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The Fourth “Emphasis” Is Here

By: Ardis E. Parshall - November 28, 2010

Almost a year ago (can it really have been that long?), there was much talk in the Bloggernacle about a rumored addition of “caring for the poor and needy” to the familiar “threefold mission of the Church” – traditionally a mission to “perfect the saints, proclaim the gospel, and redeem the dead.” Keepa’s contributions to the discussion were, first, a history of the threefold mission tracing the statement back much farther than its usually assumed origins with Spencer W. Kimball, and some personal thoughts on welcoming the addition, if indeed it were made. A Church spokesman at the time told us to expect the addition of a low-key specific emphasis on caring for the poor and needy when the newest Church Handbook was published in 2010.

Indeed, the Handbook has been published and the addition made, in a quiet, wholly untrumpeted manner. In section 2.2, “The Purpose of the Church,” in the chapter on “Priesthood Principles,” we find the statement:

In fulfilling its purpose to help individuals and families qualify for exaltation, the Church focuses on divinely appointed responsibilities. These include helping members live the gospel of Jesus Christ, gathering Israel through missionary work, caring for the poor and needy, and enabling the salvation of the dead by building temples and performing vicarious ordinances.

The mission statement has lost its rhetorical punch by omitting the powerful imperatives of “perfect – proclaim – redeem” and replacing them with wordier, inelegant, and incomplete definitions of those missions. I call them wordier because, well, “helping members live the gospel of Jesus Christ” seems a watered-down version of “perfect” and our identity as “saints”: I call them inelegant because “gathering Israel through missionary work” is just not as bold as “proclaim the gospel”; I call them incomplete because “enabling” falls short of “redeeming,” and this definition omits the significance of my own cherished role in identifying the dead so that those ordinances can be performed in those temples. The old statement was a rallying cry; the new paragraph is Coveyesque jargon.

But we aren’t writing scripture here, are we? The traditional missions do appear in the new Handbook, and they are accompanied by a new emphasis on caring for the poor and needy.

Hip, Hip, uh, Hip (for the fourth emphasis), Hurrah!



15 Comments »

  1. I think we as Mormons are getting more and more “normal”–that is, mainstreamed. In some ways, that’s good. We can make the impression that we’re just like everyone else and then set a good example. But we also seem to forget sometimes that we are different and we shouldn’t be ashamed of that. We ran away from America and wanted to be alone, and now we’re chasing after her which compromises some things. Not that I think we shouldn’t be in the world. We just need to find a nice way to stay strong in our beliefs, and our more and more diplomatically-worded publications don’t help, in my opinion. I was talking to a friend yesterday who said that when he worked in Jerusalem for a month, he loved that the different religions were clearly distinguished and they weren’t ashamed of it. Maybe we don’t go as far as shame, but we do tend to water down sometimes. So in short, I also like the fourth emphasis and I agree with you that the wording leaves a bit to be expected.

    Comment by Michelle Glauser — November 28, 2010 @ 2:59 pm

  2. Personally, I think the wording is a reminder of what it is we as members are capable of. We do not perfect. We do not redeem. Those responsibilities belong to Christ. Through His Atonement and Resurrection, He redeems and perfects. I could see how the previous language would serve a very real purpose in inspiring the Saints to perform our work. But I’m glad to see the language wasn’t permanent.

    Our objective with missionary work isn’t just to proclaim the gospel anymore. The gospel has been proclaimed and the stakes of Zion have been driven down. Now it’s time to gather Israel to them. I think it’s more than appropriate for the focus of the Church to shift as the work progresses, and our objectives change. Naturally there will always be room for more stakes, but it seems to me like we’re entering a new phase of building the kingdom.

    We would do well to focus less on the wording of our instructions and more of the content, which is no less profound.

    Comment by Paradox — November 28, 2010 @ 3:45 pm

  3. And the reason why a thing cannot be both true and beautiful is … ?

    Mentioning the inelegant language is an attempt to explain why, when so many of us were so excited about this last year, no one seems to have noticed it this year. I’m still cheering for it — hip, hip, hip, hurray.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 28, 2010 @ 3:56 pm

  4. I did notice this, but it seems like such a footnote in the handbook, rather than any sort of practical shift in emphasis.

