Thursday, April 29, 2004

I know we already hit on polygamy, BUT 

by Christina
When I was in law school, I took a course on the history of women in the law (what history, you might ask!), and I got very interested in divorce in the church ranks during the height of polygamy 1860's - 1880's. It turns out that divorce was not only pretty high in Utah during this time, in fact, Utah became the Las Vegas of its time because of the ease with which one could obtain a divorce. Interestingly, divorce was not exactly frowned upon as a solution to unhappiness in those days in the church.

I propose that one reason for this acceptance of divorce stems from our earliest church history. As you may all recall, part of Joseph Smith's introduction of the conception of celestial marriage was that members of the church who were unhappily living in existing marriages at that time could consider themselves "unbound" from each other because marriages sanctioned only by earthly authorities were null in the eyes of God.

I don't recall how much divorce took place in those first years when only JS and a few others were practicing polygamy, but I do know that the figures rose astronomically as more and more members of the church took part in polygamous marriages. And I think part of the reason for this rise is fundamental to the way that at least Joseph Smith seemed to have taught (viewed?) marriage that was peformed outside the covenant.

I'm not going to get into the progression from polygamy to monogamy, I think we are all familiar with it, but I think the divorce phenomenon highlights yet another way in which our church views on marriage and the primacy of it to the practice of our religion, have changed over time.

Is there a way to reconcile these things besides invoking the idea that revelation is only fitting for each epoch (divorce and polygamy good for Eliza R. Snow and her counterparts but not for us)? And then it just all begs that other question of why marriage itself is so darn important to our current theology.

Laundry, Lizards, and the Sisters of Lazarus 

by Kristine
It's finally spring in Massachusetts--time to start checking my children's pockets for pebbles, moss, shells, worms, and lizards before doing the laundry. (If you've never found a lizard in your dryer, well...just remember to add that to your list of blessings next time you're counting!). This, of course, has me thinking about the story of Mary and Martha.

My husband, you see, does not check pockets. He also does not pre-treat stains, use different temperature water for different kinds of loads, remember not to put wool sweaters in the dryer, etc. He also does not carry in his head a list of which child needs which new clothes, what clothes need to be sent off to cousins; he often can't distinguish which clothes belong to which child. In other words, though he is willing to throw in a load now and then (pretty often, actually), he is not "careful and troubled" about the laundry, or much of anything else in the household. Even my friends who have less traditional, more egalitarian divisions of labor in their households often lament that they carry the "psychic burden" of homekeeping and childrearing.

Part of what I love about the story of Jesus with Mary and Martha is that it neatly subverts the traditional gendered lines of these roles. And, of course, I've always loved that Mary is praised for sitting and listening, conversing, THINKING about the gospel. But now that I am a mother, and a provider of meals, clean clothes, repaired toilets, etc. for a household, I am more troubled than I used to be by Christ's gentle rebuke of Martha. After all, he was planning to eat the meal she cooked, wasn't he? (We can, of course, soften the story by imagining that Martha was doing something more elaborate than necessary, but that is ultimately unsatisfying to me: even making a simple meal requires a good deal of care and labor--this would have been even more true in a time and place that lacked running water and food processors!)

It seems to me that "choosing that good part" almost inevitably requires having someone else to do the less good part--the Relief Society makes dinner for the leadership meeting, mom and a daughter or son are stuck in the kitchen Thanksgiving morning while everyone else plays football. Or, on a larger scale, I am freed to do academic work while someone else is paid minimum wage to care for my children and my household (this, btw, is a big chunk of the reason I'm NOT doing academic work right now). It's the dilemma that animates _Howard's End_ and floats around the edges of Forster's work (and others'): leisure for a contemplative life is often purchased at the cost of someone else's freedom to indulge in such pursuits.

So what is the lesson (if there is one) for us in the story of Lazarus' sisters? Is there more to the story? I confess that I have a recurring fantasy of someone finding a scroll in which Jesus says, "Come on, Mary, let's go chop vegetables while we talk..." But the scriptures deny that easy ending, and leave us with the questions.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

True Confessions 

by Karen
I have a confession to make. I voted for Bill Clinton. Twice. Actually, to be accurate I supported and voted for Paul Tsongas in the primary in 1992, but when he was defeated, I stepped onto the Clinton bandwagon and helped to defeat George Bush. (Again, let's be accurate, I was voting in Utah, and so my actual vote was translated into Republican electoral votes, so I did not technically help to defeat George Bush, but, my friends, it was a psychic victory, so I claim a part in it.) This is somewhat of a sore point for my conservative family. My dad growls that I'm cancelling his votes, my mom tries not to think about it too much. My extended family thinks I'm a little bit crazy...probably because I've been single for just too darn long.

But I digress, here's the point. Let me tell you what happened on election night 1992. I was sitting in the basement of T-Hall in Deseret Towers--BYU freshman dorms--full of zeal and excitement at the democratic process leading to a Democratic victory. Incidentally, I was the only one in the room that was feeling particularly excited. Doomsday predictions were coming at me from every corner, and being younger and more salty, I was 'fessing up to my political beliefs and answering with support for the Democratic platform. I'd like to think I was being polite and calm, but frankly I can't remember. I went back up to my dorm room when the election had been called, and found a picture of steaming dog crap on my door.

That pretty much sums up my impression of being a Democrat at BYU. Taking a lot of crap. What is it about politics that makes people resort to "discourse" that they would never otherwise engage in? What is it about being a part of an overwhelming political majority that makes it seem okay to rudely invalidate someone else's minority-political opinion? (And I know this happens the other way around on other campuses. Some of my conservative friends really took a lot of hypocritical abuse from liberals on the Harvard Law School campus. That intolerance angers me just as much as my treatment at BYU.) Why, when we are celebrating the learning potential that free speech fosters, do we feel that silencing others is an appropriate response? Finally, someone please tell me that things are changing at BYU....

Now if only they'd correct our false notions about socks with sandals... 

by NA
Been to lds.org lately? The newsroom has added a highly amusing section, called "Mistakes in the News", where the Church p.r. department provides rebuttals and corrections to news articles it considers erroneous. Some hot-button issues in there -- MMM, Utah Theocracy, DNA evidence of the Book of Mormon... makes for a fun read! The level of aggressiveness in some of the replies is surprising to those who associate the public persona of the Church with a demure and passive quality. Check out this reply to an article in that anchor of newsmaking, The Scotsman: "Another religious leader was charged with sedition and blasphemy and portrayed as a drunkard and troublemaker. His name was Jesus Christ. These assertions were no better founded than your accusations against Joseph Smith." Wowza.

Incidentally, does anybody know what the threshold popularity level is for generating this kind of response? I doubt they'd put up anything to correct the occasional heresy in the Bloggernacle.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Not just your garden-variety anti anymore (or, "A Conspirator Speaks") 

by Kaimi
I was just on CNN and the sidebar (the place that carries ads) was showing an ad for a book called "The Mormon Conspiracy." I'm always eager to learn what I've been conspiring about lately. So, I surfed over to the website, mormonconspiracy.com . And I have to say-- wow, where do these people come from?

Apparently, the church is part of a conspiracy to take over and "Mormonize" the United States. (So that's why we've been training with rocket-propelled grenades during Sunday School lately). Some of the scary bullet points on the web page:

"Over sixty thousand fully-trained, adequately financed and prepared Mormon missionaries are serving in all parts of the United States and in over 124 countries around the world." [Hah! This guy has clearly never met any actual misisonaries. I'm trying to think of anyone on my mission who I would call "fully-trained and prepared" . . . hmm, drawing a blank. Of course, it sounds lot less frightening to say, "They send out a legion of frightened nineteen-year-olds who have seven weeks of Spanish training and a vague idea that they're supposed to 'build relationships of trust.'"]

"Just as the United States Army has its military academy, and the United States Air Force has the Air Force academy, the Mormon Church has Brigham Young University for training its future leaders." [Dang it, I guess I'm excluded from being a future leader. I wonder if the future leaders include students who had beards or did the funky chicken.]

