The Quote that Wouldn’t Die

March 9, 2008 | 74 comments
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Remember that one about youth being generals in the war in heaven?

I have heard that it began life as a bit of overblown rhetoric from an EFY speaker. (If anyone can confirm or deny that, please do tell.)

It then was attributed to President Packer. (Or, sometimes, another member of the Twelve.)

It made the rounds.

In an unusual move, President Packer debunked it in a Church News article.

Apparently that didn’t cut it. I heard it again, over the pulpit, from a local priesthood leader within the last year. I debated over whether I should say anything to him, but when the seminary teacher made a beeline to him after the meeting asking for a copy, I felt that I had to say something. He insisted that he had found it on lds.org (but later realized the mistake and, to his credit, corrected it over the pulpit.)

And still it lives. A recent letter from the First Presidency was released debunking it again. (Note that the link appears to be a summary of the statement with some quotations from it and not the statement itself.) I find it interesting that priesthood leaders are asked to correct anyone who perpetuates it.

It is interesting to me that I have heard this quote–this false doctrine–many times, but always by speakers with the very best intentions. I’ve never heard it from someone who was interested in tearing down the kingdom by sullying the doctrine and confusing the Saints. We often speak of false doctrines (whether in times ancient or modern) as the tools of those intent on hindering the Lord’s work. But this one has found its footing among stalwart Saints. Perhaps we need to re-evaluate our thinking about false doctrine and apostasy and motives. We don’t need glinty-eyed priests in the second century in order to end up with an apostasy; all we need is good-hearted people without access to authoritative revelation or authoritative correction.

I’m curious as to why this quote is so popular. I think it finds a footing in some combination of our strengths and weaknesses. For example, people who share it seem to want to build up and motivate the youth (that’s a good thing). But perhaps they think the regular ‘ol gospel won’t do it–they need some superlatives, some celestial fireworks to get the message across. In short, the combination of a good-hearted motivation to help the youth combined with a desire for some fancy footwork (and lack of trust in the plain vanilla basics) to do it seems to cause the problem here.

The long life of this statement reveals another flaw in LDS culture: we’re willing to repeat things we haven’t bothered to verify. Anyone who types in “generals in the war in heaven” at lds.org will get zero results. Anyone who googles it will find that (almost all) of the references on the first page debunk it. I think we need to emphasize that you can’t just recycle every statement with quotation marks around it that gets handed to you on a pretty handout. Please make it a personal policy never to repeat a quotation in a talk or lesson if you have not sourced it yourself.

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74 Responses to The Quote that Wouldn’t Die

  1. Ray on March 9, 2008 at 2:06 pm

    Amen. Thanks for spreading the debunkery.

    Why the shelf life? It’s flattering, and the natural (wo)man likes to be flattered.

  2. Matt W. on March 9, 2008 at 2:24 pm

    One thing that is interesting to me about this is that this “false story” has been false since I joined the church 10 years ago.

  3. Julie M. Smith on March 9, 2008 at 2:30 pm

    Now that I have an actual copy of the “letter” in my hot little hands, maybe some of you policy wonks can help me understand if there is a distinction between a “First Presidency statement” (the kind on letterhead, their signatures, etc.) and this, which is titled “notice” and says “From: Office of the First Presidency” and “Subject: False Statement.” Otherwise, it is, save a few stray words, identical to the summary linked to above.

  4. Geoff J on March 9, 2008 at 2:43 pm

    “mormonsnopes.com” and “ldssnopes.com” are still available if anyone (with some Web skills) is interested in a service project…

  5. Ardis Parshall on March 9, 2008 at 2:44 pm

    This is probably being debunked again this week because of a viral email that made the rounds as a tribute to Pres. Hinckley immediately after his death. I was dismayed by the number of copies I received from cousins and friends, in almost every case the ones who forward to everyone in their address books every corny email they receive (usually with a subject line that is “This is so true!” or “This is outrageous!!!!!!!”) with every nauseatingly sappy story about a dying child and every plea to join in an email crusade to stamp out some imagined attack on Christianity and/or the American Flag Long May She Wave and every rumor about the latest satanic plot involving Proctor & Gamble.

    That suggests to me that the reason why this nonsense cannot be curtailed is because it appeals to a certain type of shallow mind that feeds off of sensationalism and is incapable of critical judgment. This type of mind keeps the Weekly World News in print and talk radio on the air. Within the Church, we don’t need to be tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine … but so many of us prefer these doctrinal bungie jumps that they can’t ever quite be stamped out.

  6. Jonathan Green on March 9, 2008 at 2:50 pm

    “…another flaw in LDS culture”?

    Try, another flaw in human nature. We didn’t invent folklore. As long as there are Mormons, there will be Mormon legends.

