Deseret Book has just published a new children’s book by E. Nelson’s wife, Wendy Watson Nelson. The book encourages children to sign a pledge to be in the “Not Even Once” club and abstain from a specific list of sins, including Word of Wisdom violations, lying, cheating, stealing, doing drugs, bullying, dressing immodestly, breaking the law of chastity, looking intentionally at pornography on TV / internet / cell phone / billboards* / magazines or movies. The book talks about the kids in the book belonging to a special club in which they have access to all types of colorful, delicious candy. Here’s a linked post by EmJen at BCC and the write up of the book from the publisher:
The Not Even Once Club is an adorable and appealing way to engage children in a story that will help them choose for themselves to keep the commandments and to never break them. Not even once.
Children will meet Tyler, an energetic boy who is excited to make new friends in his Primary class. They have invited Tyler to join their special club, but first he has to pass the test and keep the club promise.
With illustrations from bestselling illustrator Brandon Dorman, The Not Even Once Club is a fun and engaging way for parents to help teach their children the importance of keeping the commandments. Included in the back of the book are additional teaching helps for parents and leaders.
The publisher lists Sis. Nelson’s credentials as a professor of marriage and family therapy for 25 years, so she certainly sounds qualified to employ child development theory. Of course, Freud was pretty accredited also, but many of his theories have fallen out of favor. When it comes to parenting and child development, it’s a field that continues to evolve as new techniques are tried and data from studies becomes available. Which was why I was so interested that this book would encourage children to sign an actual pledge provided in the book and not talk about the atonement, instead implying that it is possible to remain sin-free if we just try hard enough.
I wanted to explore the idea of having children sign pledges and covenant-making in general. We often say at church that we are a “covenant-making people.” As evidence, every step we take in the church includes pledges and covenants to further our commitment to the gospel. In fact, the book could easily be likened to temple covenants made later in life. If we want to “join the club,” we must take the pledge, even though we often don’t know what we are going to be asked to do before we get there. If we don’t follow those covenants, we can be kicked out of the club. It sounds a bit harsh, certainly for a 4-8 year old, but the temple is actually more forgiving than the club described in the book, in that we are allowed to make mistakes and repent.
The approach the book takes reminds me of the purity pledges many evangelical Christians do. As I recalled, the studies are pretty mixed on what impact the pledges have on actual behavior. I looked it up, and here are the outcomes of 5 studies of those who had taken a purity pledge (formal pledge of total abstinence before marriage). Four studies were based on the same data set culled from 13K adolescents in 1995, 1996 and 2000. The other study used separate data from students in California. You can read more about the studies here:
- Study 1: During the first year, some pledgers delayed having sex. Those who did have sex were more likely to have unprotected sex. Pledges were only effective in schools where at least 30% of students had taken the pledge and lost effectiveness if there were too many who took the pledges and pledgers didn’t feel “special” for taking the pledge (the club factor).
- Pledges work best when there are enough other pledgers but not too many. I was in Utah county last week, and I totally get this one. I love the support of knowing some other Mormons, but when everyone else is a Mormon, I just want to punch someone in the face.
- People who agree to pledges may be unprepared to act responsibly if they break their pledge. Mormon equivalent would be some members who start drinking and go hog wild or who make other ill-advised moves because they lack experience and knowledge.
- Study 2: After 5 years, both pledgers and non-pledgers had similar numbers of STDs; however, males who had pledged were far more likely to delay sex. There were several who substituted other forms of sex that were not specifically mentioned in the pledge but caused STDs to be transmitted.
- People seek loopholes. There were many stories of this at BYU: couples who would go to Vegas and get married for the weekend so they could have sex without “sinning,” plus others who simply did everything but sex or who did everything that wasn’t “confessable.” The more we specify rules, the more legalistic people are with their compliance.
- Males may feel more bound by covenants (?). I don’t think this study was sufficient to conclude this, but perhaps this is a correlation.
- Study 3: This study showed that an informal promise to oneself resulted in delayed sex, but a formal pledge (e.g. a signed contract or ceremony) did not result in delayed sex.
