Friday, April 12, 2013

A Silver Thread

As I first began to post on the impact of war on missionary work, I saw only the bad.  Most obviously, war brings death and destruction.  I was interested in its impact on the number of missionaries set apart, and war does reduce those numbers.  I did not consider positive impacts of war until I read “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.  They both quote President Gordon B. Hinckley who describes the good arising out of bad as

the finger of the Lord plucking some good from the evil designs of the adversary (Hinckley, G. B., “A Silver Thread in the Dark Tapestry of War,” The Improvement Era, June 1968.)

He continued

I make no defense of the war from this pulpit. . . . I seek only to call your attention to that silver thread, small but radiant with hope, shining through the dark tapestry of war—namely, the establishment of a bridgehead, small and frail now; but which somehow, under the mysterious ways of God, will be strengthened, and from which someday shall spring forth a great work affecting for good the lives of large numbers of our Father’s children who live in that part of the world. Of that I have certain faith.  (Hinckley, Gordon B. “Semi-Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” Conference Report, April 1968.)

The good accomplished was the fruit of virtuous soldiers and the fruit of their fruit, Vietnamese Saints.  As described in these articles, these men stayed true to the values priesthood, strengthened each other and converted soldiers and Vietnamese who in turn, built up the church and translated the Book or Mormon, Doctrines and Covenants, and other church materials into Vietnamese. 

Many of the soldiers’ comments quoted by Woodger were moving.  For example, one said that by serving in the military, he made it possible for his cousin to serve a mission.  Compare his courage and moral strength to a small segment of missionaries with little or no testimony who served missions to avoid military service, forcing another to take their place in the draft.  I could provide a quote from such a returned missionary, but I would feel compelled to provide a citation, and it comes from a website unfriendly to the church which brings up another point.

Several interviewees claimed that inactive members had worse experiences than non-LDS soldiers because they were more likely to engage in immoral activity.  They seem to describe the results of a cognitive dissonance, the discomfort from holding to beliefs that are contradictory.  One way to deal with the discomfort is to shun the belief causing it, the gospel.  If the gospel is wrong about drinking, it must too be wrong about using drugs and engaging with prostitutes.  This is not a new concept.  The Book of Mormon repeatedly notes that Nephite dissidents more vigorously opposed the Church and the Nephite nation. 

Of those who participated in the survey, 87% stated that their testimony was strengthened by their war experiences. The remaining 13% said their testimony began strong and did not lessen.  Of these soldiers, everyone was active in the Church after the war although 27% described themselves as inactive during the Vietnam War. 

A weakness of the survey is the LDS veterans who were not surveyed or did not respond, those who were inactive prior to their service and those who lost their testimonies during the war.  In conclusion, virtuous soldiers provide a marvelous example of pressing forward under deplorable conditions, but the overall impact is negative or else Church leaders would not pray for peace.  The number of missionaries set apart was lower than it would have been in the absence of the Vietnam War, some missionaries served for less than exemplary reasons and soldiers died while others lost their testimonies.  

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