UPDATE: More information here.
I’ve read and reported on a lot of missionary and mission president blogs. Many remind me of both the good and the bad of being a missionary for the Church. I can relate to and sympathize with most blogposts–until yesterday.
Yesterday I ran across a new blogpost by the mission president of the California Fresno Mission titled “The Why of Exact Obedience”. I then looked up the blogpost from the previous week titled “Obedience – What We Yet Lack”. I thought “Wow, this guy sure is pushing the obedience rhetoric.” I continued to search the blog for obedience-related blogposts and I honestly couldn’t tell if some of the posts were meant to be satire (i.e. Poe’s Law)…there were just so, so many of them and they include a lot of exclamation points as well as superlative language. We’ve written about the obedience culture in the Church before (here, here, and here), but this was taking it to a new level–thanks Elder Nelson.
Below is a review of some of them (all boldface and underlining in quotes is mine).
The Why of Exact Obedience
So, let’s review some of the things President Clark has said about “exact obedience”. In his most recent blogpost he mentioned that he had just returned from a Mission Presidents Seminar “with the other 32 Mission Presidents and their wives and be instructed by Elders Maynes, Nielson, and Johnson of the Seventy”. He then says:
They taught four things and told us at the onset that if every mission would get back to these things they would be successful. They taught that we should:
1. Place a stronger focus on the Missionary Purpose with an emphasis that baptisms is how we measure a missionary’s success at focusing on their purpose.
2. Place a stronger focus on Finding emphasizing that our missionaries need to be Master Finders!
3. Place a stronger focus on Teaching emphasizing that our missionaries need to be Master Teachers in order to be trusted by the Lord to teach those whom He is preparing as He hastens His work!
4. Place a stronger focus on the Eight Fundamentals teaching that they are the key to testimony and the road to conversion.
Do these sound at all familiar to you? They should as they are exactly what was taught in our last Training and I can’t wait to teach them again in our Zone Conference coming up.
If you’ll remember, since I arrived I have told you that the California Fresno Mission is uniquely situated and qualified to lead the way and demonstrate how the Lord wants a Mission to be. If we will stick with these fundamentals and be constant and vigilant in our Exact Obedience, I know without a shadow of a doubt we will be this model Mission. And I know that by doing so our baptisms will soar, even well above 100/month. I want to bear you my testimony of this for I absolutely know it is true as the Spirit has borne witness to me of these principles. It is a great day to be a Missionary in the California Fresno Mission!!!!
“Baptisms is how we measure a missionary’s success”? Maybe I was naive, but I thought the Church and missions had moved beyond this line of thinking. It must be hard for them since, as Peggy Fletcher Stack wrote, “as it stands, the ratio of converts to Mormon missionaries has slipped from 5-to-1 in 2010 to less than 3.5-to-1 last year.” TL;DR Missionaries are baptizing less.
Obedience – What We Yet Lack
On April 27th, President Clark published another blogpost. In it he gives a long quote from Elder Holland followed by following public shaming of those who are exactly obedient:
And the missionary way to achieve Exact Obedience passes through the halls of integrity and accountability. You must be willing to hold yourself accountable. Remember I have asked you to do so and you have committed you would. In my recent interview with each of you I asked the question if you were being exactly obedient. There are far too many of you that said you were when you are not. This is an issue of honesty and integrity. President James E. Faust suggested that integrity is the mother of many virtues. He noted that integrity can be defined “as a firm adherence to a code of moral values.” He also suggested that “integrity is the light that shines from a disciplined conscience. It is the strength of duty within us” (“Integrity, the Mother of Many Virtues,” Faust). It is difficult for a person to display virtuous traits if he or she lacks integrity. Without integrity, honesty is often forgotten. If integrity is absent, civility is impaired. If integrity is not important, spirituality is difficult to maintain.
Do you want to know what we yet lack in order to truly live our Missionary Purpose and in doing so register over 100 people baptized in a month? Exact Obedience! And I’m not asking for a push for a while or a program for a season. I am asking you to make it the way you live your lives during your mission experience and for the rest of your lives. Desire and accountability will be key components to your success of offering and yielding Exact Obedience – will you do it with a willing and a glad heart or see it as “one more thing I have to do”? So, ask the question: “Lord, is it I” and then get to work on being Exactly Obedient – one of the great hallmarks of the California Fresno Mission. After all, Christ’s example to us is one of Exact Obedience as motivated by love and isn’t that our culture as well?
