On the bearing of complicated and complicating testimony

In the comments thread of the post about Nate’s little problem, Ryan articulately described a related problem with Mormon liberals:

“The reason I bring that up is that I believe the character and motivation transfer closely to the snark, which is simply the better-educated cousin of the simpler debunker. I have no problem with the beliefs of my less “orthodox” friends, who prefer to think more critically about church hierarchy, history, doctrine, etc. than I do. My problem is that they wish so often to be the cool, informed person that is able to show why the simple believers are foolish.”

While I don’t think I’m (usually) boring or insulting, I did feel brought up short by Ryan’s critique, and I’ve been thinking about why.

It has been a long time since I went through my (mercifully brief) “debunking” stage–I don’t feel any need to go around telling people about the more unsavory aspects of polygamy or to announce in Sunday School “most scholars agree that Daniel is a fictional character.”

But I do still worry about people whose testimonies seem like hothouse flowers–unable to survive the slightest cold draft of any question of prophetic fallibility or a history any more nuanced than _The Work and the Glory_. It sometimes seems to me that our Sunday School and Relief Society lessons are designed to carefully erect and maintain the hothouses in which such testimonies grow. My favorite example is the biographical sketch in the Brigham Young manual, which states that Brigham “remarried” after the death of his first wife, Mary Ann. (I should say!!)

Most of the time, I think people manage to deepen the roots of their testimonies by the natural process of bumping into imperfect people in the church and being nourished and loved, as well as annoyed, by those very same people. Absolute worldviews in otherwise psychologically healthy people tend to be corrected by quotidian encounters with reality, and I doubt that I can usefully accelerate the process.

What I do feel I ought to do something about is that fact that we often talk as though it were possible to grow spiritually without growing intellectually, as though people who don’t feel the need to deepen their knowledge of the gospel and the church and the world can adequately progress on the basis of “faith” or “righteousness,” which we somehow believe do not involve curiosity and mental effort. I do not think this is so. Here’s how C.S. Lewis puts it in _Mere Christianity_:

“…because Christ said we could only get into His world by being like children, many Christians have the idea that, provided you are “good,” it does not matter being a fool. But that is a misunderstanding. …He wants us to be simple, single-minded, affectionate, and teachable, as good children are; but He also wants every bit of intelligence we have to be alert at its job, and in first class fighting trim. …The fact that what you are thinking about is God…does not mean that you can be content with the same babyish ideas which you had when you were a five-year-old. …The proper motto is not ‘Be good, sweet maid, and let who can be clever,’ but ‘Be good, sweet maid, and don’t forget that this involves being as clever as you can.’ ”

So this presents a dilemma: of course it is the rawest hubris to suppose that one needs to go around “educating” one’s fellow Saints. On the other hand, those of us who have glimpsed (as we suppose, at least) the joys and the redemptive possibilities of intellectual engagement are bound by the same commandment as those with other spiritual gifts to keep our lights out of bushel baskets. How can one who is convinced that thinking and studying deeply are both an obligation and a delight properly bear testimony of that conviction to others who seem content to ignore the intellectual aspects of spiritual development?

229 comments for “On the bearing of complicated and complicating testimony

  1. By asserting the primacy of spiritual witnesses in bearing testimony

    By showing how intellectual understanding has deepened that witness

    By showing how serious study and intellectual understanding has created conditions [fosters an environment] where spiritual witnesses can take place.

    By emphasizing how the study of scriptures that are, how do I put this, *less* clear-cut or narrative-based has helped your testimony grow. By that I mean quoting from Isaiah, discussing in detail Alma on justice and mercy or Lehi on opposition, etc. And especially by digging beyond the ‘normal’ verses that are cited from the New and Old Testament.

    By talking about Joseph Smith’s intellectual development and how he describes it.

    By deepening a discussion by talking about how “the world” talks about things or dilemmas it has and how Mormon scripture and doctrine responds to that — this is a way, I find, of deepening discussion in a way that is more acceptable, and frankly more interesting and useful than — “this is how this brand of academic discourse can come to bear on a gospel topic.”

  2. Kristine, we found a topic we agree upon!

    I agree that the “hothouse” mentality of the past decades is problematic. Contrast the last generation or two with those in the 19th century. In the 19th century you *really* had to have a testimony. Everything was against you and acting on your testimony required huge sacrifices. Often you gave up your family for a community with *lots* of obvious flaws. I suspect that most converts when Joseph were alive faced the reality of his humanity a lot more than any have since.

    I think there was an almost Darwinian character to a lot of those early testimonies. Now perhaps it is unfair to treat the modern era in the way our origns were. The people the Lord needed to establish the church had to have stronger testimonies than today. Perhaps today we can nurture testimonies in ways we couldn’t in the 19th century. Yet at the same time I think that prevents those testimonies from being strengthen. We almost have it too easy. Yet eventually there has to be harvest where trials will return. I suspect one day before the end, we’ll be faced with similar trials of our testimony that our 19th century forebearers did.

  3. Kristine–

    This is an excellent articulation of what is for me a serious issue.

    The little cadre of friends I had as an undergrad included about 8 people I met at the Institute. At the end of our time, maybe 2 out of 8 of us had any connection to the Church. While these things are always complicated, it would not be a gross generalization to say that what they were learning at the Institute was not keeping pace with what they were learning across the street. I’ll never forget one friend raising a question about women in the church in a institute class and being told by another student, “Well, you either believe he was a prophet or you don’t. It’s that simple.” That was pretty much the tenor of things.

    This is what I try to do when I teach:

    (1) Say things like, “You either have heard or will hear about something called the Isaiah problem in the Book of Mormon. (One sentence description.) We have more important things to talk about today, but I want you to know that if you are concerned about this, LDS scholars have several different responses to it, and I’d be happy to discuss this with you outside of class.”
    (Note: when I was a very young and naive new convert, the first time I heard about this, I flipped out. I assumed that either (1) no Church members knew about the problem or (2) they never mentioned it because they had no response to it.)

    (2) I share messy scriptures as long as I can pull *something* useful out of it. I remember once in RS, the teacher was helping the class along in the shared delusion that everyone knew exactly what Abraham’s astronomy lesson in the PoGP meant. I couldn’t take it any more. I raised my hand and said that the chapter made my head spin, I didn’t get it, but what I did get was that Abe was about to go to Egypt, where people knew about and cared about astronomy quite a bit, and the God was prepping him to separate their truths from their errors. I might not understand the content, but what I understood from the form was that God will prepare us with what we need to successfully complete the tasks God gives to us.

    My response feels inadequate to the question you raise, but I guess I would claim some middle ground: we acknowledge that there is more ‘out there’ without forcing it on people, and we admit what we don’t understand (modeling that we can not understand things and still show up to RS) and look for benefit in the things that we do.

  4. I like that approach, Julie. I think the “we don’t understand” part is quite effective and, as you state, a needed model.

    I find myself saying a lot in EQ: Well, you may be right about that, but as I understand it, we don’t actually know *for sure*. — Or — As I understand it, there’s still some question about such-and-such, but the important thing is…

  5. I feel like sharing a quick dialogue Kristine and I had at my blog:

    Bob: I saw your bio and picture over at T&S. You look so sweet and nice… If I didn’t know you better through writing, I might have thought of you as more of a traditional Mormon, whatever that means.

    Kristine: Bob, I *am* sweet and nice, and about 90% traditional : ) You’re one of the lucky few who gets to know the other 10%.

    Is it just me, or is the reason Mormon blogging has taken off recently seems to be due to those of us who have that “other 10%”, which requires a boost every once in a while or we’ll just explode? Even Nate, for having his “little problem”, gets something here in the Bloggernacle Choir that is quite “liberal” according to most in my ward. The irony of it all…

    So, Kristine, to answer your question, “How can one who is convinced that thinking and studying deeply are both an obligation and a delight properly bear testimony of that conviction to others who seem content to ignore the intellectual aspects of spiritual development?”

    I’d first need to know if this “bear testimony” is primarily for you or for the ignoring member.

    Part of me wants to say, forget about it! Be 90% traditional at Church and leave the other 10% for discussion with your spouse and those you know are interested here.

  6. Y’know, on rereading what I wrote, I’m struck by how hard it is to even ask the question without sounding like a self-important snot!

    Maybe Bob is right, and the solution is just to leave the intellectualizing for intellectual forums (fora, for you Latin ending sticklers). Still, I *want* so much for church to be the place where I can be authentically myself and still be loved. As nifty as it is to chatter here in the bloggernacle, none of you can hug me; we can’t laugh together; you don’t know if I cry when I’m writing about Easter music–it’s not WHOLE. How can I (or anyone) be fully a member of the body of Christ if my less honorable parts* have to be left at home?

    So, in answer to Bob’s question about whether intellectual offerings would be for me or what he called the “ignoring member,” I guess both. I started off thinking it might be helpful for them, but as I was writing, it became clear that it’s for me, too.

    *(obvious Taylor and Melissa bait: would Paul it strange for the intellect to fall into that category?)

  7. I guess I have to disagree that intellectual engagement is an important part of a person’s growth. They matter, and must come in time–this life or the next–but I see them as of secondary importance. Faith, Hope, and Charity, joined with Works, all in subjection to Christ, are far more important to our salvation than any intellectual depth or breadth. You may claim to the contrary but I can show you dozens of examples in life. I also note that in the scriptures the challenges are hardly ever a complexification of faith. I ‘ve noticed that in my ethics classes at law school, we spend all our time talking abou dilemmas–what to do when your duty to the court conflicts with your duty to the client, etc. But I’ll bet a tub of tomes that lawyers far more often face direct assaults on their duties–embezzlement, sloth, timesheet cheating, hostility. As in law, so in life.

    I’m rather inclined to see intellectual pursuits as an avocation, or as, I should say, a vocation. Some of us are called to that particular limb of the body, and here we should be content without trying to drag all the fleshly church into it with us.

    I think we rather read ourselves too much into the mass of the Church. For everyone who seeks out and understands intellectual and historical concerns on their own, and needs to find a faithful discussion of them, there are many more members who need a rock on which to base their faith, who haven’t the temperament for the mystifications that explains why what appears to be a rock isn’t, but really is, and so on. Some people are incapable of disassociating themselves from what they think about. God bless them; it’s rather a trap than otherwise.

  8. Adam, you may be right that it’s just a matter of different temperaments and I should worry about my own lack of charity (of course I should!!) more than anything else. However, we take it as axiomatic that those given to intellectual pursuits should work hard to increase their capacity for faith, why should that not work the other way around as well?

  9. I appreciate Kristine’s question. Many times I come away from church unfulfilled and wondering if i am the only one. (Evidently not, the whole family seems to have pockets of disappointment.) I have tried through the years to remember:

    1. That not everyone is on the same plane as myself.

    2. That I am able to contribute and stimulate discussion.

    3. That I need to remember certain individuals aren’t ready to jump into the deep end.

    4. That sometimes someone else is just dying to get something going and are too timid to take the cue.

    Listen to the spririt! Sometimes I really want to say something I have been pondering and just go ahead. Because of the response, I know when it was me and not the spirit compelling the discussion.

  10. cooper, that’s just the trouble–how can I discern between the “spririt” and the spirit? :o)

  11. I’m not criticizing your charity, heaven forfend (just in case there was any confusion).
    Naturally honing one’s intellectual pursuits is desirable. I guess I wonder if we ought to take it on ourselves to do it for them. I also doubt that a limited capacity for intellectual complexity is at all equal to a limited capacity for faith, hope, charity, and love of Christ. I don’t know why a talent for intellectual complexity is secondary, but I suspect strongly that it is.

  12. Kristine watch for balnk stares! ;-) Then whenever you think you feel the same way, it’s not the spirit. ;-| t-i-c!

  13. Kristine: reading over your post, I can’t help but thinking that you are really talking about two seperate issues here. One issue is the fear that the tesimonies of some are based on overly simplistic models of Mormonism and are therefore not likely to survive. The second issue is that people are insufficiently engaged intellectually with their religion. I think it is important to realize that these are seperate concerns.

    I am very sympathetic to the idea that we have too much schlock teaching in the Church and that a testimony based on overly air-brushed version of Church history is likely to be fragile. Much better for folks to hear about the problems in a friendly and supportive forum. On the other hand, I think that it is important for intellectuals to realize that intellectual problems are not necessarily the central concern of non-intellectuals. For example, I really have a hard time understanding why the minor slights of living in a ward or occasional hypocrisy of one’s fellow saints is a big spiritual issue. Yet, I know that for some these things can be testimony breakers. On the other hand, I can completely understand why the intricacies of Book of Mormon historicity or the comparative coherence of LDS theology can be a big deal and why simple, “The spirit says it is true, don’t worry” answers would be insufficient. However, I think that my ability and inability to relate to these problems may say more about me than about the comparative importance of the problems. I tend to live inside my head. Lots of people don’t. Hence, while a “hot house” testimony many be a problem for some, I am not convinced that it is a problem for others.

    The second issue, I think is independent of whether or not someone’s testimony teeters precariously on the edge of an unseen abyss. It is entirely possible for people to remain unshaken in the face of the abyss and yet still be insufficiently zealous about serving God in their minds. To take a mild example. A couple of years ago Gordon got BYU Law School to host a conference on “LDS Perspectives on the Law.” The key note speaker at the conference was Michael Young, currently dean of George Washington University Law School and a former professor at Columbia Law School. Young is VERY smart. He is a very accomplished scholar and a first rate intellectual. I have no doubt that he is aware of the potential threats to “hot house” testimonies and has wrestled them to the ground in his own life. On the other hand, the basic thrust of his speech was that he had never considered what his religion might have to say about how one ought to think about the law. Faced with the question, he found it interesting, but I was frankly a little appalled at the level of compartmentalization. I also felt cheated. I was hoping to enjoy the distillation of thinking on Mormon approaches to the law from one of the leading legal intellectuals in the Church. Yet after twenty years he had never gotten around to it. It seems to me that Young’s neglect of this topic is an example of the second problem without being an example of the first problem.

  14. This is an interesting thread, and I’ve appreciated the thoughts put forward. From my own perspective, I think few members will be available to avoid “hard” issues in the future as more and more unfriendly material appears on the internet. (This is particularly a problem for non-english speakers, for whom antimormon sites put up by zealous evangelicals far outnumber the equivalent number of pro-LDS sites.) I have fairly reliable information that missionary work is suffering because of that.

    Take the DNA/BoM issue as an example of a hard issue. I think in the past, it would have been largely ignored by SLC, but there’s going to be an Ensign article adressing it. Lots of “average” members have heard something about it, and I know several who have had troubles with it.

    I tend to raise difficult issues in Institute because it’s better to learn about (insert issue here) in a positive controlled setting than from someone using it as a tool to undercut someone’s testimony. It really decreases the potential shock value when I can “preemptively” teach about a hard issue. Incidentally, my feedback has been quite positive in spite of, or perhaps because of that. They know I’m not fudging or playing fast and loose.

    Too much sheltering results in an inability to survive, spiritually, because the sheltered minded rarely has to think and weigh and then commit, as Clark points out about early converts. How strong can a testimony be if it’s never tested by anything?

    I like this, from Bruce Hafen. “We need to develop the capacity to form judgments of our own about the value of ideas, opportunities, or people who may come into our lives. We won’t always have the security of knowing whether a certain idea is “Church approved,” because new ideas don’t always come along with little tags attached to them saying whether they have been reviewed at Church headquarters. Whether in the form of music, books, friends, or opportunities to serve, there is much that is lovely, of good report, and praiseworthy that is not the subject of detailed discussion in Church manuals or courses of instruction. Those who will not risk exposure to experiences that are not obviously related to some Church word or program will, I believe, live less abundant and meaningful lives than the Lord intends.
    We must develop sufficient independence of judgment and maturity of perspective that we are prepared to handle the shafts and whirlwinds of adversity and contradiction that may come to us.”

    (As a side note to Julie, the SP counselor’s wife in my class was very amused at the multiple Isaiah idea. She wanted to know who thought that, as if it were just few scattered radicals.)
    My scattered thoughts…

  15. And Nate has pre-empted me. My concerns fall mostly into his first category, but I think most posts have fallen into that category.

  16. Adam, I didn’t think you had said anything about my lack of charity; *I* was saying it. But why should we think that emulating God’s thinking is less important than emulating His loving? Presumably our brains are made in His (Their) image just as our hearts are, and meant to be used as well as possible. Why would a loving Heavenly Parent excuse intellectual laziness on the grounds that we made lots of casseroles any more than my earthly parents excused my C in Trig. because I had done so well in English?