- Making a personal inward commitment is more effective than a public formal one. We really just follow the commandments we are committed to follow anyway. Forcing people to say otherwise just makes them liars.
- Study 4: This study showed that those who had pledged but were already sexually active denied later having pledged as did those who became sexually active after pledging.
- We have selective memory. This is a byproduct of our need to be right. As soon as we change our opinion on something, we immediately “remember” that we thought that all along. For example, people who change political parties can reconstruct the change by recalling very early misgivings they had about their original party affiliation. This makes me question how effective a formal pledge by those under 8 years old would be, especially since they are too young to be accountable for sin.
- Study 5: This study showed no difference in sexual activity between pledgers and non-pledgers, but showed that pledgers were 10 points less likely to use condoms and 6 points less likely to use ANY form of birth control. It also showed that those willing to pledge had pre-existing negative attitudes toward sex that were not adjusted for in the data. IOW, pledge or not, they were less likely to have premarital sex due to other factors.
- Pledgers already don’t want to do those things, and they may have an aversion to them. Some are uneducated about these activities they find so distasteful and may lack relevant information and experience to make a covenant that is lasting based on actual understanding.
So, if this information applies to this approach, it seems that it’s a preach-to-the-choir tactic anyway that is unlikely to change behavior but could solidify negative attitudes toward sin among those predisposed to have negative attitudes toward sin. It also seems likely that kids could simply substitute other non-specified sins because they are not formally prohibited.
- Do you consider covenants binding for life? Why or why not? When are they not binding?
- Do you like this approach for children? What about for adults?
- How do we teach kids to have good judgment without encouraging them to sin?
- Does this kind of approach create a focus on outward appearance and acceptance of others rather than making covenants based on deep understanding and wisdom?
- Is the temple a club? If so, is that a good thing or a bad thing? Why?
*Which of course begs the question: “Where are all these pornographic billboards?” There were billboards featuring nudity in Europe, but they were for things like skin cream, not showing actual pornography or sexual depiction. I did see billboards for ladyboy shows in Thailand, but they were just beautiful women, er, men. But I digress. I’m going to go on record that there are no actual pornographic billboards (graphically depicting sex acts), certainly not in the US.
Some of the stories I grew up reading were about children who had formed their own clubs, supplied their own treats etc. Generally detective clubs. These were organised by the children themselves, and didn’t involve bribery by adults. There may have been some initiation before joining, but I don’t recall that there was. Looking back it certainly set up an us/them situation in the story. Them were the children excluded from the club, who broke in and stole the treats, who didn’t follow the social rules perhaps. Maybe there was a subtle class distinction thing going on. The children in the club were well off, definitely upper middle class, whose parents had daily help.
From your description I would be very uncomfortable with the test posed before the boy could even join the club. What a thing to do to a child! If they don’t get that right they can’t even start. Not only that, it’s the whole underhandedness of setting a test like that in the first place. I far prefer things to be open and transparent. So, I’d have passed the test, but I wouldn’t have wanted to join the club after that!
It does trouble me also, that we aren’t specifically told precisely what covenants we’ll be expected to make in the temple before we get there. That’s not the case with baptism.
*Which of course begs the question: ”Where are all these pornographic billboards?”
There was a discussion on the women’s radio program I listen to on a similar topic. A large advert for the the lingerie department in the cafe of a department store. The issue was not with the woman depicted wearing lingerie, so much as the expression on her face, which, sofar as the complainant was concerned, moved the image into the realm of pornography. Also a goodly number of years ago now, when I was working in London, there was series of very disturbing advertisements for a clothing company in which women were depicted in various states of having been attacked. There were a lot of complaints about them at the time,and they were eventually removed. I don’t think necessarily the image needs to be graphically depicting a sex act to count as pornography.
I was talking to a friend about this idea of exclusive clubs within the church. It has been a staple of Mormonism from the get-go. There was a special secret polygamy club (those who were given the revelation and invited to join) which later evolved into a special endowment club (now temple club). Then the temple wasn’t special enough because everyone could join, so they came up with a second anointing club (and asked people to recommend friends when they were inducted).