  7. Mike L. on March 9, 2008 at 2:57 pm

    Any statement that indicates that people will bow in heaven to anyone other than a member of the Godhead is clearly false. I believe I was told this as a youth (could have been at EFY), but I do remember the statement from Elder Packer a while back that he didn’t say it. I can remember at least one other story I was told at EFY that now seams questionable. I think you are right that those who tell these stories have good intentions (in this case, strengthening the youth), but, as I explain here, the stories actually have unintended consequences that work opposite the original intent.

    Also, as a side note, this article indicates that as of 2002, approximately 6% of everyone ever born on the earth were alive at that time. So it can be said that, because of world population growth, well greater than 6% of the people who have ever lived on the earth lived in the latter-times (as defined as from when Joseph Smith was alive until Christ comes again). So I don’t think it will be that much a novelty in the after-life to find someone who lived in the latter-times.

    Sorry youth. You’re special–but not that special.:)

  8. Keith on March 9, 2008 at 3:27 pm

    I suspect the attraction of this kind of sentiment is, as mentioned above, a tendency to like flattery. In my view the real danger with such an idea is not so much the speculation about who will say what to whom, who was reserved for last days because of being valiant, etc. (though of course a false statement is a problem itself), but that it substitutes being chosen as a kind of entitlement/specialness for being chosen as a heavy responsibility/obligation. Worse, it substitutes a kind of self-regard and assurance for trust in and obedience to Christ. The problem with trying to motivate youth with the ‘royal generation’ approach is that builds on the wrong foundation altogether.

  9. the narrator on March 9, 2008 at 3:31 pm

    while i’ve seen it attributed to monson, packer, and eyring, the first time i saw (and laughed at) this quote was during my mission when it was attributed to efy speaker brad wilcox. since there seems to be no reason to attribute it to him to add authority to the quote, i assume that he is the original source.

    i can understand how these kinds of things get spread around. i’m more interested in how they begin in the first place. plain stupidity? mischievousness? good intentions?

  10. Ellis on March 9, 2008 at 3:53 pm

    Not being a youth I have never heard of this statement. It must make someone feel better about their situatiion in life to believe it and that is why it continues to be repreated. It seems pretty absured.

    It never hurts to say, in my opinion. Speakers and instructors of youth should do it more often.

  11. Snow White on March 9, 2008 at 4:06 pm

    This is why it’s important to “cite your sources”. I first heard this quote at a singles conference, in a talk by a member of the stake presidency, and attributed to President Monson, I think. It sounded a little off to us, so we hounded our Institute instructor to research it later. Needless to say, when we discovered it was false doctrine unattributable to anyone, I was absolutely disgusted with that speaker, especially because he was a member of the stake presidency. We were always taught to cite our sources, and if you claim someone said something, you’d better be prepared to back it up with a where and when it was said. To do otherwise is just sloppy scholarship. Then when that guy came to speak at our ward, he quoted it again! So someone in our institue class went to have a little talk with him. In his defense, maybe he wasn’t all that bright. Still, I think it’s ridiculous for a man of his position to posit an unverified quote.

  12. Ann on March 9, 2008 at 4:07 pm

    When I first joined the church back in 1986, I heard a very mild variant of this in a RS lesson. The lesson had been about the Blessed Honored Pioneers, and it came up (maybe I even said it) that it was kind of intimidating to have to follow those kinds of challenges, and I certainly couldn’t have done it. The teacher responded that every time has its challenges, and while we see our challenges as just part of normal life, the pioneers could be looking down and saying, “Hey, no way I could do that.” This was obvious speculation, and just a personal perspective by the teacher. There wasn’t any GA quote behind it. But I could easily imagine that fairly harmless idea growing into a much “bigger” story.

    I would guess the generals story evolved the same way. It probably started as a mostly harmless bit of hyperbole, with a seventy or stake president at a youth conference saying “you were generals in the war in heaven.”

    I agree with Ardis that this kind of stuff is the product of shallow thinking. I think the internet has made it spread much much faster.

  13. Julie K on March 9, 2008 at 4:09 pm

    What’s worse is that some of the wording of this myth has shown up in patriarchal blessings…

  14. Jack on March 9, 2008 at 4:31 pm

    I take my girls to do baptisms at the temple and this sweet old man gives a little talk beforehand telling the youth that after this life those they do the work for will bow in reverence at their feet and thank them with tears of gratitude gushing from their eyes. I was frustrated.

  15. dangermom on March 9, 2008 at 4:56 pm

    Quoting Julie: “…people who share it seem to want to build up and motivate the youth (that’s a good thing). But perhaps they think the regular ‘ol gospel won’t do it–they need some superlatives, some celestial fireworks to get the message across. In short, the combination of a good-hearted motivation to help the youth combined with a desire for some fancy footwork (and lack of trust in the plain vanilla basics) to do it seems to cause the problem here.”

