Do you remember how, several years earlier, we had survived the Mayan Calendar Apocolypse of 2012 without incident?
The world didn't end.
We watched the news as Russia invaded Syria (this was before anyone was flying Ukrainian flags except for Returned Missionaries who had served there). The US Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in its Obergfell decision.
And the world went on.
Trayvon Martin became a household name before anyone had heard of Black Lives Matter. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a new policy prohibiting the baptism of children who had gay parents―
[Wait. Rewind. What did you say? I must have misheard.]
I said: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a new policy prohibiting the baptism of children who had gay parents―
[Okay, I don't believe you, because that sounds crazy, but continue.]
And there I was, in October 2015, being interviewed by Elder Marcus B. Nash and Elder Evan A. Schmutz as a candidate to serve in the new Stake Presidency of the newly-formed Lehi Thanksgiving Stake―
[Now I know you're messing with us; there's no way that is true.]
Don't worry, I wasn't picked. A much better man than I was chosen.
And with the creation of the new stake I found myself without a Church calling.
Sweet! Time to kick back and enjoy my Sundays for once!
Check, Check, Check, Check
Imagine, for a moment, a Church that didn't assign us callings. Could that be possible?
(1) A calling (2) A friend (3) To be nourished by the good word of God.
I think the Church does a terrific job with No. 1 on that list: giving everyone a responsibility.
But we struggle a bit with No. 2; and we're downright failing at No. 3.
I'm only speaking from personal experience and your's may be different, but I think we can all agree on one thing: the Church is good at keeping its members busy.
We treat the iron rod like a conveyor belt at the grocery store, constantly loading stuff onto it and watching it disappear as the cashier rings up our balance.
It is never-ending, this thing we call religion; it has an insatiable appetite to consume the souls of men and then spit them out like gum that has lost its flavor:
- Attend all meetings - Magnify your calling - Attend the Temple - Wear your garments properly - Dress modestly - Do not drink alcohol, coffee, or tea - No smoking - Keep your thoughts pure - Do not watch rated-R movies - Store one year's supply of food storage - Read the scriptures - Don't get a vasectomy - Don't use Audio-Visuals in Sacrament Meeting - Do not view porn or play with 'the little factory' - Avoid energy healing - Do not get tattoos or multiple piercings - Go on a mission - Be a member-missionary - Be a faithful ministering brother or sister - Fast - Pay 10% tithing - Have family home evening - Follow the Prophet - Keep the Sabbath day holy (whoops: that one is on the Top Ten, too) - Don't act gay or transgender - Bear your testimony - Don't gamble - Do not pray to Heavenly Mother
Kinda makes you nostalgic for the good old days, doesn't it, when we only had Ten Commandments instead of a thousand?
"Your Mission, Should You Choose to Accept It"
Well, no sooner had I started to let my hair down, basking in my newfound freedom of being callingless, when I received the dreaded call:
"Brother Merrill," said the new Stake Clerk, "We'd like you to come down to the stake office and meet with a member of the Stake Presidency on Tuesday night."
"May I ask what this is regarding?"
"No," the Clerk said.
I knew the Church liked to hold its cards close to the vest. They hadn't invited my wife to the interview, so I knew it wasn't an "important" calling; and it sounded like I was meeting with a counselor in the Stake Presidency and not the President himself, so that confirmed it.
"I assume this is about a new calling; couldn't you just deliver the assignment over the phone right now rather than having me anxiously wondering what it will be for the next four days?"
"No," the Clerk said.
Well, there's no reason to expect a leopard to change its spots.
"Okay," I said, hanging up.
My wife asked, "What was that about?"
"Who knows?" I said, "They wouldn't say."
Another Day, Another Calling
Counselor in the Stake Presidency: Brother Merrill, thank you for coming.
Me: [Laughing] Like I had a choice?
Counselor: Well, we appreciate your service and wanted to extend you a calling.
Counselor: You see, this is a bit unusual, and if I'm honest, I wasn't sure it was a good idea.
Counselor: I know you've been serving as the Stake Sunday School President . . .
Counselor: Well, we've called a new Sunday School President, and he wants you as one of his counselors.
Counselor: It's a little strange, I know, going from the President to a counselor.
Me: [Shrugging] It doesn't matter where we serve, but how, right?
Counselor: Good, good, then. Thank you for your service.
Just Say No?
We don't really have the option of saying "no" to a calling, do we, in the Church?
I mean, sure, someone might have a good excuse, like being terminally ill or working out of state.
But for most of us, turning down a calling gets you a reputation. Even blacklisted.
This passive-aggressive way callings are often doled out, without any meaningful consent, reminds me of something I read from a Sister in the Church:
Before President Hinckley’s talk on ear piercings, they were just a matter of personal preference and were morally neutral. But after President Hinckley’s talk, ear piercings became a way to judge our faith and obedience.
When prophets take morally neutral actions and turn them into tests of obedience and faith, they are essentially creating a new category of wrongdoing (as if we needed more guilt).
But here's the tragic part: the Church spends more time instructing its members about these "prophetic personal preferences" than it does about actual sins.
Because the leaders institutionalize their personal preferences, the Church has lost a lot of its moral credibility.
When I asked Clark why he chose me as his counselor, he said, "Several months ago in our Stake Council Meeting you offered the closing prayer."
"So?" I said.
"In front of the Stake Presidency and High Council you asked Heavenly Father to forgive them for spending 45 minutes discussing whether primary teachers should give candy to the children in their classes when we should have been about our Father's business."
"Oh yeah," I said, "I had forgotten that."
Clark put a hand on my shoulder. "That's when I knew I liked you."