Thursday, May 27, 2004

Historians Debate Krakauer 

by Dave
The Deseret News has a short piece reporting remarks at the just-concluded Mormon History Association conference by two LDS historians commenting on Jon Krakauer's recent book, Under the Banner of Heaven.

Craig Foster, affiliated with the LDS Family History Library and also a FARMS author, "delved into Krakauer's family background." Here's a quote from the article:
Raised in an "atheist household," Foster said the author has openly admitted his "skepticism and cynicism" regarding organized religion, and he has "demonstrated animosity toward those of faith." * * * He ended by calling Krakauer's work an "anti-Mormon book in a fancy cover," and a "hypersensationalistic work which will soon be forgotten."

Newell Bringhurst, a past president of the MHA, was the other speaker. The article quotes him as saying, "I think (Foster) goes a bit too far in exonerating Joseph Smith for taking teenage plural wives while excoriating Krakauer for delving into a highly sensitive topic." It summarizes his comments as follows: "The fact that Foster cites Krakauer's appearances at various book signings in Protestant churches and that his book has been recommended on anti-Mormon Web sites doesn't make him 'anti-Mormon,' Bringhurst said."

Personally, I like Krakauer and enjoyed the book. I collected some of the early media reviews of UBH in my very first post at the first incarnation of my other blog. The most interesting of the bunch was the semi-official LDS response by Richard E. Turley, another LDS historian "on the payroll" (with the Family and Church History Department).

Poll: Cleaning up the Movies 

by Kaimi
Movie editing is all the rage these days, as various companies (operating in a nebulous world of copyright) create "clean" versions of movies for the demanding (and paying) LDS customer. (For one article on the subject, see here). And what a job description -- "the person who looks for sex and nudity in movies in order to filter it out later." I'll bet they don't have difficulty filling the position of the guy who looks for the sex. (Hey, I wonder if they're hiring?)

Of course, given the content of modern media, this may seem like a fruitless endeavor. Which brings us to the subject of today's poll. To wit, we need your votes to learn what the most sublimely ridiculous movie or TV show to try to edit would be. Below is a customized list of well-known, popular entertainment that we can mentally gut of all trace of sin.

Enjoy voting! Feel free to explain your vote in the comments. (But any sex, nudity, or violence in comments will be filtered out!).


Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Another chance to show off your erudition! 

by Kaimi

(I know, I'm using the term icon loosely -- it's not like I had a lot of material to work with here).

The People Have Spoken 

by NA
After tabulating the results of our poll (see below), most people think I should either be in the Primary, corrupting the youth, or a Ward Mission Leader, fighting a hopeless struggle.

And the winner is.... Ward Mission Leader! Ta-da! Heaven help us all. Aaron Brown, I'll be relying on your expertise to help with the rough initial transition to this calling. Wish me luck!

Monday, May 24, 2004

It's a small world afterall, if you're LDS 

by Unknown
The mormon world is very small. We've all had experiences of re-meeting someone from an old ward or someone who knows people in your family or who used to know your best friend, etc. This weekend, my mother came to town to see me. We went to my branch on Sunday morning. I left her to be with the adults while I went downstairs to primary. When I came back up to check on my mom between classes I ran into Bro. Richard Bushman. He told me "We've just talked to your mother, she used to live in our house in Arlington and we know Stephanie Goodson(my aunt) very well." "What? really?" I was trying to figure out when my mother lived in Arlington, Va when I found her talking to Claudia. Mom filled me in. Her newlywed sister Stephanie was already living in Boston when mom moved there after graduating from some Utah university. She rented a room in a big house in the Arlington suburb. The people she rented from moved out and the Bushmans moved in with their 5 children. She said they all had to share one bathroom! This was in the late 1960s but Claudia recognized my mother right away.

Recently, at the 15th street chapel, I ran into a brother who was in the bishopric of my ward when I was a teenager in Miami. Neither of us attend church at that building but we were both there for meetings. I knew his family very well and taught their first daughter how to swim.

So, what is your best small world story? Let's see who has had the craziest, most unlikely re-run with church people?

Jennifer J

THE Existential Question 

by Christina
That's right, I want to address the big one: from an LDS doctrinal perspective, what is the purpose of earthly life in the context of the doctrine of immortality? Just what we likely are all pondering on a Monday . . . Here is my understanding of the setup and why I think it is circular. Of course, we have the classic Moses 1:39, where God tells Moses, "[t]his is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man [sic]." Supplemental explanations include 2 Nephi 2:25: "Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy." (I'll dispense with all the "sics" but let's take these statements to include women)

I assume in this space that we believe that the purpose of this life is to come unto Christ, to understand his great and expansive plan for the salvation of all human beings born into this world and to live that plan, thereby gaining salvation through serving Him and our fellow persons. I'm on board with this. I believe we gain great joy in living the gospel as it is set forth in our scriptures and many of our church teachings, and I'll even buy that living that gospel can bring "salvation," to God's children, whatever that actually entails. Next comes death, judgment and for those who have come to know Christ, salvation (and, I believe, eventually that salvation comes for everyone, or nearly everyone, as we continue to progress). We don't know much specifically about what salvation entails, but we do believe in eternal progression, much like Origen and even the great Athanasius (too bad about the Nicene creed), that we can progress to the point of deification.

What I wonder about is if the point of this life is to come to know Christ and to be saved in his name, and then the purpose of immortality is eternal progression (should we continue to exercise our will to that end), then in what sense do we progress? Everything we know about salvation and spiritual progression in this life comes in the context of following Christ. Are we talking about eternally progressing through some spheres of understanding the overarching principles of existence? What are those principles? Do those also come through Christ? What exactly is the purpose of becoming gods with eternal progeny, only to replicate the process endlessly? Is anyone curious about these things?