    This one really resonates with me. I have to say that my years in Seminary were stuffed full of wild “faith-promoting” stories; the teachers told us every urban legend and every sensational story that could be found. (Seriously, I’ve heard very few new ones in the years since!) I think the teachers were trying to excite us about the gospel and get our attention, and sadly, they were pretty ignorant in the way they went about it. I spent a lot of time in Seminary thinking “that can’t be right…that’s kind of weird…” and I wonder what sort of long-term effect it had on the other kids. It must be admitted that my home town seems to produce a higher proportion of looniness than most places, and I’ve been very happy to see good, solid Seminary teachers where we live now; I’m not trying to say that Seminary teachers are all terrible. But I think it’s an easy error to fall into, when we’re trying to communicate the gospel to youth who are looking bored with us. I’ve tried to tell girls in my classes not to believe everything they hear and to investigate weird stories, and I’ve been happy to see the Church’s efforts to weed out FPRs and urban legends–I suspect that it’s gotten better over my lifetime. But it’s an uphill battle!

  16. Ben on March 9, 2008 at 4:57 pm

    Julie K., that’s not necessarily a bad thing (depending on what part is being recycled.)

    Joseph Smith, after all, declared the Song of Solomon uninspired, and yet quotes from it directly in D&C. (See the first two references here at LDS.org)

    There are some good LDS debunkings here and here (click on a date, the servers are wonky), and FAIR does a good job of either providing sources or pointing out that none exist when asked about such things.

    I think missionaries frequently exchange questionable documents and quotes like this one. They’re responsible for its spread ;)

  17. queuno on March 9, 2008 at 6:36 pm

    I daresay that many of the youth I’ve met were the Colonel Klinks of the preexistence.

  18. smb on March 9, 2008 at 7:10 pm

    #14, a version of that claim actually was taught in earliest Mormonism, at least by the 1830s, and is probably the basis of the Law of Adoption in its earliest phases. The earliest LDS had magnificently grandiose beliefs about the power of baptism for the dead. I don’t know that I’d be so quick to debunk it.

    This urban legend highlights a distinctive LDS doctrine (preexistence) even as it fills in a relative doctrinal void (the relationship between preexistence and mortal life, as well as the content of current millennialism). A more charitable view would see it as continuing to express a yearning to situate our lives centrally on the cosmic canvas. Dumb maybe, but important to understanding Mormons. I suspect it’s being disclaimed now because it makes our sacred doctrines sound foolish to outsiders rather than any inherent malignancy in the belief. Having spent the last few years with the earliest Saints, I’m finding myself much more patient with the claims of moderns.

  19. FoxyJ on March 9, 2008 at 7:43 pm

    I’ve spent a number of years in school and I’m now married to a librarian, so uncited sources are one of my biggest pet peeves! When someone stands up to give a talk and begins with “I got this email the other day”, I cringe. Which is another good reason to keep emphasizing teaching from the scriptures and approved sources (which are readily accesible on lds.org). I worked in the primary for several years and saw the same tendency towards trying to make things more “exciting” and “interesting” for kids. I think we need to give our youth and children more credit and not feel like we have to make everything sensationalistic for them to be interested in it.

  20. Mark B. on March 9, 2008 at 8:33 pm

    Back in the early 70′s some right-wing nutjob wrote “None Dare Call it Conspiracy”, an expose of how everybody else was conspiring to sell us down the river to the commies. Somebody else wrote a parody called “None Dare Call it Bulls**t.”

    We need someone in the church to do us a similar favor for all stories generated by the EFY/Youth Conference Industrial Complex. I nominate queuno.

  21. Brett on March 9, 2008 at 9:11 pm

    @ Ardis- I hated getting those emails. My mom and sister sent them to me all the time. My would Forward her LDS Pearls Newsletter. These things made me gag. So I started used gmail’s handy filtering tool. Anytime my mom or sister sends an email and the subject line says FWD, gmail sends it right to the trash. It never reaches my inbox. My mother doesn’t know that I do this. It causes some problems when she asks me on the phone if got that email she forwarded to me about the church member who saw birdies (or some other story like that).

  22. Left Field on March 9, 2008 at 9:21 pm

    Some people just don’t give a thought to proper citation. When I was a missionary back in the Carter Administration, the discussions contained a passage that said, “The prophet who guides the church today, Harold B. Lee, has said: ‘I am not the head of this church. The Master Jesus Christ is head of this Church.’” The discussion even listed a citation for the Lee quotation.

    We were given an official list of corrections that updated this passage to read, “A former prophet who guided the church, Harold B. Lee, has said…” Most missionaries ignored the official correction, and simply substituted the name Spencer W. Kimball. I seemed to be about the only missionary who thought it was problematic to attribute Harold B. Lee’s words to Spencer W. Kimball.

