Thursday, May 5, 2011

Missionary Discussions

Last week was pretty crazy. In 3 days we had a funeral, graduation, wedding, birthday, and Easter. The funeral was for my grandfather. It was in many ways a happy event. His health had been so poor for so long that death was a sweet relief.

While reflecting on my grandfather's life, I was looking at some books he had given me a few years ago. Inside I found a treasure trove of little notes and booklets.

From fam history

That's a letter he received while on his mission. He served in the "Western States Mission." I like the $0.03 stamp, and the fact that in the town of Fruita a name is sufficient to send someone a letter.

The most fascinating items were two small booklets or tracts.

From fam history

This is the front and back cover of one of them. So the #11 on the front of this booklet is the 11th of 12 "rays" of light. So there were 12 'discussions' using these booklets or tracts. Turns out that Pres. Charles Penrose wrote a book called Rays of Living Light which focused on 12 "rays" of light, or principles of the gospel. I looked through #11 which is on vicarious work for the dead, and came across this interesting section (starting at the paragraph at the bottom of the page)
"From the foregoing it will be seen that our Heavenly Father is not bound by the small notions and narrow creeds of modern religious sects and teachers. "His ways are not as man's ways nor His thoughts as their thoughts." "As high as the heavens are above the earth," so is His plan of salvation above the inventions of the worldly wise. The Gospel is to be preached to every responsible and accountable creature. They who do not hear it while in the body will hear it in the spirit world, and even those who through folly and darkness received it not will, after having been beaten with "many stripes" and having paid the "uttermost farthing" of the debt thus incurred, have mercy extended to them when justice has been satisfied, and at length through the ministration of the Holy Priesthood ofGod on earth and behind the veil, and the ordinances performed in person or vicariously, all the sons and daughters of God in the race of Adam will come forth from the grave; and finally "every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is the Christ to the glory of God the Father." Then Jesus, having finished His work of redemption, will present it to the Eternal Father, that He may be all in all.

This glorious work for the salvation of the human family is now in progress under the revelation and authority of the Most High, and no matter how much it may be opposed by ignorance or malice, by Satan or foolish men, it will go on to complete and glorious victory. Evil will be overcome, darkness dispersed, Satan and his hosts be bound, the earth and its inhabitants be redeemed, Paradise will be restored, Eden will bloom again, Christ will reign as King, the Tabernacle of God will be with men, and. all things above, beneath, around, will sing praises to the Most High, to whom be glory and dominion forever. Amen."
That's pretty universalist salvific doctrine. Not only is this from Charles Penrose (who was 2nd and 1st councilor to Joseph F Smith and 1st to Heber J Grant) but at some point the church offered it as discussion material for missionaries.

It's clear from the info on the back of the booklets that these were at least popular in North America, as the 15 missions in North America and their mailing addresses are listed.

I found Elder Jay E Jensen's (he's now one of the Pres. of the Seventy in the church) MA thesis from 1974 which mentions these pamphlets.

I was surprised when listening to this Sunstone podcast that the person being interviewed didn't discuss more about the tracts or discussions during the time period my grandpa was serving.

I just found in the book Mormonism in Transition (a new edition will be out soon which a friend is working on editing) a great explanation of the development of the missionary program in the first half of the 20th century (including these booklets). Here is a (very long) sample:
At the turn of the century, church leaders had done little to systematize the techniques of missionary work. In a meeting of the Twelve in April 1900, John W. Taylor suggested that such systematization was necessary and proposed a meeting of the First Presidency, Apostles, and presidents of the Seventy to accomplish the purpose. A committee consisting of Francis M Lyman, John W. Taylor, and Matthias F. Cowley was appointed to plan the coordination effort.

After conference meetings on April 9, 1900, the general authorities held a session with mission presidents. They discussed methods of proselyting and promotion of missionary work and made suggestions for better missionary procedures. Suggestion included lectures delivered in the large cities and letter of introduction from Governor Heber M. Wells to the governors of all states.

Some members of the church believed that going from door to door passing out tracts --"tracting" in common parlance-- was quite out of date. In an article in the Improvement Era in June 1910, Eugene L. Roberts, chairman of the BYU athletic department and a former Swiss missionary, argued that in the climate of Progressive America missionaries in the field often felt frustrated because their tracts and teachings did not relate to the central problems of the people. Tracts tended to concentrate on "dogma and authority." People, Roberts argued, "no longer ask which is the true church; but they are keenly interested in what principles must underlie social systems." He suggested that temperance was a relevant question. He also suggested that the elders might follow the lead of some missionaries in New Haven, Connecticut, who attended classes at Yale, worked with the YMCA, and worked "shoulder to shoulder with the Yale boys in the missionary activities among the slums of New Haven."

Though they did not accept Robert's suggestions, in an attempt to improve the success rate of the missionaries, the First Presidency in late 1918 and throughout 1919 began to change some procedures. In November 1919 the church adopted a new system to follow up missionary contacts. The names of those who were contacted in certain missions in the United States were sent to Zion's Printing and Publishing Company at Independence, Missouri. From there the publisher sent copies of the Liahona (a monthly magazine) and other free literature to each individual. Thereafter, the staff sent a letter of inquiry asking if they wanted to subscribe to the Liahona. Money for the program came partly from the First Presidency and partly from special contributions. Beyond this, church administrators and mission presidents developed a number of innovations. In 1924 and again in 1930 the church prepared sets of slides which they offered to missionaries. Following his appointment as Eastern States Mission president in 1928, James H Moyle produced sixteen-millimeter movies on the ruins of Central America. He also instituted a series of radio programs.