New Poll! 

by NA
UPDATE: The new calling will be posted in a couple of hours... time to place your bets and see how accurate your discernment really is!

No cheating! If you already know the answer, please supply a sardonic comment with a fake calling.


Friday, May 21, 2004

Theological Triage 

by Dave
In a weblog editorial over at Crosswalk.com, Albert Mohler argues the need for Christians to practice theological triage by identifying essential Christian doctrines that need defending from the ongoing onslaught of secularism and from internal Christian doctrinal bickering. Here's what he says about first-tier doctrines:
First-level theological issues would include those doctrines most central and essential to the Christian faith. Included among these most crucial doctrines would be doctrines such as the Trinity, the full deity and humanity of Jesus Christ, justification by faith, and the authority of Scripture.

His set of second-tier doctrines, such as the mode of baptism, tends to mark off denominational boundaries but these doctrines aren't themselves essential to the core of Christianity. Then the third-tier issues "are doctrines over which Christians may disagree and remain in close fellowship, even within local congregations."

Naturally, the question comes up : What are the essential Mormon doctrines that would show up behind Door No. 1? I'm not sure there is a Door No. 2 in Mormonism, but I would be quite happy to see Door No. 3 (things we can disagree on but still be good friends and good Mormons) populated with several doctrinal and historical positions that conservative Mormons put squarely behind Door No. 1. So what doctrines or Mormon historical touchstones would you like to have the behind-the-scenes stagehands move over to Door No. 3?

Thursday, May 20, 2004

The Good Old Days, Live on PBS 

by Dave
Think of it as reality TV for the discriminating viewer: Colonial House, an 8-episode televised adventure of a small colony of people living as if it were 1628. From the intro page, here's the setup: "Indentured servitude. No baths or showers. Public punishments. Welcome to daily life in the year 1628!" I haven't seen an episode yet, just a preview, but it looks like fun. What a great way to teach the kids how lucky they are for simple conveniences like central heating, refrigerators, and the Eighth Amendment (no cruel or unusual punishments).

The Governor really administers laws and punishments, including being placed in stocks (limit two hours), "a ceremony of public humiliation," and a label pinned to one's clothes announcing one's transgression to the world. This offers real possibilities for a creative Home Evening lesson (and I'll bet the kids pay actually pay attention to this one!).

I don't think the real colonists brought lawyers along (probably why the colonies succeeded), but Colonial House has a long list of civil and criminal transgressions, including profanity, wicked tongues (that's scolding, not kissing, but don't push your luck), slander, lying, stealing beasts, wife beating, fornication and adultery, and lewdness to women ("Men may not make uncivil words or carriages to any woman"). There are punishments too, of course.

So when will the first Mormon-themed reality TV series pop up? And what will it be: A group crossing the plains in wagons? Cameras following a pair of missionaries as they proselyte in Peru? How about Polygamy House? You know it's just a matter of time.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Are We Deliberately Inefficient? 

by NA
So, I got a call the other day from a stake representative who wants to meet with me on Sunday, 15 minutes before meetings start (8:45 a.m. --- groan.... ). I said to him, "why don't you just tell me what's going on now, so that we don't both have spend the time at this meeting?"

His reply was unsurprising, but disappointing: "I think we're supposed to meet in person for this kind of thing." I shrugged and agreed to meet him.

WHY? I don't think The Manual speaks to this point directly (though please correct me if I'm mistaken), but in any event I'm sure the rationale is that our communications mean more when done in person, or something similar. You know what would mean more to me? Fifteen more minutes of sleep on Sunday morning. Are we afraid that people will be offended by telephone or email communication? Is this some sort of anti-efficiency movement?

I see little tokens of inefficiency like this all over the church: insisting on meeting in person, guarding secrecy around callings for needless reasons, rearranging your stuff so that you can pass the sacrament with your right hand, etc., etc. It makes me wonder if we're holding on to these cultural inefficiencies for some greater purpose, as if we were deliberately trying to slow down our relations with each other, and make Church a longer experience. I'm reminded of the famous story about why we have QWERTY keyboards, a sort of inefficient but necessary relic. Although that story has been largely debunked, I wonder what the obstacles are to having a more streamlined, efficient church administration. If God is directing this Church in its structure, are the inefficiencies deliberate?

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

The Catholics are coming!! The Catholics are coming!! 

by Aaron B
Well, to be honest, the Catholic (singular) is coming. That’s right boys and girls ... Father Hans has decided to guest-blog with us. For those who don’t know (or remember) who Father Hans is, refresh yourselves here by scrolling down to "Ecumenicalism run amok?". I’m not going to bother providing additional biographical information for now, as I hope my prior post has given you sufficient taste of who Hans is. After his brief stint with us at BCC, the plan is that he will answer “12 Questions” over at Times and Seasons.

(It is expected, of course, that all BCC regulars will then roll their eyes and moan about how the T&S crowd is so creatively bankrupt, and how pathetic it is that they have to piggyback on BCC’s fresh ideas and impressive brainpower. In fact, feel free to start the carping in the comments section forthwith!) :)

Before Hans posts (he’s probably still a week away from doing so), I wanted to point out two important facts:

(1) Hans is not interested in getting into heated arguments with anyone. He wants a completely civil exchange. Given the novelty of who he is, I don’t think it should be too difficult to come up with things to say within these parameters.

(2) Hans does not have a computer. Therefore, do not expect him to respond directly to your comments. After a time, I will relay any comments to him, and he will then respond through me.

Horribly inefficient, I know. But there it is.

