I asked my students in a 100-level communication class with about 15 young women this week how many of them were now seriously considering a mission, and five arms shot up.
It’s deeply moving to be at a BYU institution during this remarkable time, seeing the faith of the Latter-day Saint young people.
As I’ve talked with students briefly about President Thomas S. Monson’s announcement that young women can serve missions at 19, I’ve observed some saying that they have known for years they would be serving a mission, and this just speeds up the process.
Equally impressive have been the young women who say they have prayed about missions and feel that a mission is not the path they should follow.
A third group who now ponder in new ways how they would serve the Lord also has moved me. What great people they are.
Indeed, this last weekend and the days following have reminded me of a simple truth: Latter-day Saints firmly, fully believe in revelation.
I thought of that because it matters to me as a student of how the press covers religion. I want reporters to understand us, to get us “right.”
Over the years, one of the questions I have asked myself about the coverage of the church is: How can I measure whether the press “gets it right?” How do I show whether they somehow have captured the “essence” of what it means to be a Latter-day Saint? If you think about it, such a question is tough to answer.
When reporters emphasize polygamy or obscure doctrine, it’s easy to say they missed it, but with a church with as rich a history and as profound a doctrine as this religion has, it’s a far more difficult question for them to answer — “What is an essential tenet of the church that must be included to give a complete picture?”
I found one important answer in a church video about the significance of our temples. President Boyd K. Packer said that if people would understand why the Latter-day Saints build temples, observers would need to understand that we believe in revelation and in restoration.
I thought much about reporters and revelation as I heard that.
For secular reporters, such a significant observation makes reporting on Latter-day Saints even more challenging in this sense: How can reporters write about something so personal without seeming disrespectful and also do so in an objective way?
In short, how can secular reporters write about revelation, this essential component of being a Latter-day Saint?
Well, for Latter-day Saints, revelation is a quiet, personal but life-changing matter.
I thought of this during this conference season as I listened to one of the new general authorities, Elder Scott Whiting, speak.
I recalled tender memories because Elder Whiting taught me to speak Japanese in the Missionary Training Center, and his enthusiasm helped prepare me for missionary service.
At the MTC, Elder Whiting once challenged each of us in my district to quietly pray and to set a goal for our time in Japan. I was young and resisted in my heart. My resistance came from this idea: I concluded that I went on a mission to serve and that a goal would be, well, selfish in a sense — too much about my desires.
But I respected Elder Whiting, so I knelt, set a goal, and prayed over it to God. Within days, however, I’d forgotten about my prayer and went about my business.
Then, after I returned from my mission, I shared a few, sweet mission experiences with a friend.
As I talked, the memory of my half-hearted goal returned, and I realized the goal had been fulfilled to overflowing by the grace of God. And there was more: A voice, almost audible, hit me and said, “You forgot, but I didn’t.”
Scoffers might say it was a random thought. But I’m an absent-minded professor — I understand random thoughts.
I knew then, as I know now, that God showed me how much he loved me, how tender he really is. It is fair to say that I have never been the same since. As I have frequently needed grace in the years since, I already knew how much is available.
I sense that many LDS young women and young men are going through a similar experience now. They realize their prayers have been answered by a loving God and that he was lovingly preparing a way forward for their lives.
It is almost impossible for reporters to capture this essence of the LDS life, but as I watch an honest miracle unfold among the young people of the church, I hope they try.
To fully capture the Latter-day Saints, reporters must understand that we fully believe in revelation. It is at the core of who we are.
Lane Williams teaches journalism and communication at BYU-Idaho. He is a former journalist whose scholarly interests include Mormon portrayals in the media, media and religion, and religion and politics.
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