Wednesday, April 16, 2014

On Ordain Women, Priesthood, and "either the Church is all true or false"

I've been commenting quite a bit on Jana Riess' excellent blog posts lately (especially here, here, and here). I figured when my comments begin turning into book length form, it may be time to simply drop them here on my own blog:

[Responding to Jason, who said that having Ordain Women in the standby line distracted from the spirit on temple square and the inspiration he was wanting to feel at Priesthood meeting, I wrote:]

I can tell you’re very sincere. I hope I can share a different perspective without taking anything away from your own. What I don’t understand is why it’s such a big deal to the Church NOT to allow them inside. To me, the way to make sure you don’t detract from the Spirit is to just say “the more the merrier” and let them in. Having sisters inside next to us doesn’t distract from the Spirit in our other meetings. If we must have gender segregated meetings (and I’m all for that) then let’s call it the “Men’s Meeting” along with the General Women’s Meeting they just held the week before the Priesthood Session. Our leaders have made it very clear that men ARE NOT the priesthood.

Also, please consider how saying that it is all about YOU and YOUR feelings without considering those “selfish” women’s perspective comes across, ironically, as very selfish.

Finally, please take the time to read this excellent post by a friend and former colleague of mine (who recently completed five years of service as a bishop) and who went to witness Ordain Women in person at the very same meeting as you:

Pride of Lionesses: My experience standing in line with Ordain Women

[He thanked me for responding and said he would read it when he got home.  Then he said that Ordain Women's "tactics would be inappropriate at any venue. It’s ok if you and I 'agree to disagree' on certain issues, but please tell me deep down in your gut you agree their approach should be reconsidered". I responded with the following:]

To be perfectly frank...I’m somewhat ambivalent about it.

On the one hand it’s clear that they were asked not to come and they came anyway (although by most accounts were well behaved and peaceful), but because of this there are some who obviously see this as rude and disrespectful and therefore not “well behaved”.

However, there are others who view the request for them NOT to come or to stay in the “free speech zone” as rude and equally disrespectful.

Some on both sides view the other as irrational and unChristlike. (I personally think it would have been completely rational to simply honor their request in the first place since women are allowed to watch the proceedings anywhere else. And had the Church done so there would have been no harm, no foul.)

If you put yourself in the shoes of the supporters of Ordain Women, it’s kind of a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation, don’t you think?

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich coined the phrase: “well behaved women seldom make history”. (I actually bought my wife a key chain with this quote at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis.)

Speaking historically, I have no problem with civil disobedience of the past, whether the Montgomery Bus Boycott or the Lunch Counter Sit-ins. I’m sure those white restaurant owners and patrons thought that those blacks who peacefully sat in at the lunch counters and politely asked to be served were also being “rude and disrespectful”.

If you pin me down and force me to tell you what I think I agree with, here’s what I think I’d say I agree with:

“I won’t cower to, privilege, or be afraid of authority. I give respect only where respect is deserved.”

“The very notion of Jesus being the author of women’s subjugation and spiritual disempowerment is a contemptible sacrilege. Mormonism’s contemporary sexual politics has more to do with outdated American 20th century cultural and social practices than it has to do with God.”

“If this religion is the international movement that it purports to be it might be time to shuck the barnacles of its host nation so that it can finally become both universally relevant and locally appealing – and that, as a minimum, means healing the institutional breaches in religious practice and leadership between men and women.”

(These comes from Gina Colvin's "Reflections after Temple Square: Furious musings from the periphery")

[A different person ("GR") responded to those statements I quoted from Gina's blog, and wrote that "the comment that Mormonism’s contemporary sexual politics has more to do with outdated American 20th century cultural and social practices than it has to do with God is not the comment of someone who has a firm testimony of the gospel and the Saviours position at the head of it. Either this is the TRUE church or it isn’t." I responded with the following:]

Thank you, GR, for sharing your thoughts. I sincerely appreciate the conversation. I hope I can disagree with some of what you share without coming across as disagreeable.

This binary thinking is extremely problematic, not the least of which would mean that the Lord doesn't honor the agency of the prophet at all, and that the prophet is therefore nothing more than a puppet. Also of consequence is that you then directly put the blame on God for the status quo where one half of the membership is barred from certain offices based solely on their biological sex, rather than chalk it up to the fact that we are all products of our time, and that we and all the prophets "see through a glass darkly" as we walk by faith rather than have direct knowledge as though we (or the prophet) has a clear Heavenly Fax/Phone number. The church has continually evolved and adapted throughout time as humans bring their concerns before God and God honors the desires of our hearts. The one true constant in this church is the fact that it continually changes and improves and progresses past the "status quo"--and thank God for that or blacks would still be barred from our most sacred temple rituals, and black men from holding priesthood.

Please don't assume that things are the way they are because God wants them that way. God doesn't micromanage us. Acknowledging the human element in the Church, as well as the fact that there have been errors in the Church in the past (such as that priesthood ban and also the rationales once used to defend it and that are now completely disavowed) and logically the fact that errors can occur today doesn't mean there is no divinity in the Church. It's not all or nothing, black or white.

I wish that more members would be less prone to dig in their heals and defend the status quo as though their testimonies depended on it, and allow for change and revelation of many great and important things, as their faith should require of them. Hugh B. Brown, who served with David O. McKay in the First Presidency, once said: "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."

The Church is not an essentially divine organization marred only by the human weaknesses and foibles of its leaders/members. We--the church--are entirely a human organization responding to the divine with which we have in faith been touched. (Hat tip to Phil Barlow for this insight.)

Please allow me one final correction to your comment. It wasn't the presiding bishop but rather Elder Oaks who said that women in this church already exercise priesthood power and authority, but that they do not hold priesthood keys or offices. (And by the way, neither he nor President Monson have ever said that women shouldn't be ordained. Elder Oaks simply said that they (the "Brethren") don't have the authority to make that change by themselves--meaning that only God can make that change through a revelation.

I openly admit to being perplexed, however, and not because my faith may be less sufficient than yours. I'm perplexed at how Elder Oaks definitively claims that this is the way things are by "divine decree".

I don't think it was ever divinely decreed that 12-year-old prepubescent boys could or couldn't hold offices in the priesthood, and yet they now do.

It is encouraging, however, that Oaks concedes that women exercise priesthood authority and power. But I still wonder how long before he realizes it's not that much of a stretch to assume that if women can currently exercise priesthood authority, that it really shouldn't be a big deal for them to also hold priesthood offices and keys. As far as I know, God hasn't ever said that his daughters cannot hold priesthood offices or keys simply because they were born female.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Lovely and Praiseworthy Indeed

"We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things." (13th Article of Faith)

Friday, April 11, 2014

"Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail"

"Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail." --Ralph Waldo Emerson

The following comes in part from what I wrote to a family in which both mothers were married in California before Proposition 8 and to whom I wanted to extended my congratulations and best wishes to them after Prop 8 was recently struck down in court:

Sometimes I can't believe how much time has passed since California's Prop 8. There's truth to Thomas Paine's quote: "Time makes converts more than reason".

