Just Say No

So my visiting teachers came over today. I love them; they take good care of me. One of them told me that they were asked on Sunday (I wasn’t in Church this week: sniffly kids) to check in with their visiting teachees and see how they are doing in meeting the challenge that the ward has set for the opening of the San Antonio Temple.

I don’t remember precisely what the challenge was, but it consisted of several goals (like preparing names for the Temple, having a FHE on the Temple, etc.) to complete before the dedication.

The reason that I don’t remember precisely what the challenge is is because we decided not to do it.

And that’s what I told my visiting teacher. That we weren’t participating. That we had made a decision not to do it.

It took her a minute to gather her thoughts. And she said, “Well. Thanks for letting us know where you stand.”

It pretty much killed the conversation.

This has made me think:

(1) If I had stammered something about working on it more next month, that would have been OK. Passive aggressive works well in most Church settings. But what I did isn’t OK. Why is that?

(2) I hate, just detest, the idea of someone else setting a goal for me. I occassionally set goals for myself, but have never, ever played along when someone else tries this. Is this wrong?

(3) Sometimes I am amazed at how absolutely MANDATORY every single thing related to Church is.

22 comments for “Just Say No

  1. obi-wan
    November 23, 2004 at 11:24 pm

    First, I fully share your feelings about having goals set for you. This is one of the most obnoxious forms of manipulation, and altogther too common in the Church. It is particularly obnoxious when accompanied by the so-called “commitment pattern.” I have as a matter of protest adopted the habit of saying “no” whenever I hear “Will you commit . . .?” even if I agree with the overall objective.

    Second, it sounds like your ward may be out of line. The Handbook is quite explicit that no quotas are to be set and no statistics gathered regarding temple attendance. It is, interestingly, the one area where Salt Lake has decided that the usual Churchocratic bean-counting should not apply.

  2. November 23, 2004 at 11:34 pm

    In fact, it is one area where it was very possible to keep statistics and where they removed the ability (the magnetic card reader system kept excellent statistics of all kinds, and they took the entire system out).

  3. Jim F.
    November 23, 2004 at 11:34 pm

    The Church has more and more areas where they don’t count beans, such as Sunday School. And a good deal of the present bean-counting in reports is much less stringent than it used to be.

    But I’m of mixed feelings about others setting goals for us. I share the repulsion at having someone tell me what my goals are. And I don’t think I would have been baptized had the missionaries used the commitment pattern on me. It feels manipulative, like the patter of one of those guys who tries to sell me things by calling me on the phone to ask why I don’t want to remortgage my house if he can give me a great deal.

    But I worry that my repulsion may merely say something about the state of my soul. I think it makes sense for leaders to tell us what things are expected and for them often to do so in quite concrete terms. Brigham Young certainly wasn’t adverse to setting goals for people, even if he didn’t use the language and even if he didn’t think he needed a commitment pattern: “Brother X, I am calling you and your family to establish a community in the middle of nowhere.” When President Hinckley said he wants us all to have our own clothing for temple sessions, he was giving us a goal.

    Is there a significant difference between those kinds of acts and a stake president or bishop saying, “We hope every member of the stake/ward will do work in the temple at least once per month”?

    But I think it is usually if not always out of line for someone to come around and ask me to ‘fess up to whether I’ve met those goals. (The example I gave of Brigham Young makes me think that there must be some times when it is appropriate for me to be required to account for whether I’ve met the goals given to me by others.)

  4. Adam Greenwood
    November 24, 2004 at 12:46 am

    I by no means wish to justify every little program that’s dreamed up at a local level. But I think once we realize that our salvation isn’t entirely individual, but also by ward and by stake and so forth, we have to realize that the ward and stake should also be able to set a direction and a goal from time to time.

    The main problem with things like this is that they work best as somewhat extraordinary measures, expecially if you’re doing things like have people come around and check up on people. Doing things like this too often limits their force.

  5. Larry
    November 24, 2004 at 1:01 am

    What is the value of goal setting if there is no commitment. I have always been a rebel when someone else set my targets for me. But I learned something interesting some time ago while reading about Lehi and his dream of the tree of life.
    He staggered along holding on to the rod of iron while passing through the vicissitudes of life. When he arrived at the Tree of Life something remarkable happened. He wanted to do good. I was struck by this because of my rebellious nature at times.
    I became aware that the reason he wanted to do good was that he had come to the Saviour and had partaken of the atonement, and from that time on his life’s work was to do whatever the Lord wanted him to do.
    I wonder if we spent more time coming to Christ, and helping others to do so, that all that needs to be accomplished will be accomplished – and more – because we really want to do it and don’t have to goad or check up on each other.

