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Lying For a Good Cause

Parable of the BicycleIn his transformational book Believing Christ, Stephen Robinson uses the “Parable of the Bicycle” to represent how the atonement works in our lives.

The parable is a touching story about Robinson’s young daughter trying, unsuccessful, to save enough money for a bicycle. She saves what she can manage — which isn’t much — and her dad makes up the rest, so she can get her dream bike.

Years ago, a friend told me that her husband related that story to numerous investigators while serving his mission. And he told it as if it were his own, true experience.

I was blown away and asked her husband if he really thought lying to investigators was a grand idea. (We were good enough friends that I could do this without an inordinate amount of offense.) His response?

“It always made people cry!”

As if, I suppose, making people cry, having them somehow equate that with “feeling the spirit,” and getting into an emotional foofaraw — and apparently agreeing to be baptized because if it — was a justification for making stuff up.

If you’d read here much, you know that I don’t artificially put honesty at the top of the moral food chain. (I don’t think any reasonable person does, even though lots of people claim they do and/or think they do.) But I certainly question the efficacy of lying to get converts — when trust is such a central issue.

What do you think?

{ 11 comments… add one }
  • Ginger September 24, 2011, 4:33 pm

    Lying to get coverts does not seem like a very good idea, but I do have to say that since he was a 19 or 20 year old elder, I would also give him a bit of a break. I certainly did plenty of dumb things when I was that age that looking back now, I wonder what I was thinking! 🙂

  • E September 24, 2011, 5:52 pm

    I think the lying is wrong but not as wrong as the emotional manipulation as a substitute for spiritual conversion.

  • Melissa September 24, 2011, 7:08 pm

    Yikes! I have to say that I agree with E that the emotional manipulation is terrible! And it’s a great story that stands well on it’s own so I wonder why your friend’s husband felt the need to share it as his own. When you’re in the business of saving souls, why would you want to put a flaw in someone’s spiritual foundation?

  • jennycherie September 25, 2011, 6:12 am

    What puzzles me in this instance – why pass the story off as one’s own when it would be so easy to just share it as the parable it is? The general authorities share the experiences of others all the time in general conference. They may or may not tell the name of the person that they are speaking of, but they make it clear it is not a personal experience. It is still faith-promoting and touching so. . . why not just follow that example?

    As an ‘old’ convert of seventeen years, finding out ‘my’ missionaries had misrepresented themselves in this way would probably not be too upsetting to me. I’ve had seventeen years to really grow and build my own testimony that cannot be shaken even if my missionaries were serial liars. As a new convert however, it would have rocked my world if I found out they had been dishonest or hypocritical in some way. And, I DO think it is very important for our missionaries to be able to really teach with the spirit and to make sure that can be distinguished from heightened emotions.
    jennycherie recently posted…Fear 101My Profile

  • Tracy Keeney September 25, 2011, 7:02 am

    My first thoughts EXACTLY Jennifer— making the story sound like it’s your own personal experience doesn’t ADD anything to it– so I don’t understand the POINT of lying about it in the first place. Why not just tell the story as it IS— unless you have other motives? He wasn’t JUST trying to teach the point of the story or prick their hearts with the spirit of it– he was also trying to score some personal points with the investigators by saying “I” had this spiritual experience– like they’d look up to him more if he had some grand personal stories to tell.

  • Pattyann September 25, 2011, 7:41 am

    I think that lying is not a good idea. You never know when someone will find out the truth and if finding that could impact their personal testimonies. I would not want to be the one responsible for them losing everything because I could not admit that a story wasn’t my own. That being said, I believe there is a real famous person that was called on the carpet for that one. He is a story teller in the church and has often attributed stories as his own, when in fact, they were someone elses. caused some embarrassment several years ago over this very thing.
    Pattyann recently posted…A Simple Moment – No More BracesMy Profile

  • John Roberts September 25, 2011, 9:09 am

    If we believe in the Holy Ghost, and it power to testify, then we believe that it will only testify to truth. It is therefore incumbent upon us to be exactingly truthful- especially when bearing testimony- that the Spirit may flow freely, and build strong testimonies in others.

    If we don’t really believe this is the Church of Jesus Christ, and directed by the power of the Holy Ghost, and are just trying to trick people into joining, then it doesn’t matter.

  • Alison Moore Smith September 25, 2011, 11:16 am

    E, I agree. Originally I wrote a bit about that, but decided to leave it out of the discussion, but I’ll add it now.

    One of my biggest issues (I’m pretty sure I’ve blogged about it before, but too lazy to look it up) in seminary was what I think was emotionalism represented as spiritual confirmation. “I’ll Build You a Rainbow” is the prime example. Everyone’s weeping and whimpering — because supposedly dead people can change the weather. What’s spiritual about that ?

    Anyway, I don’t think Robinson’s story itself is emotional manipulation, but using a story because it makes people cry — which makes them feel something — and moving that emotion into spiritual confirmation certainly was.

    Thanks for your comment and all the others, too. Good feedback.
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…Sixth SensesMy Profile

  • Amber Mae September 27, 2011, 10:08 am

    wow, Alison. That boggles my mind! It’s exactly why people fear our missionaries. We’re not supposed to be out there to manipulate people! We’re out there to share truth. Like John said, the Holy Ghost only testifies to the truth – still I’m sure the Holy Ghost could testify to those people the truthfulness of the principles that story teaches, hopefully if any of those converts learned of the deceit they would understand that the spiritual feelings felt were derived from the principle rather than the story itself.
    Amber Mae recently posted…Amber may be…relievedMy Profile

  • SouthernMan October 5, 2011, 10:52 am

    You should ask your friend if he knows the parable of Paul Dunn…

  • Alison Moore Smith October 5, 2011, 11:15 am

    LOL Amen, brother!

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