Friday, October 31, 2014

"Restive And Concerned"

Armand Mauss (from p. 70 of his memoir), writing about correlation during an era he came to call 'retrenchment':
I recall being pleased originally with the new FHE and CES initiatives of the church leaders, since they seemed likely to enhance and strengthen both family life and systematic religious instruction around the church. However, I was increasingly restive and concerned about certain other signs indicating that a new postwar generation of church leaders was moving to magnify and intensify its control not only over organizational processes, but also over the religious and intellectual life of its members and individuals. In particular, a revitalized "correlation" effort (rather dilatory since the 1920s) began gradually to centralize operations of the entire ecclesiastical organization, including all the accessories, under the apostles and the First Presidency, with operational authority confined to the priesthood ranks. Although not apparent during the 1960s, at least not to the rank and file, this "correlation" process was gradually to have certain consequences and implications (some no doubt unintended) during the succeeding decade: for example, reduction in the status and power of LDS women, both in their ecclesiastical and in their domestic roles; reduction in the tenure and authority of local bishops, stake presidents, and mission presidents; standardization and reduction in the intellectual rigor of church publications and instructional materials for the auxiliaries (such as Sunday school); declining tolerance in the priesthood leadership for independent intellectual activities of members that it could not control (publications, symposia, study groups, "firesides," and so on); and the interposition of a large paid, professional civil service-like bureaucracy between the members and their lay priesthood leaders in the planning and implementation of the "correlated" policies and teachings from headquarters.

Friday, October 24, 2014

What Mormons should–and should not–expect from prophets

Julie Smith makes some salient observations on having more realistic and historically accurate expectations of prophets, based on Church teachings in the New Polygamy Essays

"What I see here is–intentional or not–the articulation of a theology of prophetic revelation that runs precisely opposite to the way that many Mormons (mis)read Amos to say that God will do nothing without first revealing his secrets to the prophets (Amos 3:7) and that whether by God’s voice or the voice of church leaders, it is precisely identical (D & C 1:38). Rather, this suggests that God reveals things line by line (a scripture frequently quoted in these essays), does not reveal all details at once, and leaves some matters to be worked out without divine mandate.

"I think the odd confluence of 1950s American corporate culture, historical amnesia, and rapid world-wide growth led Mormonism to advance the idea that a CEO-like prophet got regular memos from God, bullet-pointed with precise operating instructions designed to maximize return for the next quarter. Diligent work by historians, now disseminated instantly and internationally, shows that that vision isn’t quite precise. It is understandable that some will mourn that vision–I know I’d feel much safer led by that bespoke-suited CEO, divine memo in hand, than by some guy with a leather belt eating locusts in the wilderness. And yet, we should thank those historians (some of whom sacrificed their careers, if not their very membership in the Church, in order to publish things very similar to what is hosted on the Church’s own website today) for helping us overcome the cultural conditioning that misled us regarding what prophets are and what they do. The glass through which we see today is a little less dark because of their work, not just on historical matters related to polygamy but also regarding what we should–and should not–expect from prophets."

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Puzzle of Polygamy

"In this church you only need to believe the truth, find out what the truth is." -Henry Eyring Sr.

The LDS history of polygamy is a puzzle capable of creating much cognitive dissonance. And learning the "truth" about it is murkier than the average "gospel" topic. I've learned enough to realize that it's like a car wreck--uncomfortable but you just can't look away. Mormon historian Richard Bushman had a candid exchange with the national media a few years ago during a Pew Forum on religion and public life in which the topic came up:
Polygamy. How many people want me to talk about polygamy? I know you all are curious. Polygamy is an interesting thing because it serves as a Rorschach test. People project onto Joseph Smith and the polygamists their own sense about human nature. "It's just what you would expect men to do;" or "Yeah, that is what I would like" – (laughter) – that sort of thing. Neither of those, I think, is accurate in Joseph Smith's case. 
It's a perplexing problem for Mormons for a variety of reasons. One important reason is that it is so contrary to Mormon contemporary ideas of family – companionate, eternal friends going on with their children forever, versus a community wives constituting a family. So that is an ideological problem for Mormons.
It's also perplexing because Joseph Smith himself gave so few rationales for it. The best rationale is one revelation written down in 1843. That is virtually all he said on the subject, and plural marriages are depicted simply as part of the restoration of the ancient order of things. Smith brings priesthood out of the Bible. He brings temples out of the Bible. He brings the temple rituals out of the rituals for sanctifying priests in the book of Exodus, and he brings polygamy out of the Bible. That is all he said, that the injunction for polygamy is to go and do the works of Abraham. Beyond that, it's hard to understand.
In actual fact, polygamy seemed to have served a function in society. We now have a fine-grained study of polygamy in one community where we know every family in the community and all of the details about them. And what polygamy seems to have been was a way in which young women without male protection – no father, no older brother, no near relative to care for them – were absorbed into Mormon society.
Polygamy went up when the immigration rates went up. And the young women who came into these families in this little town were young women in that position. Not all of them – but that was the single most common type of plural wife. More than 50 percent of them fit this description. So it was a way of caring for people and may have contributed to the resilience of the society. 
But Mormons themselves are puzzled about the meaning of polygamy, beyond what Joseph Smith said about it.
There are also Mormons who remain ignorant of Joseph Smith's involvement with polygamy, and especially polyandry. I'm not surprised by this because even the most historically literate don't have enough answers to piece together the complete puzzle perfectly. Some still accept it as a "doctrine" even if not currently practiced; others flat out reject it. But it's a part of our history that won't go away, so Mormons continue to be "puzzled" by it.