    (I know you said you don’t know why, but I’m not letting you off so easily)

  17. In Young’s defense, having known him personally I can say that the compartmentalization you’re referring to must be largely theoretical. As a practical matter, his whole career is a testament to a tremendous ability to practice ethically and morally.

    Additionally, I would perhaps suggest to Nate that he revisit the issues spoken of by Dean Young once he has had the chance to practice a little longer as a corporate lawyer. You may be surprised, I think, of how unrelated your religion is to what you will do on a day-to-day basis. That’s not an indicator of insufficiently engaging your religion on an intellectual basis; it’s a simple function of how little a lawyer’s practical workday demands intersect with LDS doctrine. Don’t be so quick to denounce someone because they haven’t come across linkages that you see as pivotal.

  18. Kristine – i’ll add: and vice versa. As Ben pointed out Bro Hafen’s remarks. There will come a time when all we’ll be able to stand on is our testimony of the truths that we’ve gained a witness of. I find it unfortunate that many members rarely crack open their sciptures or have truly felt the spirit.

  19. I guess I’d say that ‘intellectual laziness’ is one thing, but that busying oneself with other good things to the detriment of the intellect isn’t. I think a person who has worked hard at life and its challenges will have learned to desire every good thing and will have the experience of hard work that will enable them to do it. Not to mention, their relationship with God will help them learn easily, and their most intimate knowledge of what it means to be human, to love, to struggle, will be correct, so they can work outward from correct premises. On the other hand, if a person has struggled for intellectual knowledge, it doesn’t follow that they will have that much of a leg up on learning to love, serve, sacrifice, and be courageous. Conclusion: The great goods of the gospel ought be our primary concerns. Lesser goods, like the ability to systematize and carry complex models in our heads, can be the concerns of some but not of others.

  20. Steve: You are misunderstaning my criticisms. I am not claiming that Dean Young was compartmentalized in some ethical or moral way. Furthermore, I understand that much of corporate law practice — and legal practice in general — is sufficiently technical that there is not much to play with in terms of Mormon perspectives.

    On the other hand, Dean Young is not a corporate lawyer. He is not even a corporate law professor per se. (As I recall he is a comparativist with an expertise in Japanese law.) It is not beyond the realm of possibility to hope that as a legal intellectual (as opposed to a legal technocrat at a Wall Street firm), he might have thought about what Mormonism might mean for thinking about the law, if anything. Furthermore, Dean Young himself acknowledge in his speech that the question of how ones religious thinking might interact with one’s jurisprudential thinking was an important issue that bears looking at. My point was not to attack Dean Young (for whom I have a huge amount of respect) but simply to show that some of the problems that seem to be at the heart of Kristine’s concerns are complicated and can afflicted even those with impeccable intellectual credentials.

  21. Adam–if “busying oneself with other things to the detriment of the intellect” is not a bad thing, what do you make of Jesus’ chastisement of Martha and valorization of Mary? Surely that is as straightforward an example as we have–Martha was busy trying to get people fed and cared for while Mary was sitting around learning the finer points of doctrine. (I always think there’s GOT to be more to that story–like Jesus saying, “let’s go in the kitchen and chop vegetables while we talk”, but that’s another post for another day).

  22. Nate, do you know Dallas Willard’s essay “Jesus the Logician” (Christian Scholar’s Review, Summer 1999)? I’m in no position to evaluate Willard’s analysis of Jesus’ logical practices, but it’s an interesting attempt at the kind of reconciliation you’re talking about.

  23. I can’t say much at the moment, but I will say this–I think that the dualism people are assuming between head and heart is false. Of course, I find myself naturally on the side of careful study and thinking things through, but I often find that some who devote more time than I to doing good (rather than just thinking well) actually understand (intellectually) things that I don’t comprehend as well. When the scriptures tell us to seek after “knowledge” and promise us that “whatever principle of intelligence . . .” what is being discussed? I think there are certain kinds of intelligence that cannot be gained in any other way than by loving acts of service and mercy.

    My grandparents embody this—my grandmother is the warmest, kindest, most loving person I know. She is also one of the wisest. She has depth and insight that are rare. My grandfather was a respected geologist–well-read, well-educated, thoughtful and articulate on lots of topics both secular and religious. But, my grandpa was not nearly as wise as my grandmother.

    My question is: Why should we assume that learning to be good (not just doing good, but being good) is different from learning to be wise?

  24. Perhaps one problem we are having is what exactly we mean by the intellect. For instance if I learn carpentry, isn’t that using and developing my intellect just as much as if I was learning physics? Is the skill of mathematical manipulation truly somehow superior to metal working? Don’t both fully depend upon the mind? Is knowledge of what stains produce what colors somehow less intellectual knowledge than knowing quotes about Danites?

    I think if we are going to discuss intellect we have to be clear what we mean. I think many think of it in terms I likely don’t agree with it.

    I agree that development and progression is important. Indeed it is key. But I think there might be some views about what *really* is intellectual.

  25. Kristine, thank you for elevating a worthless side-rant I made at the tail-end of another discussion into the meaningless head-rant of a very interesting discussion. :) I hope I’m not too late to add my own thoughts about your thoughtful question:

    At the heart of the little quotation you framed at the top was a distinction I was trying to make clear: that the error is not in the holding the belief, but in the motive with which it is shared. In this thread there have already been several suggestions of sensitive ways and contexts for bringing complexity and even ambiguity into gospel discussion. I love that there are seminary teachers pre-emptively discussing gospel trouble spots with their students, and I think there should be more of that.

    My own wife, who did not serve a mission and does not tend to the hyper-intellectual side of the gospel had an experience that is illustrative of the problem. When my younger brother returned from a mission in South Carolina, he left an anti-Mormon pamphlet on our door step as a joke. I picked it up and read it, laughing at the stupid polemics and bad research. Then my wife picked it up and went through it. She was troubled by what she read. Upon hearing my brother had left it as a joke, she asked why my brother thought we would be unaffected by this.

    I had served a mission, and my wife had not. I’d spent time in the hurly-burly back and forth surrounding our religion– she had never become acquainted with some of the darker questions that hound the Saints. What to me was a silly bit of dreck was to her a spiritually challenging encounter.

    Let’s forgo for the moment the question whether it’s a healthy situation for a member of our church never to have encountered opposing views of our faith. Even if we admit that our members ought to have been better prepared, the question remains: who will do the preparing, and when? Maybe the hothouse testimonies need more testing, but is there any way for the better-informed Saints to accurately gauge who those members are that need to pass through the crucible of new information? Isn’t it likely that we will misjudge a person’s readiness if we try, often throwing them too deeply into the debate, where they meet questions and doubts beyond their capacity to respond and power to believe?

    It is one thing to include discussion of gospel difficulties in our teaching and family conversation. It’s another thing to assume that all people at all times will gain by exposure to ideas and assertions that tend to cast the gospel in a new light. I believe there are great risks involved with undertaking to forge more robust testimonies in those around us by way of a hard-knocks gospel education.

    Of course, following the Spirit, we ought to be able to discern when a person is ready to understand nuances that they hadn’t yet heard.

    Again, we return to motives: the seminary teacher warning his students about this attack made by these people against this facet of our beliefs is a very helpful tool in preparing new disciples for life in the world. But the person who loves to bring out the obscure, the difficult, and the trivial, all with the guise of being intellectually curious, will succeed more often in damaging fragile hothouse testimonies than strengthening them. The attitude is one that says “you didn’t know that?” and feigns shock that this or that factoid is hard for the simplistic member to align with her core gospel beliefs, as opposed to “by way of warning, you may encounter…” and encouraging thoughtful discussion among those trying to collect all truth into one whole.

  26. Clark and Melissa, I think, have described much better than I what I was getting at.

  27. Wait a minute–that’s what I was getting at, too! Admittedly, I went at it from the other direction, saying that we shouldn’t assume it’s possible to be good without being as clever as we can, and now you are saying it’s not possible to be clever without being as good as we can. Don’t we arrive at the same point?

  28. Ryan, I agree that there’s huge danger in sharing knowledge with the wrong motivation. But is there danger in withholding knowledge, despite having the best intentions in the world?

  29. Melissa: “Why should we assume that learning to be good (not just doing good, but being good) is different from learning to be wise?”

    You are dead on, as usual. Bifurcating ourselves into work/spiritual lives is an awful effect of modern society and divisions of labor, I think.

    What you and Kristine are basically expressing is the classic pedagogical ideal. Quintilian, for example, expressed that the ultimate aim of a student of rhetoric was to become a “good man speaking well”, which captures what I believe you’re getting at.

  30. I think there is some danger in withholding. henever I get on my soapbox with my Mom about LDS issues, she pulls out “Yes, but that’s not important for your salvation.” My response has been “True, but there are people who have left the church because they didn’t know.” The question is when to withhold and when to share. Framing it negatively, is the damage greater if I introduce doubt or if I leave someone ignorant of danger?

  31. The damage is greater if you introduce doubt. Most LDS are aware that there are things in Church history that anti-Mormons etc. take advantage of. To purposely introduce something controversial to the spiritually naive in order to prepare them for some “danger” which may or may not occur seems intellectually naive to say the least. The idea that faithful intellectuals in the Church can somehow vaccinate faithful non-intellectuals by making them aware of the complexity, ambiguity, etc., of certain aspects of Mormonism is a frightening one. You might as well start playing around with needles and cowpox. If X is happy with his present superficial cerebral relationship with the Church, then relate to him on that level; if Y is content with her Sunday School version of things, let her be; if their faith is shallowly rooted and thus delicate a sudden blow from a close friend is not going to help things. Your intellectual gifts will only be appreciated at the right time—growth cannot be forced. Let people grow on their own; let them find things out for themselves; teach them when they are ready.

  32. Kingsley, I’m inclined to agree that nobody’s smart enough or in tune enough to put himself/herself in charge of anti-Mormon innoculations. I think that there’s some middle ground between running around telling people what you think they ought to know and letting them grow entirely at their own pace. I think it might be OK, even helpful, to encourage people to study and even point them to good sources that are maybe a step beyond their comfort level? Still, even that involves a kind of judgment that makes me nervous; it’s certainly *easier* to let people come to it on their own. I’m just not sure that makes it right.

    And then there are things that probably won’t shake anybody’s testimony or make a lot of difference one way or the other, but it just makes me mad (or righteously indignant, I like to think :) ) when people get them wrong. For instance, in the last couple of years, there have been several talks about the history of the Relief Society which, without actually falsifying history, left the impression that Joseph Smith had decided the sisters should be organized and set up Relief Society for them. Now, I think it makes some difference in how women think of themselves and maybe in how they participate in the Church if they think this was the case, instead of knowing the real story–that the sisters themselves organized things and then sought Joseph’s approval and input, which he readily gave. Is it fair for me to spend class time correcting the impression created by these talks? Will doing so make some people suspicious that the people who gave the talks had some hidden agenda? I don’t know, and I can’t entirely predict the effect of my words. I expect cooper will chime in to remind me to be led by the Spirit, but I find that easier said than done.

    Thank goodness I can play the piano–it means nobody asks me to talk very much!!

  33. I think if you presented the information as a kind of addition to the talks rather than as a contradiction of them, you could uplift enlighten inspire etc. the ladies without giving them the feeling you’re going against Authority. “Yes, isn’t it wonderful what Joseph did, and isn’t it also wonderful how these early sisters were aggressive and motivated,” etc. It’s the whole “Bring the truth you have and let us add to it” principle. By the by, I’m not sure that refraining from introducing simple people to complexity (as a kind of self-appointed spiritual M.D.) is any kind of easy way out.

  34. This is from Bruce C. Hafen (I found it at Dave’s Mormon Inquiry):

    I found myself wanting to tell our third-year law students that those who take too much delight in their finely honed tools of skepticism and dispassionate analysis will limit their effectiveness, in the church and elsewhere, because they can become contentious, standoffish, arrogant, and unwilling to commit themselves. I have seen some of these try out their new intellectual tools in some context like a priesthood quorum or a Sunday School class. A well-meaning teacher will make a point they think is a little silly, and they will feel an irresistible urge to leap to their feet and pop the teacher’s bubble. If they are successful, they begin looking for other opportunities to point out the exception to any rule anybody can state. They begin to delight in cross-examination of the unsuspecting, just looking for somebody’s bubble up there floating around so that they can pop it with their shiny new pin of skepticism. And in all that, they fail to realize that when some of those bubbles pop, out goes the air, and with it goes much of the feeling of trust, loyalty, harmony, and sincerity so essential to preserving the Spirit of the Lord.

  35. Okay Kristine I understand a challenge when it is given. The only way I have been able to develop my understanding of the spirit is to experiment with it. I still don’t get it right all the time. But what I have found is that when I feel “compelled” to say something I do. You have been given the opportunity to expand your knowledge base in ways that few people have. If you take that knowledge and humbly ask the Lord to guide your words He will. I am a believer in the “There are no accidents” method in life. There is a reason you are in the place you are this very moment. You have been given the opportunity to gain education. You have the children and husband you have for a reason. The experiences you have daily not only affect you but are given to you so you can help others with the same challenges. I know this sounds a lot like you are giving a whole lot to the Lord, but when you step out into that darkness and have faith he’ll guide you, it benefits everyone. Some people are always going to lump you into an “intellectual” category. Well, that’s their loss. You will say something that is important to you and the lord that needs to be said. It may be for “one” person in the room. I have found many times I have made a comment on a subject that seems to have become illuminated to me for some unknown reason, then someone I barely know will come to after and say they are so glad I mentioned it because they had been wondering about it for some time. I am not saying I am great at this. I have begun to see the hand of the Lord guiding me because I have asked for this to help me. We are here to angels to each other. The Lord cannot do it all, He is hoping we’ll listen and help out occasionally. And that doesn’t always mean with a casserole. The example of the RS story being adulterated – a simple statement like – “I thought that Eliza and Emma got together and established the RS, then took it to JS for approval, is that not how it went???” You’ll probably hear a few yeah, that’s what I thought toos in the group.

    All, forgive my addressing Kristine specifically. Hopefully it has not been too out there and someone else can benefit from my experience.

  36. It seems that in all this discussion of honing and saring our intellectual gifts with other members of the church, there has been somewhat of an unspoken assumption that realm of intellectual Mormons is in researching and informing about the controversial aspects of church history. I am curious. Why is this the case?

    Perhaps we could focus our intellectual talents more on trying to understand the myriad layers and interconnections of truth found in revealved doctrine. I imagine this kind of research and teaching would be more spiritually beneficial to us individually, as it would tend to increase our personal wisdom, as well as being safe and beneficial to share with other members around us.

    I suspect that learing the lesser-discussed, dark questions about church history is easier and more titilating than doing the heavier spiritual work required to truly come to a knowledge of all the mancy facets of the gospel itself. Perhaps we are simply being somwhat spiritually lazy in our efforts to exercise our intellects.

  37. Thom, I certainly wasn’t thinking only of researching church history (though I did use a historical example). Julie mentioned problems in scriptural interpretation, William mentioned discussing difficult scriptural passages, Nate mentioned the application of principles of the gospel to the profession of law… I don’t think there’s a bias towards controversial church history in our thinking here.

  38. Kristine,

    You make a fair point about the contents of this thread. While I’m not trying to make an accusation reagrding specific comments or commentors made here, I think it is also fair to assess that the most of the contravercial issues discussed on Times and Seasons and elsewhere around the bloggernacle choir generally relate to perceptions of church history instead of things like the Isaiah problem and actual doctrial teachings.

  39. I take it you don’t agree with this assessment. I could be wrong. Has anyone else ever noticed a trend towards church history versus revealed doctrine among intellectual Mormons?

  40. Thom says, “I think it is also fair to assess that the most of the contravercial issues discussed on Times and Seasons and elsewhere around the bloggernacle choir generally relate to perceptions of church history instead of things like the Isaiah problem and actual doctrial teachings.”

    What about, say, SSM, the regulation of abortion, tax breaks for the wealthy, etc., etc. I think most of the controversial topics discussed around here pertain directly to doctrinal teachings (or the absence of them) and what they mean for us today.

    I will also say, on a personal note, that while I find church history quite interesting, I spend actually very little time (probably to a fault) dwelling on these issues. I am far more interested in how the gospel intersects with modern day politics. I suppose this explains my revulsion at Nate’s definition of a “liberal” Mormon.