Aaron B


Abu Ghraib: the Least of the Least 

by Grimshizzle
Do not shame or humiliate a man in public. Shaming a man will cause him and his family to be anti-Coalition.

The most important qualifier for all shame is for a third party to witness the act. If you must do something likely to cause shame, remove the person from the view of others.

Shame is given by placing hoods over a detainee’s head. Avoid this practice.

Placing a detainee on the ground or putting a foot on him implies you are God. This is one of the worst things we can do.

(From a cultural sensitivity training pamphlet given to U.S. Marines last September as part of an effort to improve relations between soldiers and Iraqis; republished in the June 2004 issue of Harpers)

I realize I’m treading on volatile terrain here, or at least perhaps bringing up issues that people would just as soon put away, but the Abu Ghraib scandal has forced some moral and ethical issues that compel me to initiate a dialogue. I think I speak for the majority voice in the bloggernacle in expressing disgust at the abuses at Abu Ghraib, even if that disgust may be tempered for some by the general and inevitable ugliness of war. Sure, as some are quick to point out, the atrocities of the enemy sink far below those of the prison guards. But the Americans are supposed to be the good guys; a greater respect for humanity and human dignity is supposed to be what separates the good guys from the bad guys.

One picture to emerge from the scandal, the one of the hooded prisoner standing on a box with his fingers attached to wires (which, he was told, would deliver a shock if he fell off the box), has already become a symbol for the abuse. Despite the foul, immoral, sexually degrading (and in some cases sexually abusive) acts depicted in several of the other pictures, I found the picture of the prisoner on the box the most disturbing. At first, I couldn’t quite put my finger on it; it wasn’t so much the actual story behind the photo, but the image’s formal properties: feet together on a pedestal, robe generously draped, arms away from the body, palms facing upward, head titled slightly. A few days later it hit me, as I accompanied the young men in my ward on a trip to one of the Church’s visitor’s centers to watch a movie. Before taking us into the theater, the supervising missionary ushered us into the small rotunda housing a replica of the Christus statue; a repulsive shiver ran up my spine when I realized the unconscious sacrilege I had been committing in reading the familiar posture of the statue in front of me into the grotesque form of the abuse photo. The latter contains nothing redeeming; it represents a compounding of crimes: the alleged crimes of the prisoner, and the documented crimes of his captors. Still, the superimposition of the two formally similar but contextually contrasting images indelibly suggested to me a familiar scripture—or, perhaps, its inversion. Usually, when we read of Jesus talking about the “least of these,” we think of seeing Him in the face of the poor and needy to whom we render service. Are we compelled likewise to see Him in our enemies, even those who may have blood on their hands--and to see self-indulgent malice against them as malice against Him? In the minds of the Arab world, the soldiers at Abu Ghraib were committing the ultimate sacrilege: playing God. Not to buy wholesale into the Crusader mentality that has sometimes characterized this administration, but to what extent are we compelled, as the good guys, to do the opposite: what is our obligation to the least of the “least of these”--our enemies?


Sunday, May 16, 2004

Temple sacredness as secrecy: Am I swine? 

by Unknown
The Manhattan temple opens imminently and has brought many things to mind. I have yet to be endowed. Not because of worthiness issues, but lack of desire. I'm not married and did not serve a mission, so I was never in a position to 'have to' get endowed. Because of this post on Kim Siever's blog, Our Thoughts, about the recent online publication of the Temple preparation manual and the ensuing comments, I have the following questions. Please do not misinterpret my questions as criticisms or doubts. I accept that the temple is a divine institution that is central to my religion, which religion I hold very dear. I seek more understanding on its importance and wonder why this isn't made more explicit in church education.

1. Most mormons get endowed because they are getting married or going on a mission. This seems such a common practice that it's assumed all active adult church members will go through the temple. So, teaching temple motivation is not a priority if it's even taught at all. (I may be wrong, I spend every Sunday in primary and not adult Sunday school so please correct me if I am.)

2. Temple ordinances and covenants are considered too sacred to discuss outside of the temple, because we don't want to "cast pearls before swine". So people usually explain things with broad expressions like, "make sacred covenants to receive greater blessings" and "learn more about the plan of salvation". Don't the scriptures contain all the knowledge we need? What motivation then does one have for taking endowments?

3. Getting endowed is a commandment required for exaltation. Marriage is also a commandment required for exaltation. Since I'm not married, I won't be exalted even if I get endowed. So does it make a difference in the end if I do?

This is the point where more knowledge would be helpful. I read the temple prep manual on-line. It quoted James E. Talmadge:“The ordinances of the endowment embody certain obligations on the part of the individual, such as covenant and promise to observe the law of strict virtue and chastity, to be charitable, benevolent, tolerant and pure; to devote both talent and material means to the spread of truth and the uplifting of the race; to maintain devotion to the cause of truth; and to seek in every way to contribute to the great preparation that the earth may be made ready to receive her King,—the Lord Jesus Christ. With the taking of each covenant and the assuming of each obligation a promised blessing is pronounced, contingent upon the faithful observance of the conditions” (The House of the Lord, rev. ed. [1976], 84).

Which leads me to ponder, how are these promises different from baptismal covenants? Don't we do the same thing when we take the name of Jesus Christ and promise to obey his laws? I take my baptismal covenants very seriously and all of the above fall under them even if not explicitly stated.

4. In the comments on Siever's blog, dp from Doctrinal:net posted this quote from Armaund L. Mauss' "Reflections on Mormon Temple Worship":
"there is no real reason that even devout Church members could not talk more about the temple ceremonies than they do, with appropriate discretion about time and place, since the oaths of secrecy attach only to the new names, signs, tokens, and penalties. Indeed, more open talk about the temple would not only facilitate understanding among both Mormons and non-Mormons in certain historical and scholarly respects, but would also infinitely improve the preparedness of initiates, almost all of whom now enter the temple with only the vaguest idea of what to expect or of the obligations they will be asked to assume."