I'll borrow some words from blogger DKL (David King Landrith) and apply them to myself concerning the topic of plural marriage: "I'm just [a Mormon] that doesn't have a lot of answers. The scriptures depict Christ saying that we should all be like little children. I don't know what to make of this, except that we need to be comfortable being bewildered much of the time. In this one area, I'm absolutely confident of my faithfulness: I am bewildered much of the time."

To provide more transparent and accurate information--maybe a few more answers--The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints yesterday published a series of essays online about Plural Marriage in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The essays aren't perfect (ex: presenting the angel with a flaming sword as perfectly logical/not problematic at all, interpreting "internal increase" as "eternal procreation", and suggesting definitively that "God commanded" plural marriage (even if it was an exception to the standard of monogamy) versus God allowing it, etc.), but it's a big step in the right direction. Those essays can be found here:
I appreciate the efforts of historians who try to help us make sense of the puzzle, but the one approach I may appreciate the most remains that of Julie Smith at Times and Seasons. Practically everything she blogs about is well worth reading, including her reaction to these essays, but especially worth reading is this old post: "Is There Another Approach?" The cliff notes version:

(1) Joseph Smith was devoted to the idea of restoration, which sparked his belief that polygamy needed to be restored.
(2) God permitted Joseph Smith to restore polygamy.
(3) When the cost of practicing polygamy became too high, it was ended by revelation.

Thankfully the current essays concede that even if it is "true" that God commanded plural marriage, the nitty-gritty details were generally left up to mortals to work out, and mortals tend to mess things up and get things wrong. Some mortals (prophets even) got so defensive of their "correctness" in living polygamy that they even taught that monogamy was the exception and polygamy was the celestial standard--an idea quite contrary to the Church's position today.

Brigham Young even went as far as to say that "monogamy, or restrictions by law to one wife, is no part of the economy of heaven among men. Such a system was commenced by the founders of the Roman empire...Thus this monogamic order of marriage, so esteemed by modern Christians as a holy sacrament and divine institution, is nothing but a system established by a set of robbers."


If you're one who can't embrace messiness in our history and like to have things "simple" and nice and tidy, good luck trying to make that fit with the Family Proclamation. And with men today who are sealed to an additional wife after their first wife has passed away, honestly it's anyone's guess as to what to make of married life in the hereafter!

(Of course, this wouldn't be the first time the Gospel Topics essays have distanced our current teachings from Brigham Young. See, for example, Race and the Priesthood.)

Yes, it gets quite messy, and it can become quite jarring to someone not used to the idea of prophets as human beings who can make serious mistakes. Still there are far too many people hearing "we cannot lead you astray" and interpreting that to mean the Brethren can never get things wrong. I like what Julie Smith has to say about that idea too. And Terryl Givens. And Phil Barlow. And especially Dieter Ucthdorf, who said "to be perfectly frank, there have been times when members or leaders in the Church have simply made mistakes. There may have been things said or done that were not in harmony with our values, principles, or doctrine. I suppose the Church would be perfect only if it were run by perfect beings. God is perfect...but He works through us—His imperfect children—and
imperfect people make mistakes."

I personally think polygamy could be one of those mistakes. Nevertheless, I wouldn't want to trespass on the faith and sacrifices of those sincere believers who felt they were trying to follow God's will.

It was nice that yesterday's essays acknowledged what "an excruciating ordeal" plural marriage was for Emma Smith, who "vacillated in her view of plural marriage, at some points supporting it and at other times denouncing it." The essays acknowledged that Doctrine and Covenants 132 listed "both glorious promises and stern warnings, some directed at Emma", though that is putting it mildly. The language in verse 54 was that she would be "destroyed". Some revelation! It's hard for me to believe a loving God threatening Emma would be "destroyed" if she didn't accept polygamy. Some Mormons might embrace this Old Testament-like voice of God without a problem. I tend to blame the heavy-handedness on the human filter dictating the revelation--and maybe not getting the language quite right. Hard to "feel the Spirit" in that section.

I personally don't accept all scripture as equally inspired. As Henry Eyring once said: "In this Church you have only to believe the truth. Find out what the truth is." And that is an individual quest.

The individual effort of sifting through "inspired" writings and teachings is one that I don't take lightly. I'm pretty picky these days. While I might be more picky than the average Mormon, we all make choices about what to accept and what to believe--there are too many contradictions in the records and even in scripture and the words of modern prophets to accept it all equally. Yes, I know that makes us all "cafeteria Mormons", but I much prefer to choose my own diet for myself rather than contracting out the responsibility of eating to others while making myself sick. It wouldn't be healthy to eat every single option at the buffet, and it's not possible to eat for someone else anyway. We each have to digest what we receive on our own. And because I really don't like feeling sick, I'll
continue, with others, to praise cafeteria Mormonism.