In the years that have passed since that time I have undergone a mighty change of heart. I still recognize that people who oppose marriage equality should not automatically be labeled "haters" and that many of them are good and sincere people.

However, I now personally identify as an "ally" and feel strongly in favor of marriage equality (and this isn't even speaking as a religious issue, but as a public policy issue.) While I know many fellow members of my faith have become discouraged by the recent federal rulings in various states in favor of marriage equality, I have been heartened by them.  I feel in my heart it is the right thing, and I love that love wins out.

I believe that religious beliefs of a majority should not dictate public policy for the minority. There is wisdom in separation of church and state.  Our own scripture states this, but some don't seem to recognize it:  "We do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government, whereby one religious society is fostered and another proscribed in its spiritual privileges, and the individual rights of its members, as citizens, denied." (D&C 134:9)

The interior walls of the Jefferson Memorial are engraved with passages from Jefferson's writings. Most prominent are the words inscribed in a frieze below the dome:

"I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."

This sentence is taken from a September 23, 1800, letter by Jefferson to Dr. Benjamin Rush wherein he defends the constitutional refusal to recognize a state religion.

My personal opposition to "tyranny" in any form, or any other imposition of human will over my personal liberty/rights, makes me sympathetic to our gay brothers and sisters. And my understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ makes me more compassionate. I love my gay brothers and sisters and desire the best for them. I'm sorry that my church has been an impediment to this. I see hope that this has and is changing, although the pace of change is painfully slow.

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Best General Conference Talk Ever Delivered

Okay, I know the title may be a little hyperbolic, but it's not far from the truth.  And I wish we heared more messages like this in General Conferences today.  But first, a little background:

I'm convinced that someone capable needs to write a really good biography of Stephen L Richards (Greg Prince, where are you?!)  If my google skills aren't wrong ("and I'm never wrong"), he was the grandson of Willard Richards (who was present inside Liberty Jail when Joseph Smith was killed and who later served as a counselor to Brigham Young in the First Presidency) and the grandfather of Stephen Richards Covey (famous author of "7 Habits of Highly Effective People", among other things.)

Stephen L (the L doesn't stand for anything--it's just an L) Richards was called by Joseph F. Smith to be an apostle at the age of 37 in 1917.  He delivered my self proclaimed "best General Conference Talk ever" while a member of the Quorum of the Twelve on April 9th, 1932 at the 102nd Annual Conference of the Church.  In 1951 President David O. McKay called him to be his First Counselor in the First Presidency.  This was when J. Reuben Clark (who had long served as First Counselor in two previous First Presidencies and practically ran the Church/First Presidency himself for many years since everyone else had such frail health) was demoted to Second Counselor (and then famously said "In the service of the Lord it's not where you serve, but how").

Through some of his personal connections, Stephen L Richards was able to personally order and pay for the copy of the famous Christus statue that is now housed in the North Visitor's Center on Temple Square.  It would be his gift to President McKay, and thus his gift to the Church.  Unfortunately, Stephen L Richards never saw the completed statue because in 1959, just months before the Christus arrived from Italy, he became gravely ill and passed away.  

Now with that background in place, I'd like to share some excerpts (okay, okay, the majority, because once I started typing I just couldn't stop) from "the best General Conference Talk ever delivered".  Sunstone published it as a pdf: "Bringing Humanity to the Gospel".  It's especially applicable if one substitutes the examples given that were apparently commonly discussed then (such as cigarettes and card playing) with examples that many are discussing today (such as gay marriage and female ordination.):


I want to say something to promote better understanding in the Church.  In so doing, my chief fear is that I myself may be misunderstood.  I have never felt more the need for the aid of our Father's Spirit and the faith and sympathy of my brethren and sisters.  I pray that I may have them.

As a preface to the specific things I wish to mention, I desire to set forth some fundamental principles as I conceive them.

I interpret the gospel in terms of life.  It was brought to humanity; it is our duty to bring humanity to the Gospel.  Election, not compulsion is the genius of Christian philosophy.  Ridicule and ostracism often amount to compulsion.  I deplore their existence.  I fear arrogant dogmatism.  It is a tyrant guilty of more havoc to human-kind than the despot ruling over many kingdoms.  I have pity for the disobedient, not hatred.  They deprive themselves of blessings.  The disobedient punish themselves.

I believe that the dignity of the Church should be maintained, and the purity of gospel truth preserved without dilution.  But man, after all, is the object of God's work.  "This is my work and my glory, to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man."  The Church is God's established agency to this high purpose...

[The commandments] were not abrogated by the gospel of Jesus.  "Think not that I am come to destroy the law."  They were but extended and applied in a new spirit, the kind, merciful spirit of the Savior.  Even some of the major sins were forgiven of Him.  "Go thy way and sin no more,"was His gentle rebuke.  The doctrine of repentance instituted with the attestation and cleansing process of baptism was the epitome of the new Gospel.  "Repent and be baptised," was the cry of Christ's first disciples.  The promise of the new gospel was abundant life--more joy, more friendship, finer relations, peace on earth and eternal life in heaven...

The essence of the new constitution of the Priesthood, as of the whole restored gospel, was and is election without coercion, persuasion not compulsion, no unrighteous dominion, only patience, long suffering, meekness, kindness, and love unfeigned.

With the restored Gospel came also new and enlarged knowledge and conceptions of God and man.  A new philosophy of life arose.  Man's place in the universe, the beginning, end, and purpose of his existence, were better understood.  Some new laws were given, new ordinances and new commandments--not new in the sense that they had never existed before, but new to the knowledge of the people...

No man lives or has lived whose judgment is perfect and not subject to error.  To accept the doctrine of human infallibility is to betray gross ignorance of the divine plan of human life--the fall, mortal probation, repentance, and final election.  There could be no election with perfect knowledge, omniscience.  We walk by faith in mortality and by faith we exercise our agency.

The Church believes in new and continuous revelation, and ever holds itself in readiness to receive messages from the Lord.  To that end the people sustain the President in particular, and others of the General Authorities, as the media through which God's word may be delivered.  A revelation to our living president would be as readily accepted and become as much a part of our scripture as the revelations given to the Prophet Joseph.

In the absence of direct communication from heaven, however, the Church and its people must be guided by the revelations already given and the wisdom and inspiration of its leadership...

In matters of church government and discipline, the judgement of presiding officers is mandatory and controlling.  In matters of individual guidance to members, their counsel is directory and persuasive only.  In the interpretation of scripture and doctrine, they are dependent on their knowledge and experience and inspiration.

I make this frank avowal of my own personal understanding of these fundamental principles as a premise to certain observations and conclusions I desire to present.