However, the temple prep manual had this to say about the matter (I couldn't find a reference to the speaker):
“We do not discuss the temple ordinances outside the temples. It was never intended that knowledge of these temple ceremonies would be limited to a select few who would be obliged to ensure that others never learn of them. It is quite the opposite, in fact. With great effort we urge every soul to qualify and prepare for the temple experience. …
“The ordinances and ceremonies of the temple are simple. They are beautiful. They are sacred. They are kept confidential lest they be given to those who are unprepared"(Preparing to Enter the Holy Temple, 2).

If Mauss is correct, then why are we so silent about the temple ordinances?
What does being unprepared mean? I'm temple worthy and once had a recommend to take out endowments, but I didn't get around to it. What lacks in me as far as preparedness goes is the burning desire to be endowed and an understanding of the need for it. But that doesn't mean I'll defame them or trod them into the mud. Maybe I am a spiritually insensitive boar who has hardened my heart to the call of the temple, but how many people got endowed purely from desire or felt fully prepared? (If you did I'd like to hear how it happened for you.)

Do church members take the sacredness too far, turning it into uneccessary secrecy as Mauss suggests? And who is going to "great effort to urge every soul to qualify and prepare for the temple experience?" Is more effort and education needed to give people a greater understanding?

Jennifer J

More on Marriage 

by Dave
I think John's prior post on "the spouse problem" deserves another go-round, since it raised more interesting issues than one thread could address. The unusually personal responses in the comments suggest that mixing faith and marriage, which looks easy on paper, is often something of a challenge in Mormon marriage. I'll note as well that mixing faith and singleness in The Family Church has its own challenges, but that topic deserves a separate post. Here are some concepts I came up with reflecting on the prior post and comments:

Compromises. Most agree one of the secrets of a successful marriage is a mutual willingness to compromise. That works for some issues, such as what to rent for the Friday night movie. But when it comes to "gospel issues," compromise often feels like failure to at least one party (see John's original comments on moral absolutes). Tithing or church attendance, for example, are issues on which most active Mormons would view any compromise as an unacceptable moral compromise rather than a "win-win" marriage compromise. Compromise, after all, has two opposing meanings: in negotiations, compromise is generally desirable and productive; in morality, compromise is generally equated with a moral lapse or sin.

I Am Third. For those of you under 30, the quote comes from a football player whose motto was God is first, my friends are second, and I am third. But marriage is different--no spouse wants to be third on the list; even second feels like a snub. "The Church is first, my children are second, my spouse is third" won't work. Neither will "My job is first, golf is second, my spouse is third." Third just won't do.

Mismatched Devotion. One spouse "losing faith," as discussed in John's prior post, is the most visible example of mismatched devotion to the Church between spouses, but it is not the only case. What if a super-devoted spouse insists on going to the temple every Friday night, whereas partner is a once-per-monther or less? What if one partner dreams of a senior-couple mission but the other just isn't there emotionally or spiritually? I think the challenge of divergent levels of devotion crops up in a variety of LDS contexts.

I don't want to sound pessimistic--this isn't a marital doom and gloom post. Most couples find a way to muddle through their differences, even deep and personal ones. Hopefully reflecting on the subject makes the "muddling through process" easier and more likely to succeed.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

When a Spouse Loses the Faith 

by John H
One of Robert Kirby’s greatest newspaper articles tells the story of his friend Boone. Boone it seems, lost his faith--if only temporarily. At the very least, Boone was having some very serious doubts about the Church. His wife was, naturally, deeply troubled. She was so troubled in fact, that she was threatening divorce.

Mormonism complicates marriage because of our moral absolutes. For example, Glen Lambert, a marriage therapist, mentioned during a session of Sunstone that he’d met with a couple who was struggling. The husband had seen an R rated movie, and his wife was thoroughly appalled. He points out that because she was dealing and viewing the world with moral absolutes, there was no room for the compromise or negotiation that is so essential to marriage. What he had done was wrong, period. There could be no discussion, there could be no understanding – at least, no understanding beyond he had sinned.

How might couples navigate this tricky road, especially when faced with the loss of faith? If there’s one "moral absolute" in Mormonism, it’s that the Church is God’s kingdom and being a part of it is a pretty important step to the Celestial kingdom.

For my part, I see both sides of this issue. For the one who loses faith, or questions, it’s an impossible situation. As Kirby mentions, you can lie to your spouse or be honest with yourself. Believe me, as one who’s been there, no one wants to question their faith. It isn’t fun and it isn’t done deliberately, or to be an apostate. On top of such a difficult dilemma, the one person who is supposed to be supportive, is supposed to understand, is perhaps the one most troubled by this lack of faith.

On the other side of the coin, the believing spouse is thoroughly convinced that their husband/wife is jeopardizing their families eternal togetherness. They married this person in the temple, made very serious promises and covenants with them, and now they’re backing out. Friends might not know how to act around you if your spouse left the Church. Your spouse might start drinking alcohol; they might stop wearing garments. Soon enough, the person you’re living with doesn’t resemble the person you married.

Is divorce too extreme in such a scenario? Should spouses be understanding of another’s doubts and perhaps even a total loss of faith? Is there anyway to compromise or negotiate what seems like opposite ends of the spectrum?


Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Two polls in one day - Yowza! 

by Kaimi
Your chance to sound off about the demigod of Mormon authors:


"You are of the tribe of Ephraim" 

by Aaron B
Last Sunday, I taught my Gospel Essentials class on "Priesthood Organization." One of the sub-themes of the lesson was the role of the "Patriarch." The Bishop plugged "patriarchal blessings" for the new members, and listed the duties of the patriarch, including that of "assigning lineage." A recent African-American convert approached me after the lesson, informed me that she had recently received her own patriarchal blessing, and asked: "Brother Brown, what exactly does it mean to "assign lineage"?"

What should I tell her?

Aaron B

New Poll! 

by NA


The e-Ward 

by NA
I love the way this piece about telecommuting opens: "Work is no longer a place but an activity." For most of the work I do, there is little reason for me to be in the office; only the occasional human interaction (i.e., a call to my boss' office) necessitates my presence. I find that I can communicate as meaningfully, and effectively, over electronic media as I can in person.

I think we should consider electronic worship, at least as an alternative forum for those without access to meetinghouses. What are the bars to members meeting on-line, worshipping together on-line, and teaching each other on-line? Are we really going to suggest that the Spirit can't work effectively over the Internet? Are we more concerned with human interactions? Because I can see how communication online would smooth our interpersonal relationships, not remove them. Let's ignore for the moment problems of economic disparity within the Church; in North America, at least, those problems are minimal. Certainly we're making strides towards minimizing the amount of time spent in needless meetings -- the e-council is something I've blogged about before. But what's to keep us from saying, "Church is no longer a place but an activity"?

On a side note, why are there no LDS televangelists?

Monday, May 10, 2004

The Lingering Legacy of Post-Manifesto Polygamy 

by John H
For the few that might not be familiar with post-Manifesto polygamy, a very brief overview might be in order. Today members of the Church look at the 1890 Manifesto as the revelation that ended polygamy. However, Wilford Woodruff and those around him, although they may have believed the Manifesto (or at least the idea of issuing the Manifesto) to be inspired, they definitely saw it as a political document meant to save the Church in the short-term. It was not issued to declare the conclusive end to polygamy. And in fact, polygamy continued to be sanctioned and practiced at the highest levels of the Church until at least 1904. Apostles such as George Teasdale, Abraham Cannon, John W. Taylor, and Matthias Cowley took additional wives during this period, while they and other apostles continued to seal men and women in plural unions.

I’ll only briefly say that this history of new plural marriages might at first look ominous, and as evidence of lies and deceit on the part of Church leaders. It is true leaders were not always as forthright, candid, or perhaps as honest as they could have been when it came to the subject of post-Manifesto polygamy. However, I believe a more sensitive, albeit complex, view is in order. The many facets of this view cannot be enumerated here, but suffice it to say, I believe it is possible to judge Church leaders as righteous, honest men, despite the dilemma of post-1890 plural marriages.

So with that all-too lengthy introduction, I come to the lingering legacy of post-Manifesto polygamy. I’ve only begun now to appreciate the huge, in fact, enormous impact these marriages have had on Mormonism and how we are today.

First and foremost, post-Manifesto polygamy forced an answer to the “Mormon problem” as it was called. It came in the form of the Smoot hearings – perhaps the most important recognition given to the Church that they could be considered a part of American culture and society. In fact, I would argue that the outcome of the Smoot hearings was more important than granting Utah statehood. Kathleen Flake, in her new book and in her dissertation, has argued quite convincingly that the Smoot hearings created the compromise between the Church and the government that allowed the Church to continue. As testimony in the trial quickly indicated, polygamy was still very much alive in Utah, much to the dismay of the rest of the country. The Church finally gave up polygamy, and even sacrificed two of its own, John W. Taylor and Matthias Cowley, as evidence of their willingness to obey the law. This, I believe, is the beginning of the respect and admiration the Church has grown to have in the 21st century.

Quite ironically, we are almost the exact opposite of what we were 100 years ago. Then we were fighting against a constitutional amendment defining marriage, now we support such an amendment. Then we were arguing for a broader approach to marriage, now we are perhaps the most representative group of the nuclear family. Then, we were separate, despised, and looked upon as a threat. Today, we are respected, and are seen as an important ally to those wanting to preserve the status quo. Then, we were hardly patriotic; we reviled the government and looked upon their treatment of us as injustice of the worst kind. Today, we are counted among the most patriotic; our Boy Scout troops proudly place flags on the lawns of Church members every holiday. We stand as one of the very few Churches to support war in Iraq, even as most others spoke out against it. I would argue the change began with the death of post-Manifesto polygamy.

Second, post-Manifesto polygamy single-handedly contributed to the many fundamentalist schisms that exist today and that still force the Church to confront its polygamous heritage. Polygamy after 1890 was practiced among knowing winks and nods, among double-speak and an environment where one thing was said to outsiders, another to insiders, and still another to those in leadership positions. Because of this environment, fundamentalists today still argue that the Church never intended to abandon polygamy, but that some leaders were simply not strong enough to resist the pressures of the world. The legacy of post-Manifesto polygamy gives them tremendous ammunition in their fight to convince us of the legitimacy of their claims.

These fundamentalists continue to be a thorn in the Church’s side to this day, causing embarrassment and reminding the world that Latter-day Saints practiced polygamy. They’ve forced us into a very uncomfortable position – one in which we have to say polygamy was inspired (otherwise there are some very unpleasant implications for Joseph Smith), yet we also have to confess our own lack of desire to practice it, and we are ambiguous about its future in the Church.

Third, although the practice of saying one thing to outsiders and another to insiders had been practiced in the Church before, it reached its height during the years following the Manifesto. Today, the Church continues to exhibit such a practice. President Hinckley has gone on national television and conducted interviews with high profile magazines, announcing to the world that the Latter-day Saints don’t believe in some of the doctrines that make us most unique. Then he returns and while speaking in General Conference, with a smile and while getting a big laugh, announces that he knows the doctrine of the Church just as well as anybody. From my perspective the message was clear: We’re going to tell them certain things to move the work of the Lord forward, but don’t you all worry about it.