Even with the refreshing candor and openness displayed by the recent essays, it's practically impossible to pin down precisely the truth about polygamy, so I remain a committed "non-believer" about how that particular puzzle should or should not fit together. Sometimes I get sick of puzzles too.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

“Religion is belief in someone else's experience. Spirituality is having your own experience."

Spotlighting a post from my friend, Lon Young: Put Away Our Telescopes? Not a Chance! The Heavens are Calling

From the cowardice that shrinks from new truth,
From the laziness that is content with half-truths,
From the arrogance that thinks it knows all truth,
Oh God of Truth, deliver us.
~ Ancient Prayer

IN 1633, THE ROMAN INQUISITION CHARGED Galileo Galilei with heresy. His crime? Entertaining the notion that the sun “does not move from east to west, and that the earth does move, and is not the center of the world,” and for espousing a theory deemed “false and contrary to the Holy and Divine Scripture.”
While Galileo didn’t invent the heliocentric model of the universe, he discovered plenty of evidence for it. His own powerful telescopes were showing him things never before encountered, and mathematical reasoning confirmed what others, like Copernicus, had been saying. To a rational mind, there was no denying the soundness of the astronomer’s conclusion, but it was an inconvenient truth, to say the least, in an age where burning heretics, not fossil fuels, contributed most to global warming.

To be fair, scientists and philosophers, not just the Church, opposed him. But it was the Church with the power to coerce and intimidate. As the sole mediator of rites essential to salvation, God’s priestly representatives could strip Galileo of his eternal salvation. What could man do more?

I can imagine Galileo’s family and friends pleading with him to stop studying the heavens. It’s dangerous, they must have said. Put away your telescope.

Inquisitive Latter-day Saints hear that, too. Why study the night sky when its constellations have already been named, catalogued, and described in our Church-approved manuals? Why look at the heavens when Deseret Book publishes thousands of titles on Astronomy? There’s no need to look for yourself. And it could be dangerous: You could lose faith in the truthfulness of the Star Map. Put away your telescope.

And yet, like Galileo, the urge to know the truth by our own experience, to understand what’s really out there, compels us to look for ourselves. So we look. And then we begin to understand why there was so much institutional hand-wringing over what we might find.

We’re discovering some stars in the night sky that don’t correspond to the official Star Maps we’ve been issued at Church. Certain constellations have been left off the official charts, and it appears that some stars have even been redrawn to suggest patterns that aren’t present in a clear reading of the starry sky. Not only that, but those who’ve traveled far and wide report that what we see printed on our Star Maps constitutes only one perspective, from a Northern line of latitude, and that skywatchers in the Southern Hemisphere see an entirely different set of stars. The discrepancies are not easily dismissed.

We are confused.

We hear leaders telling us not to trust our own eyesight, to doubt our faculties of reason. We hear apologists pat us on the head and explain that there’s really no contradiction between what we’re seeing in our telescopes and what’s on our official Star Maps. Then we go to Church and hear people bearing testimony of the Star Map. And we sing, Praise to the Cartographer. And what we hear most of all is that we shouldn’t be looking through our own telescopes in the first place, but instead should exercise faith that the Star Map is True.

That last point prompts me to ask: Should we have testimonies of the Star Map and its Cartographers? Or should we have direct encounters with the Heavens they attempt to describe? Isn’t it rather like going to a restaurant and worshipping the menu instead of savoring the food?

I’VE BEEN AIMING MY OWN TELESCOPE at the spectacular cosmos that is Mormonism, collapsing its distance, but until recently I’ve been reluctant to share an honest account of what I’ve seen. For one thing, I realize my view is filtered through a particular lens, shaped by my personal and cultural biases, faulty reasoning powers, and limited perception. For another, I haven’t wanted to force anyone to look through the telescope with me, believing it’s the prerogative of each person to decide if and when they look for themselves. But mostly, it’s fear that has kept me–and so many like me–from giving an honest report of our experience. We stand much to lose by admitting that we see things differently. We are branded as arrogant, faithless, deluded, disloyal, and dangerous.

I get it. I’ve been there myself. By discrediting a person, we don’t have to grapple with the questions he or she raises. And when our most crucial claim as an institution is that we’re right about everything, it’s simply not permissible to allow someone to suggest we may be wrong about anything. The community protects itself from the vulnerability of uncertainty by marginalizing anyone who doesn’t reinforce their sense of certainty. And if there’s one thing out of which we Mormons fashion a Golden Calf, it’s our personal and collective certainty.

Fortunately, astronomical charts can be redrawn to more closely reflect reality. At the institutional level, curriculum and resources are being re-written to acknowledge some of the more egregious discrepancies between our traditional narratives and more honest tellings. No doubt, this change comes as the Church is hoping to earn back the trust of those who have been far more more troubled by the lack of openness than they are by a clear reading of the stars. I applaud this forthrightness for its own sake, and am persuaded that whenever institutions resist transparency they will lose credibility with Millennials for whom unrestricted access to information is seen as a birthright.