First, I hold that it is entirely compatible with the genius of the Church to change its procedure and interpretations as changes in thought, education and environment of people from time to time seem to warrant, provided, of course, that no violence is done to the elemental concepts of truth which lie at the basis of our work.  I would not discard a practice merely because it is old.  Indeed, I believe that one of the tests of worth is the test of time.  But on the other hand, I would not hang on to a practice or conception after it has outlived its usefulness in a new and ever-changing and better informed world.

Old conceptions and traditional interpretations must be influenced by newly discovered evidence.  Not that ultimate fact and law change, but our understanding varies with our education and experience.  One man sees the meaning of a scripture so clearly and definitely that he exclaims with contemptible deprecation of a contender's view, "Why, it's as plain as the nose on your face," and the other replies, "It is silly and foolish."   Both are sincere.  Who is right?  What position does the Church take?  Generally, I think, the Church takes no official position and ought not to, in the large majority of mooted questions.  Men are permitted to hold individual views and express them with freedom so long as they are not seditious to the basic doctrines, practices, and establishments of the Church....

I believe it to be a generally accepted proposition in our church that no man's standing is affected by the views which he may honestly hold with reference to the beginning of man's life on the earth and the organization of the universe, or the processes employed in the working of the miracles of the Bible.  Personally, I find more peace of mind and comfort in what may seem a rather lay disposition to attempt no explanation of these seemingly inexplicable matters.  But if anyone holds views and gets satisfaction from them, I say let him have them, and for one I won't abuse him for them...

Another aspect of the changing process that must necessarily go forward in a live, vital institution such as the Church is, relates to the modification of forms and procedure.  We do not have a great body of set forms and rituals, I am glad to say.  The very elasticity of prayers, ceremonies, and procedure is additional evidence to me of the adaptability of our religion to human needs, and therefore of its divinity.  Some important changes have been made in recent years.  In some instances they have considerably disturbed some members of the Church.  I am sure that the concern and alarm so created have been unwarranted.  The critics have failed to recall that the items which have been modified were originally interpreted and adapted by good men occupying the same ecclesiastical positions and endowed with the same power as the good men now occupying these positions.  Personally, I highly approve of the changes that have been made, and I hope and believe that the presiding authority will be led to make other changes along various lines that will advance the cause we represent.  I am not affraid of change: it is the mother of growth.

But even more important than change of conception, form and procedure in our church as in any society, is change of attitude.  How do you feel about things?  Have more education, more knowledge, and wider experience broadened our sympathies or contracted them?

In application of this question, I must mention some delicate matters.  I call them delicate because I run a great hazard of being misunderstood when I discuss them.  Take smoking for instance.  Is there more or less tolerance for the user of tobacco by the Church, as represented  by its officials and the faithful membership, than there was twenty-five or fifty years ago?  I cannot say.  I have no way of knowing.  We feel that it is wrong and we inveigh against it.  Men often construe the Word of Wisdom as a commandment against it and invest the practice of it with the stigma of sin.  I think my own preaching against it may be so construed.  Am I right?  Are all of us right?  Have not some of our people failed to distinguish between the offense and the offender?

I do not mean to say that I doubt the wisdom of the Word of Wisdom.  I know that it contains God's wishes and direction for the welfare of His children, and I am sure that those who fail to heed the teaching of it will lose blessings of great worth, but I am not sure that we have not estranged many from the Church or at least contributed to their estrangement by attributing to violation of our standards of health, harmful as it may be, a moral turpitude and sinful magnitude out of proportion of the real seriousness of the offense.  Maybe I am wrong.  I do not claim that my analysis is correct, but I think it worthy of your attention.

I am sure that many young people feel themselves ostracized from the Church by reason of the emphasis and the somewhat intolerant attitude some of us have shown toward the user, not the use, of tobacco.  I believe there are some good people in the Church to whom the use of tobacco is so repugnant and who are so offended by those who use it that they may actually develop a feeling akin to hatred toward the smoker.  This state of mind, to my thinking is regrettable and dangerous--dangerous to the individual who harbors such thoughts because it tends to make him illiberal and intolerant, dangerous to the unfortunate who succumbs to a bad practice in that he instinctively sets up a resistance to the man who dislikes him, and dangerous to the church because such people characterize it with a reputation for dogmatic intolerance that weakens its influence with its members and in the world.

In lesser degree the same attitude is manifest toward those who use tea and coffee and other harmful beverages, and toward those who play cards, pool, billiards and some other games which have contributed to bad associations and undesirable practices.  I heartily approve of the church counsel that has long been given regarding these matters.  I believe it is sound and amply sustained by long experience.  But I am not sure that I accord with the attitude of mind toward and treatment of these subjects which have in some instances been manifested in the Church.  I think that these items have been invested not infrequently with a morally-degrading character which has been responsible for irritated feelings, strained and unpleasant relations, and a lack of respect for ecclesiastical authority.  This lack of respect has been the underlying cause of many a spiritual downfall, for no one can maintain the true spirit of a Latter-day Saint without a wholesome respect for our leaders.

It is difficult for many to understand how a diversion so apparently innocent as a game of cards or a game of pool seems to be, can take on the aspect of moral delinquency merely by church pronouncement.  In fact, many do not accept such doctrine, with the result that with them, all pronouncements of the Church are deprecated, and they find themselves out of harmony with the Church and its leadership.  When they reach such a conclusion, their activity in the Church is immediately affected and their faith begins to wane.

Perhaps I overdraw the picture.  It is difficult for me to get the facts.  I find that the people express themselves more freely among themselves than to their leaders.  I am sure, however, there is enough of truth in it to warrant our consideration.

Now someone naturally asks, "What are you going to do about it?  If the situation is as represented, would you abandon the campaign against cigarette smoking, tea and coffee drinking, and withdraw counsel against card playing, pool and billiards?"  My answer is, "No, certainly not."  The Church is far too interested in the temporal salvation of its members to pass by these items.  But I would surround the campaign and the counsel with safeguards which I think have often been lacking.

I would like the church to continue to say to its young people: "Boys and girls, don't smoke.  If you do you will bring great injury to yourselves.  Your bodies are the tabernacles of your spirits.  You cannot take poison into your bodies knowingly without weakening them and offering affront to your God, who is the father of your spirits.  So you will hurt yourselves physically and spiritually.  You injure your chances for success in life.  You commit and economic wrong.  You spend for something worse than useless.  You weaken your moral fiber and decrease your power of resistance.  You become slaves to a habit; you are not free.  You hazard the best and safest companionships.  You sadden the hearts of your parents, to whom you owe your life and opportunities.  You are ungrateful.  You put yourselves out of harmony with the counsel of those who love you most--your parents, your church, and its leaders.  [Here I only wish he had added: "But you must follow the dictates of your own conscience"].

