One of the old standbys among the SJWs of the Bloggernacle is whether telling a missionary it would be better to be dead than to dishonor themselves on their mission is the literally the worst thing ever, worse than Hitler. The argument, somewhat strained, is that the injunction is encouraging missionaries to commit suicide if they do sin.
President Harold B. Lee was apparently not aware that he was wandering into a internet controversy when he came across a similar situation, so he gave a much more sensible caution. Here is the story in his words.
There are a number who are listening in tonight, and one particularly who will remember this very vividly—an incident that took place a number of years ago in Japan. . . .
It was just after the war; things were tense. We were at one of the upper camps where the planes could take off, and within half an hour they could be over on the Russian side. We were holding a noon meeting with our servicemen. They called on a young man to speak first. He announced his text from the prayer of the Master when he prayed for his disciples: “I pray not that thou shouldest take them [my disciples] out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.” (John 17:15.) Then this lad delivered one of the finest talks on chastity that I have ever heard. He closed by saying, “Rather than lose my virtue, I would die and have my body sent home in a pine box and my dog tags follow after.”
There was a hush over that audience of servicemen, and then he bore his testimony; and as he started to leave the pulpit, he stumbled and fell, draped over the pulpit. We lifted him off the pulpit and worked with him until he was revived, and then took him down in the audience.
As they carried him down, the mission president said to me, “I wonder if he has a bad heart.” And I said, “You know, I have had a feeling that there is something quarreling inside of him against what he has been saying to us.”
When it came my time to speak, I said to him, “Now, my boy, you have made a profound impression upon all of us. You have said you would rather die than lose your virtue. But remember, the devil heard you, as we heard you, and if I don’t miss my guess, he is going to make you prove that you would give your life before you would lose your virtue. You had better be on guard.”
From President Lee’s Talk, The Strength of the Priesthood.
The Dark Ages Europe of the warrior bands had a custom called vaunting. Long winters, warriors boozing and talking, led to someone leaping up and boasting about themselves and making some kind of reckless vow. Then tragedy struck when the warrior had to follow through with it later. That is the plot of many of the sagas. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a high-falutin’ version with a happier ending.
There may not be much obvious similarity between a warrior band and a Mormon priesthood quorum, but apparently there are some. President Lee’s lad was giving a classic vaunt. Whether from desperation or a kind of heady fae recklessness, it is the same. In fact, in whatever setting, there is something male about it. Men have boasted all over the world. Mike Fink was a vaunter. Arab Muslim terrorism often makes more sense as a vaunt, or a fulfillment of a vaunt, then as a war strategy.
The truth is that “phony macho” is a redundancy, a pleonasm. Machismo is always to some degree phony by definition
-thus James Bowman.
But whether through desperation or through feeling one’s oats, through that intoxicating sense of self-exultation that we men get sometimes, its dangerous stuff. Strut up the devil like the cock of the walk and spit in his face and grin, and he may just wipe that grin off your face. It almost happened to President Lee’s lad–he came very close to falling in with the easy prostitution around Army bases until his quorum made a determined effort to head him off.
That is the way of men. We vaunt on our own, but we cannot fulfill the boast without the brotherhood.
Oaths are boasts.
Sin, that old gator, must be wrassled with. And whether you vaunt or not, the gator will wrassle back.
Other Posts about the Priesthood Session of the 1972 General Conference
The Position of the Church, by Nathaniel Givens
The Power of God Resting upon the Leaders of This Church