Call me crazy, but I still find value in those Star Maps. They fire my spiritual imagination. They bestow a mythic power on our collective narrative. And the awe they’ve instilled in me over so many years has become the prime motivator for me to seek my own direct, unmediated experience with the Universe.

Put away our telescopes? Not a chance. The Heavens are calling!

Monday, October 6, 2014

A Hugh B. Brown Benediction

The following excerpts come from the final chapter (9) of "An Abundant Life: The Memoirs of Hugh B. Brown". Some very similarly expressed ideas first appeared in his previous speeches, and together represent some of the best of 20th-century Mormonism. While he didn't have the easiest of times being one of the few liberal voices among some very conservative apostles, I believe the church would be better off if his thoughts were more widely shared. I'm grateful his capacity to influence for good was expanded when he was called as a counsellor to David O. McKay in the First Presidency of the Church. 

"A Final Testimony"

There seems today to be a tendency towards flippant thinking, a lack of thought. There seems to be a tendency to belittle what our fathers and mothers thought because we feel we have made some progress scientifically. We are too ready to conclude that everything from past generations is now folly and that our main duty today, as far as the past is concerned, is to get away from it.

There is not enough of the attitude of the sincere investigator among us. When we come into a new field of research that will challenge our due and honest consideration, you should be warned against coming too quickly to a conclusion, of forming a decision too hastily. We should be scientific – that is, open-minded, approaching new problems without prejudice, deferring a decision until all the facts are in.

Some say the open-minded leave room for doubt. But I believe we should doubt some the things we hear. Doubt has a place if it can stir in one an interest to go out and find the truth for one's self. I should like to awaken in everyone a desire to investigate, to make an independent study of religion, and to know for themselves whether or not the teachings of the Mormon church are true....

There are altogether too many people in the world who are willing to accept as true whatever is printed in a book or delivered from a pulpit. Their faith never goes below the surface soil of authority. I plead with everyone I meet that they may drive their faith down through that soil and get hold of the solid truth, that they may be able to withstand the winds and storms of indecision and of doubt, the opposition and persecution. Then, and only then, will we be able to defend our religion successfully. When I speak of defending our religion, I do not mean such defense as an army makes on the battlefield but the defense of a clean and upright and virtuous life lived in harmony with an intelligent belief and understanding of the gospel. As Mormons, we should do with religion as we do with music, not defend it but simply render it. It needs no defense. The living of religion is, after all, the greatest sermon, and if all of us would live it, we would create a symphony which would be appreciated by all....

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has this practical view of religion: that religion should help us here and now; that we should not have to wait until after we are dead to get any benefits; that religion as understood and applied makes men and women more successful, happier, more contented, gives them aspiration and hope; that religion is the vitalizing force, religion is that which gives men and women and idea, an ideal so high that it may be seen from both sides of the valley of life. The religion of the Latter-day Saints teaches youth that as children of God, they are expected to acquire experience as they go through life and that experience will ripen into knowledge, that knowledge will ripen into wisdom and intelligence, and that their greatness will be in proportion to their intelligence.

So the religion of the Latter-day Saints is not just theory from a book or taught in church. The gospel is a plan of which God is the author, a plan of which we are all necessary parts.

My religion sweetens my life. My religion, if properly lived, helps me to be a better friend to my associates, a better neighbor, a better citizen, a better father, a better man. If I am sincere in it, my religion forbids me to do to my neighbors what I would not want them to do to me, either in word or act. My religion, in other words, is that which is the greatest part of me.

I have been very grateful that the freedom, dignity, and integrity of the individual are basic in church doctrine. We are free to think and express our opinions in the church. Fear will not stifle thought. God himself refuses to trammel free agency even though its exercise sometimes teaches painful lessons. Both creative science and revealed religion find their fullest and truest expression in the climate of freedom.

As we all proceed to make our individual "declarations of independence," I hope we can all distinguish between liberty and license, that we can realize that freedom is only a blessing if it is accompanied by wisdom and intelligence. At the same time, we all need to resist the down-drag of mental laziness which sometimes leads to the premature hardening of the intellectual arteries. And I would especially urge all of us to avoid sluggishness of spirit, which is the worst kind of lethargy. Some people are phlegmatic to a degree that would make a turtle seem intolerably vivacious.

I admire men and women who have developed the questing spirit, who are unafraid of new ideas as stepping stones to progress. We should, of course, respect the opinions of others, but we should also be unafraid to dissent – if we are informed. Thoughts and expressions compete in the marketplace of thought, and in that competition truth emerges triumphant. Only error fears freedom of expression.

Both science and religion beget humility. Scientists and teachers of religion disagree among themselves on theological and other subjects. Even in our own church men and women take issue with one another and contend for their own interpretations. This free exchange of ideas is not to be deplored as long as men and women remain humble and teachable. Neither fear of consequence or any kind of coercion should ever be used to secure uniformity of thought in the church. People should express their problems and opinions and be unafraid to think without fear of consequences.