These things you do if you smoke.  But, dear young friends, do not think your church will disown you.  Your church sympathizes with you in your weakness.  It recognizes the courage and resistance you require to withstand the tremendous temptations to which you are subjected--the appeal of brilliant, seductive advertising, the universality of the practice, the ridicule you must endure to stand out almost alone.  Your church understands, boys and girls, and it wants to help you.  It invites you to come to its sunday schools, its mutuals, its sacrament and other meetings, to take part in activities and share in its spirit.  Don't stay away because your fingers are stained and your breath smells.  You may still enjoy brotherhood and sisterhood in the Church.  You have deprived yourselves of some personal blessings, but you may regain them, and when you do you will be happy indeed.  We all need to repent of something, and we can help each other.  Remember there is always a welcome for you."...

And even for those of maturity long confirmed in regrettable habits I wish to extend sympathy, deep sympathy, and few there are who need not repentance and forgiveness for some act either of commission or omission.

To the card players, the pool and billiard players, may not we say: "Dear friends, time is precious.  It is the stuff life is made of.  Waste none of it.  The Church needs you, the world needs your ability.  Do not squander your effort.  You need diversion, you need recreation, to enhance the pleasure of living and to recuperate your strength.  Let your diversions be wholesome, not sapping your strength but renewing it, not enslaving you to a habit and unprofitable pastime, but freeing your powers for worthy pursuits.  Beware of cards.  Of themselves they may be an innocent device for amusement, but their use is often abused and perverted to gambling and an obsession most wasteful of time and energy.  You may think you will be moderate, but you may not be.  Be careful.  Of course, you may not have committed sin in the playing of a game of cards or a game of pool, any more than in playing a game of golf or basketball.  You know when you have done wrong by gambling or wasting time.  You are your own judge."

The Church has no discipline or punishment for the card player as such.  The Church merely offers its warning, based on long observation, that the practice is attended with danger.  It goes no further.  Fellowship is not affected, nor good-will withheld.

Now, some may see in the position I have taken an undue liberality, a retraction of long-established rules, and a letting down of standards.  I have no intention to lower standards.  I want only better understanding.  The more sympathy and mutual helpfulness; the more true spirit of the Gospel we have, the more we approach the attitude of the Master.  Jesus in his ministry forgave transgressors even of the major sins--lying and unchastity.  Shall we be intolerant of those guilty of infractions of our counsel?

I want us to continue to lay emphasis on good, clean, wholesome living, but not in such a way as to in any manner obscure the primary objective of our work, which is to open the doors of the Celestial Kingdom to the children of our Father.  We do not know how many will enter.  We hope for all.  For my part I desire to deny none entrance for weaknesses of the flesh if the spirit is willing.  Yet I do not believe in indulgences.  I believe that the new and everlasting covenant is inclusive of all the laws of the Gospel and that no one can be broken with impunity.  Everyone who does wrong in any degree will forfeit a blessing.  But God is our judge, and as I expect mercy, I want to give it.

I have been filled with trepidation as I have delivered these words, fearing that I might be misunderstood, but my resolution has been fortified by my conviction that my heart and purpose are right.  I believe I do not need to protest my fealty and love for this cause among my brethren and sisters here assembled.  I have borne my humble testimony throughout the Church for many years.  I believe that you know that I know that this is God's work and that Joseph Smith is his prophet, and that the governing priesthood is now held by worthy successors.

I have said these things because I fear dictatorial dogmatism, rigidity of procedure and intolerance even more than I fear cigarettes, cards, and other devices the adversary may use to nullify faith and kill religion.  Fanaticism and bigotry have been the deadly enemies of true religion in the long past.  They have made it forbidding, shut it up in cold grey walls of monastery and nunnery, out of the sunlight and fragrance of the growing world.  They have garbed it in black and then in white, when in truth it is neither black nor white, any more than life is black or white, for religion is life abundant, glowing life, with all its shades, colors and hues, as the children of men reflect in the patterns of their lives the radiance of the Holy Spirit in varying degrees.

I pray that men may understand God and the Church, and I pray that the Church may understand men and human nature.  With such understandings there must come sympathy and love.  Truth and love will save the world.  May they ever be our portion, I ask humbly, in the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

"What The Church Means To People Like Me" (aka Iron Rod and Liahona Mormons)

In light of recent conversations where many Mormons tend to misunderstand one another due to our different perceptions, I thought now would be a good time to remind ourselves (or introduce in the case of those new to it) of the classic talk by Richard Poll: "What The Church Means To People Like Me".

Most famous as the sacrament meeting talk where he coins the terms "Iron Rod Mormons" and "Liahona Mormons", many Saints have found it helpful in furthering mutual understanding and improving dialogue among ourselves.   I still believe his was a worthy prayer "that this effort will help us all to look beyond the things which obviously differentiate us toward that that 'unity of faith' which Christ set as our common goal."

You can also download the Dialogue pdf file here:, his "Liahona and Iron Rod Revisited" here, and his later classic "Pillars of My Faith" Sunstone talk entitled "A Liahona Latter-day Saint" here.

And in case something happens to the links in the future, I'm including the full text below for easy future reference:

A natural reaction to my title--since this is not a testimony meeting in which each speaker is his own subject--might be, "Who cares?" For who in this congregation, with the possible exception of my brother, Carl, are "people like me?" I have a wife and daughter present who find me in some respects unique. And I am sure there are students at Brigham Young University who hope that I am unique. By the time I have finished there may be some among you who will share that hope.

Yet I have chosen the topic because I believe that in some important respects I represent a type of Latter-day Saint which is found in almost every ward and branch in the Church. By characterizing myself and explaining the nature of my commitment to the Gospel, I hope to contribute a little something of value of each of you, whether it turns out that you are "people like me" or not.

My thesis is that there are two distinct types of active and dedicated Latter-day Saints. I am not talking about "good Mormons" and "Jack Mormons," or about Saints in white hats and pseudo-Saints in black. No, I am talking about two types of involved Church members who are here tonight, each deeply committed to the Gospel but also prone toward misgivings about the legitimacy, adequacy, or serviceability of the commitment of the other.

The purpose of my inquiry is not to support either set of misgivings, but to describe each type as dispassionately as I can, to identify myself with one of the types, and then to bear witness concerning some of the blessings which the Church offers to the type I identify with. My prayer is that this effort will help us all to look beyond the things which obviously differentiate us toward that "unity of faith" which Christ set as our common goal.

For convenience of reference, let me propose symbols for my two types of Mormons. They have necessarily to be affirmative images, because I am talking only about "good" members. I found them in the Book of Mormon, a natural place for a Latter-day Saint to find good symbols as well as good counsel.

The figure for the first type comes from Lehi's dream--the Iron Rod. The figure for the second comes also from Lehi's experience--the Liahona. So similar they are as manifestations of God's concern for his children, yet just different enough to suit my purposes tonight.

The Iron Rod, as the hymn reminds us, was the Word of God. To the person with his hand on the rod, each step of the journey to the tree of life was plainly defined; he had only to hold on as he moved forward. In Lehi's dream the way was not easy, but it was clear.