    Comment by Matt W. — November 28, 2010 @ 4:41 pm

  5. I seem to recall during the leadership training that someone mentioned that the change in the wording was to allow more flexibility and, in fact, broaden the scope. That said, I wasn’t fully awake during the leadership broadcast. I might not have gotten that completely correct. Anybody recall?

    I do agree, I am glad that the fourth mission was added whatever the wording.

    Comment by Steve C. — November 28, 2010 @ 5:33 pm

  6. Thanks for making my day.

    Comment by Sterling Fluharty — November 28, 2010 @ 8:51 pm

  7. The said thing for me is…why does any of this need to be in outlined in a mission statement or in the handbook? These things are what the scriptures are all about.

    Comment by Chris H. — November 28, 2010 @ 9:32 pm

  8. The other comment from the training was that we will return to the original intent: these are not, in fact, separate missions of the church — there is one mission: to help individuals and families qualify for exaltation. Everything else is a descriptor of how to do it.

    The training discouraged dividing these up and seems to favor the more “balanced approach” (used in the late 90′s in a “training emphasis” that’s made its way around since then, and also highlighted in the new Handbook 2, as well.

    Comment by Paul — November 29, 2010 @ 7:32 am

  9. I always thought the approach of having a mission statement looked more like a corporate sales team, than a church. In the 80s and 90s (and probably earlier) we had sound bites, day planners, and habits to make us highly effective. What did it get us? Lots of baptisms, but half the people in our ward never come to church. Now the slogans have been toned down. Why? Because the most lasting conversions come from people who have friends in the Church. It has little to do with sales technique. It has everything to do with friendship, love,and compassion.

    Comment by Bruce Crow — November 29, 2010 @ 8:56 am

  10. This new statement reminds me of our ward goals. Let me pull out a Sunday bulletin. Here they are:

    Mission of the ___ Ward: * Build up Zion in our area as a safe haven in a spiritually turbulent world * Labor while the sun still shines to bring souls to Christ and gather in all who will heed the Lord’s call to come to Zion * Prepare all in our stewardship for the millennial reign of the Savior

    I don’t have much to say about mission statements, besides the fact that I agree with Bruce on that point, but at least some former language was removed that said that we will “seek to grow the ward.” Eew.

    Comment by Researcher — November 29, 2010 @ 9:53 am

  11. Re 5, 8:

    Elder Oaks’ comments are here.

    Comment by Justin — November 29, 2010 @ 10:41 am

  12. I’ve been and still am cheering for this. When news of this first came out I immediately took it to a Doctrine and Covenants class here at BYU-Hawaii where we were scheduled to discuss later sections dealing with the Law of Consecration and Stewardship. When I asked what the threefold mission of the Church was, students dutifully responded. I told them it was going to change. They looked puzzled and skeptical. I handed out a printout of what would change and be added. It was interesting to watch their faces as they read the short article. Most thought it made good sense. For many there was an immediate expression of hearty approval–this was a good thing. That’s heartening.

    I understand Chris’s sentiment that we shouldn’t have to say this. But I think it is good to have it there as a stated purpose and a reminder of what we can’t get away from.

    This has clearly been a concern since the early days of the restoration. And while we may have done better at some times than others, it’s also true, I think, that the size of the church and the relative prosperity of the members (some of the members) puts us in a position to do things on a larger scale than we’ve been able to do previously.

    Comment by Keith — November 29, 2010 @ 7:17 pm

  13. Justin, thanks for the direct quote from DHO. That’s the comment I was trying to remember.

    Comment by Steve C. — November 30, 2010 @ 7:56 am

  14. I wonder if the rewording, particularly of the first and fourth “emphases,” is not intended to clarify some things. First, to make clear that members are not expected be perfect in and of themselves, at least not as the term is understood in today’s (English) vernacular. Some in the Church feel too much pressure to reach an unrealistic standard of “perfection” as they understand it.

    Second, to reiterate that those deceased persons for whom vicarious ordinances still have the agency to choose whether to accept the gospel of Jesus Christ and the covenants associated with the ordinances. This seems to bear repetition among those offended by the presumption of our baptizing others against their will.

    Also, what Paradox said in #2.

    Comment by Martin Willey — November 30, 2010 @ 1:11 pm

  15. “for whom vicarious ordinances are performd

    Comment by Martin Willey — November 30, 2010 @ 1:13 pm

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