We should all be interested in academic research. We must go out on the research front and continue to explore the vast unknown. We should be in the forefront of learning in all fields, for revelation does not come only through the prophet of God nor only directly from heaven in visions or dreams. Revelation may come in the laboratory, out of the test tube, out of the thinking mind and the inquiring soul, out of search and research and prayer and inspiration. We must be unafraid to contend for what we are thinking and to combat error with truth in this divided and imperiled world, and we must do it with The unfaltering faith that God is still in his heaven even though all is not well with the world.

We should be dauntless in our pursuit of truth and resist all demands for unthinking conformity. No one would have us become mere tape recorders of other people's thoughts. We should be modest and teachable and seek to know the truth by study and faith. There have been times when progress was halted by thought control. Tolerance and truth demand that all be heard and that competing ideas be tested against each other so that the best, which might not always be our own, can prevail. Knowledge is most complete and dependable when all points of view are heard. We are in a world of restlessness and skepticism, where old things are not only challenge but often disappear, but also a world of miraculous achievement, undreamed of accomplishment, and terrifying power.

Science offers wonderful tools for helping to create the brotherhood of humanity on earth, but the cement of brotherhood does not come from any laboratory. It must come from the heart and mind and spirit of men and women...

One of the most important things in the world is freedom of the mind; from this all other freedoms spring. Such freedom is necessarily dangerous, for one cannot think right without running the risk of thinking wrong, but generally more thinking is the antidote for the evils that spring from wrong thinking.

More thinking is required, and we should all exercise our God-given right to think and be unafraid to express our opinions, with proper respect for those to whom we talk and proper acknowledgement of our own shortcomings. We must preserve freedom of the mind in the church and resist all efforts to suppress it. The church is not so much concerned with whether the thoughts of its members are orthodox or heterodox as it is that they shall have thoughts. One may memorize much without learning anything. In this age of speed there seems to be little time for meditation.

While I speak of independence and the right to think, to agree or disagree, to examine and question, I need to remind myself not to forget that fixed and unchanging laws govern all God's creation, whether the vastness of the starry heavens or the minute revolving universe of the atom or human relationships. All is law. All is cause and effect, and God's laws are universal. God has no favorites; no one is immune from either life's temptations or the consequences of his or her deeds. God is not capricious.

An individual's reactions to the ever-changing impacts of life will depend upon his or her goals and ideals. Every life revolves around certain fundamental core ideas, whether we realize it or not, and herein lies the chief value of religion. But while I believe all that God has revealed, I am not quite sure I understand what he has revealed, and the fact that God has promised further revelation is to me a challenge to keep an open mind and be prepared to follow wherever my search for truth may lead.

We Mormons have been blessed with much knowledge by revelation from God which, in some part, the world lacks. But there is an incomprehensible greater part of truth yet to be discovered. Revealed insights should leave us stricken with the knowledge of how little we really know. It should never lead to an emotional arrogance based upon a false assumption that we somehow have all the answers – that we have a corner on truth. For we do not.

And while all members should respect, support, and heed the teachings of the authorities of the church, no one should except a statement and based his or her testimony upon it, no matter who makes it, until he or she has, under mature examination, found it to be true and worthwhile; then one's logical deductions may be confirmed by the spirit of revelation to his or her spirit, because real conversion must come from within.

I hope that the spirit of the Holy Ghost rests upon everyone and leads us all back into the presence of our heavenly parents. I hope that everyone might conduct his or her life in such a manner as to be worthy of God's continued blessings. And I especially hope that we might all be able, as we go forward, to walk figuratively and almost literally with our hand in God's hand and to feel the effect of God's presence in our lives, doing everything in Jesus' name and with God's blessings.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Faith, Hope, and Charity, even with Reduced Church Expectations

I recently finished reading Armand Mauss's memoir, "Shifting Borders and a Tattered Passport: Intellectual Journeys of a Mormon Academic". Aside from a few areas where I'm more liberal minded, I often felt throughout the book that he and I are kindred spirits. He offers a really healthy, candid, and refreshing perspective. This excerpt is the final two paragraphs of the book:

"So it is that I have continued to value my membership in the LDS church...and to give it my voluntary loyalty, even when I have believed church policies to be in error in certain respects and even on several occasions when I have felt personally offended. Well into my ninth decade of life, I have felt no more inclination to leave the church than I have felt to leave the nation, though, as I said, I have become disenchanted or disenthralled. Yet – and this is important – it has been precisely my disenchantment that has inoculated me against disillusionment, because of the concomitant reductions in my expectations. That is, an understanding of the church and its leaders as human and mortal has kept me from holding out unrealistic expectations for their performance. This has left me free to offer them my own support, loyalty, respect, and appreciation as fellow laborers in the vineyard, but not as contingent on an inerrant execution of their duties.

"When I have been critical of church policies, practices, or leaders, this kind of emotional detachment has also left me free to express myself, in fair and respectful terms, without an accompanying anger that might have led to my departure from the church. During those occasions, described in chapter 9, when I was called in by leaders for interviews about my publications, I was able to arrive without indignation, because I had long since learned to see the church as an impersonal bureaucracy, with the local leaders simply doing their best to cope with unpleasant responsibilities sometimes imposed on them by their roles. I entered these interviews expecting to be treated fairly. I was prepared to hear and consider criticism, but I was never obsequious. I saw my relationship to the church as separate from my relationship with Deity, so that if I were to be unfairly treated or disciplined by church leaders, I could count on Deity eventually to make things right. In these respects, I guess one could say that I have always tried to look on the church and its leaders with faith, hope, and charity, even while keeping my expectations modest. I suspect they might say the same about me."