The Liahona, in contrast, was a compass. It pointed to the destination but did not fully mark the path; indeed, the clarity of its directions varied with the circumstances of the user. For Lehi's family the sacred instrument was a reminder of their temporal and eternal goals, but it was no infallible delineator of their course.

Even as the Iron Rod and the Liahona were both approaches to the word of God and to the kingdom of God, so our two types of members seek the word and the kingdom. The fundamental difference between them lies in their concept of the relation of man to the "word of God." Put another way, it is a difference in the meaning assigned to the concept "the fullness of the Gospel." Do the revelations of our Heavenly Father give us a handrail to the kingdom, or a compass only?

The Iron Rod Saint does not look for questions, but for answers, and in the Gospel--as he understands it--he finds or is confident that he can find the answer to every important question. The Liahona Saint, on the other hand, is preoccupied with questions and skeptical of answers; he finds in the Gospel--as he understands it--answers to enough important questions so that he can function purposefully without answers to the rest. This last sentence holds the key to the question posed by my title, but before pursuing its implications let us explore our scheme of classification more fully.

As I suggested at the outset, I find Iron Rods and Liahonas in almost every L.D.S. congregation, discernible by the kinds of comments they make in Gospel Doctrine classes and the very language in which they phrase their testimonies. What gives them their original bent is difficult to identify. The Iron Rods may be somewhat more common among converts, but many nowadays are attracted to the Church by those reasons more appropriate to Liahonas which I will mention later on. Liahona testimonies may be more prevalent among born members who have not had an emotional conversion experience, but many such have developed Iron Rod commitments in the home, the Sunday School, the mission field, or some other conditioning environment. Social and economic status appear to have nothing to do with type, and the rather widely-held notion that education tends to produce Liahonas has so many exceptions that one may plausibly argue that education only makes Liahonas more articulate. Parenthetically, some of the most prominent Iron Rods in the Church are on the BYU faculty.

Pre-existence may, I suppose, have something to do with placement in this classification, even as it may account for other life circumstances, but heredity obviously does not. The irritation of the Iron Rod father confronted by an iconoclastic son is about as commonplace as the embarrassment of the Liahona parent who discovers that his teen-age daughter has found comfortable answers in seminary to some of the questions that have perplexed him all his life.

The picture is complicated by the fact that changes of type do occur, often in response to profoundly unsettling personal experiences. The Liahona member who, in a context of despair or repentance, makes the "leap of faith" to Iron Rod commitment is rather rare, I think, but the investigator of Liahona temperament who becomes an Iron Rod convert is almost typical. The Iron Rod member who responds to personal tragedy or intellectual shock by becoming a Liahona is known to us all: this transition may be but is not necessarily a stage in a migration toward inactivity or even apostasy.

My present opinion is that one's identification with the Iron Rods or the Liahonas is more a function of basic temperament and of accidents than of pre-mortal accomplishments or mortal choices, but that opinion--like many other views expressed in this sermon--has neither scriptural nor scientific validation.

A point to underscore in terms of our objective of "unity of the faith" is that Iron Rods and Liahonas have great difficulty understanding each other--not at the level of intellectual acceptance of the right to peaceful co-existence, but at the level of personal communion, of empathy. To the Iron Rod a questioning attitude suggests an imperfect faith; to the Liahona an unquestioning spirit betokens a closed mind. Neither frequent association nor even prior personal involvement with the other group guarantees empathy. Indeed, the person who has crossed the line is likely to be least sympathetic and tolerant toward his erstwhile kindred spirits.
I have suggested that the essential difference between the Liahonas and the Iron Rods is in their approach to the concept "the word of God." Let us investigate that now a little.

The Iron Rod is confident that, on any question, the mind and will of the Lord may be obtained. His sources are threefold: Scripture, Prophetic Authority, and the Holy Spirit.

In the Standard Works of the Church the Iron Rod member finds far more answers than does his Liahona brother, because he accepts them as God's word in a far more literal sense. In them he finds answers to questions as diverse as the age and origin of the earth, the justification for capital punishment, the proper diet, the proper role of government, the nature and functions of sex, and the nature of man. To the Liahona, he sometimes seems to be reading things into the printed words, but to himself the meaning is clear.

In the pronouncements of the General Authorities, living and dead, the Iron Rod finds many answers, because he accepts and gives comprehensive application to that language of the Doctrine and Covenants which declares: "And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation" (68:4). This reliance extends to every facet of life. On birth control and family planning, labor relations and race relations, the meaning of the Constitution and prospects for the United Nations, the laws of health and the signs of the times, the counsel of the "living oracles" suffices. Where answers are not found in the published record, they are sought in correspondence and interviews, and once received, they are accepted as definitive.

Third among the sources for the Iron Rod member is the Holy Spirit. As Joseph Smith found answers in the counsel of James, "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God . . . ," so any Latter-day Saint may do so. Whether it be the choice of a vocation or the choice of a mate, help on a college examination or in finding "Golden Prospects" in the mission field, healing the sick or averting a divorce--in prayer is the answer. The response may not be what was expected, but it will come, and it will be a manifestation of the Holy Spirit.

Implicit in all this is the confidence of the Iron Rod Latter-day Saint that our Heavenly Father is intimately involved in the day-to-day business of His children. As no sparrow falls without the Father, so nothing befalls man without His will. God knows the answers to all questions and has the solutions to all problems, and the only thing which denies man access to this reservoir is his own stubbornness. Truly, then, the person who opens his mind and heart to the channels of revelation, past and present, has the iron rod which leads unerringly to the Kingdom.

The Liahona Latter-day Saint lacks this certain confidence. Not that he rejects the concepts upon which it rests--that God lives, that He loves His children, that His knowledge and power are efficacious for salvation, and that He does reveal His will as the Ninth Article of Faith affirms. Nor does he reserve the right of selective obedience to the will of God as he understands it.e to the will of God as he understands it. No, the problem for the Liahona involves the adequacy of the sources on which the Iron Rod testimony depends.

The problem is in perceiving the will of God when it is mediated--as it is for almost all mortals--by "the arm of flesh." The Liahona is convinced by logic and experience that no human instrument, even a prophet, is capable of transmitting the word of God so clearly and comprehensively that it can be universally understood and easily appropriated by man.

Because the Liahona finds it impossible to accept the literal verbal inspiration of the Standard Words, the sufficiency of scriptural answers to questions automatically comes into question. If Eve was not made from Adam's rib, how much of the Bible is historic truth? If geology and anthropology have undermined Bishop Ussher's chronology, which places creation at 4000 B.C., how much of the Bible is scientific truth? And if our latter-day scriptures have been significantly revised since their original publication, can it be assumed that they are now infallibly authoritative? To the Liahona these volumes are sources of inspiration and moral truth, but they leave many specific questions unanswered, or uncertainly answered.

