Monday, February 25, 2008

Is Raising the Bar A New Concept or a Re-emphasis

I joined the Church in 1974. At that time there was a systematic effort to raise the number of missionaries. Spencer W. Kimball who was prophet said "every worthy young man should serve a mission." I think many of us fail to realize what he meant by this statement. Did this mean anything different from the current focus given in the last few years when a few of the brethren have talked again about raising the bar.

In 1974 at the Regional Representatives' Seminar President Kimball said in an address entitled "Lengthening Our Stride: A Challenge to the Priesthood": "“now is the time to upgrade our standards.” President Kimball urged that holders of the Melchizedek Priesthood and Aaronic Priesthood fulfill their responsibilities in proselyting, reactivating, and preparing all young men for missionary work.

President Kimball said that “so much depends upon our willingness to make up our minds, collectively and individually, that present levels of performance are not acceptable either to ourselves or to the Lord. In saying that, I am not calling for flashy, temporary differences in our performance levels, but a quiet resolve on the part of General Authorities, Regional Representatives of the Twelve, stake presidents, bishops, mission presidents, and branch presidents to do a better job—to lengthen our stride.”

Greater effort needs to be put forth to prepare all young men in the Church for a mission, said President Kimball. This motivation and encouragement should originate with the family and be supported by the priesthood organizations and other organizations of the Church.

Too often, he said, the Church is losing its young men because of inactivity of their fathers or of both parents. “We must break that recurring cycle,” he urged. “We must hold more of our Aaronic Priesthood young men.”

President Kimball said that a young man should be challenged early in life with the goal of fulfilling a mission. “He must be helped and guided to save money, to keep himself morally clean, to prepare himself spiritually, to learn to teach, to relate to others.”

Let us contemplate this statement: "We have instructed bishops, stake presidents, mission presidents, and branch presidents to recommend only worthy people for the missions. Too often we find those who have been unworthy, who stir their sympathies and with that of their families; pressure, they recommend them to the missions, thinking, "Oh, well, they'll get along all right." but as stated before, I am sure that much of our trouble in the mission fields and perhaps even the reduction of converts may be because some of our missionaries are unworthy and unprepared. They must not recommend deeply unworthy, immoral boys, those who are too deeply entrenched in their sins. They must not even encourage those who are slightly immoral to go unless they have done a lot of work with them. (Spencer W. Kimball, Regional Representatives’ Seminar, 2 October 1975, p. 4).

Even Boyd K. Packer said on this subject: "Now I want to talk to that young man who has already stumbled, who has already made the type of mistake that can disqualify one from serving a mission. I challenge you; I especially challenge you, to prepare for your mission. Pick yourself up and dust yourself off. It will be harder than you know. But it will be possible. Where is your young manhood? Use the cleansing power of your priesthood. Go to your bishop. it is your duty to go--your duty! He will help you erase a sad episode from your life. We need you! We have the world to teach and warn. We have the world to convert. The Lord really needs you." (Boyd K. Packer, "Come, All Ye Sons of God," Ensign, [August 1983]: 70-71).

David B. Haight tells us in 2000 of a young man struggling that sound very similar to the raise the bar philosophy: "“Preparing for my mission has been a long struggle. After deciding to serve a mission, it took almost one and one-half years to overcome problems in my conduct.”

Some letters describe long periods of repentance, of experiences like Alma’s, in which he was “racked with torment” and “harrowed up by the memory of my many sins” (Alma 36:17). Gratefully, they also speak of the “exquisite and sweet” joy that comes through repentance and forgiveness (see Alma 36:21).

The Lord commands His missionaries to be clean: “But purify your hearts before me; and then go ye into all the world, and preach my gospel unto every creature who has not received it” (D&C 112:28). The sacred powers available to those who are ordained of God and sent forth can only be exercised by those who are “purified and cleansed from all sin” (see D&C 50:26–28).

The First Presidency has stated, “Full-time missionary service is a privilege, not a right, for those who are called through inspiration by the President of the Church. Missionary service is literally service to the Lord and His Church. Its objective is not primarily the personal development of an individual missionary, although righteous service invariably produces that result” (Letter, June 19, 1998).