  23. Clean Cut on March 9, 2008 at 9:22 pm

    Six or seven years ago (and after learning that this quote was not true) I went to observe a seminary class somewhere in Utah Valley. One of the students used that quote in her devotional. I remember thinking “I wonder if I should say something”, but the seminary teacher beat me to it, and he really did a wonderful job of validating the student while also teaching that the quote wasn’t real. “Isn’t that a great quote?”, he asked after she was finished, “the only problem is that it is not true”. I don’t remember the rest of what he said, but I was impressed with the tender manner in which he “debunked” the quote. I’m surprised it still lives on strong enough to warranty a first presidency letter…

  24. Bob on March 9, 2008 at 10:27 pm

    Alma: every person who holds the Melchizedek Priesthood was foreordained to receive that high and holy order in the pre-existent councils of eternity.
    Is the ‘General’ story so far from this?

  25. Ray on March 9, 2008 at 10:45 pm

    Bob, there is a distinct break (Amen.) between verses 9 and 10. It is not clear to me that Alma 13 teaches that *all* HP were foreordained – only that there were HPs who were foreordained. That is consistent with Abraham 3 and the Bible itself. Those discussed after verse 10, in fact, appear to differ from those mentioned in the earlier verses – since the former qualify through *repentance”, while the latter qualify through *faith*.

  26. Thomas Parkin on March 9, 2008 at 10:47 pm

    “This type of mind keeps the Weekly World News in print ”

    What kept the WWN in print is that it was hilarious. It stopped printing a while back, much to my dismay.

    Without the WWN, I’d never have heard when scientists finally concluded that the only way to put an end to gun violence is to create a world full of bullet-proof humans.

    Famously, the WWN gave us Bat Boy. Some of his adventures are kisted in wkipedia: “Bat Boy was first featured in a 1992 issue after being found in a cave. He has since led police on a high speed chase, fought in the war on terror, led the troops to capture Saddam Hussein, bitten Santa Claus, and traveled into Outer Space. In 2000, he gave his endorsement to Al Gore.”

    Great stuff. :)

    ~

  27. kade on March 9, 2008 at 10:48 pm

    Something that I wonder about are things properly attributed to another speaker who might not have properly documented his source. There have been a couple that I have heard in lessons or sacrament meeting which I have tried to research. For example the story about Louis XVI\’s son, properly attributed to Elder Featherstone in our lesson manuals, \”…I was born to be a king…\” We get a lot of mileage out of that one, but I\’ve been unable (admittedly only through google searches) to find a primary source. Any ideas? Sorry for the partial threadjack.

  28. dangermom on March 9, 2008 at 10:50 pm

    Yes, I think it is different. A general is one of the highest military offices there is. There are only a few generals. To say that every LDS kid alive today was a general in the pre-mortal existence is to say something very, very different than what Alma said. For one thing, it fosters a sense of superiority over non-members and people who lived in the past.

  29. Bob on March 9, 2008 at 11:06 pm

    #25: I copied my line Light Planet: topic ” Foreordination”. No good?

  30. Matt Evans on March 9, 2008 at 11:11 pm

    I fail to see why anyone thinks this is a big deal — it’s harmless puffery. For a church that claims to be the Restoration of All Things and God’s Kingdom on Earth in the Last Days to prepare for the End of the World, this is milque toast. The only problem is the misattribution.

  31. Ray on March 9, 2008 at 11:19 pm

    #29 – The source on Light Planet is Bruce R. McConkie’s “Mormon Doctrine”. I think it is safe to say that Bruce R. McConkie saying it in “Mormon Doctrine” doesn’t mean it is correct. It certainly helps explain why it is believed by many, but I just don’t read it that way in Alma 13.

  32. Bob on March 9, 2008 at 11:21 pm

    #28 There are 700+ Generals in today’s military.
    You don’t feel “Foreordination* “.. fosters a sense of superiority”?

  33. Julie M. Smith on March 9, 2008 at 11:26 pm

    Matt Evans, President Packer made a point of saying that he didn’t believe it. I think the doctrinally problematic parts are (1) bowing down to another human, (2) the superiority of the current generation, and (3) now it’s pretty awkward to vaunt the youth of Pres. Hinckley’s time–since now they are the youth of Pres. Monson’s time.

  34. Kevin Barney on March 9, 2008 at 11:27 pm

    I first heard this when I took some youth to the temple to do baptisms for the dead, and a member of the temple presidency read it to us. In that iteration the honored prophet who led to awed knee-bending was Howard W. Hunter.

    Ardis is right. Just the other day my cousin’s wife sent around that old Paul Allen letter. A certain segment of people loves this kind of stuff.

    SHIELDS has up the old LDS World snopes-like feature plus a few additional ones, here:

    http://www.shields-research.org/Hoaxes/Hoaxes.htm

  35. Bob on March 9, 2008 at 11:35 pm

    #31:Fair enough. (I am sure not going to take a bullet for “Mormon Doctrines”).