As for the authority of the Latter-day prophets, the Liahona Saint finds consensus among them on Gospel fundamentals but far-ranging diversity on many important issues. The record shows error, as in Brigham Young's statements about the continuation of slavery, and it shows change of counsel, as in the matter of gathering to Zion. It shows differences of opinion--Heber J. Grant and Reed Smoot on the League of Nations, and David O. McKay and Joseph Fielding Smith on the process of creation. To the Liahonas, the "living oracles" are God's special witnesses of the Gospel of Christ and His agents in directing the affairs of the Church, but like the scriptures, they leave many important questions unanswered, or uncertainly answered.

The Iron Rod proposition that the Spirit will supply what the prophets have not gives difficulty on both philosophical and experimental grounds. Claims that prayer is an infallible, almost contractual, link between God and man through the Holy Spirit find Liahona Mormons perplexed by the nature of the evidence. As a method of confirming truth, the witness of the Spirit demonstrably has not produced uniformity of Gospel interpretation even among Iron Rod Saints, and it is allegedly by the witness of that same Spirit--by the burning within--that many apostates pronounce the whole Church in error. As a method of influencing the course of events, it seems unpredictable and some of the miracles claimed for it seem almost whimsical. By the prayer of faith one man recovers his lost eyeglasses; in spite of such prayer, another man goes blind of such prayer, another man goes blind.

All of which leaves the Liahona Mormon with a somewhat tenuous connection with the Holy Spirit. He may take comfort in his imperfect knowledge from that portion of the Article of Faith which says that "God will yet reveal many great and important things . . . ." And he may reconcile his conviction of God's love and his observation of the uncertain earthly outcomes of faith by emphasizing the divine commitment to the principle of free agency, as I shall presently do. In any case, it seems to the Liahona Mormon that God's involvement in day-to-day affairs must be less active and intimate than the Iron Rod Mormon believes, because there are so many unsolved problems and unanswered prayers.
Is the Iron Rod member unaware of these considerations which loom so large in the Liahona member's definition of his relationship to the word of God? In some instances, I believe, the answer is yes. For in our activity-centered Church it is quite possible to be deeply and satisfyingly involved without looking seriously at the philosophical implications of some Gospel propositions which are professed.

In many instances, however, the Iron Rod saint has found sufficient answers to the Liahona questions. He sees so much basic consistency in the scriptures and the teachings of the latter-day prophets that the apparent errors and incongruities can be handled by interpretation. He finds so much evidence of the immanence of God in human affairs that the apparently pointless evil and injustice in the world can be handled by the valid assertion that God's ways are not man's ways. He is likely to credit his Liahona contemporaries with becoming so preoccupied with certain problems that they cannot see the Gospel forest for the trees, and he may even attribute that preoccupation to an insufficiency of faith.

As a Liahona, I must resist the attribution, though I cannot deny the preoccupation.
Both kinds of Mormons have problems. Not just the ordinary personal problems to which all flesh is heir, but problems growing out of the nature of their Church commitment.

The Iron Rod has a natural tendency to develop answers where none may, in fact, have been revealed. He may find arguments against social security in the Book of Mormon; he may discover in esoteric prophetic utterances a timetable for that Second Coming of which "that day and hour knoweth no man . . . ." His dogmatism may become offensive to his peers in the Church and a barrier to communication with his own family; his confidence in his own insights may make him impatient with those whom he publicly sustains. He may also cling to cherished answers in the face of new revelation, or be so shaken by innovation that he forms new "fundamentalist" sects. The Iron Rod concept holds many firm in the Church, but it leads some out.

The Liahona, on the other hand, has the temptation to broaden the scope of his questioning until even the most clearly defined Church doctrines and policies are included. His resistance to statistics on principle may deteriorate into a carping criticism of programs and leaders. His ties to the Church may become so nebulous that he cannot communicate them to his children. His testimony may become so selective as to exclude him from some forms of Church activity or to make him a hypocrite in his own eyes as he participates in them. His persistence in doubting may alienate his brethren and eventually destroy the substance of his Gospel commitment. Then he, too, is out--without fireworks, but not without pain.

Both kinds of Latter-day Saints serve the Church. They talk differently and apparently think and feel differently about the Gospel, but as long as they avoid the extremes just mentioned, they share a love for and commitment to the Church. They cannot therefore be distinguished on the basis of attendance at meetings, or participation on welfare projects, or contributions, or faithfulness in the performance of callings. They may or may not be hundred percenters, but the degree of their activity is not a function of type, insofar as I have been able to observe. (It may be that Iron Rods are a little more faithful in genealogical work, but even this is not certain.)

Both kinds of members are found at every level of Church responsibility--in bishoprics and Relief Society presidencies, in stake presidencies and high councils, and even among the General Authorities. But whatever their private orientation, the public deportment of the General Authorities seems to me to represent a compromise, which would be natural in the circumstances. They satisfy the Iron Rods by emphasizing the solid core of revealed truth and discouraging speculative inquiry into matters of faith and morals, and they comfort the Liahonas by resisting the pressure to make pronouncements on all subjects and by reminding the Saints that God has not revealed the answer to every question or defined the response to every prayer.

As I have suggested, the Iron Rods and the Liahonas have some difficulty understanding each other. Lacking the patience, wisdom, breadth of experience, or depth of institutional commitment of the General Authorities, we sometimes criticize and judge each other. But usually we live and let live--each finding in the Church what meets his needs and all sharing the Gospel blessings which do not depend on identity of testimony.

Which brings me to the second part of my remarks--the part which gives my talk its title: What the Church Means to People Like Me. Although I have tried to characterize two types of Latter-day Saints with objectivity, I can speak with conviction only about one example from one group. In suggesting--briefly--what the Church offers to a Liahona like me, I hope to provoke all of us to reexamine the nature of our own commitments and to grow in understanding and love for those whose testimonies are defined in different terms.

By my initial characterization of types, I am the kind of Mormon who is preoccupied with questions and skeptical of answers. I find in the Gospel--as I understand it--answers to enough important questions so that I can function purposefully, and I hope effectively, without present answers to the rest.

The primary question of this generation, it seems to me, is the question of meaning. Does life really add up to anything at all? At least at the popular level, the philosophy of existentialism asks, and tries to answer, the question of how to function significantly in a world which apparently has no meaning. When the philosophy is given a religious context, it becomes an effort to salvage some of the values of traditional religion for support in this meaningless world.

To the extent that existence is seen as meaningless--even absurd--human experiences have only immediate significance. A psychedelic trip stands on a par will a visit to the Sistine Chapel or a concert of the Tabernacle Choir. What the individual does with to the Sistine Chapel or a concert of the Tabernacle Choir. What the individual does with himself--or other "freely consenting adults"--is nobody's business, whether it involves pot, perversion, or "making love, not war."

For me, the Gospel answers this question of meaning, and the answer is grandly, challenging. It lies in three revealed propositions: (1) Man is eternal. (2) Man is free. (3) God's work and glory is to exalt this eternal free agent--man.