"There are at least 100,000 leadership positions for Mormon priesthood holders to assume, including bishops, stake presidents, mission, district and branch presidents and the General Authorities." [Yep, we've got Deacon's Quorum President -- "You guys want to go out for donuts after Sunday School?" -- Teacher's Quorum President -- "So, let's discuss who the cutest Mia Maids are" -- Priests Quorum President -- "I just got my license, guys, let's go spin out in the parking lot." Also, there's the Elders Quorum Presidency, which largely consists of entering zeros on home teaching reports.]

"Spirits waiting to enter mortal existence was another one of Joseph Smith’s creations arising from his remarkable imagination. The idea, no doubt, had the ulterior motive of increasing membership in his church by encouraging members to have large families." [No doubt. We suckered Wordsworth into it too -- all that "trailing clouds of glory" stuff. But I can't believe he forgot to mention the worst, most despicable indoctrination of all in this area -- Saturday's Warrior!].

Anyway, the list goes on, and on, and on. It makes for somewhat interesting reading, if you're willing to apply your own Mystery Science filter and have some fun. And hey, being accused of conspiracy puts us in good company -- Jews have been accused of such stuff for millenia.

Secular Arguments on Polygamy 

by Dave
Two recent weblog articles discuss polygamy from a purely secular scientific and legal perspective. First, Polygamy, the Naturalistic Fallacy, and Gay Marriage at jonrowe argues that even a cursory review of human cultures shows that polygamy is quite natural, but to argue that it is thereby established as good is an example of the naturalistic fallacy. He sees monogamy as socially preferable for reasons detailed in the post. He is interested, I think, in distinguishing secular arguments supporting polygamy from other secular arguments supporting gay marriage.

In response, Sex and Nature at Freespace argues that one shouldn't dismiss an argument from nature as a "naturalistic fallacy" without properly understanding what the term "nature" refers to in ethical discussions about human behavior. Given the roughly equal proportion of males and females in human populations, he sees "patriarchal polygamy" as an unlikely outcome if women are given a fair say in choosing forms of marriage, and everyone having a fair choice rather than being subject to coercion by the state or social institutions is his concept of "human nature." Briefly, he thinks most women would choose one husband over, say, 1/10th of a husband, so if women are unconstrained polygamy will not persist.

Since neither of those two weblogs offers comments, this seems like a nice forum for discussing the ideas they raised in these posts. And polygamy does come up here from time to time, doesn't it?

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Ecumenicalism run amok? 

by Aaron B
The Vatican is upset. Apparently, large numbers of American Catholic congregations are allowing unordained lay people to participate in Mass in semi-official capacities. Thus, too many non-priests and non-deacons are delivering sermons and preaching the gospel, when these important tasks should be left to the proper authorities. You can read about it here. This whole episode has me wondering ... What would Pope John Paul think of my good friend Father Hans?

Father Hans is a "Catholic" priest whose congregation meets in Hollywood. I use the scare-quotes because Hans is an adherent of "Old Catholicism," a schismatic movement that broke with the Roman church in 17th Century Holland. The Old Catholics retain the traditional, elaborate Latin liturgy, with all its bells and whistles, but seem more evangelically Protestant than Roman Catholic in theology. To cite its own sources, Old Catholicism values "collegial episcopacy, flexibility, moderate discipline, placing more responsibility on the individual to elicit a mature and free response from the individual," rather than Roman Catholicism's "exaggerated papacy, monarchical pyramid structure, with a burgeoning bureaucracy, legalistic mentality resulting in a multiplication of canon laws." Hans rejects "Mary-olatry," papal infallibility and Saint worship. He really likes Jesus, baptism by immersion and personal scripture study.

What makes Hans REALLY interesting, however, is his love for Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, and Gordon B. Hinkley. (He's less fond of some of Brigham Young's teachings, the Book of Abraham and King Follet -- you understand). He's been studying Mormonism for years, and he's a better missionary for the Restoration than me or you. He hands out Books of Mormon at his work (yes, he has a job outstide of Church). He refers religious seekers to the Mormon missionaries rather than inviting them to his own services. When I introduced him to Blomberg and Robinson's _How Wide the Divide_, he practically had a heart attack he loved it so much. Hans is a "Dry Mormon" par excellence. The fact that he ministers to his own congregation every Sunday, AFTER attending "his" own LDS ward, makes him all the more fascinating.

About a year ago, Father Hans approached me with an unusual request. Convinced that LDS missionaries are "angels," and that they obviously love and follow Christ more than anyone in his congregation could ever hope to, Hans wanted to organize a Catholic-Mormon "hybrid" Mass. He proposed that my four full-time missionaries and I (the Ward Mission Leader) play an active role in his services. He would conduct as usual, waving the incense, reciting the liturgy and preaching a short sermon (complete with occasional Book of Mormon or D&C quotations - without attribution). We would stand on the stage with him as representatives of Christ, read excerpts from the Bible at key junctures and offer the closing prayer. I talked this idea over with my Bishop, and he agreed it would be an interesting idea. We have now held three of these ecumenical worship services. The Los Angeles Mission President was invited to the last one. He came, gave the sermon in place of Father Hans, and seemed to enjoy the afternoon enormously.

Needless to say, these were very unusual experiences. They were both spiritual and awkward, simultaneously moving but bizarre. A thousand questions were occurring to me that I would never otherwise have occasion to think about. Do we recite the ritual language, along with everyone else? Or do we stay silent? Or do we merely omit the theologically-incorrect phrases? Do we lightly bow to the Crucifix as we approach our seats, just as Father Hans just did? How do we refuse the chalice of sacramental wine when it is offered to us? (One naive elder almost took a swig, until I stopped him). What will the parishoners think if we do? Or if we don't? What do they make of Mormon missionaries co-officiating in their services to begin with?

But there are even deeper questions to ponder. Is it appropriate for priesthood holders of God's "true church" to be co-officiating in a Catholic Mass, complete with sacrament service? Even though we didn't bless or pass the sacrament, we appeared to be endorsing an "apostate" ordinance. Were we using our priesthood inappropriately to jointly preside over the service? (Hans was adamant that we were "conducting" with him). Or were we, by definition, not really exercising our "priesthood" at all (which is how we saw things)? Then again, if we were introduced as representatives of Christ by Hans to his followers, does it even make conceptual sense to divorce our "priesthood" role from our "representative of Christ" role? I actually discussed some of these questions at length with Hans prior to the first Mass. He insisted that he saw us as his equals in our capacities to represent the Lord. I told him that we could not reciprocate the compliment, given our views on priesthood authority. He understood, and said he didn't care.

So what does everyone make of all this? Maybe it's time for President Hinkley to issue an encyclical and help me out.

Aaron B

Saturday, April 24, 2004

When families aren't forever 

by Unknown
Steve has asked me to guest blog for a bit. I think I'm supposed to be the voice of young single women in the church. I don't think I can speak for all of them, but I have a voice. By way of introduction, my name is Jennifer, I don't do anything special like run a magazine. I'm just trying to finish my graduate degree and I work in the primary presidency of my branch.

For my first post, I'd like to discuss the way we teach our children about families. There is an absence of material in the primary manuals for the many children who come from broken homes. This silence translates into insensitivity. My family had a lot of problems when I was growing up. My parents lived at opposite ends of the house and there was constant contention. I hated the primary song, "Families Can be Together Forever". Some Sundays it made me cry. I didn't want my family to be forever, not the way we were. I probably knew instinctually that our family would break up before we all died.

Almost twenty years have passed since my tenure in primary. I've worked in the primary of every ward I've attended for the past eight years. The lessons about families have not changed. The songs have not changed. At least now we have pictures of children and families that aren't white americans, finally. This year the primary theme is on eternal families. I looked for something in the materials that addresses our children who don't have two parents, or who live with extended family. There is nothing.