  36. Joel on March 10, 2008 at 12:23 am

    Three years ago I attended a Stake Conference in Logan, Utah where the visiting Seventy (I hope he was an area authority seventy) quoted this passage at length and attributed it to Elder Packer. This wouldn’t have phased me too much–though it made me less attentive to his message, but Elder Packer was also in the congregation and was scheduled as the next speaker. Suddenly, I was excited to hear a repudiation of the statement from the falsely cited source himself. Interestingly, Elder Packer didn’t mention the mix-up at all in his discourse. I have often wondered why. I know there were many persons in the room like me who knew that the quote had been repudiated. Maybe, Elder Packer decided that a private correction would be a much more effective tactic with this particular leader, or that it wouldn’t help the members of the congregation to see public correction. I don’t know, but it has made me think a lot about this particular example of Mormon folklore.

    I think Julie has skillfully enumerated the doctrinal problems with the citation, but I think that the question about why it is so popular is interesting. For one thing, it is an exaggeration of some real sentiments expressed by the brethren. For example, leaders have often applied Peter’s sentiments to the present that we are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood. For those with a penchant for exaggeration, is the rank of general too much of a stretch? Also we know we are living in the Last Days–though this has been the case since the Restoration began. Elder Maxwell in a 1985 devotion once called the students at Ricks College a “generation of destiny”–this is a great discourse by the way. Other leaders have emphasized that we have been reserved for the last days. This can be found as early as the writings of George Q.Cannon.(George Q. Cannon, Gospel Truth: Discourses and Writings of President George Q. Cannon, selected, arranged, and edited by Jerreld L. Newquist, p.18) And of course, the hymnist has dubbed us the “youth of the noble birthright” (Hymn 225). I think the original author of this statement, whoever it is, took many of these sentiments and revved them up and personalized them for emotional and rhetorical value.

    I wonder if the real problem is the increasing expectations of eloquence and emotion appeal to which we hold speakers, leaders, and teachers. You might call this the formalization of church rhetoric or discourse. I think there is also a component of pride in the original statement–no one should bow to anyone but Deity–but I also wonder if Mormon folklore becomes a crutch to which those who are slow of speech and of little eloquence resort. Could it also be a sign of decreasing reliance on the spirit to help us speak or teach? I don’t know, but it is fascinating to think about as I try to prepare my own talks and lessons.

  37. Starfoxy on March 10, 2008 at 12:26 am

    Re 13- There is a loose auditing procedure set up for patriarchal blessings. If it is all that frequent and problematic then the Patriarch is likely to hear about it.

  38. MJ on March 10, 2008 at 12:30 am

    Has anyone recently heard of that ridiculous talk attributed to Elder Featherstone about \”it\’s good to have a girlfriend on your mission\” coming up in talks/seminary/etc?

    I remember it making the rounds while I was at the MTC and I enjoyed telling thickheaded elders that no, it wasn’t real, and if they thought about it for 30 seconds they would probably realize that no GA would actually endorse having a girlfriend (especially with Pres. Kimball talking about locking your heart). Amazing what people will believe sometimes.

  39. Matt Evans on March 10, 2008 at 3:03 am

    Julie, there are a gazillion doctrinally suspect myths in the church. Elder Packer presumably doubts lots of them. This one, like most others, is harmless. So what if young people think their generation is more special than it really is? They’re routinely told that their generation is special, the dispute is over _how_ special. The only reason this myth has been addressed by the brethren is because of the purported attribution. Absent the misattribution, Elder Packer and the others would never have mentioned it.

  40. Jonathan Green on March 10, 2008 at 4:44 am

    Since it seems we can project pretty much whatever we want into the pre- or post-existence without causing much of a stir, I guess I mostly agree with Matt on this one. Without the claim of apostolic authority, a bit of undoctrinal fluff wouldn’t have merited the reaction.

  41. Julie M. Smith on March 10, 2008 at 10:07 am

    Matt, I agree that it is more likely that “keeping the attribution pure” was the primary motive rather than “this is false doctrine” for the repeated debunkings. At the same time, the rhetoric in this statement (especially the gee-whiz aspect) just isn’t the kind of thing you hear from GAs.

  42. Russell Arben Fox on March 10, 2008 at 10:11 am

    At the same time, the rhetoric in this statement (especially the gee-whiz aspect) just isn’t the kind of thing you hear from GAs.

    Depends on the GA. I’ve heard more than a few “gee-whiz”-type claims coming from the lips of some of our resident story-tellers, like Elder Paul Dunn or [cough] President Monson.

  43. Russell Arben Fox on March 10, 2008 at 10:17 am

    Has anyone recently heard of that ridiculous talk attributed to Elder Featherstone about “it’s good to have a girlfriend on your mission” coming up in talks/seminary/etc?

