I Have a Question


Questions of general interest answered for guidance, not as official statements of Church policy

What is the purpose and history of Church membership records?

Heber M. Thompson, president of the France Paris Mission, and former director of the Church Member and Statistical Records Division of the Finance and Records Department. In Book of Mormon times, people who received baptism and the Holy Ghost “were numbered among the people of the church of Christ; and their names were taken.” The purpose of those records was that Church members would be “remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, … continually watchful unto prayer [and] relying alone upon the merits of Christ” (Moro. 6:4).

In this dispensation, the Lord gave additional record-keeping instructions to Joseph Smith. Lists of Church members were to be compiled and updated at Church conferences; the names of those expelled from the Church were to be “blotted out” of the record book; and members moving to new areas could certify their “good standing” in the Church with a letter (see D&C 20:82–84). The spirit of those guidelines is evident today as member-information systems in the Church continue to evolve and accomplish their twofold purpose of recording ordinances and providing useful information to local priesthood leaders.

For the first hundred years of the restored Church, baptism, priesthood ordinations, and temple ordinances for living members were recorded chronologically by ward clerks for annual ward reports of ordinances and actions. As early as 1936, individual membership records were kept in wards and at Church headquarters and, since 1978, in area offices as well.

Since its inception, Church record keeping has been closely related to the stewardship of local Church leaders. For example, a bishop uses membership records as he shepherds his flock: judging members’ worthiness for ordinances, assessing their spiritual and temporal needs, and authorizing their participation in Church programs. He is most effective when he knows his flock and is known by them (see John 10:14). Membership records tell the bishop who his sheep are and what ordinances they have received. He then knows where to focus priesthood and auxiliary resources to bless individual members.

“Lost sheep” have been a concern of Church leaders in all ages (see Luke 15:4–7). They may move from the fellowship of the Saints without their ward leaders, friends, or neighbors knowing their new addresses. Evidently, we did not “speak one with another concerning the welfare of their souls” (Moro. 6:5). Not only the leaders, but individual ward members as well, should know members well enough to be involved with their moves. That includes requesting a forwarding address so that former leaders may alert “receiving” priesthood leaders to welcome and fellowship members new to their areas.

It became apparent in the early 1960s that the Church’s manual recording systems could not keep up with membership growth. In 1971 the Church began extensive computerization of membership records in the U.S. and Canada. Computerization opened up a whole new world of information use by bishops and priesthood leaders at all levels. At their fingertips within seconds were organization listings of quorums or auxiliaries and “action lists” that provided information about baptism or ordination candidates, youth birthday interviews, and mission calls.

This extensive member information shows Church leaders at all levels the patterns of success, areas needing improvement, and an overall picture of how well Church programs are working.

In 1984, computerization of international membership records began in Australia and Peru, and by February 1991, all membership records worldwide were computerized.

To facilitate record keeping at the local level—for example, keeping better track of home teaching, visiting teaching, and ward organizations—wards were provided the necessary software in 1987. There will be other improvements in membership information systems as new technologies are applied to further the Lord’s work.

Membership records and reports are useful tools, aiding Church leaders as they seek inspiration to help members progress toward exaltation. The more accurate, complete, and readily accessible those records are, the more likely it is that Church members will be better served.

[photo] Photo by Matthew Reier

Am I in error to avoid all contact with a family member who has seriously wronged me and continues to emotionally abuse me? I harbor no bitterness toward this person, yet my spouse wonders if I am nevertheless being unforgiving.

Maxine Murdock, retired member of the Brigham Young University Psychology Department. Emotional abuse and mistreatment that occur over an extended period of time can be devastating. Those so wronged have the right and responsibility to protect themselves.

If a perpetrator is not a family member, avoiding all contact might be easy. But terminating contact with an abusive family member is difficult, particularly for Latter-day Saints, because of the emphasis we place on the importance of family ties. Nevertheless, victims of abuse must protect themselves from family members and others who freely choose to mistreat them.

Avoiding contact, for a while at least, may sometimes be the only way to achieve that end. When the time is right and if a perpetrator has repented and abandoned abusive behavior, minimal contact might be initiated, perhaps through cards or letters on holidays. Later, a phone call might be appropriate. It may help to make such contact impersonal at first. When renewing personal visits, those who have been wronged should consider doing so in group situations that provide a safe atmosphere and an opportunity to gauge the offender’s behavior and reaction toward renewed contact.

Visits should be brief at first. One of the best ways to determine how, when, and whether to proceed is to appeal for heavenly help through prayer. Those who have been abused, not their well-meaning friends or relatives, must determine when to reinitiate contact.