How does it feel to be a child who hears how wonderful heaven is because we'll have our families, but she has never met her father? Or, what must it be like for the child whose parents aren't members so they don't have a temple marriage? We teach them that they don't have an eternal family. They lose their families when they die. How many children have divorced parents? What about the children with one excommunicated parent? What do we teach them about their families? Nothing. Not one word. My parents finally divorced and I still don't know where that leaves me in terms of my eternal family. They broke their temple seal, so does that mean I'm not sealed to either of them? And what about my grandparents? Am I sealed to them? I can't answer their questions about non-traditional families because I don't know the answers. It shouldn't be this hard.

When it's my turn to do sharing time I try to be sensitive to the feelings of those from non-traditional-nuclear homes. But, I wish I had some help from the primary leaders in Salt Lake. I still find it hard to teach these "happy-happy-joy-joy" eternal family lessons. When will the church education catch up to the reality of what 'family' means to more and more children the whole world over?

I'm not sure what that would entail. At least we should have answers to questions about non-eternal families and what qualifies as such. I'm not suggesting the church stop teaching family principles. I just wish we could recognize that some lessons are insensitive. We should include something for the other children, those without eternal families. I still remember how sad those family lessons made me feel. I don't want to do the same thing to another child.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

A Christian View of Gender Formation 

by Dave
A recent Albert Mohler editorial gives a straightforward summary of the conservative Christian view of gender formation. He aims to "tell the truth about what God has revealed concerning human sexuality, gender, and marriage," which any LDS commentator would follow with a quote from the Proclamation. Instead, Mohler derives his equally conservative view from God's intention as expressed in Creation. He cites Genesis 1:27 ("male and female created he them") showing that God's "intention was clearly to create and establish two distinct but complementary genders or sexes." Heterosexuality is part of the created scheme, he continues, so homosexuality is a transgression against God's will (expressed in Creation).

By contrast, the LDS view is that "[g]ender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose." So our earthly gender is "natural" in the sense that it existed before our spirits were incarnated sometime between conception and birth. God's will is expressed in the matter only insofar as He matches spirits to bodies. The "matching spirits to bodies" process is problematic whether God makes the assignment or not, as was noted here recently. The Christian view avoids the problem by avoiding Preexistence; spirits are created somewhere between conception and birth.

Of course, the Christian view raises a different problem: if God does the creating, He seems to bear some responsibility for the plight of those who are physically or mentally disabled (also discussed here recently). And a liberal Christian might argue that if He created genders, He also created the psychological makeup that sometimes develops into homosexual attraction so it isn't necessarily against God's will. So the Christian view, rooted in creation, encounters difficult questions as quickly as the LDS view rooted in the gendered preexistence of spirits. But isn't it interesting to see conservative Christians, starting from an entirely different theological view of spirits and Creation, nevertheless end up with the same doctrinal view of homosexuality?

By What Name Ye Shall Be Called 

by NA
When I married Sumer Thurston, she shifted her last name to her empty middle name slot, and took my last name as her last name. Or so I (and the Social Security Administration) thought. A couple of years after we were married, she put "Sumer Thurston Evans" on her business cards; soon she started answering the phone at work, "Sumer Thurston Evans speaking." Finally, about a year ago, she made one little typographical shift: "Sumer Thurston-Evans." I can only imagine what the future of Sumer's nomenclature may be, but it doesn't look good for the Evanses.

A recent article in Slate encapsulated as a trend what I'd already experienced personally: the ever-changing maiden name. Mormons, being about 20 years behind the times, now keep maiden names and hyphenate last names like the rest of America. Even more interesting, mormon women have discovered the idea of different names for different social contexts: for example, Sumer Evans at Church (for simplicity's sake), Sumer Thurston-Evans at work, and Sumer Thurston at singles bars.

Some in our ward have taken things a step further: the husband takes the wife's name as his new last name. An avant-garde trend, but interesting. Why not take this approach? Let me advance to you a reason, albeit flimsy: think of what this does to genealogists! How can you trace family trees? What family are you then a part of? How important is it to "carry on the family name," and what does that really mean?

To all you enlightened people who see this as a non-issue, where the couple should feel free to take whatever name they choose, let me ask what to do if one spouse has a historically or politically important name -- would that sway you? I think if my last name were Brahe, Schrödinger, or Eyring, maybe Thurston wouldn't figure so strongly. I'm coming off a bit flippant here, and I apologize for the tone. I guess I have never felt (until recently) the pressure that women must feel on this issue. A part of me is just trying to figure out the best road for establishing a family identity, and I'm welcome to all suggestions.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

A Statement from the First Presidency: 

by Aaron B
"August 17, 1949

The attitude of the Church with reference to Negroes remains as it has always stood. It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of its organization, to the effect that Negroes may become members of the Church but that they are not entitled to the priesthood at the present time. The prophets of the Lord have made several statements as to the operation of the principle. President Brigham Young said: "Why are so many of the inhabitants of the earth cursed with a skin of blackness? It comes in consequence of their fathers rejecting the power of the holy priesthood, and the law of God. They will go down to death. And when all the rest of the children have received their blessings in the holy priesthood, then that curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will then come up and possess the priesthood, and receive all the blessings which we now are entitled to."

President Wilford Woodruff made the following statement: "The day will come when all that race will be redeemed and possess all the blessings which we now have."

The position of the Church regarding the Negro may be understood when another doctrine of the Church is kept in mind, namely, that the conduct of spirits in the premortal existence has some determining effect upon the conditions and circumstances under which these spirits take on mortality and that while the details of this principle have not been made known, the mortality is a privilege that is given to those who maintain their first estate; and that the worth of the privilege is so great that spirits are willing to come to earth and take on bodies no matter what the handicap may be as to the kind of bodies they are to secure; and that among the handicaps, failure of the right to enjoy in mortality the blessings of the priesthood is a handicap which spirits are willing to assume in order that they might come to earth. Under this principle there is no injustice whatsoever involved in this deprivation as to the holding of the priesthood by the Negroes.

The First Presidency"



One Thing I Like 

by Dave
Hi gang. I'm delighted to accept Steve's invitation to come blog with Bcc's talented crew. I think I'm the only West Coast blogger on board, so for those of you sitting in the Eastern time zone I'll be the late night PJ (post jockey), spinning out Top 40 posts after midnight. When I first started blogging (here's my first post way back in August 2003) it was fun just to publish something Mormonish to the web and the world, but with the emergence of the Mo-Blog I have really enjoyed trading comments and ideas with fellow bloggers. And if I ever said anything too blunt or even a little ugly to any of you in times past, I swear it was my evil twin.

To get started on a pleasant note, I'd like to take up Richard Bushman's recent challenge "to name one concrete, personal thing [I] like about the church." I have noticed that Church members extend full fellowship and friendship to those individuals who are physically or developmentally disabled. In classes, in choirs, in sacrament meetings, if these folks don't quite fit right in, adjustments are made rather seamlessly and no one bats an eye. It's not even a case of "making special arrangements," which can take on a condescending tone sometimes, it's more like just recognizing them as equal members of the group.

By contrast, I was sitting in a Berkeley bookstore one evening a few years ago as one of the 20th century's finer philosophers was starting to share some selections from his latest book with a few dozen assembled fans before a book signing. A young man with Down Syndrome was browsing at an adjoining bookshelf and began calling loudly across the bookstore to an attendant, asking a question three or four times, oblivious to the fact that he was distracting the group. The philosopher, not quite sure how to handle the interruption, directed a couple of comments at the young man. Not mean, but not kind either, kind of "hey, can't you see we're busy here?" I recall feeling troubled, more than just uncomfortable. Not to judge, but I think this was a "kindness and decency" test that the speaker failed on that day (perhaps he did better on other days). Funny, I can't think of ever hearing similar remarks in an LDS setting, even for one who was rather distracting or who missed all the notes or even who missed easy grounders or layups. On this score, at least, Mormon culture hits all the right notes.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Pride Goeth and Thank Goodness for the Fall 

by Karen
I had one of those spiritual epiphanies last night--one of those "I'm so grateful this happened--but I wouldn't wish for it again" moments. See, I'm going through what I like to call "Drama Queen" time--when not just one dramatic hard thing happens, but multiple dramas happen simultaneously...infusing life with rich irony.