    I don’t know what the supposed point of such a talk would have been, but I was told this by one of my mission presidents. Not in so many words, and not by way of actual counsel, but just kind of as an observation regarding learning the (in our case Korean) language. It’s really good for language practice and study to have a friend who actually wants to talk with you and is willing to patiently put up with your struggles to communicate. To my shame, I have to admit that, going off of the amount of time my companion and I spent chatting somewhat competitively with the girl who ran the little convenience store just down from the church building in Suwon, my mission president had a point.

  44. Ivan Wolfe on March 10, 2008 at 10:21 am

    I don’t know what the supposed point of such a talk [about “it’s good to have a girlfriend on your mission”] would have been

    It was about having a girlfriend “back home” who would write you weekly and make several scrapbooks about your mission based on photos, letters and whatnot else you sent to her.

  45. Julie M. Smith on March 10, 2008 at 10:21 am

    Russell, Dunn is hardly a fair example and President Monson’s stories never deal with “the mysteries” but rather with the fruits of Christian service.

  46. warno on March 10, 2008 at 10:39 am

    Isn’t there another doctrinal reason to challenge this urban legend? To me, it seems to buttress the argument that “valiance in the pre-existence” is easily measured by one’s station in this life. It doesn’t take much of a leap (esp. when people are looking for reasons to jump) to latch onto this idea in the negative sense as well, i.e. a corresponding lack of valiance in the pre-existence is easily measured by one’s race in this life.

    We’re still trying to deal with the fall-out from our trip down that road so the more we can do to stamp out this notion the better. I do not see it as harmless fluff.

  47. Ben on March 10, 2008 at 10:56 am

    “actually endorse having a girlfriend (especially with Pres. Kimball talking about locking your heart).”

    Ironically for this post, that talk attributed to President Kimball may well be pseudepigraphic ;) See the Disputed Mormon Texts archive linked above.

  48. Kevinf on March 10, 2008 at 4:15 pm

    Matt,

    After hearing this letter read three different times yesterday, it didn’t seem so much about misattribution, especially where the words, in bold print immediately following the quote, were THIS IS FALSE. I think I first heard a version of this during President Kimball’s time, so it has been falsely attributed to many over the years.

    The letter also referred to the CHI where it talks about how it’s fine to take notes on what GA’s say, but that those notes are for personal use only, and not to be distributed via email or other means. That makes some sense for me. I’ve got notes I’ve taken in various meetings, leadership and general, that have some interesting statements. My retelling, however, may not match the intent of the original speaker, which is why citing sources is important. It’s also why we have some confusion and are not clear about a few (perhaps more than a few) o f the statements and sermons of Joseph Smith. Different scribes recorded different things, and it becomes problematic to even verify for sure what was said, let alone what was really intended.

    Yeah, some of this is more harmful than others, so it is best to learn to deal with it, and make sure we don’t propagate some of this ourselves. I’ve gotten a little bit of a cranky reputation with many of my wife’s family and others over my tendency to dispute some of the family email chains that float around. So I’ve made up for it with outrageously false stuff that I post to our family blogs, like the big sandstorm that swept over the Puget Sound last May. Remember that?

  49. DW on March 10, 2008 at 4:21 pm

    I find it interesting that urban legends like this get so much attention from debunkers, but that that there are whole hosts of folk beliefs that are rampant in Mormonism — which are much more consequential, in my opinion! In fact, the only reason this little tidbit even gets quoted around, in my opinion, is because of questionable doctrinal beliefs in the first place. Otherwise, people would think, that sounds funny to me … and then ignore it or look into the matter.

    May I suggest that requiring that Church members “cite” things is really not the solution here (not that it is unimportant). There are plenty of things that could be cited accurately, even with an apostle’s or prophet’s name, that are nonetheless problematically seen as definitive Church teachings — what all (good) Latter-day Saints must believe. (For example, citing President Benson as definitive support for the claim that all Latter-day Saints should never watch a R-rated movies.) One of our big problems is that we hide behind “general authority quotes” because we do not know how to discern definitive doctrine from folk beliefs. When I say folk beliefs, I do not mean teachings that are not true, but simply teachings that are not definitive teachings for which all Latter-day Saints must believe. I see this as a crucial issue that ordinary Church members of our generation need to take seriously, especially considering “new media” and widespread interest in the Church. I do not see it as the (sole) responsibility of our Church leaders. We need to be more willing to talk with others about their folk beliefs, not deriding them (we all have and need folk beliefs because the Church does not have a definitive theology or creed), but helping each other to sort out what is and is not official Church doctrine, and then “owning” our beliefs, rather than hiding behind “authorities.”

    I’ve made a (incomplete) list of things that I consider to be Mormon folk beliefs here: http://denniswendt.blogspot.com/2008/03/mormon-folk-beliefs.html

    I’d be curious to hear what others think.

  50. Matt Evans on March 10, 2008 at 4:56 pm

    Thanks for the information, Kevin. If the letter again stresses that GAs should not be quoted unofficially, however, I would think that shows they were motivated by, and see the issue as one of, misattribution, and not with the substance of the quote itself. It’s just hard to imagine the church issuing an official rebuttal to an exagerated statement from an EFY speaker.