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Seeing beyond tobacco smoke and into the soul of a man

From page 71 of "An Abundant Life: The Memoirs of Hugh B. Brown":

We had a wonderful stake organization and a lot of good wards. [As stake president in 1920s Canada] I tried to put into practice what Bishop Harris had taught me so many years earlier about tolerance, understanding, and seeing beyond the smoke a cigarette and into the soul of a man. To illustrate this, I would like to cite the following experience.

We had for sometime been looking for a bishop for the Tabor Ward – Tabor being a ward about 40 miles southeast of Lethbridge – but we could not find the right man on the records. We were acquainted with practically all of them, so the three of us – my two counselors and I – got in my car and started for Tabor. As we were driving along we beheld a car approaching us in the opposite direction. I immediately recognized the driver and hailed him to stop. He stopped and got out of the car. He was smoking a cigar.

After exchanging pleasant greetings and talking for a time, I said, "Burt, we want you to be the Bishop of the Tabor ward."

He held up his cigar and asked, "Hell, with this?"

I answered, "Hell, no. Without it."

He threw it down on the ground, stepped on it, and said, "By hell, I'll try it."

He never smoked again and became one of the best bishops we had. In fact, he did away with cigarette smoking entirely in his ward. This was an incident in which we were not bound by the strict rules of the law but could forgive and utilize the abilities of men despite some obvious weaknesses.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Don't fall victim to the "Too Syndrome"

“Sometimes we have what I call the Too Syndrome. We feel that there are some people we can’t really extend full acceptance to because they are too something--too old, too young, too liberal, too conservative, too rich, too poor, too educated, too uneducated, too rigid in religious observances, too lax. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, if the traveler who fell among thieves was like other Jews of his time, he felt that Samaritans were too ethnically impure to worship in the temple; I don’t think he felt that the wine and the oil poured on his wounds were too Samaritan, do you?”

-Chieko Okazaki, "Aloha," p. 98-99

Friday, July 18, 2014

"What absolutes do you believe in?"

Chieko Okazaki:

“[A] woman said that her sister-in-law once asked her, ‘What absolutes do you believe in?’ By which she meant, which principles do you think are true all the time? This woman thought for a long time, and finally answered:

Only one--
‘Charity never faileth.’
I’ve seen Truth hurt
Religions kill
And Laws protect the guilty
But even though I’ve seen love spit at
And warmth returned with ice
I’ve never seen true kindness backfire
In the giver’s soul.”

-Chieko Okazaki, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” pp. 49-50

Saturday, July 12, 2014

On Asking Questions and Patiently Hoping for Changes

I'm grateful that Church spokeswoman Ally Isom (in her RadioWest interview with Doug Fabrizio) acknowledged there is room for healthy dialogue and even for questioning.  Naturally, most of the revelations Joseph Smith received were because members brought issues to his attention or he himself asked a question.  People help shape the content and context for prophetic inquiries. So in a very real sense, there’s always been trickle-up revelation.

But while listening to her on the interview, I was frustrated that spokeswoman Isom kept conflating a bishop in a disciplinary hearing with God--not to mention the audacity to suggest it is always the member's choice to stay in the Church rather than be excommunicated, and not acknowledging the reality is that it is the choice of one man in a position of "a little authority" (regardless of whether or not he is exercising unrighteous dominion) as to whether or not the accused remains in the Church.

Apparently there are too many literalistic Mormons who seem to conflate God and the prophet too. These folks seem to believe that if God wants change he will literally dictate it to the prophet, as though the prophet is a puppet, so they assume we mortals can just sit back and wait for divine direction.

But from my experience and also in history, I see that God expects for US to make the first move. WE humans decide to act or take a question before the Lord and THEN hope for divine direction.

I'm not stupid enough to think that in 1978 "God changed his mind about black people" or that humans pressure the Lord anymore than he pressures us (which is pretty much zilch). The only real power he has to effect change over us is through love, and there’s a lesson in that for us.  He doesn’t coerce, and nor should we.  I think the Lord waits patiently for us to figure things out on our own.  He had made it clear he “denieth none that come unto him, black or white, bond or free, male or female…all are alike unto God”. But WE didn't get part of that before 1978 until WE changed our perspective.

Historically it has taken us mortals (even our prophet leaders, since they’re not raised in a cultural vacuum) a long time to realize what God already desires for his children. With Paul and all the other prophets, we "see through a glass darkly." But God waits patiently and lovingly for us to correct our perspectives and figure out His will for ourselves. He even shows long-suffering to apostles who live so set in their ways and convinced of the rightness of their position (even though their position turned out to be wrong, and regardless of the "certainty" they spoke with that they knew or "know" Gods will.)