Last night I started really examining my life, and looking at it I realize that I've sort of forcibly been stripped of pride. Without going into details, in addition to currently experiencing some professional "upheavals," last night I was able to put some closure onto a personal "upheaval." Earlier, I had been joking to some friends that I feel a sort of reckless abandon and unusual feistiness these days--I don't care what people think of me, because I'm the gal with no pride. But sitting alone in the car, I realized that was true in a way. None of my feelings of worth are being superimposed on me by the world right now. But somehow, there is this quiet peace underlying my feistiness. I think I caught a glimpse of gospel Truth. Absent the selfish clamoring, absent praise from the world, absent the trappings that denote success, our spirits are eternal, the price of our sins has been paid, and we are loved.

For perhaps the first time I understood the potential damaging power of pride. It clouds our vision, preventing an eternal perspective. It interferes with our relationship with God, because it prevents us from understanding the magnitude of the gift of life, and the gift of potential eternal life. We can overlook the importance of the people in our lives, and of the gospel in our lives, if we are focused on the achievements in our lives.

I've read the Book of Mormon enough to know that I will probably experience this cycle again--and it's a lesson that I'll need to be reminded of my entire life. However, glimpsing some Truth and remembering that peace comes from God is the blessing I need right now--and I'm incredibly grateful for it.

Why You Should Live the Scout Motto 

by Mathew
Our ward meets in the building on 65th and Broadway that will soon have a temple on the top two floors. The rest of the building is also being renovated, the result of which is that, as Steve noted in a recent sacrament talk, we meet in a place that resembles a home depot. Perhaps it is because of our long suffering that this past Sunday Elder Eyring of the Council of the Twelve attended our ward--although he said he was merely in town to give interviews to the Economist and the Wall Street Journal (happy day--I already subscribe to both of them so I won't have to pay newsstand prices to see what he said :). He came to church apparently unannounced--a conclusion that I draw from the fact that I walked to church with two members who expected to be speaking in sacrament. In any case, I didn't know he was going to be there, but as Steve and I walked into opening exercises five minutes late, it was pretty obvious that there was someone new on the stand (we met in the chapel due to work being done in the usual room).

I would have been more excited than worried if I wasn't teaching. My hopes that I would not be leading a lesson in which an apostle would sit in were quickly dashed when the bishop announced that the high priests and the elders would be meeting jointly. Steve quickly, and with apparent glee, informed me that the high priests instructor was absent and I would be the man up front. The lesson topic, as you church attendees may recall, was sustaining those whom God has called to preside.

The rest of the story is largely anti-climactic. The discussion was unusually vigorous and thoughtful--several times I was reminded of the scene in Tom Sawyer when the judge attends Sunday school and everyone in the church is showing off. But that isn't really fair either, because I don't think that people were trying to make points, but were rather just inspired by having an apostle with us. I delivered my lesson as I had planned it--not without, I admit, some trepidation. If Elder Eyring thought I was teaching false doctrine, he was gracious enough not to correct me. In fact he didn't say anything the entire lesson until the quorum president invited him to say a few words at the close of the meeting.

My general impressions of Elder Eyring as an intelligent, humble person were confirmed. The experience was slightly stressful, but entirely delightful and one I will no doubt remember for a long time.

Monday, April 19, 2004

New webpoll! 

by NA
This one goes out to all my iron-rodder homies out there.

Update: I've since heard complaints that my options aren't any good, that the poll doesn't describe reality, etc., etc. All I can say is, if you want a job done right...

Friday, April 16, 2004

Bin Laden's "Truce" and the Book of Mormon 

by NA
The latest tape from the Al Queda leader brought to my mind (strangely enough) the Book of Mormon communications between the leader of the Gadianton band and the Nephites, in 3 Nephi 3. Bin Laden shares Giddianhi's boldness and his rhetorical strategies. Compare:

Giddianhi: "I hope that ye will deliver up your lands and your possessions, without the shedding of blood, that this my people may recover their rights and government, who have dissented away from you because of your wickedness in retaining from them their rights of government, and except ye do this, I will avenge their wrongs."

Bin Laden: "Security is a need for all humans, and we could not let you have a monopoly on it for yourselves. People who are aware would not let their politicians jeopardize their security... By describing us and our actions as terrorism, you are necessarily describing yourself and your actions. ... Our actions are reactions to your actions that destroy and kill our people in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine."

Should we react like the Nephites did, by getting the hell out of the Middle East and fortifying ourselves? Remember that an interventionist option was brought before the Nephites, and rejected: "Now the people said... Pray unto the Lord, and let us go up upon the mountains and into the wilderness, that we may fall upon the robbers and destroy them in their own lands. But Gidgiddoni saith unto them: The Lord forbid; for if we should go up against them the Lord would deliver us into their hands."

The Book of Mormon is an inconsistent text if we want to look to it to justify pacifism. However, on the point of extraterritorial intervention, it seems much more clear. Are we being delivered into the hands of these robbers, by foolishly rushing into lands not our own? Can our scriptures tell us anything about current U.S. military action?

*Update: Sure, this is a specious argument. But please tell me why. This is the blog equivalent of a dunk tank. I will tell commenters when they have successfully dunked me.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

"It is what you make it..." 

by Kristine
Aaaargh. We have, willy-nilly, stumbled onto one of my heretofore unidentified hot buttons! "The Church is what you make it."* If you are a woman who is not entirely content with the status quo, you will have heard this many, many times. I hear it most often from my brothers and my mother "Kristine, I don't know why you have to be so negative all the time; can't you just be grateful for the Church and work within your sphere of influence?" My mother's particularly ghastly version of the argument includes references to Holocaust victims who survived the concentration camps by being cheerful and trying to help others as much as they could.

Of course, the statement is true on its face, and as far as it goes. It is true that individuals have a choice as to how they will respond to circumstances, whether those circumstances are divinely willed, naturally occurring, or institutionally mandated. Natural disasters, acts of God, and institutional injustice have all served as fertile ground for individual nobility and heroism. However, applying this truism in an institutional context can be a particularly subtle and dangerous way to shoot the messenger. By placing all of the responsibility for growth and happiness within an institution on the individual, it is possible to conclude that the institution need never adjust its course or rectify its failures. Saying "the Church is what you make it" has as its subtext "shut up, quit complaining--the Church works just fine for me because I am virtuous and proactive; if it's not working for you, it must be because there is something wrong with you." Of course there are people who are chronically and groundlessly malcontent (I may be one of them!), but if we assume that anyone whom the shoe pinches fits into that category, we will undoubtedly miss opportunities for institutional growth and needed change. Worse yet, we may add to the pain of our brothers and sisters who are already suffering in large and small ways because of the imperfections of the earthly, divinely guided but oh-so-human Church.

*Although Jordan used this phrase in the comments on the last post, he was not deploying it in all of the ways that I have reacted to here. His use of the phrase was quite limited, and while I disagree that the Church does not bear responsibility for meeting people's needs (or trying to meet some of them), I'm not attacking Jordan's statements specifically. I would do that in the comments, if I felt the need.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

What Can Mormonism Offer to Young People 

by John H
Hi all,

I'm honored to have been invited by Steve Evans to guest blog now and then. I'm relatively new to the world of blogging, so forgive any gaffes on my part. By way of a brief introduction, I'm the managing editor of Sunstone magazine and the symposium coordinator. I'm also editor of Danish Apostle: The Diaries of Anthon H. Lund, coming this summer from Signature Books.

Compared to many in the world of independent Mormonism (ie, Sunstone, Dialogue, Mormon History Association, Association for Mormon Letters, etc.), I'm a relative youngster at 27. I am struck by how many of my friends are leaving Mormonism. It's as if there is no middle ground for young people right now. They're either in the Church - in without any questions, fears, doubts, concerns or worries. Or they're out - out without any interest in trying to hang on or in trying to find value in the faith of their parents. They aren't angry as they leave, so far as I can tell. There isn't a sense of "I've been lied to!" or anything close to it.