The central conception is freedom. With a belief in the doctrine of free agency I can cope with some of the riddles and tragedies which are cited in support of the philosophy of the absurd. In the nature of human freedom--as I understand it--is to be found the reconciliation of the concept of a loving God and the facts of an unlovely world.

The restored Gospel teaches that the essential stuff of man is eternal, that man is a child of God, and that it is man's destiny to become like his Father. But this destiny can only be achieved as man voluntarily gains the knowledge, the experience, and the discipline which godhood requires and represents. This was the crucial question resolved in the council in heaven--whether man should come into an environment of genuine risk, where he would walk by faith.

To me, this prerequisite for exaltation explains the apparent remoteness of God from any aspects of the human predicament--my predicament. My range of freedom is left large, and arbitrary divine interference with that freedom is kept minimal, in order that I may grow. Were God's hand always upon my shoulder, or his Iron Rod always in my grasp, my range of free choice would be constricted, and my growth as well.

This view does not rule out miraculous interventions by our Heavenly Father, but it does not permit their being commonplace. What is seen as miracle by the Iron Rod Saints, my type tends to interpret as coincidence, or psychosomatic manifestation, or inaccurately remembered or reported event. The same attitude is even more likely with regard to the Satanic role in human affairs. The conflict between good and evil--with its happy and unhappy outcomes--is seen more often as a derivative of man's nature and environment than as a contest between titanic powers for the capture of human pawns. If God cannot, in the ultimate sense, coerce the eternal intelligences which are embodied in His children, then how much less is Lucifer able to do. We may yield to the promptings of good or evil, but we are not puppets.

There is another aspect of the matter. If, with or without prayer, man is arbitrarily spared the consequences of his own fallibility and the natural consequences of the kind of hazardous world in which he lives, then freedom becomes meaningless and God capricious. If the law that fire burns, that bullets kill, that age deteriorates, and that the rain falls on the just and the unjust is sporadically suspended upon petition of faith, what happens to that reliable connection between cause and consequence which is a condition of knowledge: and what a peril to faith lies in the idea that God can break the causal chain, that he frequently does break it, but that in my individual case he may not choose to do so. This is the dilemma of theodicy, reconciling God's omnipotence with evil and suffering, which is so dramatically phrased: "If God is good, he is not God; if God is God, he is not good."

From what has been said, it must be apparent that Liahonas like me do not see prayer as a form of spiritual mechanics, in spite of such scriptural language as "Prove me herewith . . ." and "I, the Lord, am bound . . ." Prayer is rarely for miracles, or even for new answers. It is--or ought to be--an intensely personal exercise in sorting out and weighing the relevant factors in our problems, and looking to God as we consider the alternative solutions. (Many of our problems would solve themselves if we would consider only options on which we could honestly ask God's benediction.) We might pray for a miracle, especially in time of deep personal frustration or tragedy, but we would think it presumptuous to command God and would not suspend the future on the outcome of the petition.

This is not to say that Liahonas cannot verbalize prayer as proficiently as their Iron Rod contemporaries. One cannot be significantly involved in the Church without mastering the conventional prayer forms and learning to fit the petition to the proportions of the occasion. But even in the public prayers it is possible, I believe, for the attentive ear to detect those differences which I have tried to describe. To oppose evil as we can, to bear adversity as we must, and to do our jobs well--these are the petitions in Liahona prayers. They invoke God's blessings, but they require man's answering.

To this Liahona Latter-day Saint, God is powerful to save. He is pledged to keep the way of salvation open to man and to do, through the example and sacrifice of His Son and the ordinances and teachings of His Church, what man cannot do for himself. But beyond this, He has left things pretty much up to me--a free agent, a god in embryo who must learn by experience as well as direction how to be like God.

In this circumstance the Church of Jesus Christ performs three special functions for me. Without them, my freedom might well become unbearable:
In the first place, the Church reminds me--almost incessantly--that what I do makes a difference. It matters to my fellow men because most of what I do or fail to do affects their progress toward salvation. And it matters to me, even if it has no disce And it matters to me, even if it has no discernible influence upon others. I reject the "hippie" stance, not because there is something intrinsically wrong with beards and sandals, but with estrangement and aimlessness. Even though life is eternal, time is short and I have none to waste.

In the second place, the Church suggests and sometimes prescribes guidelines for the use of freedom. The deportment standards of the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount, the rules for mental and physical well-being in the Doctrine and Covenants, the reminders and challenges in the temple ceremony--these are examples, and they harmonize with free agency because even those which are prescribed are not coerced.

There is a difference here, I think, between the way Iron Rods and Liahonas look at the guidelines. Answer-oriented, the Iron Rods tend to spell things out; Sabbath observance becomes no TV or movies, or TV but no movies, or uplifting TV and no other, or no studying, or studying for religion classes but no others. For Liahonas like me, the Sabbath commandment is a reminder of the kinship of free men and a concerned and loving Father.

What is fitting, not what is conventional, becomes the question. On a lovely autumn evening I may even, with quiet conscience, pass up an M.I.A. fireside for a drive in the canyon. But the thankfulness for guidelines is nonetheless strong.
In final place comes the contribution of the Church in giving me something to relate to--to belong to--to feel a part of.

Contemporary psychology has much to say about the awful predicament of alienation. "The Lonely Crowd" is the way one expert describes it. Ex-Mormons often feel it; a good friend who somehow migrated out of the Church put it this way the other day: "I don't belong anywhere."

For the active Latter-day Saint such alienation is impossible. The Church is an association of kindred spirits, a sub-culture, a "folk"--and this is the tie which binds Iron Rods and Liahonas together as strongly as the shared testimony of Joseph Smith. It is as fundamental to the solidarity of L.D.S. families--almost--as the doctrine of eternal marriage itself. It makes brothers and sisters of the convert and the Daughter of the Utah Pioneers, of the Hong Kong branch president and the missionary from Cedar City. It unites this congregation--the genealogists and the procrastinators, the old-fashioned patriarchs and the family planners, the eggheads and the doubters of "the wisdom of men."

This sense of belonging is what makes me feel at home in the Palo Alto Ward. Liahonas and Iron Rods together, we are products of a great historic experience, laborers in a great enterprise, and sharers of a commitment to the proposition that life is important because God is real and we are His children--free agents with the opportunity to become heirs of his kingdom.

This is the witness of the Spirit to this Liahona Latter-day Saint. When the returning missionary warms his homecoming with a narrative of a remarkable conversion, I may note the inconsistency or naiveté of some of his analysis, but I am moved nevertheless by the picture of lives transformed--made meaningful--by the Gospel. When the Home Teachers call, I am sometimes self-conscious about the "role playing" in which we all seem to be engaged, yet I ask my wife often--in our times of deepest concern and warmest parental satisfaction--what might our daughtejrs have become without the Church. When a dear friend passes, an accident victim, I may recoil from the well-meant suggestion that God's need for him was greater than his family's, but my lamentation is sweetened by the realization of what the temporal support of the Saints and the eternal promises of the Lord mean to those who mourn.