Priesthood leaders have specific guidelines to ensure that missionaries are spiritually, physically, emotionally, and morally qualified to serve. It is a disservice to the Lord, to the Church, and to the prospective missionary to issue a call when the requirements are not met.

We appreciate the many young men and women who live worthy of a mission call. We have deep gratitude for those who repent and taste the sweet joy of the Atonement. We encourage those who are unable to serve because of physical, emotional, or other reasons to seek other avenues of service, as might be suggested by parents and Church leaders. (David B. Haight, “A Spiritual Adventure,” New Era, [June 2000]: 6).

Let us contrast that with the new bar.

L. Tom Perry in 2007 says about the same thing: "Personal worthiness is the minimum spiritual standard for serving a mission. This means that you are worthy in every way to make and to keep sacred temple covenants. Do not disqualify yourself from the blessings bestowed on those who serve in this very special calling by committing acts of transgression which will make you ineligible to serve."

In 2002 at the priesthood session of October General Conference M. Russell Ballard called for "The Greatest Generation of Missionaries" to live a higher standard.

Elder Ballard says in 2007 something similar to President Kimball: "In 2002 we raised the bar for missionary service. That means the requirements to be a worthy missionary need to be understood and lived by young people early on. They need to avoid the mischief of the world. Of course, repentance is possible and is a great blessing. But those who stumble must make their repentance true and complete, and that could take time. It may even require First Presidency clearance before they can serve. Raising the bar doesn’t exclude anyone; it just requires more thorough—and sometimes very difficult—repentance. I plead with the youth, don’t get into that! Don’t put yourself through that. Just stay worthy.

Now, there may be some young people who consider themselves unworthy or incapable of serving in spite of what they hear from their bishops or branch presidents. But here’s the reality: priesthood leaders have the keys of endorsement. If the priesthood leaders indicate that a person is worthy and he or she is called, then he or she should exercise faith in that call and serve the Lord in full confidence that he or she is worthy and able. (M. Russell Ballard, “How to Prepare to Be a Good Missionary,” New Era [March 2007]: 10).

The First Presidency in a letter dated December 11, 2002 instructed Church leaders about the principles of eligibility for full-time missionary service. The instructions stated: “Full-time missionary service is a privilege for those who are called through inspiration by the President of the Church. Bishops and stake presidents have the serious responsibility to identify worthy, qualified members who are spiritually, physically, and emotionally prepared for this sacred service and who can be recommended without reservation. Those individuals not able to meet the physical, mental, and emotional demands of full-time missionary work are honorably excused and should not be recommended. They may be called to serve in other rewarding capacities.”

President Gordon B. Hinckley said: “Missionary work is not a rite of passage in the Church. It is a call extended by the President of the Church to those who are worthy and able to accomplish it....It demands that those who serve as missionaries be worthy in every respect....I am confident that raising the bar on eligibility will cause our young people, particularly our young men, to practice self-discipline, to live above the low standards of the world, to avoid transgression and take the high road in all their activities.” (President Gordon B. Hinckley, “Missionary Service,” First Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting, 11 Jan. 2003, 17.)

In 2007 L. Tom Perry reiterated the letter and gave it a new twist: "The bar was raised by the leaders of the Church, and now the minimum standard for participating in missionary work is absolute moral worthiness; physical health and strength; intellectual, social, and emotional development." The new raise my bar doesn't just include moral worthiness. It includes absolute moral worthiness. That means anyone that commits sexual transgression will not be able to go on a mission."

In an interview in 2004 on missionary work Richard G. Scott said: "They need to stay as far away from the boundaries of sin as they can. That gives them the greatest happiness as they’re preparing. It assures them the greatest capacity to be led by the Spirit and to be the examples they need to be in the mission field.

Almost any young person can recite the “Rs” of repentance or some other way of describing it. What they really need to do, though, is understand the gravity with which the Lord views some transgressions and not commit them."

His colleague Charles Didier of the Seventy in the same interview said prevention should be practiced: "I wish we could teach the youth how to avoid the need for major repentance. Prevention is better than redemption. We need to teach them to have a spirit of love for the Lord and His commandments. If they have that, we don’t need to establish barriers where we tell them, “If you go over that, you cannot serve.”