  6. Todd F
    November 24, 2004 at 1:16 am

    I do freely admit that I have some of that kneejerk reaction / semi-rebellious streak in me when it comes to such things being imposed on me, but when I allow myself a little contemplation of the matter, I realize that some such goals/commitments/impositions…whatever…some of these resonate more with me on a spiritual level than others. Now, I’m exceptionally cautious about avoiding the trap of gravitating towards ideas that I find to be comfortable and them declaring them to be spiritual.
    Some items resonate with me because I realize I’m deficient in that area. Some items resonate with me because, for whatever reason, I’m feeling a little bit of general spiritual need at that time. Some items don’t resonate with me at all–they make be sooooo bored I wish I had a clicker and could change the rhetorical channel. At some point I learned to trust my own feelings on the matter (and to understand that such feelings are associated with spiritual promptings). Years ago I would jump at nearly any available opportunity to serve–keep a goal, etc. Now, I’m terribly busy in many facets in my life and my ability to serve is limited. I’ve realized that both are ok, as long as I’m always taking a moment to engage in some reflective self-critique of what I am doing vs what I think I should be doing.
    This religion, and part of the nature of the Savior himself, is all about invading and disrupting our lives here and there, from time to time. That’s part of the uniqueness and I would say beauty of this specific religion. Hopefully my reactions to specific requests occasionally reflect my appreciation of that beauty. Hopefully, when I decide against something, it is a reflection of my spiritual maturity and not of complacency or annoyance.

  7. November 24, 2004 at 2:13 am

    To me the relevant question is this: Do organizations in the church have the right/authority/justification to set goals for the organization as a whole? How about the stake or ward leaders– do they have good reason to set goals for themselves, as in how much the Stake Presidency can get the Stake to attend the temple by promoting it vocally?

    If these things are acceptable, I can’t see why it would unacceptable to try to enlist the members of that organization to carry out the plan. I emphasize ‘try’– and I think the project must contemplate refusal by people, like Julie, with other things on their minds. But organizations have objectives, and they are made up of many smaller units, and to achieve organization objectives, the smaller units must be mobilized.

    It shouldn’t be approached as a bunch of unilaterally-imposed individual goals. it should be one big stake goal, and people should be voluntarily enlisted to help achieve it.

    (This all reminds me of a very funny April Fools day on my mission where I prepared a message for our district meeting in which I told the other two companionships that due to their disappointing numbers, I had gone ahead and set their companionship goals for them. They all nodded obediently as they tried to gulp down their disbelief. I was just playing a joke, but I guess they passed some kind of test that day :)

  8. November 24, 2004 at 4:30 am

    Julie, yes there is an odd sort of dynamic to this game. If you say yes then simply ignore their goal (or whatever assignment is being made), they can look forward to playing the guilt card on you next month (“but you promised . . .”) so they at least know how to proceed. But if you give them a straight and honest no, you’re in for a lecture, a glare, or (at best) a blank stare followed by something like, “I’m not sure what you mean.” You’ve stepped out of role, making everyone uncomfortable. It’s very hard to change this dynamic without coming across as borderline rude (or worse). I imagine women can pull it off with a bit more tact than men.

    You know, given the level of commitment of the average member, it’s actually surprising how few Church functions involve any significant level of truly voluntary involvement. Just off the top of my head, I can only come up with bonus HT or VT visits (more than once per month), senior missions, temple attendance besides monthly stake temple night, ward sports teams, and the ward choir. The list may be shrinking–my Bishopric resorted to one-on-one verbal arm-twisting last month to get additional male voices in the choir.

  9. John Mansfield
    November 24, 2004 at 7:50 am

    The concept of being called to labor is a pretty basic one in the Church. Visiting a few of the saints each month as a representative of the Church isn’t my idea, but the quorum leader is on solid ground asking that of me. Teaching a small group of fourteen-year-olds a gospel lesson each week wasn’t my idea either.

    We make and keep covenants individually, but also as part of a group. Did you and God come up with the idea of baptism just between yourselves? Maybe Abraham negotiated a personal contract, but I am just signed on in the well established pattern as part of the seed of Abraham, the house of Israel, and the stakes of Zion.

  10. November 24, 2004 at 10:17 am

    A problem exists in the Church—particularly with younger couples—in that many are apathetic. Many do not care about their responsibilities. Quite honestly, if blanket goals were not set, many couples would do far less than they do now. I am supportive in principle of wards and stakes setting goals. I also do not have a problem with someone in an official capacity (even HT and VT) asking how I am doing in the ward or stake goals.