For this testimony, the Church which inspires and feeds it, and fellowship in the Church with the Iron Rods and Liahonas who share it, I express my thanks to my Heavenly Father in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, Amen.

Friday, February 28, 2014


  1. 1.
    unimportant or trivial.
    "a trifling sum"
    synonyms:trivialunimportantinsignificantinconsequentialpetty, minor, of little/no account, of little/no consequence, footlingpettifogging,incidentalMore

I have a family member who runs a baby stocking business.  It seems trifling to me.  But I recognize that it's important to her.

We each share things from time to time on a group text.  I share things that are important to me and she shares things that are important to her.  There may be some issues in the Church that seem trifling to her, but those same things are of great importance to others.  

And that's okay.  We can be on a different path even though we share the same ultimate goal.

"11 We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may."

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Terryl Givens on the "Prophetic Mantle"; Myth of Infallibility

From Terryl Givens' "Letter to a doubter":

"Abraham deceived Abimelech about his relationship with Sarah. Isaac deceived Esau and stole both his birthright and his blessing (but maybe that’s okay because he is a patriarch and not a prophet, strictly speaking). Moses took glory unto himself at the waters of Meribah and lost his ticket to the promised land as a result. He was also guilty of manslaughter and covered up his crime. Jonah ignored the Lord’s call, then later whined and complained because God didn’t burn Nineveh to the ground as He had threatened. It doesn’t get a lot better in the New Testament. Paul rebuked Peter sharply for what he called cowardice and hypocrisy in his refusal to embrace the gentiles as equals. Then Paul got into a sharp argument with fellow apostle Barnabas, and they parted company.
"So where on earth do we get the notion that modern-day prophets are infallible specimens of virtue and perfection? Joseph said emphatically, “I don’t want you to think I am very righteous, for I am not very righteous.”. To remove any possibility of doubts, he canonized those scriptures in which he is rebuked for his inconstancy and weakness. Most telling of all is section 124:1, in which this pervasive pattern is acknowledged and explained: “for unto this end have I raised you up, that I might show forth my wisdom through the weak things of the earth” (D&C 124:1; emphasis added).

"Air-brushing our prophets, past or present, is a wrenching of the scriptural record and a form of idolatry. God specifically said he called weak vessels so that we wouldn’t place our faith in their strength or power, but in God’s.  Most crippling, however, are the false expectations this paradigm sets up: When Pres. Woodruff said the Lord would never suffer his servants to lead the people astray, we can only reasonably interpret that statement to mean that the prophets will not teach us any soul-destroying doctrine—not that they will never err. President Kimball himself condemned Brigham Young’s Adam-God teachings as heresy; and as an apostle he referred as early as 1963 to the priesthood ban as a “possible error” for which he asked forgiveness. The mantle represents priesthood keys, not a level of holiness or infallibility. God would not have enjoined us to hear what prophets, seers, and revelators have to say “in all patience and faith” if their words were always sage and inspired (D&C 21:5)."

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Appreciating the Tapestry/Symphony

When I was thirteen my family made a trip to Utah where we saw the BYU Young Ambassadors at the Capitol Theater in Salt Lake City.

I enjoyed the show and it made a big enough impression on me that I still remember it. Granted, this may be due in part to the fact that we bought the soundtrack and listened to it all the way home to Oregon, and then again and again once we got home. The show was called "Tapestry", and it wove a variety of songs and themes together in a really beautiful way.

This idea that we each have a valued and unique part in the tapestry of life is captured in two memorable General Conference talks, and also in a song which formed the core of the show all those years ago. Tie these three together and you have a tapestry I can really appreciate.

First the song: (Once you get past the cheesy video you begin to appreciate the music and the message)

"Tapestry" Lyrics:

I am a thread in the tapestry,
I have the Master's hand on me,
And then He weaves me carefully,
Making textures as He goes.

Each of us part of the great design,
You've got your part and I've got mine,
All of our lives are intertwined,
As the fabric starts to grow.

Through thick and thin,
The Master weaves us in.
Young and old, we're the colors of the rainbow.
Our lives are short and long,
But together we hold strong,
In this everlasting tapestry.

Taking the lovely and the plain,
All of our laughter and our pain,
Crossing them back and forth again,
The pattern can be seen.

And when we're finished we will be,
A perfectly woven tapestry,
A beautiful new creation scene,
For the universe to see.

And every thread is known by name,
Not a single thread the same,
As we're woven on this plane,
In a tapestry of love.

Through thick and thin,
The Master weaves us in.
Young and old, we're the colors of the rainbow,
Our lives are short and long,
But together we hold strong,
In this everlasting tapestry.

(Words and music by Teri DeSario)

Now for the conference talks. While they don't use the tapestry analogy, they both use a symphony to make the same point.

Elder Wirthlin's "Concern for the One":

"Some are lost because they are different. They feel as though they don’t belong. Perhaps because they are different, they find themselves slipping away from the flock. They may look, act, think, and speak differently than those around them and that sometimes causes them to assume they don’t fit in. They conclude that they are not needed.

"Tied to this misconception is the erroneous belief that all members of the Church should look, talk, and be alike. The Lord did not people the earth with a vibrant orchestra of personalities only to value the piccolos of the world. Every instrument is precious and adds to the complex beauty of the symphony. All of Heavenly Father’s children are different in some degree, yet each has his own beautiful sound that adds depth and richness to the whole."

President Dieter Uchtdorf's "Four Titles":

"While the Atonement is meant to help us all become more like Christ, it is not meant to make us all the same. Sometimes we confuse differences in personality with sin. We can even make the mistake of thinking that because someone is different from us, it must mean they are not pleasing to God. This line of thinking leads some to believe that the Church wants to create every member from a single mold—that each one should look, feel, think, and behave like every other. This would contradict the genius of God, who created every man different from his brother, every son different from his father. Even identical twins are not identical in their personalities and spiritual identities.

"It also contradicts the intent and purpose of the Church of Jesus Christ, which acknowledges and protects the moral agency—with all its far-reaching consequences—of each and every one of God’s children. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are united in our testimony of the restored gospel and our commitment to keep God’s commandments. But we are diverse in our cultural, social, and political preferences.

"The Church thrives when we take advantage of this diversity and encourage each other to develop and use our talents to lift and strengthen our fellow disciples...

"In the great Composer’s symphony, you have your own particular part to play—your own notes to sing. Fail to perform them, and with certainty the symphony will go on. But if you rise up and join the chorus and allow the power of God to work through you, you will see 'the windows of heaven' open, and He will 'pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.' Rise up to your true potential as a [child] of God, and you can be a force for good in your family, your home, your community, your nation, and indeed in the world."

These three messages form a beautiful tapestry in and of themselves. And that is the kind of symphony I'd enjoy playing in and/or listening to again and again.