Personally, I don’t like the idea of elitism within the church, and there is a LOT of it. Some people are seen as better just because of who their ancestors were or because of callings they or family members have held. That was also the point of polygamy: to make more “believing blood” by giving some men more wives to spread their seed farther.
There are ways you can see elitism in Jesus’ teachings – those that have ears to understand and those that don’t – but clubbiness that is based on “who you know” will inevitably exclude and admit the wrong ones. We’ve also seen that throughout church history. Plus, there’s an element of secret combinations to an elite club, not that they are joined together to do something wrong, but that in protecting other club members or the purity of the club, they may do wrong. The relationship with the club can replace a relationship with Jesus.
This whole concept is lame. We already hear about non-Mormon children in Mormon communities who are effectively shunned because of their religion. Things like this will only make it worse. When a child judges another child as not being “in the club” because they have coffee in their house (and it will happen), we haven’t gained anything but are actually worse off. Just my 2 cents.
I’m with Mike S on this. The word dumb is an understatement. The book sounds dumb and just because she happens to be a GA’s second wife does not give her a better opinion than anyone else with her background. Not less either, but I think her “status” got her a book deal.
Seems to me, those purity pledges have a way of backfiring. Seems to me, teaching them correct principles and allowing them to govern themselves is a better way to go.
This makes me reflect a lot on my childhood. When I was a child, we watched this show in elementary school almost every year called “The Buttercream Gang.” It was this christian movie about these boys who formed a gang devoted to helping people, and being good christians in general, I guess. Have any of you ever seen this movie? It is very much in the same vein as Sister Nelson’s book. We never had to sign pledges to join the ‘gang’ after watching the movie, but our teacher would talk to us about it afterwards, and tell us to be like the kids in the movie.
In my predominately mormon high school (~50% of the student body was LDS). A group of bright eyed seminary devotees decided to form a scripture study club. Then they made t-shirts for their club that had the logo “I like modest women,” and they proudly wore their shirts to school on designated days. Maybe they were influenced to do this because of their annual viewing of “The Buttercream Gang,” I don’t know, but it certainly caused a kerfuffle.
I think it is important to teach children the value of commitment to righteous living. The gospel already has covenants built in to help solidify those commitments, so children don’t need to go around making the ‘not even once’ clubs. Teach clear doctrine, not fun ad ons.
When I was 12, we did a road-side clean up activity for Mutual. I got pretty far ahead from my group for whatever reason and came upon a nudie magazine that all the pages had been ripped out of. I didn’t have much choice but to get an eyeful of each page that I gathered up. So there went my chance to be able to say that I had never looked at porn. I know the pledge says “intentional” but that distinction can be pretty unclear to kids. I tried to view it in a positive light: at least I had gotten to it first instead of one of the boys. But even though it wasn’t intentional, I had a hard time getting those images out of my head and I felt so guilty and ashamed of myself for not being able to keep my thoughts pure. The sad thing was, my thoughts were just fine. I wasn’t having dirty thoughts about what I had seen, it was just the images of naked women that would pop up. When I was older and did start having dirty thoughts, I thought that there must have been something very wrong with me because that was something that boys struggled with, not girls, and I already knew how depraved I was because those pictures had stuck in my head so long. I so wish that I had had someone talk to me about these things and help me understand how our minds and bodies work. I would really appreciate it if Deseret Book would put out a book that helps me do that for my own little girls.
What about a kid who violates the pledge? Does he get cashiered and booted out, with no hope of returning? What about the kid who breaks the pledge, but lies in order to “keep up appearances” and maintain membership?
This book seems like a recipe for future anxiety disorders. It make sense, written by a Church therapist who wants to guarantee another generation of steady business.
