There’s a concept in evolutionary biology called genetic drift. Essentially the proven theory states that any given but finite population, suddenly separated by an insurmountable physical barrier will develop different, unique traits. The example most commonly cited is the coloring of desert field mice which find themselves on opposite sides of a fault line following an earthquake. Prior to the earth cracking open, these mice existed within the same gene pool, mating and passing down traits required for survival. Post-earthquake, the population is arbitrarily divided and you’d expect the mice to continue to evolve in the same way. Nothing has changed -- the desert is still the same color. Their natural predators haven’t changed. The mice on each side of the divide all look and feel the same. They are, in fact, genetically identical. But scientists noted that the populations do in fact change. Quickly, in fact. Within just two or three generations, mice from these two populations can be put right next to each other and you’d never know they had a common grandparent.
Genetic drift is one of my favorite theories and can be used to explain all kinds of changes, even those that are not directly imprinted on our DNA strands. Take a look at the English language. If physical barriers had no impact on us, we’d all still speak with a British accent. And genetic drift works in the opposite, as well. With the invention of the internet and subsequent social media platforms, strong regional dialects are becoming diluted. These regional accents developed as a result of being physically separated, but as things like FaceTime and YouTube bring that physical separation to a virtual zero, the American accent is become more and more standardized.
This also might explain why Utah Mormons are just so weird. Separated from the rest of us by at least three hours of desert driving, we’ve developed some really unique traits… but that’s a topic for another day!
The point I want to make here is the natural course of the natural man is to drift when we are separated from our point of origin. To us, that means we’ve been drifting away from God since Adam and Eve were shown the exit door to the Garden of Eden. Shortly after their departure, God sent an Angel to teach Adam how to reconnect with God through prayer and sacrifice… but that takes significant amount of work on Adam’s part and it’s very possible that his children will not follow the Angel’s instructions exactly as they were handed down. This is evidenced by Cain more than anyone else… just one generation removed from the Garden of Eden and Cain is capable of killing his brother after making what he thought was an acceptable sacrifice.
So, even though we have the scriptures and the sacrament and prayer and the temple and baptism and missionaries and all these systems in place to keep us from drifting… it’s still bound to happen. What can we do about it? How do we even know if we’re drifting and then how to get back to the original?
God’s answer to cultural drift within his church is to call a living Prophet. This most recent General Conference saw so many changes announced by President Nelson that some are still in shock. I now sit up a little taller and hold my breath any time he gets up to speak… what’s coming next!?
In all three announcements, President Nelson offered divine course correction. He saw places where we as an entire church had drifted, where something that was set in place in a different time and situation was either no longer effective or had been tweaked slightly over time that it lost its original drive and mission. Elder Holland pointed this out in his remarks following President Nelson:
“Brothers and sisters, as the work of quorums and auxiliaries matures institutionally, it follows that we should mature personally as well—individually rising above any mechanical, function-without-feeling routine to the heartfelt discipleship articulated by the Savior at the conclusion of His earthly ministry. As He prepared to leave His still-innocent and somewhat-confused little band of followers, He did not list a dozen administrative steps they had to take or hand them a fistful of reports to be filled out in triplicate. No, He summarized their task in one fundamental commandment: “Love one another; as I have loved you. … By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”4”
Further down in that speech, he makes sure to point out that this change in structure does not invalidate the testimony the faithful gained from home and visiting teaching. I’d challenge anyone struggling to understand or meet these new methods to study President Nelson’s words on the subject. He details briefly the process he went through to receive such revelation:
Dear brothers and sisters, we constantly seek direction from the Lord on how we can help our members keep the commandments of God, especially those two great commandments to love God and our neighbors.1
For months we have been seeking a better way to minister to the spiritual and temporal needs of our people in the Savior’s way.
We have made the decision to retire home teaching and visiting teaching as we have known them. Instead, we will implement a newer, holier approach to caring for and ministering to others. We will refer to these efforts simply as “ministering.”
Effective ministering efforts are enabled by the innate gifts of the sisters and by the incomparable power of the priesthood. We all need such protection from the cunning wiles of the adversary.
And for the priesthood Quorum changes:
Some of you serve where the Church has been established for generations. Others serve where the Church is relatively new. For some, your wards are large. For others, your branches are small and distances are great. Regardless of your individual circumstances, each of you is a member of a priesthood quorum with a divine mandate to learn and to teach, to love and to serve others.
