Examples of Information Manipulation

In one unit I was in, my husband and I were astonished to hear our local leaders congratulating unit members during Sacrament meeting, month after month, for achieving 100 percent home teaching. We were astonished because we had not been home taught in months. In fact, for most of that time, we did not even know who our home teachers were.

A unit reported enhanced missionary activity because leaders were counting episodes of “investigators taught” when someone dropped by to visit them in their home, even though no lesson or message was imparted.

I had a friend, a BYU professor, tell me that he was in the shower once in the middle of the day when he heard someone knocking on his front door and then his back door. Then he heard his name called. Recognizing the voice of one of his home teachers, he opened the small shower window enough to yell that he was in the shower. The man responded, “Are you okay?” My friend responded, “Yes.” The man said, “This counts as a visit.” and left.

My husband served as unit missionary leader many times. In one particular unit, they initiated some missionary activity. From what he told me from their beginning efforts, it was neither a fabulous success nor an abysmal failure.

It produced very little in either the short or the long term, but it needed to be done. A handful of lukewarm contacts were made that soon fizzled out to nothing. 

This was not how it was presented in our unit. My husband informed unit leaders of the efforts. The next Sunday, in Sacrament meeting, Priesthood and Relief Society, the missionary effort was portrayed as a phenomenal success by a variety of people.

I was puzzled, wondering if I had somehow missed something from my husband’s version, but remained quiet.

Afterward, my husband and I compared notes and were amazed that the leaders who portrayed it thus were the actual ones he had talked with personally. Obviously, significant distortion had occurred. 

Why This is Self-Defeating

Exaggeration, embellishment, or outright lying about statistics seems to be epidemic in the Church.

Besides the obvious sin of lying, our activities are often determined by what the numbers tell us. Our missionary efforts are determined on the basis of whether we have investigators attending, whether their attendance results in baptisms and whether they remain active after joining.

Programs and procedures are adjusted because of numbers. Budget money is allocated according to numbers. So, numbers need to be accurate.

Fudged Numbers Lack Internal Consistency

When numbers are fudged, they often do not have any internal consistency and discrepancies can be identified.

For example, if a unit reports high numbers of investigators attending Sunday meetings but the inflated investigator numbers never actually result in any recorded baptisms, then something is obviously wrong.

If 100 percent Ministering is reported, but the unit has very low numbers for active members attending on Sunday or other meetings, then something is probably wrong.

High numbers of active members are suspect if the unit is experiencing high levels of other issues that indicate core problems, such as moral issues, excessive debt, criminal issues, and such.

Of course, good numbers, even if they are accurate, could simply be a mask for deeper problems. Surface success doesn't mean systematic problems are being addressed.

One of the best illustrations of this comes from Dieter F. Uchtdorf's talk entitled, "Lord, Is It I?":
An acquaintance of mine used to live in a ward with some of the highest statistics in the Church—attendance was high, home teaching numbers were high, Primary children were always well behaved, ward dinners included fantastic food that members rarely spilled on the meetinghouse floor, and I think there were never any arguments at Church ball.

My friend and his wife were subsequently called on a mission. When they returned three years later, this couple was astonished to learn that during the time they were away serving, 11 marriages had ended in divorce.

Although the ward had every outward indication of faithfulness and strength, something unfortunate was happening in the hearts and lives of the members. And the troubling thing is that this situation is not unique.
Heavenly Father Isn't Duped

Numbers are meaningless if they are fudged. Obviously, Heavenly Father knows the truth. The only possible reason for fudging numbers is to try and fool people in this life.

Richard J. Maynes warns us:
. . . when we break a commandment, we are actually breaking our word, our promises, and our covenants. We are also being dishonest with the Lord and, as a result, are subverting His work.
Missionary Work is Especially Hard
Most of my life I have considered myself a lousy missionary. All my efforts to plant seeds, share the gospel, share my testimony, or do much of anything always seemed to be frustrated.

I could never figure out how everything seemed to come so effortlessly to others. All these missionary and faith-promoting stories caused me to think that there was something wrong with my efforts; that for some reason, I could not do it or do it properly. I avoided missionary work for this reason. My efforts always seemed to fail.

