by Robert John Stevens, October 22, 2017
On October 20, 2017, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released Standard Interview Questions for Prospective Missionaries (see also my saved copy).
If these new questions were in place, I wouldn’t have been able to serve a mission because I had a serious speech disorder—I stuttered so badly that when going door-to-door on my mission, people regularly slammed their front door before I could say my name.
In my first area, I ordered an $800 delayed auditory speech machine like the one BYU had my use for speech therapy about the time they filmed me for future study.
And yet my companions and I baptized dozens of people. At least two of those young men later served missions—one later became a speech pathologist.
I’ve only met one person who stutters worse than I did and he builds stain glass windows for Mormon temples.
Moses also had a speech disorder.
According to Mormon history, Jesus recruited Sidney Rigdon to speak for Joseph Smith who until the late 1830s was not mighty in speaking.
In the New Testament, we learn Saul consented to the stoning and murder of Christians and yet Jesus choose him. Saul (later named Paul) wouldn’t have qualified either under these new guidelines.
People who committed sin can relate to and guide those with similar problems. Jesus was required to feel the pain of all sins to accomplish his job.
The faithful will defend these qualifications as being inspired. The unfaithful may see them as uninspired, hypocritical and detrimental.
Response from a friend:
Having a focused conversation about a speech disorder to ensure the prospective missionary feels confident in their ability to proselyte seems pretty reasonable to me.
Yes, that’s true and a very good perspective—All discussions are reasonable. A church, entity or any government institution that discourages or shuns free and open discussion will have difficulty establishing the foundational mindset necessary to receive new inspiration necessary for advancements.
I felt confident that I could proselyte but if my Bishop asked me if I could say my name, teach a discussion or give a talk without severe stuttering, I would have admitted that I wasn’t confident I could. So would I have been denied going on a mission under the new rules?
I’ve observed that most close-minded people, especially those who are determined to comply with man-made rules, would enforce adherence.
Interestingly, note the phraseology on this subject used by Jesus in D&C 98:7 — “pertaining to law of man” — as though it was clear to Him the source of most laws.
As previously mentioned, our son Wesley was repeatedly denied missionary service because of his severe psoriasis. He was asked to interview with a psychiatrist who concluded that he was also depressed. Of course, Wesley was depressed–repeated denial of missionary service by “inspired Bishops.” Plus, who wouldn’t be if they had Wesley’s condition? Finally, a Bishop let him serve a local summer temple mission. He did. During his mission, his psoriasis mostly disappeared. He’s content. Work got done, he’s now a returned missionary dating a nice girl, and his future is bright.
Given regulations, without the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, most men will strictly abide by them. I think Jesus was clear about telestial leaning in Mark 2 when his disciples were plucking corn on the Sabbath. We could propose an unauthorized rephrasing for His solution, “Missionary work was made for man, and not man for missionary work: Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the missionary work.”
I am sure the Twelve Apostles know that raising the bar will also increase virtue—That’s positive.
But if they want to discuss speech impediments, then why not also discuss impediments for all senses, including poor-functioning limbs? Where will it end?
Will Bishops also disqualify Tiny Tim? Consider this quote from A Christmas Carol:
“And how did little Tim behave?” asked Mrs Cratchit, when she had rallied Bob on his credulity and Bob had hugged his daughter to his heart’s content.
“As good as gold,” said Bob, “and better. Somehow he gets thoughtful, sitting by himself so much, and thinks the strangest things you ever heard. He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk, and blind men see.”
Wesley’s mission was further evidence to me that a one-size-fits-all approach fits only the laws of man. Youth no matter what their sins may be, or having undesirable physical or mental conditions, with or without a testimony should know there is a mission available for them–whether it be proselyting, temple, physical service, mentoring, etc. If a mission can elevate the missionary one notch and help others then would there be greater youth retention and more determination for future blessings?
I still question why my mission was cut short to 18 months due to Church policy and then later raised back to two years. To me, that is plausible evidence of fallibility that I’d like discussed.
Reply from the same friend:
I’m not sure if the church would have sent you or not with these new questions…but everyone is talking about these new “rules”…when they are simply standardized questions that will be asked of every prospective missionary. Your interpretation is that the church is trying to “limit” who is going on missions. Perhaps this is from your experience with Wesley, which I’m sure has been difficult for you to observe. However, while the church must take seriously who it sends out to represent it, I can tell you that they are ultimately concerned about each young man. While it is true that a mission experience can help elevate some young men, for others, they go out either unworthily, unprepared, or unconfidently and then have to come home and face the embarrassment of coming home early. So these new questions simply ensure that bishops can have more focused conversations about issues that may ultimately cause a missionary to struggle in the mission field. To me, it makes total sense. I’m sure there will be bishops that don’t enact the intent perfectly, just like there were bishops who are way too lax or way too strict in the way they approach prospective missionaries before these questions were given.
Tiny Tim would not have been called as a missionary given that I don’t think he was LDS ;). However, assuming he had been converted, as his Bishop, I think it would make sense for me to have a conversation with him about his physical disability and whether he could adequately meet the physical demands of the full-time missionary service. If he couldn’t serve a full-time proselyting mission, the church provides all kinds of alternatives for full-time missionary service to those that need accommodations for various physical or mental challenges. So already, they do not apply a one-size-fits-all approach…and I think this helps them adapt even more by helping to identify individuals who want to serve but may need to serve in alternative capacities.
Thanks for taking the time to reply, for discussing this with me, and for increasing my understanding. You’re right–asking specific questions during pre-mission interviews makes sense or the questions may not be asked. I know of a recently returned mission president who had several missionaries confess to him on their mission that they hadn’t repented about something serious.
I also realize that when 15 spiritual men agree1, they create much better policies that the three Utah County Commissioners where 2 out of 3 votes wins and then their regulations become law and backed by force, fine, prison or forfeiture.
1 The living prophet, his two counselors and the twelve apostles