In spite of suggestions like those made by Eugene Roberts and the use of motion pictures, slides, and radio broadcasts, missionaries generally used tracting as a means of contacting potential converts. As a result, missionaries tended to focus on church-sponsored literature, particularly the Book of Mormon. In part because of complaints about the bad grammar in a work revealed by the Lord, B. H. Roberts proposed a new interpretation of the translation process. On May 30 and 31, 1907, Roberts presented his views at a joint meeting of the First Presidency, Council of the Twelve, and First Council of the Seventy. To many of the brethren, Roberts's position that Joseph Smith did not actually see the words in English through the Urim and Thummim but was inspired with the thoughts and rendered them in his own language explained the poor grammar in the book. Anthon H. Lund described Roberts's presentation as "masterly," and George F. Richards commented that the group "agreed that his theory is most nearly correct of any considered if not perfectly correct." Roberts published this position in his book New Witness for God in America. Roberts also wrote volumes 2 and 3 of New Witness to help members and missionaries in their understanding of the Book of Mormon and charges leveled against it. Roberts reviewed the problems ranging from the absence of horses, goats, and some other animals before the European conquest of America and the absence of iron and steel among the Indians. He also rebutted the various theories of the origin of the book, including the Campbellite theory that Joseph Smith wrote the book, they Spaulding manuscript theory, the Sidney Rigdon authorship theory, and the Riley theory that the book developed from Joseph Smith's hallucinations.

In September 1909 James E. Talmage finished the manuscript for The Great Apostasy for use in missionary and educational work. This book dealt with the apostasy of members of the primitive church from the teachings of Christ, and the syncretism of Christian, pagan, and Greek ideas. Originally designed as a lesson manual for the YLMIA, in 1910 the book was published in a small missionary size for use in proselyting work.

After the Book of Mormon, perhaps the most important tract was Joseph Smith's Story, which the church reprinted substantially as it appears in the Pearl of Great Price. In the tract version there followed an explanation of the church's history after the ordination of Joseph and Oliver, including the visitation in Kirtland, the death of Joseph Smith, and the migration to Utah. Thereafter it included a discussion of the Solomon Spaulding theory, together with the story of the discovery of Spaulding's manuscript in Honolulu, its present location, and the explanation that it did not resemble the Book of Mormon.

Perhaps the most prolific tract writer for the church was Charles W. Penrose, successively editor of the Deseret News, member of the Council of the Twelve, European Mission president, and member of the First Presidency. His tract, What Mormons Believe, discussed the basic principles of the gospel, together with the apostasy, restoration, redemption of the dead, the Book of Mormon, celestial marriage, church government, auxiliary organization, countinuous revelation, and divine authority. Some of the most widely distributed and longest continually used literature ever published by the church were Penrose's twelve Rays of Living Light tracts. The pamphlets covered basic principles by taking the reader through a systematic program of gospel study. The first tract included a discussion of the need for true religion and an attack on the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Tract Number 2 dealt with the nature of God and the Godhead. Continuing the discourse on the first principles, tracts Numbers 3 and 4 discussed the doctrine of repentance, baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost, and other spiritual gifts. Tract Number 5 dealt with the nature of authority and outlined the difference between the Melchizedek and Aaronic priesthoods. Number 6 considered the apostasy from the primitive church and emphasized the prediction of this apostasy by Christ and the Apostles. Numbers 7, 8, and 9 dealt with the restoration, the story of the Book of Mormon, and the need for continuous revelation in the church. Numbers 10 and 11 discussed work for the dead, the mercy of God, and the eternality of the family. Tract Number 12 considered the positive aspects of the public image of the Mormons.

Another tract which continued to serve the church missionary system was Ben E. Rich's Friendly Discussion. Rich at various times mission president in both the southern and eastern states, wrote the tract in the form of a dialogue between a missionary and others about the gospel. The tract moves through the first principles, dealing with the nature of God, baptism, apostasy, and other topics.

Missionaries used several tracts less widely known today. One was R. M. Brice Thomas's My Reasons for Leaving the Church of England. This discussion, written by a British convert, began with a consideration of the question of apostasy as it related to the Church of England and Thomas's desire to determine the nature of the primitive Christianity. From there Thomas considered the basic doctrines of the primitive church, followed by a discussion of the principles which changed as a result of the apostasy. Thomas then told of his conversion ot the Church of Jesus Christ, and the features of the church which impressed him. Another less widely known tract was B. H. Roberts's The Mormon Character. This defense of the Mormons likened the defamation then being used against them to the charges of cannibalism leveled at early Christians. From that point, Roberts used statistical evidence, quotations from friendly outsiders, and a discussion of such matters as plural marriage and the Mountain Meadows Massacre as a means of defending the church against defamatory charges.
It continues on for quite a while, but it answered the questions I had. I was interested that contacts the missionaries made were sent to Zion's Printing and Publishing Company at Independence, Missouri so that the contacts could receive the Liahona. It explains why those Penrose tracts were printed there. I thought it funny that pre-1910 people felt tracting was outdated. I was also impressed by the efforts of B. H. Roberts to address 'controversial' topics in an effort to help those in the faith and as a missionary effort. I'd love to see more development that way today. I also liked Eugene Roberts suggestions and I see the Helping Hands project as a great movement towards service directed missionary efforts. The Book of Mormon provided a great example of how much more effective missionary work is when the main focus is service rather than jumping straight to preaching in the stories of Ammon and Aaron (the royal brothers who forsook the throne to be missionaries to the Lamanites).

It's refreshing to learn more about how missionary work was organized and performed when my grandpa was serving. Some things never change (tracting and contacting were considered old and inefficient 100+ years ago) and others undergo many changes. Funny how a little historical journey like this started by just browsing some books I received from my grandpa.

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