I first heard the now-debunked “Generals in the War in Heaven” story in Seminary, during high school. I quote from FAIRwiki:
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!
I think I got some sensational goose bumps when I heard it as a teenager, kind of an ooh ahh response. Wow, I am so cool. It seemed to go well with the “noble and great” scripture from Abraham. General in the war in heaven–sure, why not? I filed it away in my list of things that I kind of believed. I was in a believing frame of mind: having gained the beginnings of my testimony, I was pre-disposed to believe anything preached to me. In the years that followed, though, I dismissed that quote and others of its ilk as faith-promoting rumors.
To balance out that quote, let me here cite the First Presidency letter responding to it:
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.
Stake presidents and bishops should see that it is not used in Church talks, classes, bulletins,
or newsletters. Priesthood leaders should correct anyone who attempts to perpetuate its use by
any means, in accordance with “Statements Attributed to Church Leaders,” Church Handbook of
Instructions, Book 1 (2006), 173.
A-ha. So the “general in the war in heaven” idea never came from an official source. When I read a myth debunking, I feel relieved. Whew! I had secretly wondered if it was really true when I heard it repeated to me, even as I dismissed the “faith-promoting rumor.” So I don’t have to believe that after all! Because, I’m not really military, and let’s face it, I’d make a rotten general. What a relief. And up in heaven? I think I’m much more likely to hush in the presence of Joseph Smith, Nephi, and Moroni, than they are to hush in the presence of me.
This particular rumor seems to go beyond the mark–the doctrine to be taught is yes, the youth are special, important, reserved to come forth now. But that’s it. We don’t need more.
Another faith-promoting rumor: A friend of a friend is in the Church Office Building. She finds herself on an elevator with President Hinckley. And the only thing he says to her is, “Do you have your food storage?” (cue the dramatic music)
I heard that one a little while ago. It sounded familiar to me, so I asked my father-in-law, who worked at the Church Office Building twenty years ago. “That story was making the rounds when I worked there, too,” he said. “I heard it with President Benson and President Tanner.”
Does it promote faith, though? Does it help people run out and get their food storage? Are there other faith-promoting rumors that actually do promote faith? Are they worth repeating, these stories we hear, that get endlessly emailed? And do you speak up when someone tells you one that you’re pretty sure is false?