First Presidency "raised the bar" for missionary qualification, and began excluding otherwise willing and repentant young people from missionary service due to past transgression. The predictable result was that the number of missionaries in the field began plummeting from a high mark of 61,638 in 2002 to 51,067 just 2 years later. That's a drop of over 10,000 missionaries, nearly 20% of the missionary force, in 2 years--as more willing prospective missionaries were turned away and told they didn't qualify and would never qualify to serve the Lord.
The missionary numbers continued falling, when measured as a percentage of church membership. See below.
To make matters worse, convert baptisms were falling and church growth was faltering as well:
This was, as you can plainly see, not good for the church's image of vibrant and continuous growth. Drastic steps were in order, and drastic steps were taken.
As it turns out, the point at which many young prospective missionaries, the male ones anyhow, "fell off the wagon" was that crucial year between high school graduation and the magical mission age of 19. That was the year most young men spent away from their home, parents, ward, and the influences they had grown up with. Many did just great, but sadly, many did not. They made mistakes that would forever preclude them from missionary service, no matter their desire to repent. (Remember, the bar has been raised!)
And so it was, in October, 2012, ten years after the missionary implosion, President Monson surprised the church by announcing the change in mission age. At the time, he didn't announce it as revelation--quite the contrary, he outlined that the church had been successfully testing this age change in certain missions and areas of the world for years, so it was decided to roll it out worldwide. He specifically called it a "policy" and not a "revelation."
Similarly, at the official press conference that followed this announcement, the age change was called a "change in policy" that was arrived at after testing in a few, select countries. Revelation was not mentioned. Nobody ever claimed God was behind this.
Well, as you know, the age change policy opened up an overwhelming flood of new missionary applications as more young men, and MANY more young women opted to serve at the new earlier, and much more convenient, age. The missionary ranks quickly swelled, and the church had to scramble to provide training and places for these missionaries to labor.
Soon, the massive growth in missionary numbers became the topic of much conversation, from the ward level, all the way to top leadership. Something was changing! Something was happening! And somebody noticed a scripture they thought applied!
YES! That explains it! The Lord is hastening his work!
Never mind that the scripture in question was pulled out of context--actually spoken by the Lord when telling a group of High Priests who had been on missions to stay home. But that's OK. It fit the bill and provided an important way to tie the missionary explosion to a "prophecy."
Incidentally, the only other time this scripture reared its head in General Conference was when Elder Nelson quoted it in 1990, saying that the time of the hastening was THEN. Oops.
Well, in the next General Conference after the age change, a Seventy tied "hastening" to the "work of salvation." And Elder Nelson tied the wave of new missionaries to "hastening the work" and "answering the Prophet's call."
Then in the following General Conference, now a year after the announcement, four general authorities spoke on hastening the work. But none did so with quite the aplomb of Elder Gifford Nielsen of the Seventy, who titled his talk, Hastening the Lord's Game Plan, and said the following:
All over the world, stakes, districts, and missions are experiencing a new level of energy, as the Savior’s declaration to Joseph Smith in 1832 is being fulfilled: “Behold, I will hasten my work in its time” (D&C 88:73). Brothers and sisters, that time is now! I feel it, and I’m sure you do also.
(Do you find it confusing that Elder Nielsen contradicted Elder Nelson? But I digress)By now, as you can see, the story had legs. The theme was popping up everywhere--in leadership broadcasts, in ward and stake meetings, in every stake conference, in testimonies on fast Sunday, and even on its own website. Heck, my ward did a whole-weeekend-long activity for youth based on the hastening theme.
Over and over we heard that President Monson told us it's time to hasten the work. I was actually assigned to teach the topic to my Elder's Quorum earlier this year, so I set about tracking down the original quote from President Monson about hastening the work. I wanted to read to my brethren the call from the prophet himself.
Except he never said it.