I personally think there's still part of that "all are alike" scripture (and no, he's not referring to biological/physical sameness) that the Church collectively isn't understanding right. Instead of believing Him and taking His word that "all" are alike unto God, in terms of who can or can't be ordained to the priesthood we continue to deny those who happened to be born female, and regardless of their spiritual strength, leadership talents, and the worthy desires of their hearts.

God has never declared that holding priesthood keys or offices was or is some divine gender role--we the people have projected antiquated gender roles onto God.

I think those of us who believe the ninth article of faith--that many great and important things are yet to be revealed--should be patient, but I don't think we need to be passive.  As President Kimball once wrote in a letter to his son Ed: "Revelations will probably never come unless they are desired. I think few people receive revelations while lounging on a couch."

As a historian I'm fascinated by these issues and look for background, context, and reasons—cause and effect—which impact the how and the why things happened the way they did.  Those lessons have much to teach us in the present and the future.

Ironically, another change occurred in 1978--the prohibition (yes, there was a prohibition) on/of women praying in Sacrament meetings. The "Brethren" explained that the policy (set in 1967) had no scriptural basis and should be abandoned. I believe that there are still gender prohibitions without any scriptural or doctrinal basis that should likewise be abandoned.

And for the record, it wasn't until April of 2013 that a woman first prayed in General Conference. Of course, if you think change comes to passive puppets without any effort on our part, then you probably believe that Ordain Women had nothing to do with that (even though faithful feminists had been seeking after that very thing for years), and also that last October just happened to be a good time to begin televising the General Priesthood Session of Conference (which really should be called the General Men's Session, since women also exercise priesthood power and authority*.)

*Elder Oaks's recent conference talk explained that women already excercise priesthood power and authority, but do not currently hold priesthood offices or keys. He didn't provide a reason, footnote, or citation as to why this is the case--just an assumption that the historical patriarchal pattern is divinely decreed. (Historically we also know that some prophets and apostles also had assumed the racial priesthood ban that ended in 1978 had originated with God, yet the Church's recent "Race and the Priesthood" essay correctly places the ban's origins with Brigham Young in the context of the racism of that day and age.) Elder Oaks did acknowledge, however, that in the temple women perform priesthood ordinances and exercise the priesthood keys of the temple president, though he did not explain why women are banned from performing ordinances outside the temple or why they cannot excercise priesthood keys outside the temple, such as by serving on a stake high council under the direction of or by virtue of the keys of the stake president.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Where There Is Charity and Love, God Is There

One of the highlights of my time singing in the BYU Concert Choir was singing this version of Ubi Caritas. This video doesn't quite capture the interpretation we gave it that was so profound to me, but the sound is still good. Most importantly, it's a profound message:

Latin Text
Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor.
Exsultemus, et in ipso jucundemur.
Timeamus, et amemus Deum vivum.
Et ex corde diligamus nos sincero.

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Simul ergo cum in unum congregamur:
Ne nos mente dividamur, caveamus.
Cessent iurgia maligna, cessent lites.
Et in medio nostri sit Christus Deus.
Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Simul quoque cum beatis videamus,
Glorianter vultum tuum, Christe Deus:
Gaudium quod est immensum, atque probum,
Saecula per infinita saeculorum. Amen.

English Translation
Where charity and love are, God is there.
Love of Christ has gathered us into one.

Let us rejoice in Him and be glad.
Let us fear, and let us love the living God.
And from a sincere heart let us love one.

Where charity and love are, God is there. 
At the same time, therefore, are gathered into one: 
Lest we be divided in mind, let us beware. 
Let evil impulses stop, let controversy cease. 
And in the midst of us be Christ our God.
Where charity and love are, God is there. 
At the same time we see that with the saints also, 
Thy face in glory, O Christ our God:
The joy that is immense and good, Unto the 
World without end. Amen.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Speaking Words of Wisdom

From Margaret Blair Young's post: "Here I Stand. God Help Me, I Can Do No Other.":

When I spoke to a friend recently who is questioning his faith and no longer feels comfortable at church or in the temple, I suggested that he find his own sacred grove and nurture spiritual feelings while the faith issues work themselves out. This person finds spiritual comfort through music, which can lead to spiritual awakening. Songs ranging from “Lead Kindly Light” to “O Happy Day!” can touch us with a sense of the divine and help us seek truth without the burden and pollutant of anger. The statement, “I have been deceived!” is full of anger. If it becomes the starting premise for a spiritual journey, the journey will end in a tempest of rage. There are always other angry people to support angry statements, and those who phrase their fury cleverly are often rewarded by words like “courageous” and “unflinching.” There will always be angry communities. Even if we feel anger is justified, I would urge all of us to ponder the words of Desmond Tutu: “Each act of forgiveness, whether small or great, moves us closer to wholeness.” Consider that statement with the Savior’s poignant question: “Wilt thou be made whole?”

The statements, “I have been loved!” or “I have been forgiven!” lead away from anger, and tend to come in private, reflective, redemptive moments.