Finally, I believe post-Manifesto polygamy has helped contribute to an environment of shared secrecy and of circling the wagons. Many, many Church members descend from such marriages. Yet they normally keep it quiet. For a Church that prides itself on ancestry and our rich past, those whose grandparents and great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents were part of post-Manifesto unions are normally silent. We keep our secrets in the Mormon Church – we don’t let the skeleton out of the closet. Post-Manifesto polygamy, ironically, is one of those great secrets.


A Question for Jeremy or D. Fletcher, or anyone 

by Kristine
Last night I played in a really fun concert--the Cambridge Institute Choir put together a pickup orchestra, borrowed itself a space with no rugs on the floor or burlap on the walls and a REAL organ and put on a concert of Mack Wilberg's hymn arrangements. The choir was very good, as were most of the musicians (there was that one 2nd violin who sounded like she hadn't really practiced since her first child was born 7 years ago :)). Anyway, it occurred to me that orchestral settings of hymns as a concert is a very strange sort of musical escapade, and possibly unique to Mormons. There are plenty of hymn tunes that show up in symphonies, lots of hymn anthems written for organ, choir, and some smallish group of instrumentalists and performed as part of a church service, and of course there are masses one would hardly hear in church (Verdi's Requiem, say). But I can't think of any setting other than BYU concert halls or the Tabernacle (Music & the Spoken Word) where one would hear hymns with full orchestra as a concert program.

Or am I entirely ignorant of a whole genre somewhere? (Isn't blogging great? One can actually *broadcast* one's ignorance to thousands of people...)

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Reformed Mormonism 

by Dave
Not a term you hear too often. The idea of "reform" of the Church is utterly alien to the orthodox LDS perspective, as if a "restored" church couldn't possibly ever be in need of reform. I just finished The Catholic Church: A Short History (Modern Library, 2001), by Hans Kung, the noted Catholic theologian. I'm surprised at the extent to which "reform" as a theme dominates modern Catholic history: it ignored 16th-century Reformers and lost half of Europe, then adopted some reforms in the Counter-Reformation, then successfully opposed accommodation to modernism in the 19th and half of the 20th century, then finally made some major reforms following the decrees of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).

Catholicism has the institutional resources to accomplish reform: a tradition that recognizes Councils as an independent source of authority to the episcopal hierarchy and church bureaucrats (the Curia); and independent Bishops, Archbishops, and Cardinals who are capable (some of them, in their better moments, on some issues) of recognizing when reform is required and pressing for it.

Mormonism lacks these institutional resources: the tradition offers no countervailing source of authority to the GA hierarchy, whether concilar or otherwise, and the none of the local leaders, regional leaders, or GA quorums possess any real independence of outlook or authority from the senior leaders in the hierarchy. Anyone who attempts a serious dialogue attempting to identify doctrines or practices needing (in their opinion) reform is quickly marginalized and possibly expelled. So the Church is effectively insulated from any threat of reform. You may see that as a potential problem, a non-issue, or a blessing.

I won't make a list of potential reforms--that's not the point. Maybe the point relates to Nate's fine post about a centralized institutional structure, this being a consequence of such a structure. Or maybe it's a more general question of whether the Church is truly immune to earthly flaws and thus beyond any possible need of reform? If not, where institutionally does recognition of and motivation for reforming change come from?

Oh, The Fabulous Irony 

by Karen
Have you all been following this story in the SL Trib?


Apparently Warren Jeffs, prophet of the FLDS church has purchased a large ranch in West Texas, hoping to create an isolated compound for him and his closest followers. It's scaring the stuffing out of the local Texas residents, a situation not helped by the fact that the FLDS buyer lied about the purpose of the purchase to the previous owner. Now the FLDS hierarchy is trying to do damage control with the local residents and authorities.

And here is the titular fabulous irony: According to the caption in the picture accompanying the article, apparently the Steed family is among the upper echelons of FLDS culture. Now, although I'm sure you're all too sophisticated to be familiar with a certain blockbuster Mormon fiction publication--perhaps the name "Work and the Glory" rings a bell? For the uninitiated, the series follows the fictional, and amazingly righteous yet syrupy, Steed family through the restoration to the trek West in 1847. The story ends there.

Or does it? Perhaps the intrepid author needs to write a follow up, a sequel detailing the fall of the Steeds and their affiliation with apostate polygamous groups. Here, I'll get him started. "Able to weather the scandal of the fall of the Kirtland Safety Society, but unable to accept the manifesto....."

Articles of Faith: Commandments or Admonitions? 

by Unknown
My mother lectured me on the phone recently. It might've been cute in a nostalgic way if it hadn't annoyed me so much. What prompted this trip down childhood lane? I told her that I have no intention of ever paying my parking tickets. I now owe the city more than my car is worth. I'm basically waiting for the city to tow it so I don't have to move it for alternate side street parking anymore. My mother found this appalling. She told me I was raised in a law-abiding household and she didn't understand how I could just not pay my tickets. When I said that I live a very different life from hers she said, "Yes, but we both have the same beliefs, beliefs that include obeying the law. At least I hope we do." Yes, mother.

I have no qualms about not paying stupid parking tickets that I got because my car is dead and the street-sweeper comes too early in the morning for me to get up and beg for a jump-start. I've also had some bogus tickets, including one for "missing or impaired equipment." Someone ripped off my side-view mirror and I got a ticket for it. How is it a traffic violation to have a _parked_ car with a missing mirror?