First Mission Leadership Council
During his first month as mission president he published a blogpost titled “First Mission Leadership Council” in which he says he “felt very prompted” that his wife should teach about obedience, but that she’s didn’t really want to. In the end she did and he praised her for her obedience. Honestly, this seems scripted for Saturday Night Live. In his own words:
I felt very prompted to have Bonnie teach obedience at the MLC. I started by asking her to give her farewell talk – which she was hesitant to do. I continued to feel prompted that she needed to speak on obedience. She may not have been enthused but she was obedient.
Sister Clark then chimes in saying:
I started with an object lesson – which I have posted. Then taught on my most favorite topic – Exact Obedience.
Her favorite topic is exact obedience? I am citing Poe’s Law right there and say I honestly can’t tell whether this a parody of extreme Mormon culture or not.
November 2014 (3 Blogposts on Obedience)
November 2014 was a big month with regards to “exact obedience” in the California Fresno Mission. There were three back-to-back blogposts about obedience in that month:
- Mending Broken Fences (November 3, 2015)
- Psalm of the Strength of 1,000 (November 10, 2015)
- Exact Obedience Brings Miracles (November 17, 2015)
In the Mending Broken Fences blogpost he explains why one should be exactly obedient:
So, I ask you; What are we Exactly Obedient to? We should be Exactly Obedient to the Rules found in the MHB and Preach My Gospel. We must be Exactly Obedient to the additional Rules found in the Resource Binder. All of these will be a blessing in our life, just as a strong fence, to ensure the harvest is achieved and is bountiful and a blessing to all.
He continues by explained that “it has been revealed to [him] that there are two reasons [they] are struggling with poor results right now”:
1. Lack of Exact Obedience which leads to a lack of worthiness, commitment, and focus! I fear many are currently serving in a manner they will regret.
2. Lack of Desire which leads to complacency, laziness, and indifference! This, at the end of the day, is a result of a lack of conversion to our Missionary Purpose.
In his Psalm of the Strength of 1,000 blogpost he pens a Psalm about the mission goal to baptize 1,000 people in that year. In other blogpost he evens acts as a mathematician to show how 1,000 = 3,300. He says:
So…..the Strength of 1,000 from Convert Baptisms this year now easily becomes 3,300 members of the Church over the next 15 years. That is a Stake!
So when does 1,000 = 3,300? When they are Convert Baptisms in the California Fresno Mission. How the Lord Multiplies us! How He hastens His work!
Ok, back to the Psalm. In it he uses superlative language calling for the miracles that come from “exact obedience”:
May we see the value, no the blessing, nay the Miracle that Exact Obedience yields and endeavor each and every hour of the day to exactly obey that we may be counted worthy to participate in Finding those thou has prepared to receive, here and now.
In his third blogpost of the month he writes that all CFM missionaries had read his Mending Broken Fences blogpost and “committed that [they] would be more Exactly Obedient.” Then he drives home the obedience:
A few weeks ago I wrote a letter entitled “Mending Broken Fences” and all of you accounted that you had read it and committed that you would be more Exactly Obedient. Your commitments and follow through have changed the California Fresno Mission for the better! Your commitment to Exact Obedience has yielded a portion of the blessing we desire and I know the trend is set and the trajectory is clear. Last weekend, November 15th and 16th, we were blessed with 31 Baptisms – including a family of 6 in Madera. Wow! What a blessing! Thank you for “partnering” with the Lord as He Hastens His work! What we seek, the Strength of 1,000, will only come as a result of our Obedience, Worthiness, Commitment, Focus and Faith. You are on the right path and are “participating” with the Lord in His way as He Hastens His work. Now is the time to become even more Committed and Focused. Look in your lives to find where you can become even more Obedient and make the necessary changes. Serving with “No Regrets” never had greater meaning than now!
Connection with Mission Presidents Seminars?
One interesting thing is that each of these waves of obedience blogposts from President Clark was preceded by a Mission Presidents Seminar (remember, these are the meetings where mission presidents often go to nice resorts, hear general authorities speak about unsubstantiated fears about gay marriage, and gossip about “disobedient Elders”).
On November 3, 2014, he reported he had just returned from a Mission Presidents Seminar in San Diego. Then we got three blogposts on obedience on the November 3rd, 10th, and 17th.
Then he reports they had a Mission Presidents Seminar during the last week of April, then we get two blogposts on “exact obedience”. There seems to be a pattern.
Are the speakers at the Mission Presidents Seminars pushing obedience or is President Clark’s own zeal after tending these meetings causing him to push obedience on his own?