The ability to discard bitterness is a big step toward reconciliation and forgiveness. Many individuals who have been abused express frustration over their inability to grant forgiveness. The offended often receive great pressure from others to forgive their offender. They are told, “You can’t heal until you forgive.”

Forgiveness is a personal and often lengthy process. Condemning those who have difficulty forgiving places an additional burden on them. Sometimes, under pressure, they will say, “Yes, I forgive,” while deep inside, the hurt not only remains but is compounded by guilt because they do not really believe their own words. On the other hand, those who have been abused should remember that forgiveness is a gospel principle that eventually brings peace of mind. Forgiveness is not only possible but is an essential part of healing, though in some cases it may take years to forgive.

“You cannot erase what has been done, but you can forgive,” said Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve. “Forgiveness heals terrible, tragic wounds, for it allows the love of God to purge your heart and mind of the poison of hate. It cleanses your consciousness of the desire for revenge. It makes place for the purifying, healing, restoring love of the Lord” (Ensign, May 1992, p. 33).

The Savior said, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 5:44–45). Although we do not have the same degree of knowledge that the Lord has, we do have his counsel. While he will forgive whom he will forgive, it is required of us, no matter how arduous the task, “to forgive all men” (D&C 64:10).

Small offenses may be fairly easy to forgive—especially those resulting from accidents, carelessness, or insensitivity. But offenses that are long lasting or that cause deep wounds to the soul are much more difficult to forgive, particularly when an offender does not care, feel sorry, apologize, or even recognize the offense.

Elder Scott further taught, “Forgiveness … can be hard to understand, even more difficult to give. Begin by withholding judgment. … Leave the handling of aggressors to others. As you experience an easing of your own pain, full forgiveness will come more easily” (Ensign, May 1992, pp. 32–33).

True forgiveness often develops slowly, a little at a time, perhaps even unconsciously at first. No one can predict how long it should take to forgive. As friends, family, priesthood leaders, or professional helpers, we must be patient with those seeking to forgive. Few of us can see or feel the invisible wounds they have suffered.

Forgiveness does not require acceptance of abuse or acceptance of an abusive person. But when hurt has healed, when victims have realized that the abuse is not something they caused or deserved, when they have tried sincerely to understand the offender, and when they have prayed for charity and spiritual guidance, then peace of mind and true forgiveness will come.

Are the videos produced in the Church Educational System available for home use or in Church auxiliaries?

V. Daniel Rogers, Church Educational System director of curriculum services. The primary purposes of the Church Educational System’s visual media are to enhance seminary and institute students’ scriptural understanding, to provide their teachers with an additional classroom teaching tool, and to help students better understand the gospel of Jesus Christ. Even so, the Church Educational System makes some of its videos available for families and Church auxiliaries.

Many Church members, for example, are familiar with the Hold to the Rod series. The series, used by Melchizedek Priesthood quorums and the Relief Society, was designed to instruct in scripture study. Two videos produced for the New Testament study year, To This End Was I Born and Godly Sorrow, have been used by priesthood leaders in training and motivational settings. To This End Was I Born was shown on cable and network television on Easter weekend 1993. Priesthood leaders may obtain the video by checking it out from a local seminary or institute.

Most Church Educational System videos, however, are produced especially for use in the seminary program, and their use is limited to that setting. The seminary program is a four-year study course, with each year focusing on one of the four standard works. For each course of study, the curriculum division selects approximately twenty-five scriptural segments that are particularly suitable for video treatment.

Those twenty-five segments represent four hours of video per 180 days of instruction. Each seminary video will be used in three teaching cycles of four years each, or over a total period of twelve years. If these seminary videos were used by other Church auxiliaries for youth or the family, the impact of the seminary experience would be diluted. Consequently, such use of seminary videos outside of seminary could diminish the impactful experience in seminary class.

Further, these videos are not intended for use without additional supporting lesson materials. Very few of the Church Educational System’s videos effectively lend themselves to general fireside or home use. However, when there is a need for these videos in adult settings, a copy may be borrowed from local CES personnel.

When seminary videos are replaced with newer videos created by the Church Educational System, those no longer used may be placed in meetinghouse libraries. These videos could be used in Primary, family home evening, Sunday School, and Young Women and Aaronic Priesthood programs.

We are pleased that Church members recognize the contribution Church Educational System materials make toward teaching and understanding the scriptures, and we encourage their proper use.

[photo] Photo by Matthew Reier