    I also do not have a problem with the commitment pattern. I hate it when people ask me opened ended questions when what they really want is a yes or no. What I hate even more is when they use a conditional question (“Would you get that for me”?) but never provide the condition.

    However, I really have a problem when missionaries use it when the Spirit is not present or the individual is not sufficiently prepared to make the commitment. Too many times, I have seen missionaries go into a second discussion and offer a commitment to baptism despite the investigator not having read the scriptures they had been given previously or prayed for confirmation of Joseph smith’s experience. Despite that, the missionaries seems disappointed and even surprised when the investigator said no.

  11. November 24, 2004 at 10:51 am

    I have no problem with a ward or stake (or the church) acting collectively towards some end, and I don’t have any problem with individuals being called–obligated, if you prefer–to regularly check up on each other’s actions, and whether or not their playing their part in the whole. I do, however, have a problem with goals being set and the “checking up” calling becoming essentially a bureaucratic one. (Did you get your numbers this month?) I don’t like goal-setting, period.

    I realize that it’s not very easy to articulate exactly how we are to perform our callings over the long-term if we do not transform our chosen ends into data which can be measured and assessed; the language and habits of production are pretty deeply engrained in our culture, far beyond anything the baneful influence of Franklin Planners could have done alone. I can’t claim to know of any good alternative. The best I can come up with is an attempt to live my life mostly in the short-term, my callings and responsibilities divided into “stuff to do” and “stuff that can wait” piles.

  12. Ivan Wolfe
    November 24, 2004 at 11:00 am

    Well, Julie. You’ve brought up a sore spot with me and Austin here.

    The temple thing is from the Stake Presidency, who have decided that they must set goals for everyone in nearly all aspects of our life.

    For example, all members of the Elder’s quorm are required – REQUIRED – to go on splits with the missionaries once every three months. If you do not volunteer, you will be volunteered and considered unworthy if you do not go when assigned.

    I go with the missionaries anyway, just because I enjoy doing missionary work. But I now find myself wanting to not go on splits with them because it is required of me.

    Now there’s the temple goals (I haven’t gone into the service goals and the whole CROP WALK requirement which also bug me).

    I don’t know. I think goals are a good thing, but the way the Stake Presidency is presenting these things, they are REQUIRED. I ain’t sure what to do – graciously submit, or rebel because I don’t like quotas?

  13. MDS
    November 24, 2004 at 11:07 am

    I fully support the idea of reasonable goals being set for me by those with stewardship over me. I have no problem with the use of others over whom the goal-setter also has stewardship being used as part of the follow-up process, since it is not an easy logistical thing to do any other way. For example, President Hinckley has stewardship over me, but has never called to ask how my Home Teaching was for the month.. I will say, however, that I have on occasion received random phone calls from members of the stake presidency asking me the same question and giving me specific assignments relative to those I home teach. In every event this has been inspired and has lead to the spiritual progress of those I home teach. I appreciate the efforts of those good brethren to fulfill the mission of the church.

    The real kicker here, though, is the definition of the reasonableness qualifier as it relates to goals. I know that some of the missionaries in my mission butted heads with my mission president on this issue. One Elder, in particular, in part due to his West Point training, had real problems. The basic point of contention was the idea of SMART goals, which I believe has been addressed by Elder Maxwell, among others. The acronym stands for the following:

    S–Specific. Abstract goals don’t work, because you have a hard time planning to accomplish them, and because it is hard to tell when you have accomplished them. This does not mean that a broad goal such as “we will have more love in the ward” cannot be broken down into more specific SMART goals about how that will be accomplished.
    M–Measureable (Again, you need to know when you have accomplished the goal)
    A–Attainable. This refers to setting goals over which you have power and stewardship. This was one of the main points of contention between the Elder I reference above and the mission president. I have power over a goal to work x number of hours, or knock on x number of doors, or extend x number of invitations to church. I do not have power over the number of people who accept Books of Mormon, allow me to teach them discussions, or accept baptism. As such, setting goals in these, and other similar areas, is problematic. If I don’t accomplish them, despite my best efforts, I am likely to become self-doubting, question my own abilities and commitment, and maybe even give less effort on the next set of goals. I may have doubts about God’s involvement in the work. The counter argument is that if goals are set prayerfully, the Lord will reveal to you what is attainable, and you then have the obligation to work towards it, exercising faith. Surely the Lord giveth no commandments or goals unto the children of men save he shall prepare a way. You can probably see the tension involved in resolving the question of attainability.