Rather, they seem bored stiff by Mormonism. And eventually, they seem to wake up one day and realize there really isn't any good reason (in their minds) to continue to put their trust in authority figures who tell them that Mormonism is God's Church. They've been told their whole life that it's a sin to not go to church, that it's a sin to drink or smoke, and that if they aren't part of Mormonism, there may not be salvation for them. Then, they realize their own personal experience doesn't bear these claims out, or that they have no reason to inherently trust the voices that have been telling them this. So they drift away.

My question is, does Mormonism have something to offer young people? By that I mean, does it have something to offer beyond the belief that it is God's church? In other words, if a young person isn't convinced that Mormonism is God's kingdom on earth, if they might be questioning or doubting, do they have any reason to stay?

By way of partly answering my own question, I believe Mormonism has much to offer people my own age. Faith is a very important component of life, and I worry that so many people seem to be losing it. But I believe there are certain things that need to happen before retention among young people will increase. First and foremost, we must begin to trust journeying more in the Church. As it is, if someone begins a journey of self-discovery or walks down a path where they question their beliefs, we see that as something to rescue them from, not something to encourage as part of life's learning process.

What else can be done? Am I alone in believing that young people leaving Mormonism has reached near-critical levels? What value can we offer young people in Mormonism in the here and now (rather than simply saying that if they endure to the end - which can be a gloomy outlook - they'll be with God in the next life)?

John Hatch

Inspiration in Hollywood? I'm aghast! 

by Karen
One year in law school I went home to Utah for spring break. Over the weekend I saw three movies. The Testaments at Temple Square, God's Army in the theater and The Mission on video. How did they stack up?

I've never been able to stomach a second viewing of The Testaments--that movie sets my teeth on edge. I'm always really uncomfortable with fictionalizing the scriptures, but doing it with cartoonish villains who are crushed by walls and that annoying monkey that refused to die was just sad and embarrassing. I know that I should have focused on the scenes with the Savior, but the feeling that I was watching live action Disney was phenomenally distracting. Final word? ugghh

God's Army was a good flick--started an interesting cultural phenomenon--but it's quality was somewhat tempered by the awful cheesy ending. I have it on video but hardly ever actually watch it. Over all? ehhh.

The Mission is now one of my favorite movies. I think that the story it tells about the power of unconditional love and the possibility for redemption is amazing, touching, and wonderfully executed. Not to mention the questions it raises about the morality of resistance. The performances are superb, and the visuals are exceptional. My verdict? Incredibly inspiring film.

So let's ignore, for a moment if possible, most of the insipid garbage that comes out of Hollywood. I'd like to know which *mainstream* movies you find inspiring and why.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Polygamy, Courtship, and Dating 

by Kaimi
Every once in a while, my wife Mardell and I get into a discussion of polygamy. We occasionally speculate about what would happen if the church officially began to practice polygamy again. (This assumes a lot of things, like anti-polygamy laws being struck down). Mardell has consistently stated that she would not like polygamy, but that if it had to be done, she thinks that she would be able to tolerate it. On reflection, I think that I could probably tolerate it as well. (It would certainly be really, really weird). But I also think that, despite that attitude of potential reluctant acceptance (which is, I think, widespread among members), reinstituting polygamy would never work. Here's why:

As noted, my hunch is that if I had to marry a sister-wife, we could find some sort of marital equilibrium. (Probably both women ganging up against me and making me do the dishes . . .). But what would be the strangest -- something I doubt that I could pull off -- would be the courting.

Modern marriage conventions are different from what folk did a hundred years ago. Even if I wanted another wife, I couldn't just go up to a brother in the ward and ask for his daughter's hand in marriage. Nowadays it requires dating and courtship -- going to dinner, holding hands, going to the movies, calling each other to chat, making out in the parking lot.

And that's the part that would be (1) incredibly weird and uncomfortable for me, and (2) almost certainly intolerable for Mardell. As much as she thinks she could tolerate having another wife, I am certain that she could not tolerate the idea of her husband out on the dating market, flirting with random single members, asking for their phone numbers, and potentially, eventually, marrying them.

And I think that this feeling is universal, or close to it. Many members are descendants of polygamists, and they may say to themselves "My great-grandma Edna did it, I could do it too." But it's not just marriage that would be involved -- it would necessitate dating, flirting, and courtship. And I just don't think many LDS women would go along with that. Plural marriage may look like what great-grandma Edna did, but married men hitting on cute singles looks like a run-of-the-mill tawdry affair.

And it seems to me that it is this shift in marriage and dating conventions that truly ensures that polygamy can never be reinstituted.

Monday, April 12, 2004

Where it listeth 

by Kristine
I hope you won't think it too boastful if I tell you that my little ward choir sounded AMAZING on Easter Sunday. They had worked hard, but we are beset with the usual woes of the ward choir: not enough people, untrained voices, a couple of really enthusiastic non-carriers-of-tunes, too many meetings scheduled to conflict with choir practice, etc. Saturday night I was thinking that one of the songs was going to be awful, two merely passable, and that only one of four pieces we were performing had a chance of being actually good. Our warm-up on Sunday morning did nothing to suggest that any revision of that assessment was in order.

And then they were just so good. I did not think or sense that angels were singing with the choir, or that they had been completely transformed; it was a miracle on a more ordinary scale. They suddenly remembered the things we practiced, they looked up for entrances and cut-offs, they did not sing Jeeee-sus with that awful spread-vowel balloon noise, they were in tune. They were just a little better than they really are. Although I don't understand the mechanism, I feel very clearly that there was divine intervention of some sort, the Spirit bringing things to remembrance, quickening minds, amplifying our meager offering. I have seen this happen often enough to believe that it is real, and not just the wishful thinking of an optimistic amateur choir director.

Still, I can't predict when it will happen. I've had choirs work hard on something well within the scope of their capabilities and had it sound just awful. I've worked with choirs to prepare for times when it really MATTERED for them to be good (funerals of musicians, for instance), and had them be just human and barely good enough. And then, times like yesterday, in a congregation where every last person with any aesthetic sense at all is already in the choir, and where there's a long tradition of, um, struggling choirs, and there's no reason I can see why the Spirit would have an interest in magnifying our talents, and there it was.

We Mormons tend to speak as though we understand how to work with the Spirit. Sometimes we make lists of the things one has to do to be worthy of His (Her? ask Janice Allred) companionship. One of the (very many) things that made me want to jump out of windows in the MTC was a couplet that everyone was very fond of while I was there, coined by some GA whose name I have, in my great mercy, blotted from memory: "the rules govern the Spirit, and the Spirit governs the work." I'm fine with the second half of that, but completely befuddled and infuriated by the first--as if humans could actually "govern" a member of the Godhead by obedience to some list of rules about when to go to bed and get up and how many pages of the Book of Mormon to read every day. One of the scriptures I used to quote at people in an attempt to make them stop saying "the rules govern the spirit" was John 3:8: "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit." I don't think that scripture unambiguously makes my point, but it does capture my sense that the Spirit is less containable than we want to think. In my own life, I don't have the sense that the companionship of the Spirit, or even momentary visits, are very directly contingent upon my "righteousness" at any given moment--I've been tackled by grace at times when I least deserve it, and left (apparently) alone at moments when I most needed and sought divine guidance. I just can't find a one-to-one correlation between my behavior and my access to the Spirit.

Is it just me?

Push My Buttons 

by NA
In a recent thread on T&S, Kaimi discussed the War on Pr0n. I immediately became very emotionally involved in the ideas, and found myself getting angry at people that disagreed with my rants. Our own Aaron Brown was surprised at my vitriol, and Wendy wisely realized that I could not be reasoned with. Soon I made a fool of myself, chasing after blog-trolls. What happened? Someone figured out how to push my buttons -- for strange, personal reasons, this topic gets me riled up beyond belief. It's very disconcerting, because I like to think that I'm detached and non-committal in most debates.

It's my theory that we all have our different hot button issues. In this church, you don't have to dig very deep to find someone's sore spot and press on it. Let me name a few old-time favorites: polygamy, male church hierarchy, "liberal mormons", and equating women with motherhood. What sore spot topics get your blood boiling? How do you keep a level head when someone brings them up? Please, disclose them all here for us to share!