Tonight we announce a significant restructuring of our Melchizedek Priesthood quorums to accomplish the work of the Lord more effectively. In each ward, the high priests and the elders will now be combined into one elders quorum. This adjustment will greatly enhance the capacity and the ability of men who bear the priesthood to serve others. Prospective elders will be welcomed in and fellowshipped by that quorum. In each stake, the stake presidency will continue to preside over the stake high priests quorum. But the composition of that quorum will be based on current priesthood callings, as will be explained later.
These modifications have been under study for many months. We have felt a pressing need to improve the way we care for our members and report our contacts with them. To do that better, we need to strengthen our priesthood quorums to give greater direction to the ministering of love and support that the Lord intends for His Saints.
These adjustments are inspired of the Lord. As we implement them, we will be even more effective than we have ever been previously.
The third change may not have registered to you as a structural change, but the announcement of temples constitutes a divinely inspired structural change. Especially this round of temples. To have a temple in India and Russia changes the lives of not only those living in those countries, but in the entire geographical region. I served in Taiwan and while we in the States consider India and the East Coast of China to be fairly far flung from each other, the Taipei temple was actually the closest temple for the Indian members. So frequent were visitors from India, that the Taipei temple has a standard time for the Endowment in Hindi.
A similar but perhaps more profound change is coming for the members in Russia. My sister served in the Vladivostok mission, which is the largest mission by landmass in the world. It stretched from Lake Baikal all the way to the Bering Straits. It took 8-10 hours of flying for my sister to get from her area in Irkutsk to Seoul South Korea to renew her visa and visit the temple every three months. It's a long and expensive trip that most members can only afford to make once or twice in their life, if they can get the time off work. In the six weeks following my sisters homecoming, the church announced the closing of her mission and removal of missionaries-- who were called volunteers and not allowed to wear their tags-- due to political discord. I don't need to belabor how distressing this was to members and missionaries alike-- the church consists of small branches spread over a huge area that is politically hostile to faith.
For President Nelson then to announce a temple in Russia was the most incredible rush of hope for a people who'd all but lost it in these last couple years. It served as a personal note from God, saying I hear your prayers and I am answering them. Hold on a little longer.
To the rest of us who live within easy distance of the temple, President Nelson issues this invitation to restructure our personal lives in order to avoid --let's call it spiritual drift:
“My dear brothers and sisters, construction of these temples may not change your life, but your time in the temple surely will. In that spirit, I bless you to identify those things you can set aside so you can spend more time in the temple. I bless you with greater harmony and love in your homes and a deeper desire to care for your eternal family relationships. I bless you with increased faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and a greater ability to follow Him as His true disciples.”
I'm struck by President Nelson’s blessing of increased faith and greater ability to follow Christ as true disciples. For three, nearly four generations now the structure of the church has remained unchanged. As a result, it's fairly easy to fall into patterns of speech that are slightly drifted from the original. For example-- to have faith in something. Faith is a universal concept and a person can in fact have faith -- or trust-- in anything (story of the atheist if there's time). But the missionaries teach a specific variety of faith-- faith in the lord Jesus Christ. As much as we can have faith in the rising sun or the East Idaho wind, that kind of faith will not lead to salvation. But faith in Jesus Christ will.
Now, hang with me for a second. We're going to start splitting hairs. Home and Visiting Teaching were originally inspired programs to help strengthen the members faith in Christ-- that saving faith. However, how many of us have said the words “I have a testimony of or faith in Visiting or Home teaching”? Faith in Visiting or Home Teaching itself isn't going to bring salvation. And, in fact, if your testimony is based narrowly on the program itself rather than its relationship to God and Christ, then you will struggle greatly with changes announced by President Nelson. It shows itself in small ways-- murmuring about inconvenience, resistance or refusal to learn, reverting to old ways even though you've been asked to do differently by the living mouthpiece of God on earth.
Returning to President Nelson's blessing of faith-- let us remember that we must focus our faith on Jesus Christ instead of the institutional structure of the church. If we believe Christ sits at the head of this church and has delegated some authority to whoever holds the office of Prophet, we shall not drift.
I say these things and leave y'all with my testimony of Jesus Christ as my savior and the only route to eternal salvation and exaltation. In his name, Amen.