Friday, January 14, 2011

What Would Eugene England Do?

Last summer while visiting Washington D.C. I went to the Jefferson memorial for the first time. I was struck not only by its size, but by the words of Jefferson engraved upon the walls. Most prominent are the words inscribed around the dome:

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

I loved the quote--another bold declaration of independence, if you will, from control over individual beliefs, thoughts, and freedom of speech/expression.

I thought about that quote while writing my last post, "Let them worship how, where, or what they may", and of times when Latter-day Saints haven't been quite as tolerant of divergent beliefs/thoughts among their own. I remembered a specific experience Eugene England had with Bruce R. McConkie in which Gene showed such grace (when hostility would have been so natural) after being confronted with authoritarianism. As for myself, I'm not sure how I would have responded if it had been me. Perhaps that's the reason I'd like to spotlight a post that raises some of those same introspective questions (and gives more of the backstory):

Spotlighting WWEED? What Would Eugene England Do? by the Narrator.


Clean Cut said...

I love what is written about Eugene England on the wiki page:

"England described the ideal modern Mormon scholar as 'critical and innovative as his gifts from God require but conscious of and loyal to his own unique heritage and nurturing community and thus able to exercise those gifts without harm to others or himself.' This charitable, tolerant, and faithful approach to scholarship was a hallmark of his career and life."

Clean Cut said...

Another interesting and relevant find on wiki: In her book, "Contemporary Mormonism", Claudia Bushman writes "the McConkie-England disagreement revealed the division between theological conservatives and liberals within the believing camp and, in a larger sense, the tensions between authoritarian control versus free expression."

Dave said...

So here is the comment I couldn't manage to post over at Project Mayhem:

What makes you think McConkie "publicly rebuked and judged" England? It was a private letter, sent in response to a letter and article sent by England to McConkie which apparently invited a response. I am not aware England's first letter is publicly available. Without reading that letter first, it is hard to put McConkie's response (which does appear harsh) into context.

Clean Cut said...

I wondered about that too, Dave. Like you said, since it was a private letter, it's hard to believe McConkie did this "publicly". McConkie does say in the letter that he's taking the liberty of making copies of his own letter and giving them to other individuals to whom England had communicated his thoughts. So it wasn't necessarily made completely public, but it wasn't entirely private either. It's easy to see, since multiple copies of the letter were given out, how at least one of them could have been made public. We know it wasn't England who leaked the letter, since he was quite embarrassed by McConkie's rebuke going public.

As to England's initial letter, my understanding was that it was basically his article "Perfection and Progression: Two Complementary Ways of Talking About God", which was published four years after McConkie passed away.

When McConkie gave the "7 Heresies" talk at BYU, and dogmatically asserted that God is perfect and not progressing in knowledge, I'm sure England thought "But wait, what about what Brigham Young and others who said God is continually progressing in knowledge?" Since England had concluded that this didn't necessarily have to be a contradiction, but rather two different and complementary ways of talking about God in various spheres, I think he just decided to share his thoughts with McConkie.

One could say he was "asking for it" by doing this, but I don't see it that way. I too like to share other ideas and interpretations with those who dogmatically assert one thing in my own ward, just so they can be a little more aware of the larger conversation. But granted, I've never done this with an apostle :)

By any means, McConkie's tone in that letter speaks for itself. Even though we can't know exactly what England wrote in the initial letter, it's hard to believe someone of his character would have said anything that merited that kind of response. I think he showed much grace towards McConkie by his actions after receiving such a rebuke.

As an aside, as to how I personally reconcile the question of whether God knows all things or if he's progressing in knowledge--I just go with this: God knows all things that are knowable (at the present time).

the narrator said...

Dave, not sure why you couldn't comment on my blog. My parenthetical "(as McConkie had done to him)" referred only to the latter part of the conjunction ("judging").

Though it must be pointed out that McConkie's response was not entirely private. McConkie sent several copies of his letter to others (one of whom made the letter even more public).

Dave said...

Narrator, I use the name/URL option to comment at Blogger blogs, which isn't an option at yours.

I see where you're coming from, Clean Cut. I am not really trying to defend McConkie. Maybe another way to approach things is to ask what England thought the response to his letter and article would be.

Clean Cut said...

"Though it must be pointed out that McConkie's response was not entirely private."

As a matter of fact, Lyod, I did point that out in my response to Dave. :)

"Maybe another way to approach things is to ask what England thought the response to his letter and article would be."

Another good question, Dave. We'll probably never know.