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Apostles, Prophets and Personal Finance 

by Mathew
I think it is widely known among Mormons that, depending on which data set you look at, Utah has led the nation in bankruptcies for a few years. Even before Utah assumed the number one spot, our leaders talks about personal finance seemed to get more pointed–moving from general words about thrift and frugality to extended sermons and bits of specific advice. Some of that advice is contrary to what a financial planner would likely recommend–a fact not lost on the speakers themselves. In his October ‘98 address during the priesthood session President Hinckley had the following to say in a story referring to President Faust:

“He had a mortgage on his home drawing 4 percent interest. Many people would have told him he was foolish to pay off that mortgage when it carried so low a rate of interest. But the first opportunity he had to acquire some means, he and his wife determined they would pay off their mortgage. He has been free of debt since that day. That's why he wears a smile on his face, and that's why he whistles while he works.
I urge you, brethren, to look to the condition of your finances. I urge you to be modest in your expenditures; discipline yourselves in your purchases to avoid debt to the extent possible. Pay off debt as quickly as you can, and free yourselves from bondage.”

No doubt this advice is being taken literally by many of the faithful. I have family members who have taken money out of retirement accounts in order to make lump sum payments on their home. This is almost certainly a bad decision from a financial standpoint–yet I can’t imagine a clearer example of following the prophet

In his talk, Elder Wirthlin admiringly told the story of a man who vowed to pay off his debts instead of declaring bankruptcy. It was a great story and it reminded me again of some family members who did something similar. It took those family members well over the 10 years that a bankruptcy can legally remain on a credit report to pay back the money, but they considered it something close to a sacred obligation to honor their debts. Again, this was almost certainly a bad decision from a financial standpoint (although not as clearly as bad a decision as raiding the retirement accounts to pay down the mortgage).
think I’ve been pretty clear that I think some of the advice being given across the pulpit is not very good from a financial standpoint. At the macro level it seems even worse. To the extent they agree on anything, economists are pretty united in the belief that bankruptcies are useful tools governments can apply to encourage appropriate amounts of the type of risk taking necessary for wealth-creating entrepreneurial activity to thrive. If everyone treated their debts as an obligation to be honored at almost any cost, the nation and the world would be poorer (I understand that you could probably argue the converse–but I think it is a stupid argument and this post is already too long). Since only Mormons will give credence to Elder Wirthlin’s talk, we may end up poorer as a people if we follow his advice while the rest of the nation continues to engage in healthy entrepreneurial activity.

Looked at from a spiritual wellness perspective, however, I firmly believe that both President Hinckley and, to a lesser extent Elder Wirthlin, have taught true principles. I expect that the couple who raided their 401(k)s to make a lump sum payment on their home will be blessed for it, at the very least in the same way that President Faust was blessed–with the peace of mind knowing you are free of debt.

I personally take a net worth approach to my finances. I invest money every month, but I don’t pay down my student debt as fast as I otherwise could. Most of my loans are locked at a rate that is lower than historical rates of inflation and all of them are well under the 4% President Faust’s mortgage was at. In my rational mind, as long as my total net worth increases, it doesn’t matter to what account the money is applied. Using this approach it is likely that my net worth will actually be zero sooner than if I otherwise payed directly on my loans due to the fact that my fairly conservative investments will almost certainly have a greater rate of return than the interest payments I pay on my loans. Yet...there is a pebble in my shoe. Knowing that I owe a financial institution money–and that I will be making payments to that entity for the next 29 years and 7 months (my rational self says that I should extend the debt to the maximum amount of time possible) bothers me.

Likewise, I believe that in many, perhaps most, cases there is more satisfaction and honor in paying back one’s debts than seeking the protection of the courts. At the end of the day, material wealth is a poor substitute for lasting happiness.

I guess my conclusion is that the prophets and apostles aren’t in the financial advice business–they are in the spiritual guidance (what lifestyle managers might call “well being”) business and their advice ought to be seen and interpreted first and foremost in that light--and not as a guide to increasing your material wealth. Let’s hear it folks–what's your take on this new-found interest among our leaders in personal finance?

S*x, S*x, S*x .... (title modified for filters) 

by Aaron B
In a recent thread at Times and Seasons, BCC's own Kristine and Steve had an interesting interchange about excommunication and the September 6. Steve said:

"Only they know the totality of the circumstances surrounding what happened, so I'm hesitant to assign it all to their inquisitive natures.

Kristine replied:
"I have to say that you have just made a comment of the type I find most troublesome about this event: the well-we-don't-know-everything-about-it-there-must-be-more-to-the-story-than-what-the-protagonists-are-
telling-us-probably-there-were-other-sins-involved. It leads to people sort of darkly hinting that there must
be sins those people have committed that they haven't told the media about and speculating as to what those might be."

Ironically, I made a point similar to Steve's recently at Sons of Mosiah. However, I want to run with Kristine's thought here, and explore the nature of this "dark hinting."

While at BYU, a good friend of mine -- "Bob" -- completely apostasized from the Church. Bob had been a very stellar, spiritual missionary, but some time after returning home he became convinced that he could feel the spirit just as strongly by reading the Koran or Lao-Tzu as he could the Book or Mormon; this conviction quickly snowballed into Bob's reinterpretation of "spirituality" as a mere emotional/psychological phenomenon without any divine character. (There were some other intellectual issues involved, but I won't get into them). Suffice it say, Bob determined to withdraw his name from the records of the Church. He is now a hard-core atheist.

I brought up Bob's experience with my BYU bishop, who was someone I often turned to for good conversation. The Bishop listened to my telling of Bob's saga with a strange smirk on his face, and when I had finished, he asked me: "So... which commmandment is Bob breaking?" I was floored. I found this completely offensive. I knew Bob quite well, and I knew that his intellectual issues were real. After laying this all out for the Bishop, all he could do was insinuate that Bob's real problem was that he wasn't keeping the Law of Chastity? Please.

But this is not an isolated incident. As a BYU freshman, I took a Book of Mormon class from a very popular, charismatic religion professor. He once told the class about a student from years past who kept raising contentious questions and doubts about the lesson material. After several weeks of this, Brother X suddenly felt "prompted" in class to accuse the student of adultery. This promptly shut him up. (Subsequent events allegedly "bore out the truth" of the professor's allegations.) And of course, the "point" of this story registered with the students loud and clear: When someone is having "intellectual issues," they aren't really "intellectual issues" at all, but rather indications of sexual sin! (And let's not fail to acknowledge the precedent for this kind of episode. Joseph Smith once made a similar accusation against a brother in the early days of the Church.)

I have come to suspect that for many Church members, there's "no such thing as a REAL intellectual concern." Everything is ultimately reducible to S*X, S*X, S*X. This way of looking at doubt very conveniently innoculates a large swath of members from ever listening to arguments carefully. If we can get everyone thinking about s*x (gasp!) or some other grievous sin, we can prevent them from even giving any consideration to what Sister So-and-So is griping about. I am interested in whether others have observed this same phenomenon, and if so, what they make of it? Maybe I am exaggerating the problem? Or misinterpreting what it means?

Finally, I should mention how my Bishop responded when I objected to his reductionist interpretation of Bob's experience. He said: "Aaron, I've been a Bishop for a long time, and I've seen a lot of people struggle with intellectual concerns. In my experience, it usually comes out later that most of these people were using their concerns as a cover for sin or other LDS lifestyle issues that they had."

How can I argue with this? I've never been a Bishop, and my Bishop undoubtedly has had more experience in this area than I have. And I don't find it hard to believe that in a given case, an individual might use "intellectual qualms" as a cover for sexual sin. But at the same time, I find inappropriate the tendency to paint with this broad a brush and dismiss members' intellectual struggles without considering them on their own terms. Ultimately, to the extent we choose to describe doubters and "apostates" in this fashion, I wonder if this doesn't say more about us than it does about them.