  41. Thom, when you say “revealed doctrine,” right away any so-called intellectual worth her or his salt is going to give you a bad time about what constitutes revelation and what is doctrine, so I’m not sure asking the question that way will get us very far ; )

  42. Randy and Kristine, your points are fair enough. Certainly many types of controversial topics are discussed here. I’m sure there are lots of ways I could better say what I try to express, and I apologize if my manner of writing causes confusion as to my point and my question.

    My question however still remains. It seems to me that when members of the church get accused of being overly intellectual, damaging the testimonies of others, when people like Quinn have gotten into big trouble, it has been over issues surrounding their research and writing into controversial aspect of church history. If I am wrong on this point, please inform me. If it is true, I am curious about the phenomenon. If I am inaccurately perceiving a trend that is not in fact true, knowing that would be helpful.
    I hope someone will be able to help me by addressing the question directly. Thanks

  43. Well, since you mention Quinn, just take a look at the rest of the September Six and what things they were wondering about that (apparently) got them in trouble: feminist theology, church government (“ecclesiastical abuse”), theology, feminist activism… Quinn’s the only historian in the bunch. I don’t think history has been more troublesome than other issues. Of course, it’s impossible to know about what gets the general membership into water over their heads–we can only speculate based on high-profile cases and those we’re personally acquainted with. Since that’s not terribly satisfying, we’re left to think about the question theoretically, and I can’t see any theoretical reasons why history would be more troublesome than theology, scriptural interpretation, contemporary politics, etc.

  44. At the same time, while Kristine is right about history not necessarily being more troublesome, it may be a mistake I think to write off what happened to the Sept. Six as being a simple function of their scholastic or political endeavors.

    Only they know the totality of the circumstances surrounding what happened, so I’m hesitant to assign it all to their inquisitive natures.

  45. Steve, I have to say that you have just made a comment of the type I find most troublesome about this event: the well-we-don’t-know-everything-about-it-there-must-be-more-to-the-story-than-what-the-protagonists-are-telling-us-probably-there-were-other-sins-involved. It leads to people sort of darkly hinting that there must be sins those people have committed that they haven’t told the media about and speculating as to what those might be. (I recognize that you didn’t go all the way there, but you opened the door). It’s true that we don’t have the full story, but since we do know that the disciplinary councils were instigated from church headquarters and not at local levels, I think it’s safe to conclude that in fact people’s writing and scholarship were the central issues involved.

  46. There I go, opening doors.

    I didn’t really mean to darkly hint at hidden sins, just to try and approach these people with an understanding that we are fundamentally outsiders to what happened.

    I’m sure that the writing and scholarship were a big part — didn’t mean to imply otherwise.

  47. I don’t think we’re completely outsiders–all of them gave fairly detailed public accounts of their perceptions of what had happened.

  48. Fair enough. But it’s strange, I still don’t like talking about it because I feel like I’m implicitly passing some sort of judgment on what happened. Is that weird?

    In any event, what was this thread about again?

  49. “an unspoken assumption that realm of intellectual Mormons is in researching and informing about the controversial aspects of church history”

    I’ve been turning the phrase “controversial aspects of church history” around in my mind over the past day. This phrase seems to imply that certain events or aspects of our history are by their nature “controversial” and that somehow a judgment needs to be made about what we study and think about based on the controversial nature of the historical event.

    As someone who spends a good deal of time thinking about the history of Mormonism, I’m always a bit perplexed about this notion. Because the “controversy” that people are concerned about is often not something that happened at the time of the historical event but rather has to do with events that happened later on–generally events that center around the act of interpretation. The example Kristine gave about the Relief Society can help to get at my point. In 1842 it wasn’t the fact that women had started the Relief Society without the men that was controversial at all. (There was certain plenty of controversy that got centered in the Relief Society goings on, but it wasn’t about this.) And it wasn’t controversial that women pretty much ran it on their own with relatively little interest or involvement from the men for decades and decades and decades after its reestablishment in Utah. The controversy really comes in this case because of events in the twentieth century–changes in the structure of how the women’s organizations were led, financed, etc. And stories written about the nineteenth-century which embodied twentieth-century structures rathern than nineteenth-century ones. In my view, the controversy is thus situated in the twentieth century context in this case, not the nineteenth-century one. As a historian, if I’m thinking about “controversy” I’m wondering about clues to the nineteenth-century controversy. I’m always a little mystified when I’m told that what I include in my nineteenth-century story must be referred to the twentieth-century controversy. Do you see what I mean?

    The question I take to the nineteenth-century isn’t “What can I find that people reading about it in the early twenty-first century will find controversial?” I’m looking for interpretive strategies that may open a different view onto the past, one that might bring into the angle of our vision something we hadn’t quite seen before.

    I’m not naive. I understand that the context from which I investigate and the context from which my readers will eventually approach what I write are important. I’m just saying this notion of “controversy” or “danger” in the events themselves can easily get all tangled together with issues that have very little to do with happened.

  50. Thanks, Susan. I was going to say that there wasn’t anything controversial about the history of the establishment of RS–the event is well documented in a couple of different places. What should be controversial is the current revisionism, but of course, if the authoritative voices are the ones revising, then *I* would be seen as stirring up controversy for pointing out the previously uncontroverted facts.

    Anyway, you’ve said it better than I can.

  51. On the other hand, there are genuinely controversial historical claims in both senses — ie controversial given contemporary sensitivities and historically controversial. Examples might include Bagley’s argument that Brigham ordered Mountain Meadows or Quinn’s rather tortured continuing defense of the Salamander story after the Hoffman documents were revealed to be fraudulent.

  52. oooh. hot button issue. A name we have decided to never mention at church: Gileadi. I think we’re the only people where we live that have any of his books in fact. In fact I was going to mention him here a few days ago and decided against it.

  53. BTW, while I think that one can be rightly critical of Quinn’s salamander arguments in _Early Mormonism and the Magic World View_, I don’t think that his conclusion, if correct, should be a testimony killer. (I think Quinn is wrong, but that is a seperate issue.) Nor, do I think that Quinn’s speculations per se merit excommunication.

  54. Nate, there was a SL Trib article in the last six months or so that mentioned that Gileadi was rebaptized a several years ago. I’ll see if I can dig it up.

  55. Nate,
    I agree. There are controversial claims based on available information about the past. And there are controversies in the past. Those are both significant issues. And interesting to talk about in their own right. Just different than the issue I was trying to describe. I think that sometimes they all get stirred together and contribute to confusions that happen in many conversations about history.

  56. My husband talks to him occasionally. Yes he has been re-baptized and has had a restoration of blessings.

  57. As I recall from the big kerfuffle when the so-called “September Six” happened, Quinn’s main court was focused on his paper “Mormon Women Already Have the Priestood” from _Women and Authority_. Specifically just the last few paragraphs. However while controversial, I didn’t think they were *that* bad. I suspect though, that while that may have been the focus, the actual pressure was tied to larger issues. Perhaps some tied to the first edition of Magic World View, but perhaps other things as well.

  58. I just read that SL Trib article on the “September Six.” I liked this bit: “The punitive actions [the excommuncations and disfellowshippings], likely orchestrated by leaders in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints…”

    Well, who else would orchestrate them?

    Now if the Episcopalian leadership orchestrated some punitive actions within the Mormon church, that would be something.

  59. It always amazes me how many Mormons there are that, like Kristine here, view a logical and objective study of Mormon doctrine and history as a “debunking” period they hope will be “mercifully brief.”

    While very true that all truth may not be perceived or evaluated through Logic alone, yet all truth must be logical. And to make “mercifully brief” the study and analysis of Mormon history and doctrine betrays the claim to having a “testimony” of same. Despite the popular Mormon belief to the contrary, emotional conviction via the “Spirit” is not knowledge. Even the D&C states the fact that first we must “study it out in (our) mind”. To do otherwise in making “mercifully brief” any such critical analysis only reveals the historically dangerous mindset of viewing the preservation of belief more important than the search and discovery of Truth.

    Lest we forget, there are limitless examples in religion of followers whose own “testimonies” were so strong that they willingly threw themselves into the mouths of volcanoes in sacrifice to their gods, blew themselves up for Allah, knowingly drank poisoned “Kool-Aid” for Jesus, or even committed suicide to join up with the “mothership.” Can anyone doubt the ultimate emotional and spiritual conviction these countless souls had to the beliefs of their respective religions?

    And yet despite the intensity of their faith… was what they believed true?

    Had any of these now-dead “true believers” instead devoted themselves first to a deep and thorough scientific study of the facts and a thoughtful critical consideration of the issues, who can doubt but that they would have realized that volcanoes are not controlled by gods, that blowing up one’s enemies does not secure for oneself virgins in Heaven, that Jim Jones could not have been the returned Messiah and thus drinking poison was not God’s Will, and… last but not least… a comet is most certainly not any sort of spacecraft, much less one required by disembodied spirits as a means of extra-terrestrial conveyance and life support.

    Let’s be very very careful, therefore, with what disdain we view the importance of seeking and acquiring knowledge and applying thereto our God-given, though too-oft unused, capacity for Reason, Logic, and Discernment.

  60. Richard, I don’t view logical & objective (is that possible?) study of Mormonism as debunking. The mercifully brief debunking period I referred to was a time when I thought it was necessary to go around telling other people that their faith was misplaced or uninformed (as you would have discovered if you had read my words a little more carefully). The rest of my post was devoted to examining ways in which we can help people add an intellectual dimension to their practice of Mormonism.

    It would be wise to demonstrate your own capacity for using the tools of reason (or, at the very least, some rudimentary reading comprehension skills) before you try to cast doubt on my abilities or inclinations.

  61. gst, while poorly worded, I’m sure the Trib. reference is an attempt to point out that the September Six events were orchestrated out of SLC, in clear violation of the policy set forth in the handbook about disciplinary councils.

  62. gst — The Tribune article was probably suggesting that the orchestration took place at the General Authority level, rather than the local level. Quinn has claimed that his Stake President informed him that he (the S.P.) had been instructed by Salt Lake to take away Quinn’s recommend at one point, but to tell Quinn that it was a “local decision.” The Stake President refused to do so, and told Quinn about Salt Lake’s involvement (says Quinn). As Kristine already mentioned, there were other reasons to implicate Salt Lake as well.

    Aaron B

    P.S. I thought I spent too much time in the Bloggernacle, but I’m evidently not spending enough time here, since I somehow missed this fun thread (until now)!

  63. Kristine, thanks for clarifying the meaning. Was that a point of controversy in this episode?

    I wonder if someone could summarize the policy that the disciplinary handbook sets out on such councils and how involvement from Salt Lake City violates that policy?

    Assuming that the policy is (and let me know if I’m wrong because I really don’t know) that disciplinary action of non-priesthood holders is left in the hands of wards and of priesthood holders are left in the hands of stakes, and further assuming that SLC’s involvement was limited to informing the appropriate wards and stakes that so-and-so has published this arguably apostate material and suggesting they might consider convening a disciplinary council, would that violate the policy? Furthermore, should we care whether the Church deviates from its stated policy? It seems to me that policy could exist for the sake of expediency rather than to create a substantive right to be judged by your stake president rather than a general authority.

  64. Nate, the policy in which responsibility for church discipline is assigned to the Stake President, the High Council, the Bishop… There’s no provision for anyone who doesn’t have direct stewardship over the disciplinee (yuck–how’s that for ugly neologism?) directing that a council be held.

    In the case of the September Six, there was first a denial of involvement above the local level, and then a kind of roundabout admission that in fact, things had been directed from above, as it were. If you’d read Sunstone, you’d know all about it! :)

  65. Nate, the policy in which responsibility for church discipline is assigned to the Stake President, the High Council, the Bishop… There’s no provision for anyone who doesn’t have direct stewardship over the disciplinee (yuck–how’s that for ugly neologism?) directing that a council be held.

    In the case of the September Six, there was first a denial of involvement above the local level, and then a kind of roundabout admission that in fact, things had been directed from above, as it were. If you’d read Sunstone, you’d know all about it! :)

  66. Sorry, I was drafting my last post while the contributions of Aaron and Nate were going up. Aaron answers my first question. Nate asks my second question. So the big question is “So what?” I’m neither surprised nor disturbed that higher-ups might take notice of putative apostasy that would otherwise likely escape the attention of a bishop or stake president.

  67. Kristine —
    “The mercifully brief debunking period I referred to was a time when I thought it was necessary to go around telling other people that their faith was misplaced or uninformed…”

    It would have helped my ability to comprehend your meaning if you had to used words in their proper context. “Debunking” is: “To expose and disprove false or exaggerated claims” rather than your singular definition of having it mean, “…to go around telling people that their faith is misplaced or uninformed.”

    Given your own “uninformed” usage of the work “debunking,” let’s not cast too many aspersions on others’ “tools of reason.”

  68. Richard,

    First, I must agree with Kristine that you have badly misinterpreted her words.

    Second, I take strong issue with your approach to the balance between faith and knowledge. Supposing we agree with the idea that better-informed sycophants would not have drunk the Kool-aid. Where does that leave us Latter-day Saints? Would “better-informed” Saints have decided the Pearl of Great Price was based on gibberish scrawled on a papyrus? Would “better-informed” Saints have been skeptical of Joseph Smith because of his Masonic and/or occult connections? In short, how many Saints would have ended their lives as apostates if they’d relied on logic rather than spiritual conviction?

    Yes, you are correct that all truth must ultimately be logical. But I believe our own position of limited perspective forces on us a very humbled approach to logic. Knowing all that we do not know, are we comfortable accepting or rejecting “truths” based on whether they make perfect sense? In my opinion, there will be many, many truths that simply will not be logical until we have all the information before us. And if there’s one thing I know from my own experience, it’s that is infinite information that I do not know.

    Thus, while I agree that there are certain logical parameters we can draw in which we will expect truth to fit, I cannot agree that all received truths must be forced to make immediate sense to us, or else rejected. You could change my mind if you explain to me how the atonement is “logical.”

  69. Ryan,

    Then you likewise cannot properly define the term “debunk,” either.

    Secondly, you are welcome to take as much “strong issue” as you like, but sycophants are just as much within Mormon culture as they are anywhere else. And yes… there is a strong human tendency to follow the group, whether that group be Mormonism, or any other religious affiliation.

    And yes… undoubtably were there “better informed” Latter-Day Saints, they undoubtably would realize that the entire PGP is JS’ gibberish concocted entirely from his own head and having absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the actual Egyptian written on the payprii in question.

    Any high school student can look at Fascimile 3 and immediately see that the figure JS “prophetically” calls “King Pharaoh” is neither a pharaoh nor even male. Instead it is the figure of the Goddess Isis standing behind the throne whereupon is seated… no…. not Abraham, as JS pronounces, but instead the equally unmistakeable image of Osiris, Isis’ husband. Of course, for those who have never opened a book on Egyptology, these glaringly obvious errors would never be apparent.

    If you doubt this, simply go to http://www.google.com, select the “Images” tab, and then enter the word “osiris” and compare the resulting images.

    Again… facts… not fiction… really help a lot when trying to discover truth.

  70. In other words, you are not concerned that incessant historical nitpicking will undermine testimony, because you think that the testimony ought to be undermined. Kristine posed a dilemma for believers. I don’t see that you have much to say on the subject.

  71. Oh Ryan? Remember your comment on “sycophants” from earlier? Here’s a perfect example of same, right here.

    What Adam Greenwood sycophantly calls “incessant historical nitpicking” would, by anyone with a non-sycophant mindset, be understandably and laudably viewed as studying the facts in question.

    Oh, and Adam? As you have deliberately and disingenuously misrepresented my words, I shall quote them herein again: “…to make ‘mercifully brief’ the study and analysis of Mormon history and doctrine betrays the claim to having a ‘testimony’ of same.”

    A testimony cannot be claimed until or unless such study has first been extensively conducted, just as the D&C also confirms in requiring that we first “study it out in (our) mind” before going for spiritual confirmation. That’s not me trying to undermine testimony; that’s just good old-fashioned common sense to first thoroughly study what it is you’re later going to be proclaiming you know is true. Don’tcha think?

    Or is that more of that “nitpicking” again?

  72. Richard, you are correct that Adam’s comment shows a refusal to let unilluminated and out-of-context historical facts get in the way of a deeper spiritual understanding of truth. Contrary to your own take on that position, I find it laudable.

    Of course there’s room for logic and study in gaining greater understanding of the gospel. However, at a certain point, logic and study undermine that understanding, eventually leading away from the gospel. You’ve already given some prime examples of that process.

  73. Thank you, Ryan, but I now regret having posted my comment in the first place. Perhaps we should learn from the wisdom of the Tao and act by not acting.

