Thursday, November 13, 2014

"We are to embrace all truth not just the convenient truth"

I think Darius Gray has a lot to teach us about grappling with messy history. Even though his comment below specifically had to do with past institutional racism, I think it can be applied to any number of topics, such as those being addressed because of recent LDS church essays. This particular comment was buried deep in a "Times and Seasons" blog post from 2006 (comment #110 to be exact) on a post entitled "We have nothing to apologize for but we should do it anyway". The link I originally saved appears to no longer be accessible:

Dear Friends,

Please reread my comments. Nowhere have I asked for an apology, let alone demanded one. Frankly, an apology isn’t that important to me but an acknowledgment of our past and the issues which have resulted is important. Our focus should be on the here and now — but with an eye to the future. I fully agree with those who say we cannot go back and change our history but we should be able to look at it honestly and learn the lessons it offers.

The concern expressed in my earlier response was because of the apparent dichotomy of applying one standard if the aggrieved party was the institutional Church and a different standard if the aggrieved party was someone injured by the institutional Church. It is part of our church culture to remember the harsh treatment given the early members while they were in Ohio, Missouri and Illinois. We find it appropriate to remember those wrongs but wince when asked to look inward. Brothers and Sisters THAT is inconsistent. As Christians we are to embrace all truth not just the convenient truth. Whether the injustices done at Mountain Meadows or the insensitivities shown persons of color the issue isn’t about finding fault but about learning to be better. As I understand the task, that can come through open and honest examination done in a Christ centered way.

For those who feel you are defending the Church please know you are not alone. I have defended it for nearly 42 years and have zero interest in causing any harm. Again, I seek no apology nor have I ever — nor do I see myself standing in some future judgment of others for their past wrongs. However, I do hope that we, as an institution and as individuals, can come to understand that false teachings are still very much with us and that it is required of us to seek truth — and to speak truth.

Best wishes,


Anonymous said...

This is a wonderful comment. The problem I'm struggling with is to know what the truth is. So many things about the idea of polygamy and how it was implemented/practiced don't add up. And I'm finding the lack of clarity from our current leaders less than reassuring as well.

Still confused

Clean Cut said...

Right--well that's the mess we live in. That's reality. And reality can be much more confusing and ambiguous and messy than the Correlation Department leads you to believe.

Because when all is said and done even absolute truth is evaluated subjectively.

I'm with you that a lot of things don't add up, and that's when I evaluate whether I really need to believe those things as part of my personal faith. So I follow my moral compass to embrace the good and reject that bad. Some might say that leads to relativity, but there really is no other way, because even prophets have been wrong and thus might be wrong. So if something doesn't feel right, I reserve the right to be the ultimate authority on what I personally believe or don't believe.

There's room in the Church for multiple perspectives. I tend to place more emphasis on personal agency and personal revelation than conformity to a correlated perspective.

Faith allows me to believe that there is absolute truth, but it's known only to God. Even prophets, as Paul said, "see through a glass darkly" and have at times been mistaken about what was absolute truth and what turned out to be a socially constructed and shaped reality.

I think our current leaders are extremely "spiritually gifted" and filled with amazing wisdom. I think that wisdom comes after a long life lived and so I don't just discount their opinions, but I also don't put too much stock into them. Even they are heavily shaped by the lives that they've lived. Ultimately we can only look to perfection to expect perfection.

We can look to history to see that the Lord honors the agency of his prophets, allowing them to try and figure out the truth as best they can but not free from error or human interpretation. If it were not so then the prophet would be nothing more than a puppet.

I think we can agree it is good to trust God or trust Christ, but I think it is also correct to say that there is no such things as unmediated or unfiltered revelation. Everything that comes to us comes through a human filter, our human experience, our human language, and human culture, etc. We see through a glass darkly.

This problem was even discussed in General Conference by President Uchtdorf, that God’s “declarations” have always been communicated and interpreted by fallible men.

This is why it is so important to rely not only on prophetic teachings but also on such doctrinal principles as personal revelation, intellectual study, spiritual study, and the influence of healthy approaches from others who also have our best interests in mind.

Clean Cut said...

All of this reminds me of one of my favorite Mormon authors/bloggers--Jana Riess--and her post about Brigham Young and racism.

Referring to prophets, she wrote:

"They were human; they were flawed; they were flat-out wrong. They were also prophetic leaders, inspired in many things. I’m going to close with some wise words from the comments on Monday’s post:

"'Prophets do not need to be perfect to be prophets. If the Book of Mormon, a canonized book of scripture, can contain “errors of men,” as it says it may contain, why should General Conference be free of any error?'"

Therefore when I say that I "trust" the prophets, I am NOT saying that I'm trusting a human being to give me unfiltered or unmediated revelation--i.e. "absolute truth". My "trust" is relational, in terms of being in a relationship with another person. We trust someone because they have given us a reason to trust him or her. And that trust can be tested, betrayed, or strengthened. But I can trust that leaders are generally doing the best that they can. I can trust that leaders, while being human, sincerely want to serve others and have the interest of others in mind. I can trust that the prophets feel they are the stewards of the restored church and do not want to lightly change things that they feel were restored by Joseph Smith for a reason. But let's not let our expectations of prophets be unrealistic.

I think President Uchtdorf has given us the ability to concede that leaders can make mistakes so we are not trusting them to be perfect in what they do or say:

"And, 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. In the title page of the Book of Mormon we read, 'And now, if there are faults they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God, that ye may be found spotless at the judgment-seat of Christ.” This is the way it has always been and will be until the perfect day when Christ Himself reigns personally upon the earth.'"

My understanding is best articulated by the late BYU historian, Richard Poll:

"James Madison cautioned: "When the Almighty Himself condescends to address mankind in their own language, His meaning, luminous as it must be, is rendered dim and doubtful by the cloudy medium through which it is communicated."

"Because I believe, with Madison, that everyone, including Paul and the other prophets, saw eternity, or sees eternity through a glass darkly, prophetic infallibility, scriptural inerrancy, and unquestioning obedience are not elements in my faith."

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your reply. I think I agree with everything you've said, but then I end up asking how prophets & apostles are relevant to me personally. Right now the best I can come up with is that we have a leadership structure to run the operations of this massive organization (which I appreciate) and they might give us wisdom once in a while, but they are just as prone to err as the next guy and I really have to put my trust in God alone. But God doesn't talk to me much, at least that I can perceive, so it's somewhat lonely over here. Messy, indeed.

Still Confused