Aaron B

Perpetually Blessed 

by Karen
I was reading the SL Tribune article yesterday on the passing of Sister Hinckley. The last paragraph read something like "In lieu of sending flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the church's Perpetual Education Fund." That struck a chord. We're all familiar with the custom of suggesting donations--usually a charity very close to the hearts of the family...the lung association for lung cancer victims, or the children's hospital for families whose children were treated there. The Prophet and his family chose the Perpetual Education Fund, and I was again reminded how much that program resonates with me.

We've been writing about prophecy and the role of a prophet or of the Prophet. That prompted some scripture study last night, and I came across the Bible Dictionary entry titled "prophet." The message was not centered on foretelling, rather on just telling. Inspired exhortation. Can we find a better example of inspired exhortation, of inspired leadership, than the Perpetual Education Fund?

1. We are an internationally minded people. For many of us, our mission service has cemented a love for another culture into our lives. Even those who didn't serve a foreign mission feel the pulse of the church and feel concern over our brothers and sisters who are faithful and yet struggling temporally. Previous to the institution of the PEF, I heard so many people wondering what they could do to help, and feeling that whatever help they gave was on such a small scale that while rewarding, it was also frustrating. More commonly, we wished to give, but didn't search for the means to do it.

2. The international church is growing at such a fast rate, particularly in poorer areas of the world. Educated, financially stable leaders are needed to fulfill lay-clergy responsibilities. The gospel helps create focused, goal-oriented individuals...but those same people are trapped in cycles of poverty. In a chuch devoted to consecrating extra to the good of the kingdom, some wealth redistribution seemed to be in order--but the mechanism had to be effective and (practically speaking) accepted.

3. We are history minded. Our own pasts and our families' pasts resonate with us. President Hinckley recognized the dynamic described above and found a way to tap into our own pioneer heritage, using our passion for our history to channel our love for our brothers and sisters. Inspired exhortation, and inspired leadership. I know that church members I'm acquainted with LOVE this program. I'm touched that the Prophet and his family love it as well.

Perhaps this is a month that we could be particularly focused on the PEF when making our offerings?

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Passing of Sister Hinckley 

by NA
As Times & Seasons has noted, the wife of Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley passed away yesterday afternoon. We add our condolences to the others already given across the bloggernacle, as well as our prayers for the Prophet.

Is the Prophet ever a "Prophet"? 

by Aaron B
(You think you know what this post is going to be about... Well, you're WRONG!!)

I was having lunch recently with Cameron, an LDS friend of mine, when I made a rather shocking confession to him. "Cameron," I said, "I am a prophet. I have the gift of prophecy." Cameron looked at me skeptically. "No really," I said. "I'll prove it to you. I'll make a prediction of some future event, and you'll see that it will come to pass." Cameron waited in breathless anticipation. "I predict ... that at some point within the next 10 seconds, someone will lift this teriyaki chicken bowl two feet above the table, hold it there for several seconds, and then lay it back to rest on the table again." Cameron seemed intrigued. I then promptly grabbed the chicken bowl, lifted it above our heads for a few moments, and then put it back down. "See, aren't you impressed?" I asked. "I predicted it would happen, and sure enough, it did." Cameron was underwhelmed. I asked him why. A discussion ensued, and Cameron provided the following explanation for why my predictive powers were not impressive: "You were the causal agent that made it happen! In order for your "prophecy" to be meaningful, it can't predict an occurrence that you yourself CAUSED. It has to predict something that you couldn't cause, but that happened nonetheless." I reluctantly agreed.

"Fine," I said. "But I have another prophecy for you, and it's one that you can't say I "caused" to happen." "O.K.," Cameron replied. "Prophesy away."

"I predict that sometime within the next 90 days, a suicide bomber will blow himself up in Israel. You just wait and see." "Oh, come on!" Cameron exclaimed. "That's not a prophecy!" "Why not?" I asked. "Assuming it happens, you can't dismiss it the same way you did my teriyaki bowl stunt. Surely you're not suggesting I'm going to call up Hamas and order a terrorist bombing personally!" Cameron and I discussed his concerns with my claim. In a nutshell, his conclusion was this: "Even if you're not the causal agent, for your "prophecy" to be impressive, it would have to predict something NON-OBVIOUS. Any reasonably informed person could predict an imminent terrorist bombing in Israel!" I grudgingly accepted his analysis.

So what did Cameron and I learn at lunch, boys and girls? We learned that for a "prophecy" to really count as a "prophecy," it must meet two criteria:

(1) It must predict a future event that is caused by something other than the prophesier himself; and
(2) It must be a relatively non-obvious prediction.

So where am I going with this? Well, we believe that "prophecy" is part of the Prophet's job description. Granted, it is not the only part of his job, nor even the primary one. (How many of you sat anxiously on the edge of your seats at General Conference, waiting for the Prophet's next big prediction?) But we like to believe that President Hinkley, and those that have preceeded him, at least occasionally engage in "prophecy." Thus, many of us feel the need to tell ourselves (and the occasional inquisitive or skeptical non-Member) that we have a repertoire of examples that illustrate the Prophet's impressive "prophetic record." (I have talked about this before on T&S, as did Kaimi in a recent posting there). But if you look at the examples that LDS members like to give of "prophecy," they are, by and large, fairly unimpressive. In fact, as I will now argue, they inevitably fail to meet the two criteria that Cameron and I discussed over lunch. Consider a few examples:

(a) "Brigham Young predicted the development and settlement of the Great Basin" -- This is just one of many similar claims invoked to illustrate early Mormon prophets' amazing powers. And admittedly, what Young and the early Saints accomplished in Utah was no small feat. But say all the good things about Young's accomplishment that you want -- that it showed his impressive leadership, his goal-setting, his determination, his follow-through, his charisma, his organizational skills.... it simply doesn't constitute an objectively impressive "prophecy" in the sense outlined above. Young's vocalized plan for the Utah territory may have been many things, but an uncanny fulfillment of "prophecy" was not one of them. (It was more impressive than my lifting the teriyaki bowl, to be sure, but it wasn't a qualitatively different phenomenon.) In short, this "prophecy" fails to meet Criterion #1.

(b) Joseph Smith's "Civil War Prophecy." -- We all know this one. Joseph Smith predicted that South Carolina would be the first state to leave the Union before the Civil War, several years before South Carolina actually did so. Sounds impressive ... until you realize that South Carolina had been threatening to secede for years, and any informed observer of American affairs could have made a similar prediction. As with my prediction of a terrorist bombing in Israel, Smith's prophecy fails to meet Criterion #2.

And then there are the claims that don't technically take the form of "prophecies," but amount to more or less the same thing:

(c) "The Word of Wisdom was ahead of its time" -- So goes the canard. But contrary to popular LDS belief, it turns out everybody and their dog in the early 19th Century thought the Word of Widsom's prohibited substances were bad for you, even if they couldn't give you a 20th Century medical explanation. Conceptualized as a "prophecy" (i.e. "Joseph Smith predicted modern medical conclusions before they happened"), this example also fails to meet Criterion #2.

I could probably come up with other examples, but hopefully you see the point. Much as many of us might like to think otherwise, there aren't a lot of "crystal ball" moments in LDS history.

So what am I saying? Should we all dismiss Mormon prophets as frauds, seeing that they've failed to live up to the hype? No. What I am suggesting is that maybe it's time to QUIT THE HYPE. Most of us don't think about or value President Hinkley's powers of prediction nearly as much as we do his moral guidance and his official capacity to speak for God. I think we can still believe that the Prophet is capable of prophetic foresight, without feeling the need to tout dubious and trumped up stories to wow our friends and neighbors.

Am I making any sense here? Perhaps I'm preaching to the converted, or at least to jaded Mormon intellectuals who don't need me to point out the obvious? Or am I missing, in my cynicism, some fabulous examples of historical Mormon prophecies that should fill any and all observers with amazement?