  74. That is Adam’s nice way of asking that folks ignore Richard B., who seems more interested in Mormon bashing. Frankly, most the commentors on this site have enough interesting things to say and presumeably some limited supply of blogging time that I personally would rather see what they have to say on a more interesting topic than the various holes that can be poked in Richard B.’s screeds.

  75. Agreeing with Nate on this one, Mr. B. is a garden-variety troll.

    However, I do take delicious pleasure in seeing Adam apologize… mwa ha ha.

  76. No apologies here. What you’ve got in my post is Me + Regret, but an apology is Me + Regret + Someone I’ve injured.

  77. Drat! So close… so you’d never apologize if no one was injured? What about for “victimless crimes”? Come on, you can’t blame a guy for trying.

  78. “There’s no provision for anyone who doesn’t have direct stewardship over the disciplinee”

    Kristine, I know you have the general handbook of instruction on your coffee table (um, sorry, hot chocolate table) and haven’t been struck by lightening yet, but I have one question for you:

    Is it a poor assumption on my part that apostles would have “direct stewardship” (in the way a bishop or stake president has it) over members potentially anywhere? Using your logic, when an apostle visits an eastern European country where the Church is in its infancy, and he gives a great sermon on how the members can better live their lives, the members shouldn’t consider it as anything “special” because advice coming from the bishop in an interview is much more “relevant”?

    Hmm… this may not have been worded very well, but do you see where I’m going?

    If anyone can, Kristine, you can set me straight. I’ve always thought of apostles’ authority being somewhat all encompassing in matters concerning the Church.

  79. Thank you, Ryan… as apparently, given the audience herein represented, I probably should have likewise done the same. I proceeded from the mistaken impression this was a group of mature, intelligent individuals interested in intelligent discourse.

    Should this group ever decide to take up logical discussion of the issues and attempt intelligent rebuttals thereto rather than ignore all such and instead reveal only your immaturity through derisive name-calling, perhaps I shall return.

    Too bad though… as it would have been nice to engage in an intelligent discussion with others for whom a discovery of Truth matters more than sleazy “ad hominems.”

    Oh well, “…by their fruits…”

  80. Richard,

    I’m sorry to hear of your “impressions” of this group. I reread all the comments here and feel like there may have been a misunderstanding (to say the least).

    I find this to be a very mature, intelligent group of people.

  81. “It would have been nice to engage in an intelligent discussion with others for whom a discovery of Truth matters more than sleazy ‘ad hominems.'”

    And to think, that particular ball has been in your court all along.

  82. Bob…

    Before I leave this thread to the petty name-callers here for whom insult is easier than intelligence, and as you have raised an interesting question, the answer to same can be found by investigating a topic I have previously posted on regarding the Mormon principle of “Progressive Revelation”, which can be found in another discussion thread at this website regarding that very issue: “What is Church Doctrine?”

    Prior to the 1978 revelation, McConkie’s book “Mormon Doctrine” was considered to be pretty much the definitive almost-canonized tome on this subject. However with the official disavowals of the “Blacks and the Priesthood,” “Adam-God,” and “Blood Atonement” doctrines, this book has suffered greatly in reputation and confidence among Church members due to its now-made-incorrect doctrinal pronouncements.

    Today, no one knows what definitive Mormon “Doctrine” is… and Hinckley has really muddied the waters of this topic further by so publicly dissembling on (if not outright denying) some of Mormonism’s most basic doctrines (e.g., King Follett as “… a couplet” that isn’t being taught anymore, Polygamy as “not doctrinal” despite D&C 132, and even worldwide revelation as easily coming from the Pope as from himself).

    Thus… while Paul, an Apostle, could speak definitively on church doctrine and have his pronouncements stand for millennia, yet today’s apostles no longer can or do. And whereas JS and BY firmly and authoritatively established very definite doctrines regarding such eternal principles as the Godhead, polygamy, and the priesthood, many of these have been either disavowed or “forgotten” by today’s prophets.

    So… good luck!

  83. The only thing that would make Austen more proud, perhaps, would be if this thread ended up with two bloggers marrying in approved social circumstances.

  84. Provided that one of the bloggers had the economic wherewithal to have at least a comfortable middle class existence without doing any actual work.

  85. Kristine: I have regularlly heard the claim that GA interference short circuited official policies on disciplinary councils, I have simply never seen chapter and verse cited. Note, this is different than the issue of claimed non-interferecne or generally accepted practice. Bear with me. I am a lawyer, and I like to split hairs.

  86. Steve, you’re nearing 200 comments… Quit trying to rain on my parade! I need something to make me feel like I’m special, not all of us are lawyers.

  87. Nice one indeed, Kaimi. And I’m sure any street-corner loudmouth punk would be proud of such a disingenuous cheap shot.

    I have made numerous points and arguments here and attempted logical discourse with you all. And after receiving a couple logical rebuttals, to which I countered in equal fashion in logically refuting the rebuttals given, the discussion stopped and the abuse began.

    Thus, the metaphoric ball was last in others’ court, not mine. And their response was to throw water balloons, instead.

    But… why let truth stand in the way of a snide remark, right?

  88. Nate, there isn’t any chapter and verse that says “General Authorities shall not advise bishops to hold disciplinary councils,” people are inferring (I think justifiably) from the procedure outlined, which involves no such interference, that such interference is illegitimate. But, yeah, that’s not totally defensible on logical grounds.

    I think it *is* defensible on ethical ones: the bishop is the one who is most nearly acquainted with the whole person, sees her bearing testimony, faithfully showing up to teach a Primary class as well as writing articles of questionable doctrinal soundness. It seems right that he should be the judge of whether a disciplinary council is necessary. One could also argue that the bishop’s scripturally based designation as judge in Israel gives him a qualification that people with other callings lack.

  89. “Thus… while Paul, an Apostle, could speak definitively on church doctrine and have his pronouncements stand for millennia”

    It has always been my impression that Paul’s pronouncements on a variety of doctrines have been problematic for quite a few branches of Christianity, including Mormonism. They haven’t “stood” for millenia, so much as have been wondered about, caused much discussion, or even been ignored.

    And how definitive, really, was the King Follett discourse? I mean, it’s clear to me that the “we can becomes like God” doctrine is still taught — in fact, it’s clearly stated in the Gospel Essentials manual. But I’m not sure about the “God was once a man” part. I believe that it’s most likely true. But I don’t see that it has been wholly accepted as canonical. And yes your right that this is a muddy thing in the Church — but it has always been rather muddy. See for example the debates of 19th century church leaders on a variety of theological subjects including Adam-God theory, evolution, and the nature of the Godhead.

    As far as the charge of dissembling goes…

    It seems clear to me that there is a hierarchy of doctrines — some that are clearly canonical and emphasized and others that aren’t [with varying levels “doctrinality”]. Considering…

    1. The current media climate
    2. That you have no idea whether President Hinckley’s pr actions are “inspired” or simply him “doing pr”
    3. The proliferation of and easy access to anti-Mormon discourse

    I have no problem with President Hinckley’s choice of emphasis when it comes to our doctrines. They are still quite controversial as is — and — key parts of our belief and theology.

  90. Kristine: So the legalistic huffing is inapposite. I am largely persuaded by your “ethical” arguments, although I think it is a bit of misnomer to label them as ethical. On the otherhand, to the extent that we view excommunication as at least in part as serving institutional concerns, then it is not immediately obvious that a per se rule against any higher up involvement is desireable.

  91. Nate, I was thinking the same thing (as you expressed in your last sentence). While I agree with Kristine that the Bishop is well-placed to evaluate the true spiritual demeanor of the member, aren’t general authorities better able to make decisions about the overall effects of the member’s behavior on the church as a whole? And shouldn’t that be at least a significant part of the analysis? I think it’s conceivable that a well-meaning Bishop could be unaware of the ripples caused throughout the church and/or anti-Mormon community by this or that article, whereas an Apostle or Seventy might be painfully aware of such things.

  92. What a fun thread!

    Richard B.’s remarks about Osiris prompted me to do some web browsing about the Book of Abraham . . . now instead of just believing it because it is such an amazing, moving, theologically powerful book that has been such a source of spiritual nourishment and cherished guidance to me, I also know some fascinating things about how it fits into Egyptian literary culture, I have leads on a bunch of other interesting facts of modern history that support it, I got to read some very nice articles by dear friends, and . . .

    And I also read some of my favorite Ensign articles ever! It makes me want to be more consistent about reading the Ensign.

    Thanks, Richard!

    But I can see how someone who is not accustomed to the rhythm of scholarly discovery could really get thrown for a loop by that stuff.

    My preferred angle for trying to use my somewhat trained mind for good at church on Sunday is to try to just be a perceptive reader of the scriptures, and a perceptive reader of human experience. These ways of exercising our minds are clearly appropriate for congregational use, if we may take General Conference talks as an example. And I think they offer a *lot* of room for us to exercise our minds.

    With whatever we may choose to share with fellow church members, it is important to follow the Spirit, but I still think it is wise to usually choose topics where the risk of damage in case we’re out of tune one day are limited, and when what I say is rooted in the scriptures, I feel pretty safe. For my part, I think the most intellectually challenging and expanding experiences I’ve had ever, have been reflections on the scriptures, provoked by an insightful reader.

    And when I share reflections on a personal experience, as Elder Monson for example does so well, those who don’t find my point edifying will have about as easy a time as can be dismissing it, while those who feel the Spirit as a result are taught in as sure a fashion as there is.

    There can be heaps of value in appropriately sharing and framing new facts (i contrast publicly available “facts” with the realm of personal experience, most of which is undocumented, and “new facts” with what we all carry around in our copies of the Standard Works) that we may know or discover — the Ensign pieces I just read by Hugh Nibley and Dan Peterson are great examples of this. For now though, I’m finding plenty of challenges in trying to be perceptive, and share perceptions, about how pride and humility and forgiveness and trust etc. work in real life (nod to Melissa and her grandmother here), and about what the authors of scripture are trying to say. In the long run I think having real insight on these points (points that can seem so worn) is more challenging than finding new facts to bring in from other sources, and yet for the most part more worth the challenge as well. Plus on these points I have few doubts that any real insight I can share is relevant to the spiritual lives of the others in my congregation.

  93. Nate, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for an organization to be expected to follow the procedures it has outlined for itself; when it departs from those procedures *and goes to some length to conceal the fact that it did so,* it seems fair to suggest that, in fact, it “violated policy.” The fact that they wouldn’t admit the involvement of the higher-ups suggests that *they* thought it was improper. So, I don’t know if it’s fair to dismiss those concerns as “legalistic huffing.” Besides, why should you have all the legalistic huffing fun?

    And, yeah, ethical was the wrong word to use. I’m tired, and stupid.

  94. I had a very odd experience back in the early 90s that may bear on this discussion. I was living in Sacramento at the time, and I hadn’t attended church for some 7 plus years, neither had my husband. Neither of us had a connection with the church. Out of the blue, I had a visit from the local bishop, who arrived at our doorstep unannounced one evening and wended the conversation around eventually to an essay I had published (actually the essay on Wilford Woodruff and David Koresh that appeared in Sunstone). I pressed this bishop, oh so politely, and he admitted to me that he had been forwarded my name from Salt Lake along with information about the essay, and he had been asked to call on me. A few weeks later I was contacted by the Stake President who wanted to make an appontment to chat about my faith and the essay. I told him that I would be happy to talk about the essay, if he had read it and wanted to talk about it. But I politely declined the invitation to chat about my faith. Luckily that was the end of it. He didn’t really seem to talk to me much more than I wanted to talk to him.

  95. Susan, thanks for sharing your story. This is a really interesting case, and it seems to me a great example of how a word from someone in Salt Lake could lead to an action by local leaders (in this case, a visit and a phone call), but in a way that totally fits the pastoral role of the local leaders.

    It sounds like someone in Salt Lake noticed a publication that a local leader would be unlikely to notice, and indicated someone ought to find out what’s up, but that the local leaders exercised their own judgment in deciding how much should be done about it, in this case concluding, “not much”. Susan, correct me if that’s not apt.

    It also sounds like Susan was considerate of the position her bishop and stake president were in, and graceful enough not to make it tougher for them than it had to be! I say bravo all around!

    There are good reasons for local leaders to be the ones to ultimately make decisions about when church discipline is necessary for someone in their congregations; they are in a position to really find out, what is going on in that person’s spiritual life.

    Policies can change, and sometimes for good reasons, but perhaps examples like Susan’s suggest that the norm really is for local leaders to ultimately make the judgments, whether or not this is what happened in the case of the September Six.

    As it happens, I know someone who had a very similar experience to Susan’s, just a couple of years ago. It became clear that the local leader was acting on a suggestion from somewhere else, but after asking some questions about the article, he evidently concluded it was not a problem.

  96. Kristine: I thought that I had basically agreed with you, ie local leaders are generally in the best position to make disciplinary calls. I am all for legalistic huffing of course, but I want to make sure that all of the hairs are properly split before I start doing it ;->

  97. Oh… one final observation (until or unless someone else wishes to post on this further).

    It was Kristine who began the “ad hominems” in the very first reply I received immediately following my very first post at this website:

    Kristine —
    “It would be wise to demonstrate your own capacity for using the tools of reason (or, at the very least, some rudimentary reading comprehension skills) before you try to cast doubt on my abilities or inclinations.”


    Oh… and you are all welcome to read that very first post immediately preceding hers where you will find that I scrupulously kept to the facts of her argument, never once “ad hominem”-ing her personally… only logically contesting the arguments she made.

    That’s where all of this started. And I would love to finally have all of this end as much as I am sure does everyone else.

  98. My apologies for the previous post as it was erroneously and unintentionally placed on this thread.

  99. I’ve been following this thread, and meant to post my thoughts days ago, but kept getting distracted by a small child. My post therefore may come late, and may not add too much to the previous argument, as my thoughts are more personally anecdotal. But Nate said to do it anyway, so here goes.

    My great grandfather is Heber J. Grant. I tried to keep this knowledge quiet down here in Arkansas, but a particularly enterprising and clever Relief Society counselor uncovered the information, and thus asked me to say a few words in Relief Society about Grandfather Grant as we started the new manuals. So I read what was first written in the manual, and noticed some glaring omissions about his life, most noteably that he had three wives. Yes, three, concurrently, not consecutively. I am descended from his third wife, Emily Wells, daughter of Daniel H. Wells. I understand that not very many people know that he was a polygamist, because 2 of his wives died before he became the prophet. And of course, by then polygamy was no longer condoned by the church.

    The manual states at length that Pres. Grant was a “family man”, going so far as to describe how many children he had, that he had 2 sons that died, etc. And in the lesson about losing a loved one, there are some tender and beautiful quotes about how he felt when he lost his wife. Of course, my question when I sat through that lesson was, “Which wife is he referring too? Is he talking about my great-grandmother? Is this how he felt about her, or is he talking about his first wife, Lucy Stringham?” I am bothered that this information about Pres. Grant has been omitted from the manual. Even the John Taylor manual mentions, albeit briefly, that he was a polygamist. I think that trying to pretend that our early leaders were not polygamists does a disservice to them, and frankly, to their descendents. Years ago, an article was printed in the Improvement Era about Pres. Grant that stated very specifically that he only had one wife. My grandfather called up the Church (the family legend goes that he talked to some PR flunkie named Gordon B. Hinckley, but I can’t confirm that!) and said, “You have just made my wife a bastard!” These men and undoubtedly these women sacrificed and worked very hard to make polygamy a part of their lives in order to glorify God and keep His commandments. Now I am in NO way suggesting that I would like to have been there, doing that, but I get a little bit frustrated that sometimes the church tries to pretend that polygamy was not part of our roots. Would sharing such information about our early leaders so complicate somebody’s faith, burst the Mollly’s bubble, blow down those hot house testimonies?

  100. Any appeal to the General Handbook for how things should be done locally should probably have some mention of the fact that, as I recall when I read it in the mid-90’s, there is this huge caveat to the book saying, these are the policies unless the First Presidency makes an exception. I have no particular knowledge of the cases so I have little to add on that front.

    But isn’t one of the _main_ points of having General Authorities to have someone who can roam freely about with authority that is _more_ than local but is, hence the name, _general_. These authorities testify of Christ to all the world, but certainly one of their “general” duties is to protect the flock and see that false doctrine is not propogated by members or local leaders.

