Missionaries insert faith-promoting stories into discussions with investigators. General authorities publicly denounce the more fantastic tales, but the Ensign continues to publish them. They evoke tears of sentiment or jeers of scorn from hearers. For better or worse, faith-promoting stories are likely to remain a vital part of Mormon culture.
The earliest FPS I recall was from a Beehive teacher trying to impress us with the sacredness of LDS garments. She told us they were a protection to the wearer and related the tale of missionaries returning from Europe on the Titanic. When their bodies were recovered, it was found that the fish had eaten everything but the parts of the body covered by the garment. I swallowed the story hook, line and sinker—never questioning how the missionaries’ bodies were recovered from the mid-Atlantic or the benefit of having their torso left in one piece after head, arms and lower legs became fish food.
When John F. Kennedy ran for president, I knew he would lose because the story making the rounds in Utah County was that the Doctrine and Covenants said a Catholic would never become US president. Yes, I know. Reading the scriptures myself would have prevented this gullibility.
If I were a better person, I would simply enjoy the story rather than register disbelief when a sincere believer relates an unlikely FPS. A sister-in-law related a marvelous story about a Japanese bomber pilot whose mission was to bomb the LDS temple on Pearl Harbor Day. He was given the exact location of the temple, but when he flew over the spot, nothing was there. He rechecked his directions and made another pass over the spot. Still nothing. He made another pass over the indicated spot and found nothing, so he flew over the ocean and dropped his bombs into the water. Years later, when he related his story to a Mormon missionary, he was asked if that experience didn’t make him want to join the Church. “No,” he declared. He wanted nothing to do with a religion that had a God that strong.
Since I’m not a better person, I asked Elva why the Japanese would have chosen to bomb the temple. She drew herself up haughtily and informed me that her son-in-law had heard the story on his mission to Japan and it was true.
The really fanciful stories are entertaining and probably do little harm. More harmful are those that warn of impending doom or promise miraculous answers to prayer or. Prior to the year 2000, how many LDS families left good jobs in the cities for a safe, self-sustaining life in Manti, Utah—or Jackson County, MO for the more adventurous?
And what about stories of immediate answers to prayer over relatively trivial matters such as finding lost car keys right after praying? A more natural explanation, such as prayer opening a person’s mind to remembering where the keys were left, allows for divine help without causing listeners to wonder why God performs miracles for some people, i.e. devout LDS, while ignoring others with greater needs—refugees in war torn lands, victims of natural disasters, etc. etc.
Miracles are rare and blessings are not always a reward for righteousness. Matthew tells us, “The rain falls on the just and the unjust.” Maybe we should consider the unintended effect an FPS may have on a listener before relating it.