I went through every General Conference address, and every other speaking gig President Monson did since the age change, and I couldn't find even a single instance of him speaking of hastening the work. Not one.
And yet, in the April, 2014 General Conference, no fewer than FIVE speakers spoke on the "hastening," often tying it in some way to President Monson, and thus putting words he never said, squarely in his mouth.
Incidentally, President Monson has since written about hastening the work. It was in a First Presidency Message in the Ensign in June of this year. And it was about family history work. Confused? Predictably, the message has been adjusted and we are now hearing about hastening the work of salvation--among the living and the dead. No problem.
Meanwhile, I've also been hearing increasing references to President Monson's revelation to change the mission age. Bam! We've got revelation! We've got a cause we can get behind! Whatever's going on, we're gonna HASTEN it baby!
So let's review:
- The church changed a policy in 2002, with disastrous consequences for missionary work
- In 2012, the church changed another policy, resulting in many more missionaries
- The resulting growth in the missionary force was tied to a scripture that didn't apply
- Excitement grew around the new explanation for the growth
- The whole thing was then pinned on President Monson as his idea
- And thus it became revelation
But the age change was NEVER presented as revelation! And the hastening NEVER came from President Monson! Nevertheless, we've invented a myth that does a good job of doing what myths do--
- It provides us comfort that our leaders are in touch with God, so we don't have to be.
- It gives us evidence that we're on the Lord's team and enjoying his favor because we have an increasing number we can count and measure. We take this as proof of the Lord's favor.
- It convinces us we're witnessing miracles when we are not.
- It keeps us from having to awaken and arise to confront the awful prophecies about us, issued by the ancient prophets who saw us.
- It persuades us we are doing something important and meaningful in a world that is crumbling around us.
- It keeps us comfortably asleep.
But on the other hand, a number of unintended consequences are beginning to take the shine off the "hastening." Convert baptisms are not up, despite the massive growth in missionary numbers. The primary missionary growth has come from sisters, not the elders originally targeted by the change. Missionaries are spread so thick in some areas that they have almost nothing to do. (In my area of Idaho, we're nearing one companionship per ward, in an area that's already 20% LDS) This means that the missionaries can personally contact every non-member in their area in about 3 days. And activity rates are very high, so there's little to do on the activation front either. The missionaries beg for service opportunities, and they are, literally, thrilled if you'll let them mow your lawn.
Faced with boredom, immaturity, lack of experience away from home, and few baptisms, increasing numbers of missionaries are calling it quits and coming home early. A missionary serving in my brother's ward has seen three companions leave early so far. He's been out ten months.
The Lord's work cannot be hastened. When he commences the gathering, it will not be in haste. The scriptures warn us not to hope the Lord will hasten his work, because we should be in no hurry to encounter the coming destruction.
Why-oh-why don't we read the scriptures?
By inventing this myth and calling it revelation, we're doing exactly what's been done by past generations, ancient and modern. We're putting misleading words in the prophet's mouth, based on our own false beliefs, then claiming they came from God. Joseph Smith preached on Ezekiel 14 both early and late in his ministry. I believe this is why.
It's misleading, it's dishonest, it will damn us. We should stop.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is wondrous and amazing. It is stimulating and exciting. If you find it boring and stale, you should stop relying on others to spoon-feed you the same worn-out, warmed-over garbage we get in our manuals, and start seeking the Lord for yourself. The opportunities before us are incredible beyond words.
If we spend our time and attention studying the truth, there's no time for, and certainly no need for, faith-promoting rumors, falsehoods for history, hearsay for prophecy, and heresy for doctrine.
The truth is infinitely better than the myths. The knowledge of God is the only thing that will satisfy our yearning souls.
If you must hasten something, hasten your efforts to know Him.
Postscript January 13, 2016: Not surprisingly, Elder Russel M. Nelson has officially declared, over 3 years after the fact, that the missionary age change came as a result of a revelation to President Monson. I've written about it here.