Jack Hughes: a shortcoming of the book is that those issues are not addressed, leaving it to the child’s imagination what will happen if they violate their pledge. Losing access to the treats and friendship of the other kids in the club is certainly strongly implied. Also the use of the words “Not Even Once” implies that even one violation renders a child ineligible for the club, unlike the atonement which allows for repentance. Interestingly, when I googled the catch phrase Not Even Once, there is a huge anti-meth campaign called that. Of course, meth is not the same as some of the things these kids are pledging to avoid.
“couples who would go to Vegas and get married for the weekend so they could have sex without “sinning,”
WTH. Really? Does this work for married man who can get married under the concept of polygamy, have sex for a while, then get divorced? Wow. I can’t believe the level of rationalization.
The reviews for this book on Deseret Book and Amazon are overwhelmingly positive, with calls for having our children form their own Not Even Once Clubs. I say we all go to those sites and start leaving our own opinions about the very negative impact this book may have on our most impressionable children.
I saw this discussed over at commonconsent, and have since changed my mind about it. The objection to “not even once” is that it ignores human nature and the atonement.
However, if you consider that this book is aimed at innocent children who have not yet been corrupted by sin, they still inhabit a “garden of Eden” state, you could argue that this book might help them stay in that state a little longer, which could be a good thing.
Children are black and white creatures that don’t do well with nuance or complexity. Let them make the “not even once” pledge. It’s simply a reinforcement of their baptismal pledges. Then let them break the pledge, masturbate, look at porn, go to the bishop and feel guilty, recommit, sin again and again, and maybe by then they’ll start to wonder if Jesus means more than just “try to be like Jesus.”
“the temple is actually more forgiving than the club described in the book, in that we are allowed to make mistakes and repent.”
This is not true in the case of the law of chastity. When we make that covenant, I think we all have the idea that if we have sexual relations with someone other than our husband or wife, even just once, our membership in the church is in serious danger of being revoked.
There are things that all if us say “not even once” to, like murder or pedophelia.
But looking at a billboard? Maybe the book could be edited a little in the next edition.
I visited Australia recently. In my company, the Australians I was talking to called me a “clubbie” once they learned I was Mormon. It wasn’t a term of endearment. When I asked why they use that term, they said because we watch out for our own and take care of each other, even when we’re wrong. It made me pause.
Regarding the book…Hmm…putting pressure for perfection on 4-8 year olds? The group that can’t sin?
I don’t know, it sounds like a good idea to pledge to be good, but a little bit over the top based on what I’m reading. I’m more in favor of them being kids and having fun while they are young…not being so serious about stuff they probably don’t understand. They are likely to learn to be very judgmental of others.
Perhaps Pres Uchtdorf said it best:
there are so many “shoulds” and “should nots” that merely keeping track of them can be a challenge. Sometimes, well-meaning amplifications of divine principles—many coming from uninspired sources—complicate matters further, diluting the purity of divine truth with man-made addenda. One person’s good idea—something that may work for him or her—takes root and becomes an expectation. And gradually, eternal principles can get lost within the labyrinth of “good ideas.”-Pres Uchtdorf
This book feels like someone taking divine principles of covenants and promises and taking it to a new level, raising up the hedges around the law, and keep hedging until we are focused on the hedges and don’t understand the law at all. Or perhaps like the enthusiastic mother of the child beauty contestant, they can take things too far for the children at too young of an age, as if it is the parents doing these things that are getting the satisfaction out of parading their kids for being in the clubs…not the kids themselves that are the focus.
It seems to go beyond the mark for me. I think it would lead to other behavioral issues with the kids.
Great post as usual – it is well researched and though provoking. Love reading your posts.
Not bad for a girl 🙂
I’m not doing so well with the not-looking-at-billboards thing, and I have a temple recommend. But since I didn’t sign this pledge, I feel at liberty to go discuss it with my bishop.
