Wednesday, May 22, 2013

New Convert Vaccinations

"And after they had tasted of the fruit they were ashamed, because of those that were scoffing at them; and they fell away into forbidden paths and were lost." (Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi, Chapter 8:28)

I have one of the best callings in the LDS Church to assist our full-time missionaries as they assist the members of our ward do our duty to share the restored gospel of Jesus Christ with our friends and neighbors.

Our missionaries are and have been excellent. They are virtuous, committed, dedicated and hardworking and have been very successful in bringing many souls to Christ . Our ward is the top baptizing ward (congregation) in our  stake and one of the top in the mission.

However, I think we can do better at retention. The retention issue has nothing to do with the excellent teaching process.  Investigators are plainly taught a wonderful, and inspirational message of how Christ restored His kingdom to the Earth in the Last Days.  New converts hear and understand the message, they make and keep commitments, they give up harmful vices and sins that separate them from the presence of God, and then they pray to Heavenly Father in the name of Jesus Christ to know if the LDS message is true.  

In response to earnest prayer, new LDS Converts feel and recognize the confirming power of the Holy Ghost testify to their heart and mind that the LDS message is true.  LDS Investigators become LDS Converts not because of pressure tactics but because they receive a personal spiritual manifestation from God that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only true Church on the Earth and is the Kingdom of God. 

The amazing miracle of conversion is that, In my experience, this conversion occurs when the missionaries aren't even there but during or after a private, and sincere prayer by the investigator after reading in the Book of Mormon; asking God if it is His word.  As missionaries, we hear about the moment of conversion after-the-fact.

So, knowing that new LDS converts have truly experienced and recognized the Holy Spirit, miraculously repented, forsaken sin, and changed their lives, how and why do some new converts fall away?  

President Hinkley taught that the key to retention was to recognize that every new convert needed 3 things: 1. a friend, 2. an assignment, and 3. continued nourishment by the "good word of God".  Additionally, we know that new converts who have an LDS temple experience soon after baptism are much more likely to be retained.

Unfortunately, despite doing our best in these areas, too often, our new converts are falling away for a very specify and I think preventable reason.  The missionaries call it "getting anti'ed". What "getting anti'ed" means is the barrage of anti-mormon literature, lies, misinformation, and false criticisms spread by the media and other religions about the LDS Church, Joseph Smith, and the Book of Mormon.  

Most often, most people already aware of the LDS Church have already been "anti'ed"  even before meeting the missionaries.  Consequently, most of my friends and neighbors refuse to hear and consider anything about our message. They have already made up their mind that the LDS Church is false.  Many other people who may have not heard of the LDS Church before get "anti-ed" during their investigation of the LDS Church.  The most tragic is those new converts who get "anti'ed" soon after their baptism.  

Anti-Mormon literature is seductive because, lets face it; changing religion and religious culture is difficult and often painful.  There comes a point when a person feels the spirit of the message for the first time and has the "Ah Oh" moment when they realize they may need to take this message seriously and  make a more formal investigation.  It is not hard to see how Satan's planting of a little false information attacking the credibility of Joseph Smith or the Book of Mormon can cause someone to think "phew, now because of what I heard I don't have to make the effort to investigate and test the message further".  People tend to want to believe something, even if it's a lie, if it means that they don't have to change what they do or what they believe.  This kind of thinking is sometimes referred to as "conservatism", "status quo", "emotional" and "confirmation bias".

When new converts are "anti'ed, what usually happens is that family member, friend, neighbor, or a former pastor comes makes a visit with a stack of pamphlets containing anti-mormon literature or a list of talking-points off an anti-mormon website.  This misinformation may cause the new convert to feel ashamed at their decision. The family member might say,  "I can't believe you were suckered into joining that racist cult".  "Didn't you know that Joseph Smith ...." or "didn't you know that the DNA evidence proves..." or "Didn't they tell you what they really believe?"

The consequence of this is that many once enthusiastic new members fall away, quite attending church, and begin avoiding both missionaries and members. Oft times, they may not answer the door or phone calls. This makes resolving concerns nearly impossible. Then some of these new members backslide into their former bad habits, sins, addictions,  and vices and then may feel added embarrassment.  Worst of all, new converts who backside into sin become separated from the presence of the Lord and the Gift of the Holy Ghost which they have received which was the power that converted them in the first place. 

So, what to do about it,  Well, I am not suggesting we "give heed" to the publishers of the various anti-mormon websites or literature, or give attention to their criticisms. What I am suggesting is that we may do better to pre-empt some of this by "immunizing" our new converts and investigators against anti-mormon literature.

In medicine, vaccination it is a well-established, safe and effective method to protect against disease (except if squalene is added). In a spiritual sense. the same kind of immunization could be done by missionaries to fore-warn and protect their investigators and new converts against spiritual attack.  

I'm not saying missionaries or members need to review or address all the anti-mormon criticism out there.  Rather, we just need to tell our new converts that these lies are out there, they can expect a well-meaning family member, friend, neighbor, or former pastor to come around with this sort of false criticism. We are happy to address any concern, but they best do what other active members in the Church do with regard to anti-mormon literature.  What active LDS members do with regard to false criticism, misinformation, lies, scoffing and mocking is what the Book of Mormon instructs; which is to "[heed] them not".

And great was the multitude that did enter into that strange building. And after they did enter into that building they did point the finger of scorn at me and those that were partaking of the fruit also; but we heeded them not. These are the words of my father: For as many as heeded them, had fallen away. (Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi, Chapter 8:33-34)

I think I would tell my new converts after reading "Lehi's Dream" in the Book of Mormon something like, "look, you have just repented of your sins and joined the true Church of Christ" based on a personal witness and spiritual manifestation by God."  "Do you think Satan is happy about that"?  "Do you think Satan is just going to give up in trying to destroy you and your happiness now that you are baptized"?  "No way!"  (Satan didn't stop tempting Christ, or Peter or Job) "Well-meaning people may approach you: family, neighbors, pastors with negative and critical disinformation to try and undermine your new faith and testimony of Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon or the LDS Church". 

The best thing to do would be to avoid listening to it, but if you can't avoid it, then know this stuff is lies, misinformation, half-truths presented in the worst terms possible (framer's bias) all designed for the purpose to destroy your faith and to get you to cast aside what you know by the Holy Ghost to be true.  

Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward. (New Testament, Hebrews, Chapter 10:35)

There is no "secret doctrine" we are not telling you. There is no embarrassing history that the LDS Church is sweeping  under the rug. Of course certain individuals in the church have some embarrassing, tragic, and regrettable  instances.  Who doesn't.  The Church is filled with imperfect people. Our leaders do not claim to be infallible.  However, when our leaders are inspired and directed by Jesus Christ you can know that they are acting and speaking in accordance with the will of God.  The doctrine of the LDS Church is simple and beautiful and exactly the way the missionaries presented it and what is covered in Sunday in the scriptures and lesson manuals.

Finally, if you have doubts because of something  you have heard or been told, do not cast aside your faith but be patient and continue on living clean, praying, reading the scriptures and God will answer these questions in His time (shelve questions to be answered later).  LDS faith is not blind.  

Also, feel free to ask missionaries or other members to resolve any concerns. These anti-mormon criticism are old and have been addressed and proven to be false, negatively biased, and misleading time and again.  Beware not to waste time studying the criticisms.  It's much better to study the truth and what actually is LDS Doctrine then to spend all your time studying falsehood, and what critics claim is our doctrine, but isn't .  

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