    Telling local leaders what to do is sort of what GA’s are for. Do restrictions make sense on what church things they are allowed to advise local leaders on? “Seperation of powers” or federalist ideas about the division between local and general leadership seem out of place. The stake and the ward were always the one that carried out the counsel of the leaders, so the handbook was followed in that sense. No GA came out and declared a member excommunicated on their own authority. It was always the stake/ward. I seriously doubt the handbook says local leaders are forbidden from receving counsel from their leaders. I seriously doubt, and I never saw, anything in the handbook that discussed limits on what matters were appropriate for general authorities to discuss with local leaders— even to the point of telling them to do things.

    Stake Presidents and Bishops receive keys from general authorities, because general authorities have those keys to confer. Local leaders are expected to receive revelation about their calling, but all the authority they have to act comes from keys they receive from the Church leadership, who get those keys from the Prophet. We know where he gets them.

    I am not attempting to address all the issues involved with excommunication. I’m only saying it isn’t obvious that there is anything per se wrong with a GA telling a stake president that a member needs to be investigated or even that a member, if they don’t renouce publicly stated heresy, should de disciplined.

  101. The last two comments were especially helpful to me.

    Heather, you’re famous! I had no idea. But really, I’m so glad you commented; I too am now curious as to which wife that priesthood lesson was referring. We all know polygamy is generally considered “weird”, for lack of a better word. We’re unsure if we’d ever be ready to live it if called upon, etc. But does that give us the right to erase it from our past? Hardly.

    Frank, I tend to agree with what you’ve said but am still very interested in what Kristine has to say in response.

    Kristine? Where are you?

  102. So you really think the Improvement Era was trying to conceal the fact that Grant had been a polygamist?
    I haven’t seen the article, of course, but it seems that if his other two wives died by the time he became president of the church, then it could correctly be said that President Grant had one wife. There’s a large difference to me between denying someone was a polygamist and not mentioning other wives, though the end result is the same. (And I’m not even a lawyer:)

  103. Bob and Heather,

    Well, Church leaders “erased” polygamy from the present for years/decades when it was first practiced, in the sense that it was done secretly. That was probably done for multiple reasons. I think some of those reasons might encourage current leaders to be equally discrete about such a hard doctrine.

    The fact that polygamy is a known historical fact doesn’t alter the sacredness and difficulty of presenting it to people. Just look at how God presents it in Section 132. This is hard stuff.

    I saw a lot of inactive members on my (foreign) mission. A LOT. Decreasing that inactivity is probably high up on the prophet’s priority list. Given the growth of the Church, these manuals are writen with an eye to the new member. Does anybody know what percentage of members have been members for less than, say, three years? I bet it is a lot. Some of these people are rock-solid. Some are long gone. Some are just getting going.

    This doesn’t mean we should start denying polygamy ever happened or lying about it. But not bringing it up unless needed doesn’t seem like a nutty Church Manual strategy.

  104. Frank, I’ve looked for such a caveat, but can’t find it, although it does say that these instructions can be superceded, *in writing,* by the folks at 40 EST.

    I’m sure you all know about the Committee for Strengthening Church Membership, which is charged with reading Dialogue, spying at Sunstone symposiums, and otherwise keeping track of doctrinal publications by members. While I think the existence of this committee is creepy, I can see why people might think it is necessary. The MO of this committee, as far as I can tell, is to send highlighted copies of questionable work to bishops and SPs, with instructions for them to “take appropriate action.”

    My problem with this is essentially the same as with directing disciplinary councils from higher up–the bishop is the one who knows his flock. If a member is really leading people astray (like, say, Jim Harmston), the bishop is going to know about it. It’s pretty rare for Dialogue authors to gain a cult following, y’know? Also, bishops are not uniformly going to know what “appropriate action” might be. I’ve had bishops who would have thoughtfully discussed an article with me and tried to understand what it was that might be troublesome; I’ve also had bishops who would have simply said “well, if there’s a question, you must be doing something wrong and you had better not publish anything else about a Mormon topic, ever,” without even reading the offending piece. I can easily imagine the escalation of such an exchange, and I fear that it could get ugly fast, despite good will and strong faith on both sides.

    I think one solution would be to have some special disciplinary process that is conducted by the GAs with the concern–they would know what the concern is, and they have broader stewardship over policing church doctrine than local authorities.

    My favored solution would be to let bad ideas be published, examined, and fall of their own weight. If the FP could find “thousands” of doctrinal errors in _Mormon Doctrine_ and yet not feel the need to publicly repudiate the work, I find it somewhat baffling that anyone would conclude that a Dialogue or Sunstone article containing errors of fact or doctrine would need a full frontal assault. I think we could have a little more confidence that truth will win the day.

    Fortunately, no one with actual power to set policy has asked for my opinion, so I’m free to propose such harebrained speculations ;)

  105. The “superceded” comment is probably what I was thinking of.

    The caveat about “in-writing” seems pretty clearly an attempt to short-circuit people falsely claiming privileged status to disobey Church policy. Which is a good reminder of all the nutty things and wacko people the Brethren must have to deal with all the time…

  106. “But not bringing it up unless needed doesn’t seem like a nutty Church Manual strategy.”

    So, could you outline when it is “needed” and “not needed”?

    In the example Heather mentioned, it was clearly needed. Anytime we are historically inaccurate, I feel like something is needed (i.e. I’m probably not the only one who had no idea Grant had more than one wife). If we have newbie members of the Church who fly off the handle with this kind of info… maybe we should help them understand the relevance rather than hide details.

    Better for us to help them with the details in a controlled environment rather then letting them find these details on their own after they realize information has been withheld on purpose. That never looks good…

  107. The examples Heather gives in the Manual were omissions. Is it “needed” to know the name of someone’s wife to know the pain they feel at her death? Not really.

    How much historical information is omitted from the Book of Mormon? Mormon says he couldn’t write a hundredth part. So that’s omitting quite a bit. I’m sure he ws very careful in what he chose in order to best convey the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Perhaps he left out all sorts of juicy details. Maybe Nephi was a polygamist!! Maybe Alma’s wife left him after he converted, taking some of their children with her!! Who knows how many juicy details were left on the cutting room floor because Moroni wasn’t writing a history, but a doctrinal tract to bring us unto Christ.

    The manuals are _not_ histories, they contain a _brief_ historical sketch and a few stories that, as Heather could certainly tell us, does not tell us everything we’d like to know. They certainly omit all sorts of things, and one of those things is that he was a polygamist. We have biographies of the prophets already, those who wish to read them are free to do so.

    The manuals are attempts to familiarize us with doctrine and get us to feel the Spirit. They are no more history books than the Book of Mormon.

  108. And in this case the manual omits that because it doesn’t want to start a crash course on polygamy. Line upon line, precept upon precept.

    Just reading the first few verses of D&C 132, it seems clear to me that this is a subject God does not broach lightly. How many doctrines did Jesus not teach the Pharisees because they weren’t ready for them? How many doctrines has He not taught us because we aren’t ready? Uncountable. The Church manuals decide not to broach the subject of polygamy on page 2, presumably because, for most members, it is better to wait to teach it. This is an approach to doctrine with a long and honorable pedigree.

  109. Frank, I see where you’re going and it may have been fine years ago… But what about now, especially in the last few years of this information age? Show me a newly baptized member who knows nothing about polygamy and I’ll show you someone who left out the “investigate” from “investigator”. By all means it’s not a prerequisite. But really, it’s no longer the Church’s decision what is or isn’t taught. Better the Church teach properly from the beginning than the Mormon-curious finding out from anti- sources.

  110. Bob says: Better the Church teach properly from the beginning than the Mormon-curious finding out from anti- sources.

    This is my take as well, which I tried to express in an earlier post. Teaching about polygamy may well create doubt, but if so, it’s a doubt they’re going to encounter sooner or later.

  111. I am afraid I may be entering this discussion a bit late, and I am also afraid I may not add much to it. Nevertheless, here I go. (I apologize in advance for the length of my post).

    I am writing as a hothouse flower desiring stronger roots. I grew up in suburbia, Utah, as happy as can be. In high school, I was confronted with the *dark* side of Mormonism by a trusted friend. After skimming through some of the garden-variety anti-Mormon discourse, I was shattered. I didn’t have the powers of logic or reason to see the flaws in the material I was presented (as I was only 17 at the time). I also didn’t know where to go to talk about these things. I didn’t dare bring it up to my parents. For a few years, I really struggled. (But, this was part of the more general, almost obligatory, teen-age rejection of all things “parent-ish”).

    As a freshman at BYU, I mentioned some of my concerns to my bishop. I was given a book called The Naysayers, or something like that, which compared early LDS struggles to early Christian struggles. It helped me overcome some of my doubts, as I was ready to regain my faith and the happiness of spiritual contentment. I was also advised to avoid anti-mormon discourse like the plague. And I have, for the past five years. But, now I am ready to better inform myself about the history of our church.

    So, on to some of the questions presented in this thread. I think it would have helped my teenage-self if I was exposed to a more “objective” history of our church in a controlled environment. The home is probably the best place for this type of education, as I probably would not have responded well to this information in Sunday school or seminary.

    But now, as a twenty-something primary worker (I love my sunbeams), it is difficult to know where to start. T & S has helped in some regard, as I have scrolled through the “Essential Texts in Mormon Studies” threads, but I feel somewhat lost. I also feel a bit guilty. (Probably due to my early BYU experience). However, I think all members have to go through this process at some point, in order to grow deep roots and avoid the hothouse phenomenon. If I had someone like Kristine in my ward (or any other T & S regular), I may have a mentor in this process. Then again, maybe I do, and that person is keeping quite so they don’t make anyone uncomfortable.

    Is there some sort of standardized study plan for someone in my shoes? Or, are we supposed to go through back channels (like message boards)? Is personal curiosity and personal study the best way to avoid the hothouse problem?

  112. Kori: It depends on what sorts of things you want to study. If you are interested in Church history, the best one volume treatment is probably, Allen & Leonard, The Story of the Latter Day Saints or Arrington, The Mormon Experience.

    If you are interested in Joseph Smith, specifically, start with Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism. His full biography should be out in a year or two. For Brigham Young, read American Moses by Arrington. For Wilford Woodruff, read Alexander’s biography.

    What sort of questions do you have?

  113. When do things like polygamy and the pre-78 restriction on the priesthood come up in an investigator/new member’s education? Do they come up in a planned way at all? There may be a lot of “weird” things people never need to hear about, but it seems like there are a few that are quite inevitable, that it’s worth planning in somewhere. Having grown up in the Church, and heard the announcement in 78 myself, for example, I don’t remember being surprised by anything, but I can’t really imagine what it would be like to start from the beginning as an adult.

  114. Ben, exactly, ever since the switch from LeGrande Richards to the six discussions, new members receive somewhat of an “all you need” compilation of Mormonism 101 with the underlying tone of “anything outside of this and/or church authorized publications has the mark of apostasy”. This is somewhat of a cyclical problem as it causes branches/wards to rely on the classic Sunday school cop out of “…but we shouldn’t teach that because of the new members.” Next, those who have been members for more than a year or two get extremely bored and wonder why Sunday school even exists if they’re not learning anything new. Then follows the standard disclaimer of “…but you have so much in front of you, the standard works is all you need.” Members then realize they have to go elsewhere to learn about Church history and/or non- Sunday school doctrines only to run into the anti- crowd, which is more than willing to educate [falsely]. Members then fall away because of doubt. Some come back but some don’t.

    Don’t get me wrong; I think the discussions are designed brilliantly. But I suppose what we need is something after the fact… As I can’t say the same thing for the new member discussions, which IMO still need some serious work…

  115. If I may quibble:
    One cannot complain both that a church committee is dictating to local bishops and that the local bishops react very differently to the church dictation.

  116. “Teaching about polygamy may well create doubt, but if so, it’s a doubt they’re going to encounter sooner or later.”

    You are absolutely right. It appears that the Church’s current response is based on a belief that “later” is better than “sooner”. Perhaps they feel that you will lose people either way, but you lose more by jumping in too early. This is the “line upon line” concept, and perhaps the reasoning why new members wait a year to go to the temple.

    “Show me a newly baptized member who knows nothing about polygamy and I’ll show you someone who left out the “investigate” from “investigator”.”

    This happens all the time, but probably more when you move outside the U.S. But look, if they’ve heard about polygamy, there are many members happy to talk to them about it. It’s a pretty standard concern that must be resolved. I’m not advocating that members not talk about polygamy concerns with new members— far from it. But if they haven’t heard about it, why jump into it on page 2 of a Church manual?

    Does the Church lose people because they hear about polygamy from somewhere else and then feel like it was hidden from them? Yes. Would it lose other people by bringing up polygamy spontaneously in the lessons? Yes. Adding discussion of polygamy in the curriculum would decrease one number and increase the other.

    The Church’s current position on this tradeoff, I infer, is that they think it’s better to wait. You can disagree, but we don’t have any numbers about the size of the two groups to back it up. The Church might have numbers, but might not. Maybe they’re just doing the best they know how given available information, revelation, and reasoning. Just like us.

    Or maybe they haven’t thought about it too much, and this is all just the work of some lowly editor deep in the bowels of the Church Office Building, but I doubt it. I bet the Brethren spend a _great_ _deal_ of time, prayer and energy thinking, pondering, and stewing over just these sorts of problems. Aren’t you glad it isn’t your job?

    Kori: welcome! Nate’s list of biographies sounds great. When I became interested in finding out more about attacks on the Church, I read some things by Hugh Nibley and the people at FARMS. Their web site is great and has many old Reviews on it that are informative about a wide variety of attacks on the Church. They are not always right, but you will quickly come to see that for every argument, there exists a counterargument.

    Further, let me give some advice that I should have followed. Don’t ever spend more time reading anti-mormon or ant-anti-mormon stuff or anti-anti-anti-mormon stuff than you spend with the scriptures. The arguments will not nourish. The counterarguments will not long quench your thirst. You may be entertained and informed by such things, but they pale in comparison to the power you receive when you read a passage of scripture and understand something fundamental because God is ready to teach it to you.

  117. Adam, I thought about commenting on this formulation of Kristine’s, but I decided that it could be justified, even if it looks a little bizarre on first read. Kristine’s claim seems to be that Bishops know _you_ as a person, but are not as good on the heresy issues. General Authorities are more informed on heresy but don’t know you personally.

    When a general leader asks a local leader to pursue a charge of heresy, the local leader still has access to revelation, but Kristine seems concerned that they are left guessing as to what their leaders want done, and so they make mistakes the general leader wouldn’t if there were a general board in charge of excommunication.

    This is the argument as best I can tell. I don’t see how it materially differs from many similar arguments that follow the pattern, “Bishops aren’t perfect and so they make mistakes when they try to and so we should .

    Sometimes the argument is persuasive and sometimes it isn’t. But to everything there is a cost and a benefit if you look hard enough.

  118. “Given the growth of the Church, these manuals are writen with an eye to the new member.”


    I appreciate that comment, and find it a very valid argument about the current manuals. I can only imagine what a monumental task writing such a manual could be. I don’t necessarily think that polygamy needs to be included as a huge part in the manuals. Like you said, line upon line, precept upon precept, and new members can deal with polygamy when they need to on their own level. (And yes, I think every Mormon needs to deal with polygamy at some time on some level.) I simply would have appreciated the mention of more than one wife in the biographical section of the manual. After all, the manual mentioned that he had 10 daughters and 2 sons that had died. Pity the one wife who had to go through that.

  119. Yes, I do think the brethren spend a great deal of time dealing with difficult issues. But c’mon, if you are going to go to the trouble of publishing all the details of a person’s descendents, can’t you include information about who the mothers are? It’s not teaching the doctrine of polygamy in your face, it is simply completing the history about this man’s family.

  120. I may have misunderstood. I thought Kristine was objecting, not that SLC sometimes asked bishops to look into things, but that they dictated to them what the results of their investigation were to be.

    If the complaint is that SLC is sometimes unclear about what they want and so Bishops do muddleheaded things, that’s a different matter. Is Kristine’s idea that SLC should generally leave bishops to their discretion, but that if they must intervene they should make the terms of the intervention crystal clear.

  121. I can understand that having one’s ancestor ignored is painful, so you have a right to complain in a way that 99% of people do not.

    Could they have mentioned your Great-Grandmother without upsetting the apple cart? I bet they could have. Maybe they’ll get it right next time around.

    On the other hand, those 99% don’t have a prophet for a Great-Grandfather. In _my_ family we’ve got the letter to Brigham Young written by my Great-Great Grandfather upon apostatizing from the Church. I’m guessing that will also never make it into a Church Manual. I suppose everyone has their karmic burden to bear…

  122. Nate,

    Thank you for the suggestions. I am interested in Church history, so I will get my hands on a copy of The Story of the Latter Day Saints or The Mormon Experience (or both). I am also very interested in learning more about Joseph Smith, so I will look into Bushman’s book.