I, Margaret Blair Young, have been loved by parents who were faithful to each other and to their beliefs. I have been loved and protected by God. My testimony is not founded in objective fact—which might exist in mathematics but is rare in religion—but in joy and love, which are the fruits of the Spirit. Such feelings let me know that I’m in tune with the divine. As I continue on my spiritual journey, I do see miracle after miracle, which I would not see (and perhaps would not receive) were I whirling in the winds of anger. Anger always confuses perspective and direction and becomes its own tempestuous support—the hurricane under the large and spacious building...

As I have grown and now find myself in my 60th year, revelatory instruction has urged me to flee from argument, to hold out my arms to those who are hurting, to prove my love before I prove my point. I have not always succeeded, but I know that I have been so instructed ...

As to the question of the day—that gender question—I predict, under no authority whatsoever, that we will see significant change and growth over the next twenty years. It will be slow, and those who will be a part of it must be patient and humble. I predict that we will see the ordination of women—but not in the way OW has framed it. I suspect that women will be ordained to a female order of the priesthood, and will be ordained—put into order–to carry out specific assignments. For me, the Divine Feminine is ORDAINED to nurture. This idea is something I have grown into. As a young person, I was antagonistic, argumentative, ready to debate just about anything. At least that’s how I appeared. Actually, I was deeply insecure but had a good vocabulary and used it as my shield. As I have grown and now find myself in my 60th year, revelatory instruction has urged me to flee from argument, to hold out my arms to those who are hurting, to prove my love before I prove my point. I have not always succeeded, but I know that I have been so instructed. I have dealt with difficult circumstances as a mother, but have felt supported in all of my trials—not just so that I could feel comforted, but so that I could comfort my children and bear them up.

The best image I have ever seen of the Divine Feminine is in the film Tree of Life. That woman, that grieving, graced, and graceful mother is the quintessence of how I view the Divine Feminine. I hope she is what I am becoming...

I believe in Heavenly parents, a Heavenly Father and Mother; in Jesus Christ who is my exemplar, and in the Holy Ghost, whose peacemaking and consolation I have felt in my most difficult moments. I believe in the divine nature of all human beings, and honor all honest spiritual quests.

I believe in the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ in its essential points through Joseph Smith, flawed though he was. I believe that he did not fully understand his own prophetic gift, but that God was nonetheless able to work through him. I seek to hold to the core of that restored gospel and not to tarry in the cluttered suburbs.

I believe in visions and revelation. Though I have not had visions, I have many friends who have. I have had revelations which continue. I have had more miracles than I can count, and many which I likely didn’t recognize at the time.

I believe in the power of faith, which works by love, and in love, which casts out fear.

I believe in eternal progression, that “second chances” go beyond this life, that we continue to learn and to grow, and that our potential is infinite, even godly. I believe this “eternal progression” applies to the Church as well. I believe that the Church of Jesus Christ will, in the eternities, include all who choose to come unto Him regardless of what denomination they chose earlier. I know of no other Christian religion which holds such an expansive view of human and spiritual possibilities. We aren’t talking about equality but about glory.

I believe in the vision of Eve not as the cursed but as the courageous one who understood that we must pass through sorrow in order to grow. I think of Eve as figurative and symbolic of all women who listen not only to their husbands but to the word of the Lord, sometimes mediating between the two voices (which may be at odds) and thus helping to direct the companioned life.

I believe in the power of faith catalyzed by love as inherent in what we call the priesthood of God, though I do not pretend to understand the fullness of that priesthood.

I believe in the restorative power of the temple, though I recognize that it is not restorative for all. It is my sacred grove, where I leave the world for a time, where I become consciously still and so can feel the presence of the divine. I wear my temple garments with joy, and see them as the emblem of my own priesthood strength.

I believe in the power of church structure, that wards shepherded by imperfect men and women (I see both the bishop and the Relief Society president as shepherds) can provide community, aid, and instruction for all who seek a moral compass and friends to journey with. I would change many things about the manuals, the music, and the length of meetings, but I believe in the intrinsic value of the structures.

I believe in family as the basic church unit, and in our ability to learn the most essential lessons as children, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters as we simply try to get along with one another.

I believe that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is dynamic, that we are YOUNG, and currently experiencing a growth spurt which is at times ugly and sometimes embarrassing. We have pimples, and we are thinning out. Our coordination can be awkward, and we can say impetuous and thoughtless things. Nevertheless, we are growing into something magnificent. If we knew all of the stories from around the world of those who have joined the LDS community, we would be in awe of our fellow members and amazed by our privilege to associate with them.

I believe that the men and women who dedicate themselves to serving the Lord within the LDS structure are almost all sincere and are often inspired—more often than many suspect. They weary themselves to spread the good news of the gospel or to tend those who join the Mormon community wherever it may be, and they do it with little or no compensation. I cherish the volunteer aspect of the Church, and the fact that everyone is asked to do something to keep the community alive and loving. We fail sometimes. But if each does all that they can in the spirit of love, we arise again and move forward.

I believe that as I seek to identify everything “praiseworthy and of good report” within the Church, I will find it. I believe that when I find something less than praiseworthy, I should talk about it, but in the spirit of community and respect, not as gossip or with antagonism. I seek to focus on the lovely.

I proclaim my faith in this gospel. Here I stand as a committed member who will not be moved from this place. God help me, I can do no other.

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