  51. Kevinf on March 10, 2008 at 5:01 pm

    Matt, the letter directly and only addressed the “generals in the preexistence” and “bow in your presence” statement, but referred generally to the policies of the CHI. I think that the advice from the handbook would go doubly for listening to EFY speakers. Now only if the EFY speakers would listen to that counsel……

  52. Matt Evans on March 10, 2008 at 5:10 pm

    I agree. Another way to see this as an issue solely of misattribution is the following thought experiment. If I sent a letter to Elder Packer asking if it’s true that there are 12 evil spirits working to tempt every member, I’d probably get a letter saying, “I don’t speculate.” If I sent a letter to Elder Packer asking if it’s true that he said in a regional conference that there are 12 evil spirits working to tempt every member, I’d probably get a letter saying, “No.” If he got a hundred letters asking if he’d said that in regional conference, he might decide to answer the question publicly.

    In short, the apostles will answer inqueries asking whether they indeed made a particular speculative statement. The apostles won’t answer inqueries asking whether particular speculative statements are true.

  53. Julie M. Smith on March 10, 2008 at 5:32 pm

    Matt, Pres. Packer said, “I do not believe that statement.” in the Church News link above. The issue is not only misattribution.

  54. MJ on March 10, 2008 at 6:23 pm

    “Ironically for this post, that talk attributed to President Kimball may well be pseudepigraphic ;) See the Disputed Mormon Texts archive linked above.”

    I’ve been caught with guile…Thanks for calling me out on that one. I am now committed to never quoting anything unless I can put down a actual reference and page #. That Pres. Kimball talk was actually included in my mission handbook. Amazing how these things are so self-sustaining. I hear that Elder Featherstone talk first came up in the 70s and resurfaces every couple of years.

  55. Raymond Takashi Swenson on March 10, 2008 at 7:15 pm

    Things that sound “neat” that we hear in a particular meeting give us an immediate sense of being in the “in crowd,” who know something other members of the Church do not appreciate. Apostacy generally involves playing to that selfish, proud desire to be more special than other people, even within the Church.

    One can speculate that the same dynamic may have had a role in the popularity of folk abeliefs about people of African descent being less valiant in the pre-mortal life.

    There is definitely something of predestination in the myth, a kinship with the Calvinist idea that God has already picked out the winners from the losers, and that you, my boy, are a WINNER!

    It is puzzling to me that simply being a Child of God, the Creator of the heavens and earth, who controls the universe and will resurrect mankind and bring us before his Son for judgment, offering a promise to us that we can, through faith and charity, become like Him, is somehow not exciting enough for people. I served 20 years in the Air Force, and worked directly for three generals. The generals who achieve the most do so through the work of those who work for them. And real generals all start out as normal soldiers. A young captain who worked in my office back then was just promoted to Brigadier General, after working his way up through the ranks as Major, Lt. Colonel, and Colonel, responding to challenges. We are ALL going to be “generals” if we make it to the Celestial Kingdom. But there are no guarantees, and there are plenty of people who have demonstrated how easy it is to fail, as Oliver Cowdery did. So the whole notion of premortal generalship has no real long term meaning. A premortal private who converts to the Church late in life, has faith, receives the ordinances, and endures to the end will be an Eternal General before a lot of the youth of Zion. That is the lesson of the parable of the laborers in the vineyard. All who work get the same pay in the end.

  56. courtney on March 10, 2008 at 8:05 pm

    I first heard that story at EFY and I got goosebumps and I felt so awed and reverenced– just to hear that it was just some made up story a few months later. It probably was some EFY speaker that made it up in the first place– well-intentioned, but probably misguided. I think the main problem with stories like that one is that it makes the youth to whom it is directed think they are feeling the Spirit, when really, they are just getting goosebumps. It was stories like that one which made me feel like I didn’t know how to feel the Spirit, and I thought unless I cried or had goosebumps I couldn’t be spiritual. Stories like that are really for entertainment and to shock the crowd. It’s too bad we don’t trust our youth enough to listen to real spiritual matter and be inspired– that we have to make up shocking stories and tell jokes in order for them to “feel the Spirit.” But, I hope the youth will bounce back and learn to distinguish what is genuinely spiritual and what is emotionally coercive.

  57. Talon on March 10, 2008 at 10:14 pm

    The “I found my friend” story is next on my list of stories that I hope are debunked. Mostly because I’m tired of hearing it.

  58. Julie M. Smith on March 10, 2008 at 10:44 pm

    courtney, you articulated that well.

  59. Matt Evans on March 10, 2008 at 10:54 pm

    Julie, I meant as much by my comment. Only by attributing the speculation to Elder Packer was there any chance he’d publicly address it.