    I would like to study Mormon doctrine. How do our beliefs differ from other Christian beliefs, and why? Where do our beliefs come from? My law school friends asked me that question, very simply and non-threateningly, and I was surprised at how difficult it was for me to answer. (Not only am I uncomfortable with my knowledge about our own beliefs, but I have *very* little knowledge about non-Mormon Christian doctrine). That night I bought Five Classics by Truman Madsen, and I started his essay called Eternal Man.

    Do you have any suggested books about polygamy? (Anything from a female perspective?)


    Thank you for your advice. It is well received. I know it will be necessary for me to keep my study of the scriptures equal with my study of church history (and all that that entails).

  123. A Mormon Mother, an autobiography by Annie Clark Tanner is one of the best accounts of polygamy by a woman.

  124. In my priesthood quorum, just a couple of weeks ago, the teacher stated clearly (as an aside) that HJG “wasn’t a polygamist.” I thought this sounded wrong, but I wasn’t sure of myself, given that the teacher is a intelligent and studious person. I went home and did some internet research that confirmed that he was a polygamist. I considered emailing the teacher, but decided it wasn’t that important (so anyway I guess I’m not a “Debunker.”)

    I wonder where he got the idea that HJG was not a polygamist?

    Personally, I do find these omissions a bit troubling. Even more troubling to me are statements about polygamy such as the one by President Hinckley in a Larry King interview that “between two percent and five percent of our people were involved in it. It was a very limited practice; carefully safeguarded. In 1890, that practice was discontinued.” I understand the desire to downplay polygamy, but I’m uncomfortable with what seems to me perilously close to dishonesty.

    (quote is taken from http://www.onlineutah.com/polygamyhinckley.shtml)

  125. I should say as an addendum to my previous post that I’m puzzled by why President Hinckley would present what (to me) seems a misleading version of the prevelance and importance of polygamy in Mormon history, when it doesn’t seem (to me) that a more accurate version would be any more troubling to new members or investigators. Maybe he sincerely believes that he gave an accurate portrayal.

    By the way, Heather, I was wondering about something: did Heber J. Grant continue cohabiting with all his living wives after 1890? (If I remember right, familysearch says that he would have had more than one until about 1910.)

  126. Kori:

    If you interested in comparing non-Mormon Christian doctrine with Mormon doctrine, I would pick up a copy of _How Wide the Divide?: A Mormon and Evangelical in Conversation_ by Craig Blomberg and Stephen Robinson. It’s a good read on a host of doctrinal issues.

    Aaron B

  127. Frank,

    In one of your comments you seemed to rely on the standard trump card of we-don’t-know-which-way-is-better-but-the-brethern-are-more-inspired-than-we-are-so-we-should-stop-our-belly-aching. I’m not saying this is a bad thing. On the contrary, sometimes I wonder if I should leave more of these issues for the brethren rather than trying to reinvent the wheel myself (although I love reinventing wheels).

  128. Frank,

    I appreciate your comments and the good sense they show.

    What you’ve implied about Heather just now though doesn’t seem fair. Warning — I get emphatic below, but my animation is not directed at you, Frank! You’ll see who I’m reacting to.

    a) I don’t think this is a matter of Heather’s feeling personally sleighted because they didn’t mention her grandmother. She mentioned someone in her family calling about a similar incident, and construing it as a personal affront, reasonably enough, but I’m pretty sure that isn’t the main issue in Heather’s mind.

    b) If they give details on twelve children, their neglect to mention the other two wives can hardly be attributed to pure interest in brevity. Rather, it becomes conspicuous that they were selective in which details to bring out, and while they chose to bring up many other family details, they only mentioned one wife. That’s weird. It makes you wonder why they avoided mentioning the others.

    Heather hasn’t said outright, so I’ll offer a guess as to what her concern is.

    Might it be *disingenuous* to be selective in this way? I.e. is selective presentation that is this selective less than fully honest? I don’t know; all rational communication requires selection in what to bring up, but it is possible for selection to become disingenuous, and that undermines trust, and so we need to be careful.

    As we try to lovingly teach investigators and new members, we have to weigh three risks, three ways people’s faith may be damaged, not just the two we’ve mentioned recently:
    1) Risk of bringing things up people aren’t ready for
    2) Risk of people hearing about things in an anti-Mormon context because they weren’t brought up first in a Mormon context
    3) Risk of people feeling deceived because it took so long for something to come up in the Mormon context, when you would think it should have.

    This third risk is serious. Especially when you get a culture of teaching in which people think they are not supposed to bring up challenging doctrines, and people’s execution of this principle varies.

    For example, someone in my ward recently told me of how soon after she met the missionaries, she said, “So I heard Mormons practice polygamy; do you?” The missionaries said “No, we don’t”.

    need I emphasize this more? !!!


    So, several weeks later she finds out that in fact we *did* practice polygamy, even though we don’t now. SHE WAS INCENSED, AND RIGHTLY SO! I’m sorry, the fact that in the present tense we do not practice polygamy does not render the missionaries’ answer in this case an *honest* answer. I have no qualms saying those missionaries were *dishonest* with her, whether you call it a lie or some other kind of dissembling.

    I am happy to say that this woman, bless her pure and sincere heart, STILL joined the Church! And I say “STILL” because I would not blame her had she told the missionaries never to darken her door again. She did break off contact for a few weeks! which only shows she has some self-respect, but thank God she forgave them for their idiotic “nurturing” and joined the Church soon after. Phew!

    I am sure that when she confronted them, the missionaries apologized appropriately, etc.; they were learning, like we all are, and one nice thing about having such young missionaries is it is easy to forgive them! But this is a risk we all face, and a mistake we must beware of, be we writers of manuals, teachers who use the manuals, fellowshippers of new members, or whatever. Throughout this thread, I have thought about people I taught on my mission, and I wonder how I did on this question.

    Perhaps Heather’s concern is that the manual’s selective retelling of history might be too much like these missionaries’ selective retelling of history. When is our selective retelling unwise, or what’s worse, disingenuous, or suggesting a lack of trust in our audience?

  129. I see Ed made my basic point while I was composing my long-winded post. But I think that story is worth sharing!

    Lest anyone accuse me of thinking I know all the answers, though, I’ll tell another missionary story.

    Once when I was a missionary I came into an area where an investigator my companionship was teaching had a baptismal commitment. I asked her, “Why do you want to be baptized?” thinking that would be an opportunity for her to reflect on her testimony, and tell my companion and me about it. She said, “I don’t know,” backed out of her commitment soon after, and to my knowledge was never baptized. Did I blow too cold on this new flower? A chilling thought.

  130. Ben — If merely asking an investigator why they want to be baptized was enough to dissuade the investigator from getting baptized, then this investigator probably wasn’t ready for baptism. The only “chilling thought” is to wonder how many investigators make it through the whole process without ever asking themselves this question. You’d think it would never happen, but it unfortunately does.

    Aaron B

  131. For the most part, the manuals are edited by Elder Oaks (the apostle, not the 70). You might want to write him and ask him about the editorial decisions.

    I get asked about the practice of polygamy from time to time. The “no we don’t” answer is always taken to mean “we don’t practice it now” — everyone knows that we practiced it in the past. As for when the Church quit the practice, I guess you could give the long answer “of the total population who eventually married, 3-5 percent became spouses in a polygamous relationship. The Church officially ended the practice 1890 with various hold-outs and internal conflicts that lingered on until that generation passed.”

    I’m reminded of the Brigham Young manual, where people complained that his practice of polygamy wasn’t detailed. I guess part of the problem is the assumption in that case that a priori people would know that he practiced polygamy, with the issue being what do you want to focus your audience on?

    With the current manual, I do think it would have added something to mention the number of wives he had buried in addition to discussing the number of children he lost.

    Nothing like being second guessed by an editor — or second guessing one though.

  132. Not to mention, should every conversation about polygamy end up with a discussion of J. Golden Kimball and his feud with St. George over the practice and other issues, and how he finally ended matters, and, I guess, a discussion of his mule driving past and his ability to get people to repent of their sins?

    How complete is complete?

    Though, again, it would have been nice to know about the full size of his family. I must confess I had expected more wives, just out of the general thought that polygamy means “lots of wives” rather than “more than one” that kind of lingers around the subject.

    I really don’t know how the men survived it.

  133. Ed –
    the whole idea of the precentage of early mormons involved in polygamy depends on how one looks at the statistics. Is it the percentage of
    1. LDS men who were involved in polygamy?
    2. LDS women involved in polygamy?
    3. Total number of LDS, including children?
    4. etc.

    Pres. Hinckley was likely relying on a different set of statistical information than the one his detractors are *sure* he should be relying on. Perhaps so, but it isn’t even close to dishonesty.

    (It’s like the infamous 50 percent divorce rate statistic, true in one sense, false in others. I could just as easily argue that the divorce rate is as high as 75 percent or as low as 10 percent depending on which figures I look at).

  134. “By the way, Heather, I was wondering about something: did Heber J. Grant continue cohabiting with all his living wives after 1890? (If I remember right, familysearch says that he would have had more than one until about 1910”

    I am not sure. I could find out.

    “If they give details on twelve children, their neglect to mention the other two wives can hardly be attributed to pure interest in brevity. Rather, it becomes conspicuous that they were selective in which details to bring out, and while they chose to bring up many other family details, they only mentioned one wife. That’s weird. It makes you wonder why they avoided mentioning the others.”

    Ben–thanks for putting it more succintly than I have. You have basically pinpointed my main concern. And thanks for all of the response to this. Interesting stuff, folks!

  135. I think we should make a clear distinction between what WE can do as members of the Church and what we really CANNOT do.

    Ben’s examples are excellent reminders of what we should be doing to better help investigators.

    But I think even if the omission in the Heber J. Grant manual is annoying, making some lofty goal to seek out the editor and demand a change will probably not go very well. Writing a letter to Elder Oaks? That he’ll read? And respond to? We can’t just walk down the street and talk with Brother Joseph any more. I think it might be easier to get an interview with Tom Cruise than get Elder Oaks interested in our little quibble.

    But having said that, we DO need to be careful. Our focus should be to remember Ben’s three risks and help others accordingly rather than nit-pick with the brethren about historical accuracy (although, again, the latter can be hard to give up in Heather’s situation, but at least it doesn’t stop Heather from sharing the truth of the matter).

  136. Kori,

    You may like Mormon Enigma, which is a very good (and very readable) bio of Emma Smith. Some of the best parts deal with her interaction with Joseph’s polygamy.

  137. I, too, heartily recommend “Mormon Enigma” as an incredibly well-written and well-referenced book detailing the intimate life of not only Emma Smith, but also Joseph Smith, Jr. This book provides the reader with the singular opportunity of being almost a fly on the wall inside the Smith household and the environs of the early Mormon Church during their lives. Every event depicted has been meticulously researched and documented from the diary and journal entries, letters, and published accounts of those who lived and experienced same during this time.

    Wonderful book… and extremely unbiased in showing from all sides the events found therein and the true characters of the Smith family as well as the other early leaders of the Church.

  138. ed —
    “…I’m puzzled by why President Hinckley would present what (to me) seems a misleading version of the prevelance and importance of polygamy in Mormon history…”

    What troubles me far more is Hinckley’s statement That polygamy “…is not doctrinal.” This is not merely misleading but directly contradictory with not only Mormon history, but Mormon scripture (D&C 132) where polygamy is still regarded as an eternal principle, a doctrine that has never been rescinded by the Church… until now?

  139. Thanks, Bob! LIke you said, my concern is that we be aware of the three risks. Then we have to make some decisions and we won’t always get it right. Ethesis, my point isn’t to second-guess the manual editor, whose prayerful judgment I respect. It’s probably best to play it safe in writing manuals, because you aren’t there to answer the questions of readers when they arise. But those of us whose task is to fellowship, and teach lessons, need to be mindful of how these three risks arise, whether in the text of a manual, in things we say in class, or things we say in private conversation. And we need to be mindful of how the course material we use navigates these risks, sometimes to follow its example, and sometimes to do what only a live person can by adjusting the presentation to our particular audience.

    Today I was struck by a parallel of the story of Enos with Joseph Smith, and was tempted to share it while teaching Sunday School — Enos prays first for a remission of his own sins, then is told more about his role as a prophet, e.g. that the records he keeps will be instrumental in restoring the Lamanites to the truth, long after he is dead. Similarly, the earliest written account (to my knowledge) of the First Vision focuses on a remission of Joseph’s sins, tho of course the account we usually use focuses on Joseph’s role as restorer of the true church. I really wanted to share the parallel; I think it is beautiful and illuminating of how these two prophets came to take up their mantle. But needless to say, I had to keep my mouth shut!

    I appreciate how this discussion has helped me think through my responsibility — as Kristine started it, thinking about hers.

  140. As far as President Hinckley’s remarks to the press go, I totally support his choices to downplay doctrines that are not central to our teaching, especially when he is being interviewed on television, in the land of the sound bite. He is aware of his audience; we need to be aware of ours. What I was agreeing with Ed on is that one of the risks we have to weigh in choosing what to bring up is the risk of seeming disingenuous.

  141. Richard, when was the last time you heard polygamy preached at General Conference? We don’t teach polygamy; in other words it’s not a part of our doctrine. What the relevance of that part of D&C 132 is today is debatable. Similarly, when was the last time you heard King Follett ideas in General Conference? That doesn’t mean they aren’t true, but it says something about their status as doctrines.

  142. I think we need to look at the context of the “not doctrinal” comment.

    Pres. Hinckley clearly situates the “not doctrinal” comment within the “we believe in being subject to kings, presidents …” etc.

    In other words – we follow the law. Currently, polygamy is not doctrinal because a higher law of obedience to the secular law is in effect trumping it.

    That’s what I see him as saying – not that it wasn’t ever practiced or that it wasn’t doctrinal back in the day – just that it isn’t doctrinal as long as it’s illegal in the USA.

  143. Adam, Frank: Frank restated my concern pretty well–if SLC is going to intervene, there should be clear guidelines for their doing so and for what they’re expecting the bishop to do. Otherwise the bishop has to try to guess what will please his file leaders, as well as trying to figure out what action is necessary for the disciplinee’s welfare–that’s an unneccessarily difficult position to put the bishop in.

    Kori–another book that treats polygamy as well as many other aspects of Mormon women’s lives in that era is _Mormon Sisters_, edited by Claudia Bushman. It’s a collection of essays by Mormon women who set themselves the task of researching and writing about women’s lives, right at the time when women’s history was starting to get serious academic attention in the U.S. It’s a really great book; I think it holds up quite well academically, but it’s also very personal and passionate–‘amateur’ in the best sense of that word.

  144. Ivan, thanks for pointing out that the percentage of mormons involved in polygamy depends on whether you count by all adults, adult males, adult females, children, families, etc.

    It’s also true that the numbers change depending on whether you’re talking about all baptized members, only active members, or only temple recommend holders (in the case of adults).

    I’m sure that Pres. Hinckley’s number fits one of these. My guess: 3-5% of baptized adult males had more than one wife. Which (according to my cocktail napkin calculations) would mean perhaps 6-10% of active adult males. And maybe 12-20% of males holding temple recommends.

    Anyone have a better guess than me?

  145. One other thing I just thought of which would make the numbers dance: time. Participation in 1889 would be different than in 1849, I would think. (Or in 1909.) But my knowledge about polygamy is so scanty that I cannot even presume to make a silly guess (see above) about which years would have the highest percentages.

    Again, anyone else?

  146. Ben, I share your sense that in my case (the Woodruff/Koresh incident) things worked out for the best. The local leaders let things go. That was my goal. I didn’t want things to escalate out of control. The last thing I want to do is fight with the church. I also agree with Kristine that a very volatile, potentially dangerous situation arises in this grey area when Salt Lake intervenes. I’m just not very optimistic about “guidelines.” I would like to be optimistic about what happens in such situations, but I admit I’m skeptical. I was lucky that the local leaders in my case didn’t want to be seen as crusaders of some sort. But I do feel that the difference in many cases with those who were exed in the early nineties was very a much an issue of the luck of the draw and whether things escalated into the view of Salt Lake.