  14. November 24, 2004 at 11:08 am

    Julie, et al,

    I don’t see anywhere in Julie’s original post that attendance was part of the preparation or that tracking attendance would be part of it either. I live in Omaha, NE, where the Winter Quarter’s Temple was built a few years ago. I recall many of the preparations people were asked to do. Asking people to discuss the temple in FHE is not out of the ordinary. That is one of our goals as Latter Day Saints and in instructing our children should be worthwhile. Preparing names is a way of sustaining the temple. Just like any person called we are asked to sustain that person, help them achieve their calling. Getting a list of friends or family to share the open house with or missionary opportunities are all part of what we are asked weekly to do anyway.

    I can sympathize with having other people set goals for you. It can be frustrating, but if you agree with the end result and you are part of an organization it is not unacceptable for the organization to ask such goals for you. I do believe you did the right thing. Its far better to be honest than to lie about your intent to participate. The problem is HT and VT are generally less well equipped to deal with situations that sound like rejection of leaders, doctrine or even apostasy. I’m not saying you are any of these things but Bishops and Stake Presidents are usually going to be better equipped to keep those conversations going and find out why you feel the way you do.

    Very little in the church is mandatory. There are certainly expectations that come with the covenants we have made and we are held accountable for them. But it is important to remember that we are self policing. When going in for a temple recommend interview the church does not sweep your computer’s hard drive or flip through your magazines or look at your cable bill. They don’t peek in your refrigerator to see if you have any “contraband�. They ask you how you are doing with these issues.

    I often disagree with programs or ideas that come up from local leadership, but I am more than willing to ask myself what the real reason is I disagree. If its out of personal inconvinience then I do my best to get over it and do what I know I should do.

  15. Bryce I
    November 24, 2004 at 11:56 am

    The opening of a temple in an area without one nearby is a big deal. The local church leadership is right to do everything it can to help the area membership prepare for such a momentous occasion.

    That said, there’s a line between encouragement and coercion. Presenting ideas for preparing for the opening of the temple is different from requiring that such activities be performed.

    Perhaps a better response to Julie’s VTs would be to say, “Our family has decided to prepare for the opening of the temple by …” thus addressing the overall goal of the local leadership to prepare the membership for regular temple service without having to deal with the specific implementation of the program.

  16. APJ
    November 24, 2004 at 12:30 pm

    A method that I have employed when my personal goals/ideas/convictions seem to conflict with the leadership is what I call the ‘rebuttable presumption.’ For me, this means that, since I freely associate with the church and generally think it to be a good thing, I PRESUME that what leadership tells me is good. This works 90% of the time. The 10% of the time that some goal or program doesn’t sit right with me, it is subject to the ‘REBUTTABLE’ part. I can think it through, reason it, mull it over, pray about it, and I am free to then come to my own conclusion. In this way, I am able to freely accept all the good that the church offers but do not feel compelled to accept any possible “unrighteous dominion” from fallible leaders.

    To apply this to Julie’s original situation, I don’t see what was wrong with her response to the visiting teachers. It’s perfectly okay. But from the description given, I think the visiting teachers response was okay, too. The visiting teacher gathered her thoughts and thanked Julie for letting them know where she stands. She didn’t ask that God consume Julie with fire or anything. Julie seems to be disappointed with the visiting teacher’s response, but what more could you expect from a person with whom you are on friendly terms acting in a semi-official capacity for the church?

    I have held ‘wacky’ views long enough (and been involved with people socially long enough) to at least appreciate that how I say something can be just as important as what I say.

  17. Jedd
    November 24, 2004 at 2:38 pm

    (3) Sometimes I am amazed at how absolutely MANDATORY every single thing related to Church is.

    It can come across this way, and the accretive effect can be overwhelming at times. I’ve seen a Relief Society President break down in tears at a ward council meeting when the collective load simply became too much. We could use some streamlining, some simplifying, some prioritizing.

    However, let’s not be too critical of leaders who have learned by sad experience that the whole “anxiously engaged� concept—good works will somehow bubble up out of people spontaneously and we don’t need to specifically assign and follow up—is, collectively, a pipe dream. Key things must get done (perhaps the fact that everything comes across as crucial is part of the problem). Think about it: the only level at which volunteers are even considered is at the local unit. Stake Presidents don’t ask for volunteers from the high council to speak in sacrament meetings. President Hinckley doesn’t just hope that a member of Quorum of the Twelve will decide to head down to Chile for a few years to deal with specific challenges.

    Ivan Wolfe: perhaps this is repetitive, but have you ever wondered why missionary splits are required in your ward/stake? Is it, perhaps, that they simply wouldn’t happen in any material way if the requirement weren’t present? Are you on board with discontinuing missionary splits if you don’t get the volunteers? OK, not the end of the world. How about shutting down Bishops’ Storehouse services, or suspend members’ cleaning of meetinghouses? The list goes on.