I have finally concluded that most missionary success is rare rather than common as I had supposed. The few success stories that are accurate are a small percentage of the massive missionary time and effort that bears no fruit at all.

Nobody Ends Up Looking Good

It is certainly corruption if a local unit leader exaggerates numbers in order to look good to stake leaders and perhaps pave his or her way for a stake calling of some sort. The leader’s personal ambition is served, but Heavenly Father’s purposes are not.

Misrepresentation is often intended to make a leader look good.

I've suggested how some leaders attempt to reduce their ecclesiastical competition by marginalizing and minimizing others. Misrepresentation can also occur in order to make others look bad.

Stake leaders are dependent on local unit leaders to accurately convey information. An unscrupulous local leader can misrepresent information to stake people, leaving the individuals maligned no recourse in correcting the injustice and even being unaware of it.

Often the only clues the local people have that this has occurred is that stake people avoid them, treat them suspiciously, dismiss their ideas, not seek their participation, never extend responsible callings, or otherwise isolate them physically, emotionally, intellectually, religiously and spiritually.

Individuals have no recourse, but to endure. No mechanisms for redress currently exist in the Church.

I am not going to argue that there should be.

The protections to prevent or solve these types of problems exist in leadership and the procedures in the Church. Leadership must police itself and those it has jurisdiction over.

Leaders Should Seek the Gift of Discernment

In addition, discernment must be sought; so those duplicitous leaders, if they do exist, are unmasked by those in authority.

Leaders should seek discernment in all their responsibilities, not just in temple worthiness interviews, but in everything, including evaluating statistics. Formal mechanisms and procedures for members to report wrong-doing do not need to exist if discernment is sought.

I will illustrate this with an example from a marvelous book by a neglected scholar, Dr. Richard O. Cowan. The book, Temples to Dot The Earth was published by Bookcraft in 1989. The story is from the Logan temple dedication and originally came from page 100 in Temples of the Most High compiled by N.B. Lundwall in 1968.
To accommodate others who wished to attend, additional dedicatory sessions were scheduled for Sunday and Monday, and about 3,500 more tickets were issued. At one of the three dedicatory sessions, President John Taylor and Charles O. Card stood at the top of the stairs as the throngs were surging into the assembly room. President Taylor noticed a woman whom he did not know, but instructed Brother Card, “Don’t let that woman come into the assembly, she is not worthy.” When asked for an explanation, President Taylor replied: “I know not but the Spirit of God said, ‘She is not worthy.’” Brother Card therefore told the woman she would have to leave. She offered no resistance. When questioned about the matter, she admitted that she had not been able to get a recommend from her bishop, but had purchased one for a dollar from a man on the street.”
This story is compelling because a leader was made aware of a member’s unworthiness when the member was entirely unfamiliar to him. Discernment works, but it must be sought.

It prompts the intriguing question of whether a Church leader will be held accountable for not seeking discernment when, if he did, he would have been given insight concerning corrupt stake or unit leaders.

What to Do if You Fall Victim

If individuals have been subjected to unrighteous treatment by their Church leader(s) they are probably not responsible for it and they probably will not be held accountable for it. They must endure as best as they can, acting righteously.

Occasionally it is appropriate to inform a Church leader of wrong-doing by local Church leaders or members; but it must be done to the appropriate people and no others, in the appropriate way, in the appropriate forum. Once done, the members’ responsibility ends. Those in Church leadership will be held accountable for acting or not acting on the information.

We have to remember that Jesus personally selected Judas Iscariot as one of his Apostles. Why? We do not know. Saul, David, and Solomon were divinely appointed and selected and allowed to remain even after they had become unrighteous.

Heavenly Father obviously extends a great deal of latitude to us in exercising our agency. He obviously allows unrighteous leaders to continue to operate in positions of authority. Why? We do not know.

Murmuring by local members against these corrupt leaders or their injustices generally does no good and usually does a great deal of harm. Those who murmur harm themselves and the Church itself. Rarely does it affect the leader(s) they are murmuring against.

If it does affect the leader, the leader is often denied support in activities where support should be extended. The leader is not the Church, but murmuring against leaders always affects the Church’s programs, activities, and ultimately, its people.

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