Sunday, April 7, 2013

A Second Negative Effect of the Vietnam War on Missionary Work

Moses 1:39.  For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. 

In, “Many Were Drafted but Few Were Called: Missionary Service During the Vietnam War,” I described how the military’s manpower needs during the Vietnam War lead to the quota system negotiated between Gordon B. Hinckley and General Lewis Hershey.  Each ward or branch was allowed one deferment to call one missionary every six months and an unused deferment could be allocated to another ward or branch within the same stake or district.  The quota system allowed the Church to maintain its missionary program but restrained growth in missionary numbers.  The war had a second negative impact on missionary work: some young men submitting missionary applications were more interested in the deferment than preaching the gospel.  Their missionary effort was in some cases less than optimal.   

What follows are suppositions based on my interpretation of Moses 1: 39, that the Lord attempts to maximize the number people gaining eternal life and that bishops and branch presidents considered this objective when allocating the deferment to young men seeking missionary service.  A bishop or branch president’s thought process on deciding who would serve missions depended on the nature of his unit.  In units with few draft eligible men, the quota was non-binding, it did not limit missionary service, nor did it necessarily weed out young men applying to serve missions only to avoid being drafted.  What would a Vietnam era bishop or branch president do if he realized that a young man was asking to serve a mission under false pretenses?  Saving him from military service would force another young man, probably not LDS to serve in his place.  Would he recommend the young man for missionary service hoping that he would gain a testimony, suggest a student deferment, or say that there was nothing I could do?  I would certainly seek inspiration through prayer. 

Other wards would have many draft eligible young men and the quota would force bishops and an occasional branch president to decide which young men most deserved the deferment.  Mark Brown brilliantly described the difficulty of choosing between worthy young me in “You Make the Call: Missionary Draft Deferrals.”  The decision might be even more difficult.  Might the Spirit whisper to allow a less worthy young man serve a mission because it would be his only chance of salvation?  Would a worthy young man withstand the physical, emotional and spiritual deprivations of war better than a young man only concerned with avoiding military service?  Might worthy soldiers perform a great missionary work?  I would not have considered these questions before reading “A Latter-day Saint Servicemen’s Response to Their Church Leaders’ Counsel During the Vietnam War.” by Mary Jane Woodger and “The Church’s Years in Vietnam,” by R. Lanier  Britsch and Richard C. Holloman, Jr. 

Church units ranged between those with excess allotment and those with insufficient for worthy young men. As I argued in “Many Were Drafted but Few Were Called: Missionary Service During the Vietnam War,” the war induced missionary quota was binding.  As noted in my posted cited above, missionary numbers grew faster prior to and following the Vietnam War when there was no need for a deferment. 

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