  18. John Mansfield
    November 24, 2004 at 2:55 pm

    The covenant the Nephites made in chapter five of Mosiah comes to mind. “They all cried with one voice” a four verse expression of their change of heart and desire to obey God. Maybe something else was happenning, but it sounds similar to a group recitation of the young women theme. Benjamin identified them after this as “the children of Christ,” which has a collective sound to it.

    The verse relishing the waters of Mormon also evokes the sweetness of covenanting with God as part of a body of hundreds.

  19. Ivan Wolfe
    November 24, 2004 at 3:33 pm

    Jedd: I have wondered why – and asked (several times). The answer I always get is some variation on this: “Because it is your priesthood duty to do missionary work. Are you questioning the wisdom of our leaders?”

    As said before, I enjoy going on splits, so I do it. My somewhat contrary nature rebels against the idea that I am required to do it. I’m sure there’s a good reason what somewhere, and our leaders likely have the best of intentions, but Road to Hell and all that. The part that bugs me is the “If you don’t sign up, we will assign you a date and you are required to be there.”

    MDS –
    I had a mission president who tied mission rewards (certificates, movies on holidays, trips on P-day out of your area) to the number of baptisms you had. He would often set a goal of, say, two baptisms per missionary over a two month period.

    Despite working hard (and in every area My companion and I had control over – discussions taught, BoMs placed, hours doing work, etc. – We lead the mission. I say this not to brag, but ny way of illustration), the MP was often upset with us and kept wondering why we had no baptisms. He decided it was because the Laotions we were teaching were not ready for the gospel, and so he shut down the Laotion program and sent us to English speaking areas.

    His words upon making that decision: “Now you Elders will finally start baptizing.”

    Of course, we still led the mission in stats (called in every night over the phone – all 20 different stats), but we still didn’t baptize.

    Oh, well.

  20. jls4
    November 24, 2004 at 8:57 pm

    I don’t know but it seems slightly . . . What’s the word? . . . . to refuse such a minor request . . . . . If one agrees to the laws of sacrifice, the gospel, and consecration and one agrees to give up everything if requested, to build up zion, and one can’t even gather some names or stats or whatever? Perhaps I miss something.

    And I wonder if the invocation of “principle” isn’t a way of saying, “I have too much integrity to do what you’re doing.”? If the ward is in the wrong, they should be taught and convinced that they are. I’m rather Socratic on this point: either persuade (dissuade) or obey.

    Perhaps the laws and covenants we make to sacrifice or not yet in effect, or do not include such trivial things as agreeing to goals. It would be clever if they are in effect, and we unaware.

    I do not wish to sound holier than thou. . . . I’ve already got a wagon-load of arguments clearly showing that I may not be required to give up my books or CD’s, to the bishop, to be sold “for the building up,” when the time arrives.


  21. Larry
    November 24, 2004 at 11:56 pm

    There is a difference, in my mind, between doing what’s right when asked and being told what to do. In one case there is agency and in the other it’s a demand without agency.
    Even though we are a community with common goals and purposes, Section 121 comes to mind where the Lord says “… it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion…”.
    One knows almost instinctively whether or not what is being asked is an ego thing for a leader, or something directed by the Spirit. The manner in which it is asked is often a clue.

  22. November 25, 2004 at 3:22 am

    I can relate with the idea some have expressed about being a bit rebellious when I am “told” to do something. I think most people are. I have always identified with the guy who when they were told to come and work in the vineyard, he said no, but then later felt guilty and went anyway. I have to rebel a bit sometimes, then I usually feel guilty and repent and try to do what I should have done in the first place.

    But I do think that sometimes people get overwhelmed by all of the “requirements” of the church’s programs. The Lord tells us He doesn’t expect us to run faster than we are able. One thing that I really rebelled about for many years was the mention of genealogy in my patriarchal blessing. I have a lot of family issues with my family of origin, and it made me upset to even think of doing family history for years! I would get upset everytime anyone mentioned genealogy. Now, it has become not only a strength for me, but it is the thing that I am probably most passionate about!

    So, my point is, don’t be upset with yourself, or your visiting teacher. They are doing their job. You are doing yours. And both are fine. And when YOU are ready, you can (and probably will) decide that you want to do the things they have asked you now, like family history. I know that I learned to like myself a whole lot better when I realized that I had tons of relatives who were really great people, and it has even helped me to love and accept my own family of origin better. Good luck and God Bless in all you do!

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