Friday, January 25, 2013

War and the Missionary Force

17 And it came to pass that they did preach with great power, insomuch that they did confound many of those dissenters who had gone over from the Nephites, insomuch that they came forth and did confess their sins and were baptized unto repentance, and immediately returned to the Nephites to endeavor to repair unto them the wrongs which they had done.

18 And it came to pass that Nephi and Lehi did preach unto the Lamanites with such great power and authority, for they had power and authority given unto them that they might speak, and they also had what they should speak given unto them—

19 Therefore they did speak unto the great astonishment of the Lamanites, to the convincing them, insomuch that there were eight thousand of the Lamanites who were in the land of Zarahemla and round about baptized unto repentance, and were convinced of the wickedness of the traditions of their fathers. (Helaman 5:119)

War and Missionaries ServingWar and Missionaries

According to numbers published in various Deseret Church Almanacs, a decline in the Church missionary force began in 2002 and that initial decline will not be overcome until this year.  Opponents of the Church ranging from honest scholars to religious competitors to disaffected members pointed to the decline as further evidence of the Church crumbling.  As an aside, since I have been old enough to take notice, I have witnessed opponents of the Church take many premature victory laps over some event.  This is not new.

Friends of the Church have listed several plausible explanations for the decline including higher missionary standards and changing demographics most notably smaller family size (Smith, Jimmy.  “Number of Mormon Missionaries, ” Mormon Missionary Prep), (Martinich, Matt. “Raising the Bar and Increasing the Number of Members Serving Missions,” Cumorah).  In addition to these causes, Martinich also lists increasing secularism in the United States. 

Let me propose another possible explanation, war. 

The graph “War and Missionaries Serving” spans the period from 1960 until of 2011. It shows the number of missionaries serving each year with the blue portion of the line denoting periods of peace and the red portion of the line, periods of war.  I ran several regressions to test my hypothesis.  Initial regressions support the hypotheses that war hinders missionary service (Coefficients are statistically significant and have the correct signs).  I will report statistics when I am a little more confident that my model specification is correct.

As a matter of pure speculation, recession could also reduce missionary numbers.  The graph also shows declines in missionary numbers in 2007-2008 and 1981-1982, years of pronounced economic turmoil. 

The Nephites experienced war, and the threat of war from their arrival in the Americas until there destruction.  The quote from Helaman describes a period when the Lamanites combined with Nephite dissenters to militarily defeat the Nephites.  Nephi and  his brother Lehi responded by preaching the gospel and with great success. 

Likewise, the United States has frequently been involved in military actions that most Americans believe were to protect our freedoms.  My advice to young men or women considering military service in lieu of missionary service is simple, serve a mission.  Military threats will still be around when you return and your mission will make the world a little safer and will make you a better soldier. 

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