Daryl H. Garn of the Seventy takes a hard stance on moral worthiness: "Some young men have had the notion that they can break the commandments, confess to their bishops one year before they plan to go on a mission, and then be worthy to serve. The repentance process is far more than planned confession followed by a waiting period. We often hear this question of one who has transgressed: “How long will I have to wait before I can go on my mission?” Keep in mind that repentance is not simply a waiting game. The Savior said: “And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost” (3 Ne. 9:20).

Now is the time to kindle that fire. President Hinckley has said, “We simply cannot permit those who have not qualified themselves as to worthiness to go into the world to speak the glad tidings of the gospel” (First Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting, Jan. 2003, 17). We now understand from the First Presidency’s statement on missionary work that there are transgressions that will disqualify young men and women from missionary service (see “Statement on Missionary Work from the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles,” 11 Dec. 2002).

H. David Burton agreed we need to take a strong stand against immorality: "The term “raising the bar” is often used in the world of sports to describe achieving higher levels of performance. The use of a sports metaphor may help describe why it is critical to respond to what President Hinckley asked us to do last conference when he said: “I hope that our young men, and our young women, will rise to the challenge [Elder Ballard] has set forth. We must raise the bar on the worthiness and qualifications of those who go into the world as ambassadors of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

A year ago we experienced a wonderful Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. For most Olympic events, athletes must attain minimum levels of achievement in order to qualify to compete. Our lives are similar to the Olympic qualification process in that we need to achieve and maintain standards in order to participate in the important spiritual events of life. World-class athletes have a disciplined daily routine. They master the skills demanded by their sport. Only then can they qualify to participate in the contest. And that’s the way it is.

Young men, if you want to be world class and qualified to be participants in the really important events of life like priesthood ordinations, blessings of the temple, and missionary service, you too must develop a disciplined daily routine of honesty, virtue, study, and prayer. And that’s the way it is.

Olympians know and understand the rules that govern their sport. Broken rules can bring severe penalties and even disqualification. At the last Olympics, failure to observe rules associated with performance-enhancing drugs brought medal forfeiture. One of the harshest penalties levied on an athlete occurs in the game of golf. Just signing a scorecard with an incorrect score entered for any one of the 18 holes brings disqualification. There is zero tolerance. It doesn’t matter if the error benefits or hurts the individual; the penalty is the same—disqualification.

After more than 50 years, I can still hear the words of a tournament official: “Sorry, son, we must disqualify you for signing an incorrect scorecard.” My disqualification came as a result of my mentioning to the official that I needed to correct my score. For weeks I said to myself: “Why didn’t I remain silent? Besides, the error was an innocent mistake. The total score was correct.” Though my performance was good enough to find me in the winner’s circle, I left the awards presentation empty-handed. And that’s the way it is.

My young friends, rules are important, even critical. In life there are also penalties, perhaps even disqualification, if rules are broken. Our participation in life’s important events may be jeopardized if we fail to follow the rules contained in our Father in Heaven’s commands. Involvement in sexual sin, illegal drugs, civil disobedience, or abuse could keep us on the sidelines at key times. You would do well to view rules as safety restraints, not as chains that bind. Obedience builds strength. And that’s the way it is."

President James E. Faust said: “There need to be some absolutes in life. There are some things that should not ever be done, some lines that should never be crossed, vows that should never be broken, words that should never be spoken, and thoughts that should never be entertained” (“Integrity, the Mother of Many Virtues,” Ensign, May 1982, 48).

The bar for missionary service has been raised. “Those individuals not able to meet the physical, mental, and emotional demands of full-time missionary work are honorably excused. … They may be called to serve in other rewarding capacities” (“Statement on Missionary Work from the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles,” 11 Dec. 2002). We believe by following the guidelines outlined by the First Presidency, there will be an increase in the number of full-time missionaries who are worthy and prepared to serve."

Richard G. Scott tells us of the importance for the focus: "The challenges are greater now than ever. That is why the Lord needs more capable, better prepared missionaries. He needs those who are clean and pure so that they can be guided by the Spirit and can testify with converting power. Qualify to be one of those exceptional missionaries. It will not be easy. But when was anything really worthwhile easy?