I remember being a sophomore in high school and attending a youth meeting in our Stake Center where we were asked by the visiting GA, F. Enzio Busche to raise our hands in pledge that we would read the scriptures every day. Now, I had a goal to read the scriptures regularly and had, in fact, read the entire Old Testament for Seminary the previous year. It was that OT-reading experience that made me realize that in spite of our best intentions, there are going to be certain days when it is very hard to read the scriptures. Like being in school all day and then going on a bus trip to a game in the evening and coming back late at night. Not that it couldn’t be done, but from my own experience, I knew that I was imperfect at it. So I felt very uncomfortable making a pledge that I knew I would probably not keep 100%. I was in the minority as all those hands shot up.
Elder Busche went one step further and invited all of the youth that did not raise their hands to go and visit with him immediately after the meeting. I was even more uncomfortable with that idea. My parents went to the adult meeting with Elder Busche and heard about the couple of youth that did not raise their hands and were horrified when they found it I was one of them. Nevertheless, I did try to read the scriptures daily from that time forward in spite of my unpledged status. When I asked a random friend if they had kept their pledge, they said, ‘not yet, but I am going to start just as soon as I can.’
The response to this pressured pledge-making did bring to mind the parable:
“But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first, and said, ‘Son, go work in my vineyard.’ He answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind, and went. He came to the second, and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but he didn’t go. Which of the two did the will of his father?”
I don’t have kids and a lot could’ve changed since I was one, but I don’t remember having the faintest idea what pornography, drugs, and sex were at the age of 4-8. I support teaching the young’uns not to tell lies or steal or hit one another (Has anybody read a Sunbeam lesson lately? They know how to keep it real!). But at four, I feel like kids should still have freedom from worrying about that kind of stuff–they’re going to have the rest of their lives to try to get it right.
We are becoming more and more peculiar all the time.
Rigel – I love that parable for the same reason. I’m not one to overcommit. I would rather know what I’m getting in to, but I often go ahead and comply without saying I will. I’m just not a person who likes high pressure tactics.
Sis Nelson has a book for grown ups called Change Your Questions Change Your Life where she introduces the slogan “Not even once”. BUT she ties it into the atonement- “from this moment forward I can say ‘not even once’. Try, sin, start again.” (she has a great story about coming around a corner out in the country and seeing this barn with the words NOT EVEN ONCE painted on the side in giant letters. This event inspired her use of the slogan).
I really liked Change Your Questions, but I was dissapointed that The Not Even Once Clubcould leave out something so crucial.
Hawkgrrrl #20 “I’m not one to overcommit. I would rather know what I’m getting in to, but I often go ahead and comply without saying I will. I’m just not a person who likes high pressure tactics.”
Seconded. Nothing puts me off something more.
Bravo Rigel #17.
MB #7, Chicken #18
I was 10 when one of my class-mates brought in some of her father’s porn she’d found.You have my sympathy MB. I think we have to accept that in this world we will sometimes see stuff we’d rather not see, and teach our children how to deal with that. (By which I don’t mean we show the stuff to them, but we do have to prepare them appropriately, including the information that it doesn’t have to be their fault.) And it’s all too easy to trip over stuff on the internet now, even with all the appropriate filters. God sees everything, and presumably knows how to deal.
Also, I was 6 when a I encountered a much older girl from the neighbouring secondary school hiding out in our infant school toilets smoking. She offered me one. I didn’t take it. I’d been taught smoking was wrong, and didn’t find her offer the slightest bit tempting.
This was all decades ago.
Yep, teach correct principles, but I really don’t think any of this pledge nonsense is at all necessary.
It may sound good to some but what kind of pressure does it place on sexually abused children? What about children who through no fault of their own tend to be compulsive or have fetishes? Shouldn’t childhood and early adulthood be a time to work out these issues hopefully freeing the adult to later enter into informed covenants? With this system they have failed before they are even out of childhood! This is a well intended but pharisaical misapplication of gospel principals.
I think we need to respect a God-given fetish.
I think focusing on pledging to be sin free can be helpful in the short run but in the long run it could be of little value in effectively teaching children the plan of salvation.
Eventually, all the pledgers will break some of their pledges. What will they do then?