    I think, for example, of Lavina Fielding Anderson’s position. Lavina is a such faithful person. She really doesn’t try to be inflammatory. I know her very well. And I think that to this day that she faithfully attends her ward. She is very much a believer in the church and its mission. She just has a very dedicated sense of personal integrity and congruity. She believes in telling the truth. And I admire that very much (though we differ very much on many things in terms of belief). I sometimes wonder whether the difference between her case and mine isn’t really just a matter of luck.

    I also have a great sense of personal affection and admiration for Michael Quinn’s basic integrity and congruity. He is my friend. I agree with my son, who has often made the point here on Times and Seasons, that there are a variety of legitimate and substantive arguments that can be made raised against various aspects of Michael’s scholarship. I was consulted as editor on both the first and second editions of Mormonism and the Magic World View (and on other Quinn books as well) and have raised many issues myself. But Michael isn’t an inflammatory personality. And Michael really is at the core a believer in Joseph Smith and Mormonism, if in an admittedly distinctive way (again, we wouldn’t find ourselves in agreement on many matters of belief). I’m always very sad when I read personal attacks on Michael.

    Obviously I feel a great deal of sadness for the pain caused for people I care about who were excommunicated because of the intervention of Salt Lake.

  147. There are so many interesting sub-topics in this thread, it’s hard to keep track of them all.

    Bob — You can be sure that Oaks, and everybody else in Salt Lake, is aware of the oft-mentioned complaint about the absence of polygamy references in the Church manuals. As I recall, Will Bagley made a big stink about it when the Brigham Young manual first came out a couple years ago. It was quite a news story in Utah, I believe.

    Personally, I’ve never been able to get too worked up about the absence of polygamy in the Church manuals. (And I’m someone who has been sometimes prone to get worked up over stuff like this). I appreciate where Heather is coming from, but since the manuals are not structured as historical narratives, but rather, as themes/teachings organized topically, I never expected that polygamy would get much attention in the manuals. Were the manuals organized as historical biographies, I would probably feel the consternation that others feel.

    Ethesis said:
    “Not to mention, should every conversation about polygamy end up with a discussion of J. Golden Kimball and his feud with St. George over the practice and other issues, and how he finally ended matters, and, I guess, a discussion of his mule driving past and his ability to get people to repent of their sins? … How complete is complete?”

    If Ethesis is saying what I think he’s saying here, this is a point that deserves more attention. It is easy to look at a historical event, notice an aspect of it that we find important but that is not present in a recounting of it, and then conclude: “To not have included detail X is to have engaged in inappropriate selectivity of presentation.” But there’s no obvious baseline from which to measure what is “inappropriate” or “appropriate” selectivity in any given case. Everyone will select what works and avoid what doesn’t work for their particular purposes in retelling the event.

    That said, it’s hard to see how any historical recap of 19th Century Mormonism could reasonably avoid mention of polygamy, given how central a faith commitment it was to early Mormons. Further, I think there are still important discussions to be had about the pros and cons of introducing or not introducing certain issues into our Church discussions.

    Aaron B

  148. Susan, just to be clear, I’m also skeptical about guidelines, too; my strong preference would be for all of these things to be done locally, between people who at least have a chance to know and love each other. If it’s not going to be that way, then the damage might be limited by having a clear procedure that all parties are aware of.

    Lavina has pointed out that in some ways, the shift to “disciplinary council” instead of “court” is unfortunate, because it dilutes the careful attention to rules and some notion of due process. Increasing the leeway given to the bishop in the process exaggerates the influence of geographic luck and the personal relationship between the bishop/SP and the person being disciplined.

  149. Kristine, I suspect you’re right that there would be an important function in creating guidelines. I know from experience it can be enlightening to contemplate generalizations that might be drawn from a specific instance. What I can excuse in the moment is sometimes harder to excuse when I contemplate recommending the pattern as a general rule.

  150. {quote} If Ethesis is saying what I think he’s saying here, this is a point that deserves more attention. It is easy to look at a historical event, notice an aspect of it that we find important but that is not present in a recounting of it, and then conclude: “To not have included detail X is to have engaged in inappropriate selectivity of presentation.” But there’s no obvious baseline from which to measure what is “inappropriate” or “appropriate” selectivity in any given case. Everyone will select what works and avoid what doesn’t work for their particular purposes in retelling the event.{end quote}

    Yes, you got what I should have said.

    The real issue is what provides appropriate context vs. what distracts from the purpose of the lesson.

    For example, for some people the fact that my wife speaks a couple Brazilian dialects (of Portuguese) is important, but it isn’t terribly relevant many times.

    Or, when someone asks me how many children I have. What is appropriate to tell them depends on context (usually I say “we have two living at home” which does just fine for passing social contacts. I save “we’ve been through eight pregnancies, three miscarriages and three funerals” for people who get nasty about how few children I have with me and how I should have done my duty to have more children …).

    To be introduced as “Steve Marsh, he and his wife have two daughters in the local school system” is just fine for community matters. Is it complete? Well, as to what? Does it give a clearer message than “Here is Steve Marsh {burst of information that is totally disruptive} who cares about the health of children in the school system because he has two daughters in it” ??

    I think so.

    I’ve given a lot of thought to the concept of false witness (vis a vis dress codes and other things) and disruptive witness.

    But Aaron got that one right. I think.

    BTW, the cookies just don’t work to save personal info for me here, most of the time.

    I’m Stephen R. Marsh
    I post under Ethesis because there is another Steve and another Stephen.

    My website is


    I have materials on loss of life at http://adrr.com/living/ (which I see under the link section).

    I have religion and ethics at http://adrr.com/living/e01.htm (a completely different set of material in the same subdirectory).

    A mini-index (that is not complete) at http://adrr.com/mylonas/ access statistics for the site at http://adrr.com/wusage (it is so spiky because they tune the caching funny and cached hits don’t end up in the statistics).

    And, I think I’m not going to keep typing in information under the URL part.

  151. Ethesis said:
    “I say “we’ve been through eight pregnancies, three miscarriages and three funerals” for people who get nasty about how few children I have with me and how I should have done my duty to have more children.”

    I know this is an aside, but I’ve always felt that the best response to judgmental comments about not having “enough” children, or not having children “soon enough” is:

    (1) Mind your own business!; or
    (2) Go to hell!; or (one I’ve used on occasion)….

    (3) “My wife and I keep kissing and kissing and kissing and kissing, but nothing ever happens!” (This is best said with a naive, confused look on one’s face).

    Aaron B

  152. Here in New York, aka Babylon, we have the opposite problem. Wacky neo-malthusians accost my wife in the park and tell her that she has too many children.

    We’ve found that the best response to “You’re overpopulating the Earth” is a very serious “I’m only raising them to eat them later.” If they stop and stare, you can elaborate: “You know, when we run out of food. Overpopulation. It will be a great extra food source.”

    On a related vein, the best response to “That boy needs to be wearing a jacket” (which you’ll also get from random strangers on the street) is “He’s being punished.” That never fails to shock the busybody into silence.

  153. Kori,

    One more on polygamy — it’s not terribly detailed for any one person, but Compton’s _Wives of Joseph Smith_ is a nice little book, with brief bio’s of the thirty-odd wives of our first prophet.

  154. “You can be sure that Oaks, and everybody else in Salt Lake, is aware of the oft-mentioned complaint about the absence of polygamy references in the Church manuals.”

    The brethren being “aware” is nice, but I suppose my point was that if more and more of us start trying to get the brethren to be more “aware”, it’s not like the Church is all of a sudden going to become a democracy. Let’s attack the problem where we CAN make a difference.

  155. While we’re throwing out sources on polygamy, two of the standard works on the subject are:

    (1) Richard Van Wagoner’s _Mormon Polygamy: A History_; and
    (2) B. Carmon Hardy’s _Solemn Covenant: The Mormon Polygamous Passage_.

    I still haven’t read Hardy, though I know Van Wagoner rubs some people wrong with his frank discussion of polygamy under Joseph Smith. Anyway, I thought it was a good read.

    Aaron B

  156. Kaimi,

    I love your methods of scandalizing overanxious busybodies- especially telling them the coatless child’s being punished (although you may come home one day and find that the government has taken the child from you). The world needs more of this attitude. It’s the only way to stem the rising tide of nosiness.

  157. I have it from people I respect, that Kathrine Daynes, _More Wife Than One_ is excellent. She really intensely studied the operation of polygamy in one area (Manti) and hence has some (from what I hear) fairly good data sets on how things actually worked for the population as a whole, which seems like a better method than generalization from antecdote, which is the normal methodology. However, I confess that I have not yet read book. It is sitting on my shelf at home, waiting for free time.

  158. Hey, come on everybody! We only need seven more posts to this thread to knock “Mormons, Polygamy and Gay Marriage” of the top spot and make this thread into the most commented on topic in T&S history!

  159. I’m all in favor of meeting Thom’s goal and, so, am posting this. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this thread, though each time I’ve thought I had something to add to it someone else beat me to the punch.

  160. It seems to me though that this thread now has little to do with its original subject matter. Still, in the spirit of bumping up the thread, I join my voice to Thom’s.

  161. Uh, go team…
    Inside the cover of the new manual, it reads, “Your commenta and suggestions about this book would be appreciated. Please submit them to… [email protected] PLease list your name, address, ward, and stake. Be sure to give the title of the book. THen offer your comments and suggestions about the books strenghts and areas of potential improvement.”

    There’s also a snailmail address.

  162. Nate, I say email away! But I wonder if they’d tag this site and continually check up on the discussions here… That could be a good thing or bad thing depending on how you look at.

  163. Steve Evans,

    Due to your concern that the most recent comments to this thread no longer bear any relation to the original topic, let me say this:

    I prefer the bearing of a simple, heartfelt testimony to the bearing of a complicated one. I personally don’t think the bearing of complicated testimony does anybody much good. Perhaps some issues of the church are difficult to understand, and can require a complicated explanation, but in the end, I think each of us must rely on faith in our simple testimonies to see us through.

    Thanks! Just 2 more coments to go!

  164. Bob: I think that you are being paranoid if you think that there is someone in the Church Office Building who is monitoring Mormon websites.

  165. I dunno! If there really is a committee that monitors the publications of Mormon intellectuals, you never know. Just one more comment? Anyone? Anyone?

  166. No, whole floors of the Church Office building are expressly dedicated to the scouring of the internet for members expressing unorthodox thoughts:)

    Disclaimer: This post is satirical, and may not reflect the actual opinion of the poster. Poster takes no responsibility for the poster’s post nor implications thereof:)

  167. I’ve had good experiences writing to curriculum committees with suggestions for the manuals. Why assume otherwise? Like other committees in the Church, they are staffed mostly by people like you and me, trying to fulfill our callings and not completely confident that we know how to do so.

  168. A few expressions of disapproval can go a long way, a way too long way in Ethesis’ case, but I much prefer the world where offense if occasionally given to the one in which people just don’t care about having large families, or at best see having many children as a comfortably unrealizable ideal.

  169. Whenever I have visited an LDS Church and heard a testimony, I have really felt that they followed some sort of cookie cutter format. As a non-member, this disheartened me. Could everyone in this room feel the exact same way? It’s not possible!

    Until I heard a young man get up and say the following (and I am paraphrasing), “My name is Joey, and I want to bear my testimony. I love my church and I love Jesus Christ. He is the son of God. I believe in Him. I pray to Him when I am in trouble with my Mom and He always makes it better. Sometimes, my mom is still mad, but He calms her down.”

    Now, is there ANY testimony better than that one?

  170. Connie–I think the question of how Mormon children & converts learn the socially expected discourse of Mormonism would make somebody a great dissertation topic. Unfortunately, the fact that everyone does seem to learn it makes testimony mtgs. pretty boring sometimes. There was a fun thread over at orsonstelescope.blogspot.com not too long ago about testimonies that break out of the formula.

  171. Being in a less traditional ward in the Bronx, I get to hear some unusual testimonies. There was a woman bearing her testimony of vegetarianism a few months ago (Logan even blogged about it, at http://www.bobandlogan.com/archives/000061.html ).There was the woman who started out explaining some problems with her neighbors, and then started cussing them out.

    Possibly my favorite was the woman who gave a ten-minute hellfire-and-damnation testimony of the law of tithing. I later heard that contributions spiked that week, and the effect lasted for several weeks. Apparently, she really put the fear of hell into people.

    To me, the effect was so unexpected, I still find it funny.

  172. Well, rather than e-mail the link and tell them to read it, I e-mailed [email protected] the page. Maybe they will read it.

    Truth is, they often respond. Like many groups, they are hungry for feedback.

    BTW as to “I much prefer the world where offense if occasionally given”

    I have to agree. If the world has to err, what the heck …

    BTW, in Texas, people are much more tolerant of my kids than they are in Utah. My youngest just turned four. She is very, very active (by a good margin, the most active child I’ve known who was not subject to some sort of problem). Bright, though she’s plataued on writing now that she has discovered she can get people to write for her (she still writes her name and a few other words, but hasn’t worked at learning more). Types better than she writes.

    In Texas, people are delighted when she wants to talk with them, engage them in passing conversation (she loves to just introduce herself and start talking to people) … I think it is because we have a scarcity of children here.

  173. Nate — I always assumed everyone at the Church Office Building monitored Mormon websites NOT for concerns about orthodoxy, but because they are so enamored of our moving prose, intimidated by our scathing wit, impressed by our erudite ramblings and awe-struck by our collective brillance!


    Aaron B

  174. I understand that most people have moved on from this discussion, but some of the ideas tossed around light-years up-thread are still careening around my mind. Please forgive my topical backsliding:

    I’m interested in the suggestion made above that many testimony problems could be avoided if the more complicated issues of church history and theology were addressed early on in life, preferably in the home.

    This is a very novel concept to me, and one that’s given me difficulty in deciding whether to accept or reject it. On the one hand, it seems like a good thing to prepare our children, in the peace and security of home, for the challenging facts and arguments they might face later in life concerning the church. On the other hand, I’m of the strong belief that religious teaching should focus on the spirit, and I wonder how spiritual any discussion of anti-Mormon critiques of the Book of Mormon, or of Joseph Smith treasure hunting smears could ever be, especially with children, who often fail to see gray areas.

    It’s been mentioned before that we don’t want budding testimonies to be too overwhelmed with challenging facts lest they be stillborn. But consider a more specific question: Do anti-Mormon arguments, or any analysis of facts that initially cast a pall on the gospel or church have any place in the home? For the moment, I’m convinced that they do not.

    I’m reminded of the frequent command in the Doctrine and Covenants that the elders preach nothing but repentance. This seems to me to require a very simple approach to gospel teaching, focusing on the essential saving truths. Most parents never even get beyond the basics of the Book of Mormon and WoW and chastity. Would we really want them to split their time with between, say, the atonement AND apologetics for First Vision story-telling constistency? Would the Lord bless those efforts with a portion of his spirit, to uplift the teachers and teachees?

    A broader question: This discussion has continued under the premise that everyone eventually comes into contact with things that make them uncomfortable in their testimonies. Thus, we need to prepare people for that moment, by preempting the difficult ideas, undercutting and debunking them from the start. It’s a good idea in theory, but I wonder: Is it true that all people are confronted with factual challenges to their faith (I distinguish these from the more spiritual challenges, such as just struggling with faith in general and losing spiritual motivation, which I think are far more universal)? Could the discussants on this page be wrongly generalizing experiences from their own, more intellectually active lives, assuming that everyone faces these difficult questions, when in fact only a few historically/theologically curious types ever do? Perhaps there is a large part of the church that simply isn’t curious about FARMS, BoM apologetics, battles over historical interpretation, etc., and who never even hear the questions in the first place. If that’s true, maybe we ought not run the risks of pre-empting the conflicts, because the risk of damaging blooming testimonies outweighs the risk that these people will ever face a difficult fact about the church, or if they do, will think deeply enough about the fact to be challenged by it.

    Anyone have any ideas about either of these two issues? Kristine (can’t remember if it was you who suggested the complicating testimony should be born in the home or not), what place can you imagine giving in your home to the difficult issues related to the church?

  175. It seems the the potential problem is the person who is raised LDS, but is a house of cards, who will fall down as soon as someone mentions to them that Joseph Smith had 30+ wives, etc.

    There seem to be two solutions — either don’t cultivate such houses of cards, or don’t ever let them find out facts that will knock them down.

    It’s a little too late for the latter, with more and more serious history being done about early church leaders. Besides, that solution seems a little dodgy.

    The preferred route is probably vaccination. Who do we want first informing fragile members of Joseph Smith’s polygamy — their own Bishop / Sunday School teacher, or the Tanners?

    This kind of information should be dispensed in classes, discussed, and then when someone says to the member, “did you know ___?” the member will potentially say, “yes, and it’s no big deal.”

