A recent post of mine detailed my experience with a Mormon urban legend – the following statement that I first heard at a youth camp:
"You were in the War in Heaven and one day when you are in the spirit world you will be enthralled with those who you are associated with. You will ask someone in which time period he lived in and you might hear, "I was with Moses when he parted the Red Sea," or "I helped build the pyramids," or "I fought with Captain Moroni." And as you are standing there in amazement, someone will turn to you and ask, "Which prophet time did you live in?" And when you say "Gordon B. Hinckley," a hush will fall over every hall, every corridor in heaven and all in attendance will bow at your presence. You were held back six thousand years because you were the most talented, most obedient, most courageous, and most righteous. Are you still? Remember who you are!"
This was a persistent quote; I heard it multiple times during the course of my teenage years. Later I found out Mormon authorities had gone so far as to debunk the quote – in 2008, they issued the following disclaimer:
“A statement has been circulated that asserts in part that the youth of the Church today “were generals in the war in heaven . . . and [someone will] ask you, ‘Which of the prophet’s time did you live in?’ and when you say ‘Gordon B. Hinckley’ a hush will fall, . . . and all in attendance will bow at your presence.”
This is a false statement. It is not Church doctrine. At various times, this statement has been attributed erroneously to President Thomas S. Monson, President Henry B. Eyring, President Boyd K. Packer, and others. None of these Brethren made this statement.”
I made the error of assuming this disclaimer meant the entire statement was false. But as some friendly ex-Mormons were kind enough to point out, the truth is a little more complicated than I realized.
On March 4, 1979, Ezra Taft Benson, who at the time was the President of the Quorum of the Twelve and who became the President of the Mormon Church in 1985, gave a fireside talk to students at Brigham Young University:
“For nearly six thousand years, God has held you in reserve to make your appearance in the final days before the Second Coming of the Lord. Every previous gospel dispensation has drifted into apostasy, but ours will not. True, there will be some individuals who will fall away; but the kingdom of God will remain intact to welcome the return of its head—even Jesus Christ. While our generation will be comparable in wickedness to the days of Noah, when the Lord cleansed the earth by flood, there is a major difference this time. It is that God has saved for the final inning some of his strongest children, who will help bear off the Kingdom triumphantly. And that is where you come in, for you are the generation that must be prepared to meet your God."
All through the ages the prophets have looked down through the corridors of time to our day. Billions of the deceased and those yet to be born have their eyes on us. Make no mistake about it—you are a marked generation. There has never been more expected of the faithful in such a short period of time as there is of us. Never before on the face of this earth have the forces of evil and the forces of good been as well organized. Now is the great day of the devil's power, with the greatest mass murderers of all time living among us. But now is also the great day of the Lord's power, with the greatest number ever of priesthood holders on the earth. And the showdown is fast approaching.”
So now I feel foolish. I had assumed the retraction was for the entire statement – instead, the retraction was simply for the idea that people will bow down to you, as well as the fact that no Mormon leader had made that specific statement. But the idea of God holding my generation back – of one generation being better than another – is an idea that was perpetuated by no less than Ezra Taft Benson, whom as a child I considered to be a living Prophet, a person that I thought communed with God.
I guess this particular urban legend serves as a reminder of the difficulties in establishing Mormon doctrine versus myth.