I found it supremely annoying to have my mother question my religious conviction because I am not going to pay for my parking tickets. Where in the scriptures does it say I have to obey every stupid nit-picking law? OK, The Articles of Faith are in the Pearl of Great Price. But they are not presented as commandments. Joseph Smith wrote them as PR for people interested in our religion. Does the fact that they are in the Pearl of GP make them commandments? They sound more like admonitions, in the same way that article 13 says we believe in following the admonitions of Paul. Am I going to be judged for not following every law of the land? Do I need to repent for not moving my car every Tuesday and Friday between 9:30-11 am?

Are we commanded to obey the law of the land? Did I miss that somewhere?

Jennifer J.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Oh, Utah! How do I hate thee? Let me count the ways. 

by Aaron B
My wife and I are about to celebrate our 5th Wedding Anniversary. We wanted to go out of town to celebrate, but we've been invited to a wedding in Salt Lake City the weekend before the big day. Thus, we've decided to attend the wedding and celebrate our anniversary during the same weekend, effectively killing two birds with one stone. But what this means is we'll be celebrating our anniversary .... in Utah! Ugh! We don't really have any immediate family there, so it isn't an obvious destination for us. We haven't been back in years (O.K., we drove through once two years ago). We pride ourselves on not ever setting foot in that "cultural wasteland." Our sense of identity and self-worth is largely a product of our being able to make snide remarks about that place. How will we answer the question "What did you do for your 5-year Anniversary?" without hanging our heads in shame?

I jest, of course, but not completely. The truth is, my wife and I have been making jokes about this all week, and this has got me wondering: Why do I hate Utah so much? Or perhaps an even better question: Do I really hate Utah at all, or is it just something I've become so used to saying that I don't even think about it anymore? Is my Utah-bashing just a knee-jerk habit formed during my BYU sojourn all those years ago? Is it the product of any legitimate gripes, or is it just a tired, trendy "issue" that I have? (Remember in highschool when the only thing "trendier" than listening to Top 40 music was ... NOT listening to Top 40 music? Same kind of thing, perhaps?) Let's brainstorm together, folks:

1. Utah is very beautiful in parts, at least outdoors. I do have fond memories of camping at Arches and other assorted places. Nothing to hate about that.

2. Back when I pretended I could snow-ski, I couldn't get enough of Alta and Sundance. Fond memories for sure. I don't ski anymore, and while that's partially because I was never any good, it surely has something to do with the relative let-down that Snow Summit or even Mammoth would be. You gotta love Utah for its snow sports.

3. On the other hand, the urban landscape in virtually all of Utah is a boil on the face of God's green earth. Flying into Salt Lake City, I used to think "this is what Mel Gibson's "Road Warrior" world would have looked like from the air, if it were a bit more populated." O.K., some of the temples are nice architectural specimens, but let's not pretend they make up for the rest of the urban blight.

4. Despite all my bitching and moaning about various aspects of BYU, it's not like I had a bad time of it there in general. Day to day, I actually enjoyed myself most of the time. Do I just like to dwell on the negative?

5. The "people." Ahh, now maybe I'm on to something. Are they really just a bunch of close-minded, insulated, naive simpletons who pronounce "wards" funny and who need to get out of town more often? Does every other Mormon housewife really look and act like an extra from "The Stepford Wives"? Or is this a problem everywhere in the American Church, and it just seems worse in Utah because of the heavier concentration of Mormons there? (Or is the real problem that I'm just a pompous, pretentious, self-righteous pseudo-intellectual with a faux-culturally snobby affectation?)

6. I am a Southern California Mormon from a wealthy L.A. suburb who was raised in a culture that took for granted our "cultural superiority" to those not living on the coasts. (You know the type). So maybe I'm the close-minded one?

7. In all seriousness, is there something about being a member of a majority religion that makes one insensitive, ignorant or just plain "weird" when it comes to one's religious views and interactions with outsiders?

A few days ago, I spoke with a cousin's husband in Provo and let him know that we'd be passing through. I casually made reference to the horror of spending my anniversary there, and then promptly realized that I was talking to a Utah native and resident. He graciously acknowledged that "Utah is for some people and not for others," and I fumbled a "clarification" of my views so as to pull my foot out of my mouth (I don't think it worked). Perhaps I just need some free therapy from all you readers to help me get over my bigotry and appreciate Utah in all its splendor.

Aaron B


Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Efficient Blogging 

by Dave
Our Fearless Leader recently encouraged The Twelve Bloggers of Bcc to step up and blog a bit more. So I'll pitch in by sharing my patented "3 Paragraph System" for pasting together a friendly blog post in ten minutes or less. Para. 1: "There's a short article over at Site X talking about this interesting new idea blah blah blah." Para. 2: "Which makes me think of this clever idea, blah blah blah." Para. 3: "So there you have it: Might work, might not. What do you think?" Let's give it a whirl on the story of the week.

[1] There's a nice group of articles over at the LDS.org Newsroom on the new Manhattan temple, with some nice photos too. Early stories I read made it sound like several floors of an existing building would be refurbished and dedicated as a temple; this story and photos make it clear that the new temple is a free-standing six-story building. It even has an address: 125 Columbus Avenue, New York, NY, 10023. I suppose they all have addresses, but New York is the only place you would actually need an address to find it.

[2] Now that the Church is broadening the idea of "sacred space," new possibilities beckon. How about a floating temple? Remodel a cruise ship (and paint it white) to bring a temple to all those island-bound Saints in the Pacific. And senior citizens could book temple cruises--an AM session, shuffleboard, body massage, PM session, then dinner with the captain. Make the tickets affordable and this might be the most popular temple in the Church! And, come to think of it, those Disney cruise ships are chronically underbooked. It doesn't take Mitt Romney to see the possibilities here.

