The Age of Opinion

Something new happened to me this week. I was chatting online about the Church’s announcement that changed missionaries’ method of communication with home, when I was told that I was not entitled to have an opinion on the matter. My opinion did not count.

Now I have long been at odds with the idea that everyone’s opinion should carry equal weight. Simply put, I disagree with that premise. (And blogged about it here.)

In today’s world it is very easy to find or create our own personal soapboxes and megaphone our opinions to the world. This does force us to choose which opinions are of worth, and which should be ignored. Some opinions of little worth are based in bad logic, inaccurate facts, emotion, or are just plain poorly expressed. All of these are legit reasons to give short shrift to what is being communicated.

The reason my opinion was negated? Illogical argument? No. Inaccurate data? Nope. Poorly explained point of view? Uh-uh. Just plain dumb? Nope. (All of which I am occasionally guilty of.)

Nah. I’m too old. I was told that I served my mission too, too long ago to have an opinion that has any merit.

I think this might be one of the first times I have been shot down because I am too old. I’m not sure what the cutoff is, but I obviously passed it. (I’m 57. I’m not old.)

However, to at least one person out there, the fact that I served an actual mission, have sent 4 sons on missions, along with dozens of priests from my ward, and been married to a missionary mom does not factor into the equation. I am just too darned old.

In Proverbs 20:29 we read that “The glory of young men is their strength: and the beauty of old men is the gray head.” (But it was probably written by an old guy.)

Granted, this does not mean that all the old people running around out there have all the answers. A broad brush lionizing them, or condemning them, is as inaccurate and lazy as when old people complain about the rising generation being a “bunch of pansies – snowflakes that can’t do hard things.” (Which I actually read this week on a thread about missionaries.)

Broad brush condemnations can limit sources of input that can actually be very helpful to us. For example, I spent part of the day texting with my kids to understand their views on the missionary changes, and it was good for me. Their opinions have some heft, because of who they are and what they have done, and are doing.

I expect my readers to question what I have to say, and believe me, they do. If you wanna call me out for being wrong, that is fine by me, but blame it on something better than ageism.

To take this idea to a much higher and more serious level, you may, or may not, know that there are those in the Church, outside the Church, and fence-sitting, who have no problem making this claim:

“The men who lead the Church are too old, and too out of touch.”

Seriously? Makes me cringe. One of the more fascinating things is that the Brethren know that some people feel this way, and have no problem tackling that accusation head on.

In the very first official tweet of the church, (gotta love the irony) Elder M. Russell Ballard posted this:

“I’ve heard that some people think that church leaders live in a bubble. What they forget is that we are men and women of experience, and we have lived our lives in so many places, worked with many people from different backgrounds. Our current assignments literally take us around the globe, where we meet the political, religious, business and humanitarian leaders of the world. Although we have visited the White House in Washington, D.C., and leaders of nations throughout the world, we have also visited the most humble homes on Earth, where we have met and ministered to the poor.”

“When you have thoughtfully considered our lives and ministry, you’ll most likely agree that we see and we experience the world in ways few others do. We live less in a bubble than most people. Others say we’re too old. Well, it’s true that nine of us are over 80 years of age. I’m 85. However, … the combined wisdom of the Brethren that should provide you some comfort. We have experienced it all. … We’re not out of touch with your lives.” (link)

This echoed Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s conference talk that said, “Not often but over the years some sources have suggested that the Brethren are out of touch in their declarations, that they don’t know the issues, that some of their policies and practices are out-of-date, not relevant to our times.

As the least of those who have been sustained by you to witness the guidance of this Church firsthand, I say with all the fervor of my soul that never in my personal or professional life have I ever associated with any group who are so in touch, who know so profoundly the issues facing us, who look so deeply into the old, stay so open to the new, and weigh so carefully, thoughtfully, and prayerfully everything in between. I testify that the grasp this body of men and women have of moral and societal issues exceeds that of any think tank or brain trust of comparable endeavor of which I know anywhere on the earth.” (link)

Years ago, Mike Wallace interviewed President Hinckley for the television program 60 Minutes, He said, “People will say this is a church run by old men.” To this, President Hinckley replied, “Isn’t it wonderful to have a man of maturity at the head—a man of judgment who isn’t blown about by every wind of doctrine?” (link)

Last week President Nelson visited Arizona and gave a devotional address. (Do I need to remind you that he is 94? By some people’s calculations, that is far too old to offer anything of worth. My, how wrong they are.)

In addition to his address, which was a deep-dive into the Abrahamic Covenant and the Gathering of Israel, President Nelson offered something else of terrific worth: He penned an op-ed that was published in the Arizona Republic.

It is wonderful. I recommend that you read it, and share it. Here is the link.