Aaron B

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

No, ma'am, that's not Relief Society 

by Kristine
Last night I took dinner to a friend who is undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer. I wish I could say that it was entirely my idea, but it was actually part of a massive service project organized by two lesbian moms of a child in my daughter's kindergarten class. (Apparently they didn't get the memo on the gay agenda!) Rachel's two boys have been driven to and from school every day, taken care of while she's at doctor's appointments and at the hospital for chemo, and fed yummy dinners brought by people from school 3 nights a week for the last two months. Rachel's mom has come to stay with them now, so the childcare issues are eased, but there was serious talk about raising enough money to hire a nanny for her, and I'm sure people really would have done it, if it had been needed. The dinner calendar is full for the next two months, and last week Rachel sent around a little note asking people to please not stop by with flowers for her and gifts for the boys anymore because their house is overflowing. All this among neo-hippie-pagan-Kerry-nah-more-like-KUCINICH-voting-gay-friendly-no-nukes-heathen Waldorf school parents.

I'm embarrassed to say that one of my first responses has been surprise. Somewhere, way deep down where the unexamined assumptions live, I really somehow believed that Mormons are the only ones who really understand service, who show up with casseroles at the drop of a hat, who build those tight-knit communities that drive us crazy and keep us sane.

Besides wishing that I'd been pregnant and on bedrest HERE instead of in surface-friendly but not terrifically helpful Mormon wards, I'm wondering how different some of the gloom-and-doom conference talks might be if more Mormons (especially Utah Mormons in the hierarchy) had real live experience with other-than-Mormon communities? How much of my generally optimistic outlook about the state of the world, the devotion of most families to their children, the goodness that is all around comes from always having lived in "the mission field," and, of necessity, having close friends who are not Mormon? If, even with that experience, I fall prey to provincial notions about why and how Mormons are better than everyone else, how should we--how should I--do better about reaching out to our neighbors and embracing what is virtuous, lovely, praiseworthy and of good report wherever we find it?

Word of Wisdom Vindicated! Again! 

by NA
This article in the NY Times (registration required, etc., etc.) discusses the dangers of caffeine intoxication, once again permitting us to rub the world's collective nose into our healthy, healthy lifestyle. I've tried not to rely on external scientfic data as an apologetic for the WoW: for every anti-tobacco study there's some science in favor of drinking alcoholic beverages. What's more, it sets up a dangerous pattern of obeying God's commandments only when the outcomes are laid bare for us, which in my mind negates the role of faith.

How important are these studies, in your mind? Does it change the way you approach the WoW at all? Should we even think about using this kind of stuff as missionary tools? Will Mormons reduce their hot cocoa-swilling, chocolate-munching lifestyles accordingly?

Monday, April 05, 2004

Post-G.C. Poll #1 

by NA
At Karen's request, G.C. post-game poll #1.


Paranoia will Destroy Ya' 

by steve cannon
I impressed myself. I listened to two and a half sessions of general conference. My favorite talk was by Pres. Hinkley He insisted that getting all paranoid about the current perils of the world is actually negative. Further, he explained that humans have always faced peril. Some of the other speakers must have been wishing they could revise the sections of their talks where they continued to refer to the downward spiral of the world. Applying Hinkley's advice will certainly improve your life. I've never seen a happy Mormon who obsessed about the evils of the world and I'd say fully a quarter of the Mormons I've known are in that paranoid group.

Of course, Mormonism does not have a lock on paranoid thought. The safety of religious thought attracts paranoids. And the General Authorities pretty agressively and consistently speak out against focusing on the end of the world. I only wish that message acted more effectively. It is depressing to continually hear that strident tone insisting itself in our church meetings and throughout the Mormon blogosphere. In addition, it's sad for those who fall victim to it. Mormon doctrine encourages optimism by insisting that we may become gods. The individual who insists on reminding us over and over that wickedness is increasing misses out on that.

I should be honest though. I don't really believe that there will be an apocalypse, so I'm not being brave by not being worried about it. I prefer the practical advice that helps lessen the force of our own private calamities. Overall, the financial advice in several talks stuck with me most. Two GAs spoke about staying out of debt and maintaining an adequate savings. One even mentioned keeping insurance. One mentioned the importance of saving up while you are doing well, since things don't always get better financially. Sounds like something I'd hear in an economics class. Something I can agree with whether God exists or not.

Saturday, April 03, 2004

G.C. play-by-play 

by NA
This thread is for comments or questions we may have as General Conference rolls on around us. Let me get the ball rolling: Elder Haight's comments, nostalgic and whimsical as they were, were still more interesting to me than Elder Oaks' Opus on the last days. Thoughts? Post 'em up!!

Friday, April 02, 2004

Let Sunshine Fill Your Soul 

by NA
This article in the NYTimes (registration required) details how Mormon women are less depressed than their gentile counterparts. Thanks to Sumer Thurston-Evans for finding it! The study, performed by a BYU sociologist, may indicate (in her words) "a reflection of the higher standards that are espoused'' by the Church. So all ye women-folk, are you less depressed because of your Church membership?

Oh, and yes, the study also found that Mormon women "do score lower on measures of self-esteem." I guess that's because we emphasize Faith, Knowledge, Choice and Accountability, Good Works and Integrity higher than Divine Nature and Individual Worth. My wife's remarks: "I'm feeling happy with my low self-esteem."

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Reasoning with your spouse 

by NA
Last night the wife and I got into a little tussle, as I tried patiently to explain to her the law of divine marriage. She was naturally a little upset that I'd already taken several spiritual wives, but I was shocked, and a little taken aback, that she was so unwilling to accept the restored gospel.

Anyone else out there have this problem? What do you do to preside righteously in your home in such a situation?

Harold Bloom and Me against the World 

by Kristine
Warning: what you are about to read may contain conservative content not suitable for all By Common Consent readers.

One of the most puzzling discussions I regularly have with other church members is about music. Because it's a topic I care about, and because I'm the ward music chairman, the choir director, the Sacrament Meeting chorister, the RS pianist, and (until recently) the Primary chorister, I tend to be the go-to gal on music in my ward.

The most recent variant of this conversation occurred a few weeks ago, when I told one of the young women that a song from "Saturday's Warrior" would not be an appropriate musical number for Sacrament Meeting. One of her parents was angered by my decision and suggested that I didn't have the right to exclude a musical number just because I didn't like it. I explained that, in fact, there are quite specific guidelines from the Handbook of Instructions about what music is appropriate, and that this song just didn't fit. We talked for a long time, but I don't think we understood each other any better at the end of the conversation.

The form of the argument is pretty common, but it always surprises me to have to have it at church (not to mention how odd it feels to be the one on the "conservative" side of the issue!). Basically, most Mormons (as far as I can tell) have completely bought the post-modern notion that aesthetic judgments are entirely matters of taste and social convention, even class oppression, and that what used to be called "high" culture is no more worthy of our attention than anything else. While Mormons may be concerned about the *content* of music, art, theater, or literature, and want it to be free of profanity, sex, and, to a lesser extent, violence, they are basically unconcerned with questions of form and artistic excellence. In fact, there's a decidedly populist flavor to many discussions of art among Mormons--one shouldn't need to learn about art to appreciate it; "don't know much about art, but I know what I like." The resistance to the abstract and "academic" strains of late 20th- and early 21st-century art and music has morphed into a rejection of anything that smacks of elitism.

I think this is a strange position for Mormons to take. We vehemently reject ethical relativism and wholeheartedly embrace the idea of Truth with a capital "T" as well as smaller truths that can be revealed to human beings because of their divine origin and destiny. We proclaim that we seek that which is "lovely, virtuous, or of good report, or praiseworthy." To me the belief that loveliness, virtue, or praiseworthiness are entirely matters of taste is antithetical to this project. It is also in decided contrast to the practice of Mormons in the early days of the church, and well into the 20th century, when there were strenuous efforts (art and music missionaries, Cultural Refinement lessons, performances by the Tabernacle Choir of the great Western choral literature, etc.) to educate members about the tradition of "high" art in Western civilization. Maybe the current de-emphasis of these things has to do with trying not to identify the church with American traditions, but I think it may be a far less conscious process than that, one in which Mormons have thoughtlessly assimilated some of the stupidest aspects of American postmodernism.

What do you think?

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