[3] So there you are: From landmark temples to mini-temples to urban temples to . . . mobile temples? Or maybe you have a better idea for the next cycle of temple innovation.

A Visit to Mountain Meadows 

by Dave
Last month, I took the family on a mountain biking trip to Southern Utah, and took in a few Church History sites along the way (chatty first installments in this series here and here). To round out the Church History tour, on Friday afternoon DW and I pointed the SUV northwest and drove the thirty miles to the Mountain Meadows site. About five miles out of St. George a really nasty hailstorm slammed into us (a sign or just a hailstorm?) and we got off the road for two minutes, but it blew through and we continued on.

At Mountain Meadows, there are two small sites commemorating the awful events of September 1857. For details, go here or read this short review article by writer Sally Denton. I'm only going to describe what I saw on my visit. At the crest of a small hill overlooking a broad, sparse valley is a small site established by the State of Utah, with explanatory tableaus, some viewing tubes that identify locations in the valley below, and a twenty-foot long granite wall that bears the names of roughly 120 men, women, and children who perished there. It's disturbing to note the number of children, listed by family, name, and age (although the youngest were spared and evenutally repatriated to relatives in the East). The following statement is etched in the granite wall: "In the valley below, between September 7 and 11, 1857, a company of more than 120 Arkansas emigrants led by Capt. John T. Baker and Capt. Alexander Fancher was attacked while en route to California."

About a mile below, in the valley but not too far from the foot of the hill, is a rebuilt rock cairn gravesite surrounded by a cement walkway with explanatory plaques. This is the site owned by the Church; it was refurbished and rededicated in 1999. Several plaques give general information. One reads in part (photo here): "Complex animosities and political issues intertwined with religious beliefs motivated the Mormons, but the exact causes and circumstances fostering the sad events that ensued over the next five days at Mountain Meadows still defy any clear or simple explanation." As corporate apologies go, that's about as good as you get.

I'll keep my usual editorializing to a minimum, and just note that a visitor is likely to find a 30-minute self-tour of the two sites to be rather sombre and reflective. I think it's worth the effort to make the drive on your next trek through St. George.

Monday, May 03, 2004

Consecrating Your Eyeballs 

by Grimshizzle
Gordon's recent thread at Times and Seasons on corporate social responsibility and institutional philanthropy got me thinking about a charity for which I feel a strange combination of enthusiasm and suspicion: the Hunger Site. In case you've not familiar with the site, here's how it works. Arriving at the main page, you click on a button that says "Give Free Food. Click Here." Once you click through, another screen appears featuring ads for a number of sponsors. By simply allowing yourself to be exposed to a screen full of advertisements, you donate the equivalent of 1.1 cups of staple food for hunger relief (through Mercy Corps and America's Second Harvest).

On the one hand, something seems wrong with this--or at least, this seems on the initial gut-reaction level to manifest something wrong with society. I mean, if the sheer abstract possibility that I might buy something can be exchanged for the equivalent of one meal for a starving person, the world is an obscenely inequitable place. (Incidentally, though I have probably visited the site nearly 1000 times, I have only clicked through to a sponsor's site perhaps on a dozen occasions, and I've never made a purchase.) Also, it's apparently a for-profit site; so, it's my eyeballs for three seconds minus overhead and profit margin that equals 1.1 cups of food.

On the other hand, this past Saturday visitors to the Hunger Site and its sister sites, the Breast Cancer Site, the Child Health Site, the Rainforest Site, and the Animal Rescue Site, respectively, supplied 85,779 cups of staple food for the hungry; funded 2.3 mammograms for underprivileged women; helped 834.3 children (720.8 doses of vitamin A for disease prevention, 103.4 infant emergency oral rehydration kits, 9.2 maternal AIDS tests, 0.8 eye surgeries or prostheses); protected 547,040 square feet of endangered rainforest; and bought food for 52,194 animals in shelters--all at no cost to any of the visitors to their site.

It seems odd to be leveraging my status as a glassy-eyed, internet surfin', DSL-usin', credit-card-havin' consumer to help the needy. And it certainly doesn't give me the kind of satisfaction that would make me less inclined than I otherwise would be to take advantage of any subsequent opportunity to perform an act of charity-- one requiring some discernible effort or sacrifice on my part. But at the same time I can't figure out how the results above could be construed as anything other than praiseworthy and of good report. So, I continue clicking daily.


Knocking Doors in the Afterlife 

by NA
I've been thinking about this passage from D&C 137: "All who have died without a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God."

This scripture is a hallmark of what mormonism offers to the world: a reasonable Deity, who affords to all the chance to listen and choose the Gospel. It sets us apart from religions that cannot offer anything to those who die without a knowledge of God, or who damn those who could not receive God's sacraments. It's also a challenge to members, I think, in that it suggests an afterlife of teaching and proselytizing that is very unconventional. But the scripture leaves me with a couple of questions, which maybe you can help me answer:

1. What constitutes "a knowledge of this gospel"? It seems to refer to some common-sense notion of a turn at bat, but it's fairly ambiguous. If I knocked on someone's door in France, and they slammed it in my face, did they reject the gospel? Alternatively, if someone has received the missionary discussions but dies uncertain in their convictions, have their had their chance? At what point do we have the knowledge requisite to damn or save us?

2. What's the purpose of this life's "probationary period" if we can get multiple bites at the gospel apple? Doesn't this idea of the unrighteous dead getting saved devalue the efforts of the people who have had to endure to the end?

I realize we know very little about what happens when we die, and this is largely speculative stuff. But I'd appreciate your insights.


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