Earlier, I mentioned that all opinions do not carry the same weight. Here is a perfect example: That which is taught by the Lord’s servants carries infinitely more weight than the opinions of the world. Or at least it should.

I have chosen to believe that President Nelson is the Lord’s mouthpiece. I have bet my life, my eternal life, and the lives of my family on that choice. I did not make that choice lightly lightly.

If we go through life thinking that insight, dialogue and understanding are diminished by age – in either direction – then we go through life limiting ourselves and sources of knowledge..

I trust the “old men” who lead and direct our Church. Their wisdom is built on a lifetime of experience AND divine guidance. A good mix. I find it helpful to know that Jesus trusts them as well. I also know that if my opinions do not line up with theirs, I have some work ahead of me to find out why, and to fix it. They speak for Christ* – that makes it obvious who needs to “move” if there is a disagreement.

There are new and wonderful things afoot, God’s representatives are God’s representatives – regardless of what color their hair is. (If they still have any.)

*”What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.” (D&C 1:38)

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  1. As the wife of a former YSA bishop who saw many who suffered from anxiety and other issues on their missions, we both see the wisdom in this change. As an older person, I have found it to be a wonderful thing when our opinions are sought and when others can benefit from our experiences. I treasure the wisdom of those still older than I am. I still have a lot to learn.

  2. The idea that the missionaries can call home weekly doesn’t mean that they have to, hopefully.
    I served a mission just so I could leave a very damaging home environment fraught with physical and emotional peril, so my lens is perhaps a little different than some. I needed that time of independence within a safe structure to learn to be the adult I wanted to become, interference from home would have stunted that opportunity for me personally. Serving a mission for the Lord turned out to be a firm foundation on which to build a pretty great life. I wouldn’t have been able to form my own gentle world view, or learn from other veteran parents how to raise a family gently, or how to respect others agency, or how to follow the counsel of our elders. Perhaps the thing I am most worried about for the missionaries is that they won’t have the chance to become their own person if mummy is still hovering and daddy is still criticising. Having the missionary decide when and if they want to call home is valuable, and we should respect their wishes and allay our wants.

  3. One of the blessings of age is wisdom. As a grandmother it sometimes comes to me.I am so grateful that our prophet and leaders are old enough to be very wise.

  4. So, today I spoke in sacrament meeting, the topic being “revelation and the Holy Ghost” I actually used the subject of missionaries being able to call home weekly as a “revelation” that causes division within the church, simply because people do not want to gain a testimony of the revelation, they just want to spout opinions.

    Pres. Nelson told us to take our vitamins and get some rest. it is about to get exciting. to me, that means be prepared for more revelation, and be prepared to gain a testimony of it or you are going to get left behind.

  5. If humans in their 80s are out of touch with the world, what does that make God in his millenia? Or is that what some of these people are thinking — that God is senile and should turn over running the Earth to those mortals who are younger and so much wiser?

  6. As my Torts Professor in Law School always reminded us in 1968: “Ask yourselves, So What?” That became such a useful tool to me in evaluating opinions of others–even Appellate Judges! As for the most recent change. The prophet was inspired as well as the brethren who sustained him on this change. As for me and my house, we will follow the prophet!

  7. I heard this announcement through an email this week. I have found over the years as a convert that any change made by the leaders, regardless if they “make sense” or not, are inspired and may have reasons I do not know. There is safety in following their direction. What I do believe is they are following the Lord and how He wants things to go forward. My son served his mission 12 years ago. Oh how I would have loved if this policy had been in place then. It would have made some things much easier for him and especially for me and his sister. However, he served an honorable mission and is thankful he went. The church is progressing and with every new announcement shows how inspired they are. As far as old, the new trend is 1) not to value those of age and 2) you are not allowed to have an opinion unless it is the same as mine. I am older than you are and I think age rocks!

  8. Thanks for this I was one who saw and commented on your post on Facebook. In fact that’s how I learned about the new policy. And I’m not one to comment quickly but I did have a strong opinion. I also immediately recognized that while I had an opinion about how such a policy would have affected me, it is of little consequence because the Prophet has issued it for missionaries today – different people serving in different circumstances – and surely he knows best because he is issuing a policy under the Lord’s direction. My own opinion – my immediate reaction – however, gave me pause and I pondered much throughout the day about how such a policy might have actually affected me and what I might learn from that. It was an interesting exercise, one that I’m grateful for. At any rate, thanks for the post. I wholeheartedly agree that we are all entitled to have an opinion. I hope we will all support each missionary as he or she decides how to personally implement it and that we will sustain the Prophet and support the policy.

  9. As one who served a mission before you, I was immediately able to see the benefits through my “old man” glasses.

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