The First Presidency has defined high standards of moral worthiness and the physical, mental, and emotional stability missionary service now demands. The standards are rigorous, but you can meet them. You will rejoice in the feelings of peace and confidence that come from living them. The standards were raised not to make it harder, but because missionaries now serve in an environment where spiritual guidance is absolutely essential."

Elder Scott's in 2003 offers some hope to troubled prospective missionaries which statement takes me back to the earlier years: "As a young man, the greatest growth and strengthening experience you can have at this time, bar none, is a worthy full-time mission. While a mission is not for personal advantage, the Lord richly blesses those who valiantly serve. Be one of the army of remarkable, well-prepared, devoted missionaries that are qualifying to the high standards of worthiness. Join those who have chosen to serve the Lord, wherever called, however challenging it may be.

Missionary work is extremely demanding. If you have emotional challenges that can be stabilized to meet the rigors of a full-time mission, you can be called. It is vital that you continue to use your medication during your mission or until competent medical authority counsels otherwise. Recognize that emotional and physical challenges are alike. One needs to do all that is possible to improve the situation, then learn to live within the remaining bounds. God uses challenges that we may grow by conquering them.

Your physical or emotional circumstance may be such that you have been excused by the President of the Church from full-time missionary service (see “Statement on Missionary Work” attached to First Presidency letter, 11 Dec. 2002). For you there are other ways to render meaningful service compatible with your condition. Your bishop or stake president can help you identify such service where you live. It could be in a Church family history center, temple, welfare project, employment center, or in a local hospital, care center, shelter, or elsewhere. There are many places where help is needed. You can live at home and contribute powerfully. Such a call can be for a few months or longer. Your stake president will come to know where you should serve and for how long. He will then issue a formal call. Whatever your call may be, study the message of the Restoration with materials full-time missionaries can provide. Then look for opportunities to share that message. As you conscientiously do that, you will be led to individuals that will be touched to learn more.

As I have spoken of missionary service, you may have thought, “That’s not for me.” I plead with you to prayerfully reconsider. All that I treasure most in life began to mature in the mission field. You can also earn such blessings."

Raising the Bar also has a few other items that could disqualify a young man who is socially immature depending on how exact bishops want to define it. It give bishops opportunities to preclude someone who is is overweight, limited in intelligence, and socially inept from serving a mission. It is a subjective calling that will eliminate anyone the bishops feel don't qualify.

I remember an experience back in 1980s when my own brother wanted to go on a mission. He suffered from bed wetting (enuresis). Five percent of all boys suffer from it usually up to the early teens. It is projected that two million Americans suffer at one time or another with this problem. His bed wetting lasted until he was about twenty. He just put a rubber sheet over his mattress and lived a normal life otherwise. The bishop and stake president precluded him from a mission on that basis. Between his money and mine he had plenty to go on a mission. I even had M. Russell Ballard try to talk with his stake president, who told him it was his stewardship and my brother who was morally worthy couldn't go because he didn't think he should go. He left the Church over this incident and has been inactive now for twenty years. His son is now a baptized Lutheran, the religion of his mother. I wonder if there are other converts like him who left the church because they could not serve a mission.

Apparently how that was done by bishops was not consistently applied before 2007. I don't see how this would be different for me as a new convert when I was baptized my sins were supposed to be washed clean. If not then I would have to agree with Talmage that the nail wounds are always there as opposed to Widtsoe who argued they are not.

One year after joining the church I went on a mission. I on the other hand was not morally worthy having committed some sins before joining the church in the 1970s that were unresolved due to a poor baptismal interview before my mission. I don't doubt they were washed cleaned but until I was on a mission a few months teaching the law of chastity I discovered I didn't confess them properly. I could have been sent home if they the Missionary Committee had wanted. Instead I was allowed to finish my mission. I have married in the temple and remained temple worthy throughout my life, raised eight children who are all active with two currently serving missions. I wonder if I would be another religion today if I had not served a mission. I suspect I would have left the church a long time ago. My mission made a difference in my life.

If the new raise my bar didn't include these other items it would be not much different than the earlier statements by President Kimball. Is there any room for new converts who have transgressed to go on mission. M. Russell Ballard says they have to work hard to prepare themselves to go on a mission. New converts can go if they resolve their sins and receive approval. Examining the past statements with the new statements seems to be a re-emphasis.

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