I Have a Question


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

Our son has severe learning disabilities, although he has worked very hard to overcome them. Now he’s seventeen and wants to plan on a mission. What can we do?

Elder Rex D. Pinegar of the First Quorum of the Seventy, managing director of Missionary Preparation and Services The Lord and his servants have made it clear that every member of the Church is a missionary. We have been commanded to “let our preaching be the warning voice, every man to his neighbor, in mildness and meekness.” (D&C 38:40–41; see also D&C 88:81)

In addition to this general missionary responsibility that we all share, young men are asked specifically to devote two years of their lives to full-time missionary service. President Spencer W. Kimball has said, “Every young man should fill a mission.” He recognizes, however, that a few are physically unable to give missionary service. (See “When the World Will Be Converted,” Ensign, October 1974, p. 8)

The experience of nearly a century and a half of missionary work has shown that illness or other disabilities are almost always accentuated by the extensive walking, irregular living conditions, and other rigors of missionary work. In addition, persons who are not sufficiently resilient and resourceful may suffer emotional difficulties from living with another person for an extended period of time and following a rigid work schedule. A missionary with such physical or emotional difficulties not only suffers himself, but may also make his companion’s service more difficult, thus compounding the problem as feelings of guilt arise in both companions over their inability to do the work.

Each person’s ability to serve must be considered individually. The channel provided by the Lord for such consideration is the bishop or branch president and the stake or mission president, who are responsible for recommending missionaries. An examination by a doctor is also required. After examining the medical form and conducting a searching interview, the priesthood leader must determine if the person is capable of meeting the rigorous conditions encountered in the mission field. If problems are noted, bishops are counseled to resolve the problems before recommending the person for a full-time mission. Those with problems that cannot be resolved but can be controlled, such as diabetes or some types of epilepsy, may be recommended.

Specifically, a person with severe learning disabilities may have difficulty learning the vast amount of material required of missionaries or responding to investigators who may challenge the resources of even the most capable young men.

If, after consultation with the bishop, it is determined that it would not be wise for a young man to serve as a full-time missionary, other options are available through which he may fulfill his missionary responsibilities. If he serves well in the Church according to his capacity, neither he nor his family need have guilt feelings about his not serving as a regular, full-time missionary. As he serves with all his “heart, might, mind and strength” in those callings which come to him, he will “stand blameless before God at the last day.” (D&C 4:2)

How may a handicapped person serve in missionary work?

1. He may serve, like all other members, in friendshipping and fellowshipping his friends, neighbors, and family. Handicapped persons have often demonstrated a unique capacity to touch the hearts of others and open their minds to the gospel.

2. He may serve in stake missionary work, living at home and participating as he is able, without the rigid discipline of the mission field.

3. He may participate financially as he is able.

4. He may exercise his faith through prayer on behalf of the missionary effort.

5. He can be a model of righteousness, an example of the believers.

6. He may correspond with nonmembers, expressing his testimony and feelings about the Church.

7. He may send “personalized” copies of the Book of Mormon on a mission, with his picture and testimony included in the front.

Other activities can be imagined. It is apparent that a desire to serve God is the prime requisite. (See D&C 4:3.)

As parents of a young family, my wife and I want to help our family avoid the friction so often associated with the teenage years. What can we do now to make their adolescent years enjoyable both for us and for them?

Michael Farnworth, Family Resources faculty, Ricks College You are wise in dealing with a very real problem in family life before the crisis arrives.

Most parents accept without question the importance of touching, caressing, and spending time with their young children to establish close emotional ties with them. But as children grow older, many of the experiences shared with parents during childhood become only memories. Physical expressions of love from parents sometimes seem childish to teenagers, and peers usually usurp the parents’ role as best friends.

However, the physical affection and playtime shared by parents and young children need to be expanded to other forms of acceptance and interaction in adolescence—not abandoned.

I believe parental companionship is the answer. Structure your family life while your children are young so that you continually learn new activities and hobbies together as they grow up. Then when they are older, your children will continue to seek parental involvement. This might mean spending money on sports equipment instead of on home improvements. It might mean having your own ego deflated after being soundly defeated at bowling. It might mean listening to your son long enough to realize that he has a very logical, hard-to-ignore point about grown-ups in general. It might also mean sore muscles from working in the garden, a bad sunburn from a river expedition, or a tearful eye from a tender moment in the back room.

As I talk to teenagers, many express a basic frustration about interacting with their parents, and I’m convinced that teenagers aren’t the only ones making a difficult transition. It seems parents have a hard time making the transition during this unstable period, too. The idea of parental companionship won’t solve all your problems, but it can make some of them enjoyable and easier to handle.

Was the Church legally incorporated at the time it was organized in the state of New York?

Larry C. Porter, chairman, department of Church history and doctrine, Brigham Young University Section 20 of the Doctrine and Covenants speaks of the newly evolving “Church of Christ” as being “regularly organized and established agreeable to the laws of our country.” (D&C 20:1) In 1969–70 I spent several months looking for evidence that the Church had been incorporated according to the laws of the state of New York. Though I could not locate the incorporating document, I found several accounts which show that the organizers of the Church were aware of and made a conscientious attempt to meet the legal requirements for incorporation.