I anticipate the following broad reactions:
1. Those who have been effectively taught the plan of salvation will repent.
2. Those who don’t understand the plan of salvation will do one of two things:
a. Give up on pledges and indulge their appetites and passions to various degrees
b. Reinvest themselves in pledges and practice various forms of self discipline–also known as reformation.
Reformation and repentance are not the same thing. Elder Benson explained it:
Repentance means more than simply a reformation of behavior. Many men and women in the world demonstrate great willpower and self-discipline in overcoming bad habits and the weaknesses of the flesh. Yet at the same time they give no thought to the Master, sometimes even openly rejecting Him. Such changes of behavior, even if in a positive direction, do not constitute true repentance. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is the foundation upon which sincere and meaningful repentance must be built. If we truly seek to put away sin, we must first look to Him who is the Author of our salvation. [Ensign, October 1989, p. 2.]
I think parents are far better off teaching their children to understand the teachings found in the scriptures.
I think God-given fetish falls more into the realm of the natural man. Fetishes are typically formed in early childhood often innocently by all involved but it can result in outcomes like flashers, panty bandits, sexual obsessions etc. Shall we reenforce a message to these innocent people some perhaps many of whom do not have the will power to resist their compulsion that they are evil, bad or somehow already ruined?
#18 But at four, I feel like kids should still have freedom from worrying about that kind of stuff–they’re going to have the rest of their lives to try to get it right.
I agree. I want my 4 year olds to learn that the human body is beautiful and that there are differences between boys and girls. I want them to know about safe touch and what to keep covered in public. I don’t want them thinking about the problems of some older people who find gratification in looking at nudity in a carnal way.
I had a conversation with my 8 year-old boy as we drove by the adult book store in town and asked him if he knew what that was. That was the first time I discussed with him the sale of magazines which he will eventually identify with the term pornography. But even at 8, it was not a work that I expect him to know.
Rigel #29, It’s a tricky balance I agree. It’s one thing to teach smoking is bad for you to an under 8, another to explain what constitutes porn etc. The most important thing, I think, is to keep communication channels open, so that our children are willing to talk about/ tell us about the things they come across, and that we respond kindly. One thing I’ve come across in all the internet safety stuff for kids is the instruction to tell a trusted adult (parent, teacher) if they see something that makes them feel uncomfortable – and I think that’s probably the best approach. The stuff my classmate brought to school definitely made me feel uncomfortable, although I wasn’t aware of the existence of porn until then.
Something I think this book gets in the way off, what with the bribery (really, we want to teach our kids they only have to make correct decisions if someone offers them a treat – it explains only to well whats wrong with at least half the youth I had in my class when I taught Sunday school, if that’s whats been going on), the setting up to fail and subsequent guilt that must either be admitted to (kicked out of club) or hidden because of the judgemental framing. Mmmm!
Fire Tag died yesterday. About a month ago he started to know that his time was near and he was ready to finish his life here and begin his life after life. He valued the opportunity to think deeply and to share ideas and this blog was important to him. Don’t know how to contact the rest of the core bloggers but thought you could do that for me. He stayed around long enough to attend his daughter’s wedding and I am so glad for that.
Fire Tag will be missed, I very much enjoyed his bright mind and thought provoking ideas.
I will miss Fire Tag as well.
Tacy, we will miss him greatly. Thanks so much for letting us know.
I will miss FireTag. I really enjoyed his posts and ideas.
Can you say brainwashing? This is such a horrible book written by a sad sad woman. The psychological damage that this book will cause should be illegal. This is such a cultish boom written by a wife of a leader if the biggest scam in the last 200 years. Absolutely sad that some will let their kids read this and not see it for what it is. A tool for brainwashing!
Shades of Nancy Reagan and “Just Say No”. Well-intentioned, but mere sloganeering won’t suffice against normal human foibles, mental health problems, and, of course, the proverbial “fiery darts” of the Wicked One.
I see no harm as long as it’s not done in an overbearing manner. Youngsters are quite impressionable and need positive envouragement. They shouldn’t be made to feel that if they screw up that they’re “done”. The idea behind the principle of repentance is that we’re allowed to be “hew-mon”.