    Wasn’t it Elder Packer who said that missionaries are sent to the mission where their best pre-mortal friend lives? : )

  60. Becca on March 11, 2008 at 12:15 am

    We JUST heard the \’knees bowing\’ quote yesterday in RS, by a member of the presidency, no less. I didn\’t feel quite right raising my hand and debunking her, so I just told the people on either side of me, and mentally rolled my eyes.

  61. gst on March 11, 2008 at 9:49 am

    I was a corporal in heaven. I had been a sergeant, but I was busted a stripe for striking Lieutenant Uchtdorf.

    FYI, corporals get born in places like Rockford, Illinois.

  62. gst on March 11, 2008 at 9:53 am

    By the way, a corporal in the pre-Earth life is an interesting thing: a non-corporeal corporal.

  63. Mark IV on March 11, 2008 at 10:19 am

    Do non-corpereal corporals have privates?

  64. Julie M. Smith on March 11, 2008 at 11:50 am

    Oooh, Matt, your comment just gave me a great idea: let’s write a quote incorporating some Mormon folklore that we want debunked (but wrapped up in some fuzzy-feel-good doctrine so people will repeat it), attribute it to Pres. Eyring, and then he’ll have to publically refute it!

  65. Eric Russell on March 11, 2008 at 5:14 pm

    gst, and the life sentence of living as a lawyer is a result of the pre-mortal NJP.

  66. queuno on March 11, 2008 at 10:16 pm

    Wasn’t it Elder Packer who said that missionaries are sent to the mission where their best pre-mortal friend lives?

    I hope not. I had a miserable pre-existence, then.

  67. Matt Evans on March 11, 2008 at 11:12 pm

    Julie, that’s the ticket!

  68. Ray on March 11, 2008 at 11:56 pm

    #63 – Only if they make it to the Celestial Kingdom.

  69. green mormon architect on March 12, 2008 at 11:56 am

    A year and a half ago I was called into the Young Mens. My first Sunday the outgoing leader, who was teaching, used this as his lesson. He had it printed out on cards for everyone’s scriptures. In fact, I still have it as a bookmark in my scriptures and pulled it out to show my wife while they were debunking it over the pulpit this past Sunday. The amazing thing to me even all this time later, is the obvious spiritual manipulation used by this person when discussing this. It wasn\’t anything done in malice – he honestly believed it to be true. But this is unfortunately all too common, with people using email trains in Sacrament talks (including our Bishops wife in a previous ward), and missionaries circulating false stories. After reading it, he asked if everyone felt the Spirit and the power of those words. This was the basis for the whole lesson, and he even bore his testimony about it.

  70. queuno on March 12, 2008 at 11:57 pm

    So were girls generals in the preexistence and if so, did they then have any priesthood authority, or were they the Clara Bartons and Florence Nightengales of the preexistence?

    (Bad joke cross-posted at MoMent).

  71. Alison Moore Smith on March 13, 2008 at 1:02 am

    But perhaps they think the regular ‘ol gospel won’t do it–they need some superlatives, some celestial fireworks to get the message across.

    Serious pet peeve of mine. Remember all the goofy stuff we saw in seminary that was church-produced? I’ll Build You a Rainbow comes to mind. I swear the only possible motives were:

    (1) To get the teens to cry (which apparently equates to “feeling the spirit”)

    (2) To prove that dead people control the weather

    But at least we still have Saturday’s Warrior for doctrinal guidance.

  72. East Coast on March 13, 2008 at 9:14 am

    BYU Broadcasting has been showing Saturday’s Warriors from time to time. A few weeks ago on a Sunday, I thought I would let my kids watch it since I grew up listening to the music (never saw the show). That lasted about two minutes and then we found something better to do. Awful production. Awful pseudo-religious images. And those 80s hairdos just put the nail in the coffin.

    Besides the generals quote, the one I’ve always hated is the fake historical account of the Roman soldier’s experience with Jesus. That one is awful too.

    Why do people spread these things?!? (Gnashing my teeth.)

  73. Amy on March 17, 2008 at 11:36 pm

    I remember the “generals” quote used to be attributed to brad wilcox, the EFY speaker. Have no idea if he really said it or not.

  74. Mark B. on March 18, 2008 at 1:02 am

    The thing they don’t point out in those “reserved for the last days” talks is that the last days will not only have a lot of righteous folks, but also a lot of really wicked ones. The youth should wake up every morning worried that they might be in the latter group, and get down on their knees and pray that they’ll get over it, with the grace of God.

    Besides, I frankly don’t see any evidence that the youth are generally any better now than they were 30 or 40 years ago, when I was a youth. And I know that we weren’t up to what the youth were like who grew up during the Great Depression. So, aren’t the trendlines down, and shouldn’t we be calling the little buggers to repentance rather than making them think that they’re on the escalator to heaven and just about ready to step off at the top?