David Whitmer, a contemporary and close associate of the Prophet Joseph Smith, showed that he recognized the legal requirements for the organization when he stated: “On the 6th of April, 1830, the church was called together and the elders acknowledged according to the laws of New York.” (Kansas City Daily Journal, 5 June 1881)

Those “laws” David Whitmer was referring to were “An Act to provide for the Incorporation of Religious Societies,” passed by the New York State Legislature on 5 April 1813. Section III of that act reads, in part:

“III. And be it further enacted, that it shall be lawful for the male persons of full age, belonging to any other church, congregation or religious society, now or hereafter to be established in this state, and not already incorporated, to assemble at the church meetinghouse, or to the place where they statedly attend for divine worship [in this case, the Peter Whitmer, Sr., farm house in Fayette Township], and, by plurality of voices, to elect any number of discreet persons of their church, congregation or society, not less than three, nor exceeding nine in number [Joseph Smith chose six—Oliver Cowdery, Joseph Smith, Jun., Hyrum Smith, Peter Whitmer, Jun., Samuel H. Smith, and David Whitmer (HC, 1:76)], as trustees, to … transact all affairs relative to the temporalities thereof. … That on the said day of election, two of the elders or church wardens, and if there be no such officers, then two of the members [Joseph Smith, Jun., and Oliver Cowdery] of said church, congregation or society, to be nominated by a majority of the members present, shall preside at such election, receive the votes of the electors, be the judges of the qualifications of such electors, and the officers, to return the names of the persons who, by plurality of voices, shall be elected to serve as trustees for said church [the six men named above] … in which certificate, the name or title by which the said trustees and their successors shall forever thereafter be called and known [The Church of Jesus Christ (HC, 1:79)].

With this knowledge of the legal requirements, I went in search of the elusive document. Mr. John S. Genung, trustee and historian of the Waterloo Library and Historical Society, Waterloo, New York, helped me make a systematic examination of possible repositories. Since the Laws of the State of New York (III, p. 214) indicated that the incorporation certificate should be initiated and recorded in the county, by the county clerk, there is no evidence that such a certificate would be filed with the state offices at Albany, nor in the offices of Fayette Township.

Accordingly, we began with the Seneca County Courthouse at Waterloo. Mr. Thomas B. Masten, Jr., the county clerk, allowed us access to the materials deposited in the clerk’s offices. The records there showed only three religious societies incorporated in 1830: “January 7, 1830, Trinity Church of Ovid; January 12, 1830, Seneca Falls Society of ME [Methodists]; November 24, 1830, 1st Baptist Church, Lodi.” (Miscellaneous Record Book B) No record was found which even approximated the title or time of founding of the LDS Church. If the incorporation certificate of “The Church of Jesus Christ” or “The Church of Christ” had been duly filed with the county clerk of Seneca County, it should have appeared in this listing.

I was then allowed to examine the records in the downstairs vault and an adjoining storage room. Again, the desired record was not found. However, the vault did contain a ledger entitled “Court of Common Pleas, 1827–1831.” As the Act of 1813 stipulated that a certificate of incorporation could be issued by “one of the judges of the court of common pleas,” I studied this record at length, but found no appropriate entry.

Seneca County is one of the few two-shire counties in the United States; that is, it has two county seats—one at Waterloo in the north and one at Ovid in the south. At the time the LDS Church was organized, both of these seats were operative on a “sharing” basis. Every six months, county records were shuttled back and forth by wagon, depending on whose term of jurisdiction was then incumbent. On 2 February 1830, the Seneca County Court of Common Pleas met at Waterloo. However, on 11 May 1830, it convened in Ovid. If they had not gone into Waterloo earlier, the organizers of the LDS Church could have gone to Ovid, New York, 14.6 miles south of the Whitmer farm, to validate their certificate of incorporation.

So Mr. Genung arranged for me to meet with Undersheriff Gerald B. Brewer at the courthouse in Ovid. Today, with Waterloo the site of Seneca County government, only a small office is maintained by the undersheriff at the old courthouse in Ovid. Undersheriff Brewer opened his shelves for inspection. A few old ledgers still remained in a basement room, but none pertained to the incorporation of religious societies.

My next step was to see if any of the New York branches of the Church had been registered. Because the law required religious societies within each county to register their particular congregations, the various branches of the Church might have applied for a certificate of incorporation in their respective locations. Byron C. Blazey, Ontario County clerk, Canandaigua, New York; Leonard Schlee, Wayne County clerk, Lyons, New York; John P. McGuire, Chenango County clerk, Norwich, New York; and Howard Davis, Broome County clerk, Binghamton, New York, all gave me access to their offices and storage facilities. In no instance was there record of an incorporation proceeding for any LDS Church religious society during 1830–31.

In a “last ditch” attempt to turn up any lead, I searched records in the Fayette Town Hall, the Waterloo Town Hall, and the state archives at Albany—all to no avail.

My extensive examination of the primary sources thus pointed to at least two possible explanations: First, the organizers of the LDS Church met all the legal requirements and submitted their application for incorporation, but through some technicality or omission the certificate was never recorded in the appropriate record book. Or second, the organizers made an attempt to meet the prerequisites of the law, but the press of initial business and local opposition somehow stayed them from formally executing the document in a court of law during the ten months the Prophet remained in New York.

Given the circumstances, I doubt that the original certificate of incorporation in Seneca County will ever be found. However, it is possible that the elusive document is still in existence and will be discovered in an obscure place. The legal preliminaries were met by the Prophet Joseph—but we don’t know if they were ever completed.