Someone who can initiate a thread post a tribute to Firetag. He will be missed. Condolences to his family.
From Nilbey – Brigham Young as a Leader
Brigham Young says that when he was young someone wanted him to sign a temperance pledge. Well, he believed in temperance, but he refused to sign the pledge. “Even then I said, ‘I do not need to sign the temperance pledge.’ I recollect my father urged me. ‘No, sir,’ said I, ‘if I sign the temperance pledge I feel that I am bound, and I wish to do just right, without being bound to do it; I want my liberty’; and I have conceived from my youth up that I could have my liberty and independence just as much in doing right as I could in doing wrong. What do you say? Is this correct?” He would sign no pledges.
The next few paragraphs (the whole thing, really) are worth reading
Please consider signing this petition for Deseret Book to remove The Not Even Once Club from its shelves. If you would like to read the book for yourself first, I have images of each of the pages with text and can email them to you. (contact me at edwardjones76 at gmail)
This book has elsewhere been reviewed here http://rationalfaiths.com/satans-plan-2-0-deseret-book-edition/ and discussed here http://bycommonconsent.com/2013/08/29/i-thought-we-didnt-choose-satans-plan/
Amazon reviews are here http://www.amazon.com/The-Not-Even-Once-Club/product-reviews/1609073371 and Deseret Book reviews here http://deseretbook.com/Not-Even-Once-Club-Wendy-Watson-Nelson/i/5097848
I don’t think I heard anything after this. X0
Denver’s latest post:
Back in my missionary days, lo these many, many years ago, we had a visiting GA (one of the first “five-year 70s”, since passed to his eternal reward) in my mission. He spoke at a zone conference and felt moved to call us all to task for not working hard enough and baptising enough. I was serving in southern Italy where the average was one or two baptisms per elder per mission, I was about halfway done, and I had been a member for exactly 13 months when I entered the MTC. So this Seventy says, and this is very close to an exact quote, “If you don’t work as hard as you can and give this all you have, the Lord will never trust you again.”
It took me, literally, years to get over that. Because I knew, as did every other elder and sister in that room, that there were times when we didn’t give it all we had, when I hadn’t worked as hard as I could, when I had taken the easy path and let up a little. Even though I hadn’t grown up in the Church and didn’t always understand what I was trying to do or how to do it, even though some days I’d leave the apartment and have no idea how to fill the hours with something resembling constructive missionary work. The Lord’s servant had told me that the Lord would never trust me again. (Never mind repentance, Sister Nelson – “Not Even Once.”) But by then, of course, it was too late for me. It took me more than ten years of post-mission work to get that thought out of my head.
President Kimball once said that he made a pledge to himself when he was young not to violate the Word of Wisdom, and thus when he got older and he was faced with the opportunity to do so, he didn’t need to make the decision again. He had already made it. I admire this in many ways, but I didn’t have such stalwart judgment as a child. I would no more hold myself blindly bound by a pledge I made at age 10 or 12, once I grew up, without validating it than I would hold myself bound to help raise my sister as a Roman Catholic – I’m her godfather, and I did so pledge, long before my baptism.
Now, I know (despite some nagging doubts – I’m 48, a natural leader, I’ve never been in a bishopric or an elder’s quorum presidency, maybe that guy was right OMG!!!!111) that the Lord has loved and trusted me in some amazing ways. I have a wonderful, loving, forgiving wife who has taught me more about repentance and forgiveness than any GA ever called. Five wonderful children who are growing up strong and faithful, and more important, thoughtful – two returned missionaries, so far, and one temple marriage. Those are precious things to Heavenly Father and he would not put them in the care of someone he didn’t trust. But this little anecdote, and that comment by that Seventy – which was no doubt meant only to spur us to do well and to find the best that was within us as missionaries – illustrate the lasting and corrosive effects that something like “The ‘Not Even Once’ Club” can create in the hearts of those who don’t quite measure up to that level of perfection.