  176. Kaimi, I agree that practically, that is the best solution. However, the dilemma is that something in the idea of giving the floor to these issues strikes me as wrong- either sacrilege, waste of time, or surrender.

    Of course there is a benefit to vaccinating our members in Sunday school, which you’ve outlined, but would the spirit hang around for these conversations? Even if we give the debated issues the treatment they deserve– laying them open to the light of gospel truth, I’m just not sure if the Lord cares enough about these issues to bear witness to the hearer. Wouldn’t it be more effective to bear witness solely of the core gospel truths, thereby arming the “house of cards” member with a foundational spiritual witness, which could be counted on (regardless of its factual deficiencies) to repel the anti-gospel attacks? In other words, would you rather have a spiritual conviction or an encyclopedic knowledge, in countering anti-mormon dreck?

  177. Is it true that all people are confronted with factual challenges to their faith…

    Oh, yes. Living in Utah as a non-mormon, I have been asked routinely about my faith in the context of the Trinity, etc. My belief is that, truly, we do not know everything. Some things have been kept from us, purposefully, by the Lord. I believe it is to test our childlike faith in Him when we don’t have all the facts.

    My childhood friend and I would meet on my fence (me with my Bible, he with his BOM) and just talk and talk for hours about our faith. When we got to a place where we fundamentally disagreed, we would both throw up our hands and say “tie!” I learned you can never fully ‘defend’ your faith. He went on a mission, and I wrote him faithfully. He couldn’t believe a nonmember would do that. Why? He is serving his God. I supported that.

    I remember when I was asked by the local Young Women’s group to join them on their annual Campout, since I am a licensed EMT. It was a wonderful experience, because I am not a member. They were able to get a perspective outside their faith and I was able to understand theirs even more. (Yes, the bishop knew me very well, and knew I am a lesbian, and no, there were no discussions about that topic with the girls as it was inappropriate)

    I destinctly remember the testimony fireside, and listening to these girls who truly believed the power of the Lord in their lives. It came to me, and I said, “Well, I don’t know what a testimony really is… but…” and I accounted the times in my life where I’ve felt the presence of the Lord, and how He had seen me through some very hard times. I exhaulted the girls to listen to the Lord when the outside voices got too strong, and to live their lives by His principles. When I looked up, the girls were crying, and one of the leaders leaned over, hugged me, and said, “That was your testimony, my dear.” I guess so…

  178. Ryan wrote: “Even if we give the debated issues the treatment they deserve– laying them open to the light of gospel truth, I’m just not sure if the Lord cares enough about these issues to bear witness to the hearer.”

    Is the witness of the Spirit of truth dependent on whether the Lord “cares a lot” about a particular issue? It seems strange to me to suggest that the Lord “doesn’t care” about the truth claims of the Church (and counterclaims); it seems even stranger to me to suggest that therefore, the Spirit would not witness of truth. What happened to Moroni 10:5?

    And I second Bob’s question: Why can’t we have both a firm spiritual foundation *and* “vaccination” against incorrect criticisms of the Church?

  179. I think Ryan Bell is right. It would be wrong to preach anything but repentance in our church meeting. I think the only truly useful vaccination against anti-Mormon attacks is a spiritual one. The hothouse and house of card testimonies aren’t easily destroyed because they don’t know enough about contravercial aspects of church history and doctrine. They are easily destroyed because they are not really rooted in a clear confirmation of the truth from the spirit. They have not truly been converted by the spirit. I don’t think we could ever possibly teach someone enough good answers to difficult questions. But we can share our pure, simple testimonies with others and help them develop their own.

  180. Grasshopper and Bob,

    You both can have both if you want it. I also think Ryan is right that these so-called hard hitting questions don’t come up for everybody, but they do come up for those who are interested in them. I’m not particularly interested in the vagaries of historical facts or claims of facts and the like, because my testimony is not rooted in them. These questions don’t really ever come up in my daily life, and I think that’s because I don’t spend time researching them, nor spending time with church detractors for whom these issues seem all important. I think it would be wrong to spend time trying to adequately explain our best guesses to anti-mormon attacks to people with tender testimonies when we could be spending that time feeding their testimonies on the feast of spirit that is the real gospel. Anybody who wants to innoculate themselves in another way is welcome to try, but it would be wrong to needlessly subject others to it, even if our motivations for doing so are good.

  181. Bob and Grasshopper: Why have both? Either you believe a strong spiritual witness is sufficient, or you don’t. If you don’t, you’ll need to spend a great deal of time on factual and logical argumentation, which could then completely drown out any of the spiritual focus at all. If you do, there’s not much need for the rest of the stuff. When we say “testimony” aren’t we talking about the spiritual dimension, regardless of whether it’s supported by little data points that buttress the logic of that spiritual witness?

    I guess there are two answers to the question “why not have both?” First, the spiritual side, if taught and developed properly, will give complete protection. Second, the factual armor, while no one believe it could ever give complete protection, also comes with substantial risks. If you agree with those two premises, isn’t the conclusion a straightforward one?

  182. I disagree that apologetics are useless to the person with a spiritual testimony, though I concede that they do better at creating room for a testimony to be found than they do at buttressing it afterwards. Instead, I think the simple answer is opportunity cost, that and the principle that one should imbibe milk before meat.

  183. To answer your other question, Grasshopper, I think there are truths that God cares more about, and that he wants us to care more about. That’s not to say he won’t reveal to us the truth of some fact if we have a uniquely important reason for needing to know. But in general, it doesn’t seem to make sense to me that the Lord would give people spiritual experiences while discussing the various takes on the Adam-God theory. Maybe I”m wrong. But I also think about a few people I’ve known who have had real doctrinal struggles. Take polygamy, for example. While there may be some who’ve struggled with this issue and actually been given a testimony that this was a true divine principle, the people I know and have heard about end up with something much less specific– usually a broad assurance the this is the Lord’s church, or a reconfirmation of Joseph Smith’s true prophetic calling.

    If you have a different perspective, I’d be interested. Buy my take, based only on andecdote and impression, is that the Lord would like us to learn the core doctrines and shore up our spiritual preparation. To encourage this, I believe he sets aside greater spiritual communication to confirm and teach about these issues, and using the spirit less in discussion about the more trivial, logic-driven, and doubt-inducing topics.

  184. Ryan,

    It seems to me that you’re creating a sharp distinction between “spiritual” and “intellectual” that I’m not sure is warranted. The spirit speaks to the heart *and* the mind, and to assume that either one is sufficient is not, IMO, correct.

    “But in general, it doesn’t seem to make sense to me that the Lord would give people spiritual experiences while discussing the various takes on the Adam-God theory. Maybe I’m wrong.”

    Well, I know quite a few people who have had spiritual experiences connected with Adam-God discussions, and have had some myself. So I think you are wrong on that point.

  185. This discussion is almost as interesting as it is long. Several thoughts:

    1. I’m all for innoculation. Kori’s experience resonates deeply with me. I grew up in suburban Utah in the heartland of Mormonism. The only challenges to the veracity of the restored Gospel or the legitimacy of the Church to which I was exposed came from within me. Imagine, then, my feelings of surprise and horror when I casually leafed through an anti-Mormon pamphlet distributed by the Jehova’s Witnesses (I was sucked in by the drawings of happy crowds made up of varying ethnicities, garbed in traditional dress, playing with parrots and lions). Ryan’s earlier story about his wife reading a Jack Chick pamphlet — I belive it was “The Visitors” — is yet another demonstration of this phenomenon (I was there for this, and it wasn’t pretty). If you plan on your children living out their years in Utah, you won’t have much of a problem. But once away from the Motherland (or even at the gates of Temple Square) they’re going to run into some trouble.

    2. I grant that for many their spiritual challenges will never come from the intellectual quarter. It is thus problematic to innoculate against such challenges in a Church forum. However, I think it’s fairly safe to say that anyone who’s worrying about their children being exposed to difficult facts and ideas is probably going to have children who will indeed find them difficult.

    3. For a second I thought Richard B. was Richard Bushman, and my testimony really was shaken.

    4. I think that Richard B. recieved unfair treatment at the hands of some in this discussion.

    5. I’m thinking about writing a novel based on Susan and Nate Oman. Seems like there’s a lot of material to mine there, given their discussion on this thread.

  186. With that last comment, I’m left wondering whether I should post. Also seems like folks have left the thread behind, and I don’t know where I’ve been for two days. But here’s what I was thinking as I read the past couple of days’ posts for what it’s worth. Just seems very odd to be talking about having to “innoculate” people about learning what happened. We are who we are.

  187. I too scratch my head over a debate about whether and how to inoculate people to make them immune to faith destroying truth. I am troubled by a couple of issues that arise from a number of these posts.

    1. Much of this discussion centers on the question of how to ensure that information is presented in a way that maximizes the probability that people will accept the claims of the church. This approach implies that the answer as to whether and how to present information that might prove challenging to one’s faith depends on our assessment of how we can best persuade that person to believe. If they are more likely to believe by keeping them ignorant, then keep them ignorant. If ignorance is not an option, then present the information at a time and place which will ensure that it poses the least risk to their faith. That strikes me as somewhat disingenuous and even manipulative.
    2. This attitude also betrays a certain lack of confidence in God and in his ability to testify of his truth to his children. Do we really believe that people will lose their eternal salvation because they were exposed to true information which then so corrupted them that they were no longer capable of receiving a spiritual witness of God’s truth? What kind of God is that? Is the power of the Spirit to testify of truth really diminished by one’s knowledge of polyandry, Danites and Adam God teachings?

  188. “Do we really believe that people will lose their eternal salvation because they were exposed to true information which then so corrupted them that they were no longer capable of receiving a spiritual witness of God’s truth?”


    But this says more about our view of people than it does about our view of God, because true information can be interpreted in a variety of ways, and can be reacted to in a variety of ways, including the outright rejection of the concept of a spiritual witness. I have seen this happen, so it’s not a phantom made up in our minds.

    I do not advocate ignorance, but I do advocate presenting information in such a way as to encourage belief in God and so as to persuade people to believe as I (properly, I hope) believe. It would be a sorry thing if I had so little confidence in my own beliefs that I would think that trying to persuade people to believe as I do is wrong. What would that say about my faith?

    [i]What kind of God is that? Is the power of the Spirit to testify of truth really diminished by one’s knowledge of polyandry, Danites and Adam God teachings?[/i]

    No, but the power of the Spirit to testify of truth *is* really diminished by the individual’s lack of receptivity. God does not force himself upon us; we must open ourselves to him.

    The whole point of “inoculation” is to *expose* people to the challenging information because we recognize that mere exposure does not make one incapable of receiving a witness. But our recognition that there are good and bad ways for this exposure to happen illustrates our understanding that people can use this information to close the door to the Spirit, rather than as a springboard to deeper spiritual seeking.

  189. Doesn’t this suggest that the eternal salvation of God’s children is in our rather weak and clumsy hands? Let me give a hypothetical example to illustrate. Let’s take the case of two investigators—Joe and Mary. Mary is taking the discussions and reading the Book of Mormon. She comes to church and attends the Gospel Essentials class. While in that class a member takes it upon herself to “inoculate” Mary by launching into a brief explanation about polygamy. Mary is in shock—“you mean that Joseph Smith married other men’s wives?” Mary’s moral sensibilities are so offended that she never comes back and remains a faithful Catholic.

    Joe on the other hand never nears any of that. He joins the church and remains a faithful member. On the judgment day, as Joe and Mary are being assigned to their respective kingdoms of glory (celestial for Joe, terrestrial for Mary), Mary is told that she will inherit the terrestrial kingdom because she did not accept the Gospel in its fullness due to the fact that she became unreceptive to the Spirit after hearing about polyandry. Joe exclaims, “Joseph married other men’s wives? Whew, good thing I never knew about that—there is no way I would have ever accepted the Gospel if I had known that!”

    Somehow I just can’t accept a plan of salvation that leaves so much to chance. Of course we should do our best to teach and explain the Gospel in a way that it will be understood, and I certainly don’t mean to suggest otherwise. But our objective should be to explain truth in a logical and coherent manner so that it is understood. It should not be to spin the story in the way which we believe is most likely to inculcate belief. I doubt that poor judgment or clumsiness on our part in deciding whether, when or how to disclose difficult issues are a significant factor in influencing that person’s eternal destiny.

  190. Gary, how would you suggest we teach the gospel, if it’s wrong to do it in a matter that is most likely to encourage belief? Don’t you think the spirit will edify those hearing our teaching only if it’s done in the proper manner, with the proper topcial focus, and with the proper motivation? Doesn’t that mean we ought to do our utmost to highlight the positives, bear testimony of what we love about the gospel, which would necessarily exclude some of the challenging nuance and factual disputes?

    By the way, I understand your little conundrum with your parable, but I think it’s extremely overbroad. You can run the same parable to show that we ought not do missionary work at all. Joe meets the missionaries and accepts the message, Mary doesn’t meet them at all. They both show up at the judgment, and they’re both fine. The real lesson isn’t that we should stop doing missionary work, but that we are responsible for doing whatever we can to spread God’s word here on earth, and should let him work out the intricate calculus of pluses and minuses that will determine the judgment. If I hadn’t gone on my mission, those hundreds of people I bore witness too would never have heard the message, and might be less accountable now. Should I not have gone?

    I don’t think anyone here believes the plan of salvation leaves anything to chance. I do think we have a responsibility to play whatever role we can for the good, and let God use us to eliminate the “chance” from the system, if he will.

  191. Gary said:Much of this discussion centers on the question of how to ensure that information is presented in a way that maximizes the probability that people will accept the claims of the church.

    Ben replies: Exactly. And do you know what investigators do now after the first discussion? They get online, where antimormon sites outnumber pro-LDS sites by 20 to 1. Do you think those unfriendly websites present polygamy (and a host of other things) in a way designed to help people accept the truth claims of the gospel? Exactly the opposite. Missionary work is taking it in the shorts because of the internet, especially among the non-English speakers.

    I’m not advocating that polygamy become the first discussion, but members and missionaries can no longer afford to have their heads in the sand concerning these things.

  192. Ryan: You ask a good question, and I am thinking on the run here, so forgive me if my thoughts are a little disjointed.

    I think we should teach the Gospel in a way that best promotes understanding. That is not the quite the same thing as trying to inculcate belief. I believe that my suggested approach is consistent with promoting faith, but if our primary goal is inculcate belief, we run the risk of shading or even sacrificing truth because our overriding goal is to convince rather than to explain and teach. When our primary goal is to convince, we get silly faith promoting stories that are not true. We twist scriptures and historical events in sometimes very subtle ways, all in the cause of promoting faith. However, when we are unafraid of truth, and endeavor to teach it in a way that it will be understood, I think we discharge our duty. It is then up to the Spirit to do the rest.

    You correctly point out that my rather simple story is, well, perhaps too simple and it might imply that we should do nothing because God will take care of it all. My real point is not that we don’t have an obligation to teach and to testify because the salvation of others is not in our hands. Rather, I believe that true faith and love compel us to act in certain ways. People who have faith, and who love other people, should teach those other people the eternal truths which they have learned. However, we should not worry that the eternal destiny of those other people will be affected by how skilled we are at “inoculating” them, or how effective we are at proclaiming our faith. And we should never fall into the trap of manipulating the message in an effort to convince them to believe something merely because we are afraid that a more straighforward presentation of the whole truth will not achieve the desired result.

  193. Gary, you make strong points. I am especially sympathetic to your point about the distortions that inevitably arise in the gospel narrative when we focus solely on bright-eyed faith promoting jargon. (Yes, Mr. Fernandes, the wine that Jesus drank was actually just grape juice).

    I also agree with you that the responsibility for the conversion is ultimately not in our hands, but those of Heavenly Father. But this leads to the very core of my argument: That the Spirit is the key. We’ve all heard the strategy, the bedrock principle behind missionary work in the last 20 years– It’s President Benson’s testimony that everything we do in missionary work must focus on the spirit, and when we teach the core truths of the gospel, we can expect the spirit to work in the heart of the hearer, eventually converting him or her.

    And that’s why I doubt that we ought to give equal time to the adversarial veiwpoints. I simply cannot believe that any discussion between missionaries and investigators about polygamy will be accompanied by a witness of the spirit strong enough to convert that person.

    Ben is correct that once the Elders have gone, the investigator can be exposed to a bevy of opposing viewpoints. But I’m not concerned about that. When the investigator reads the sites about polygamy and etc. etc., he should notice an appreciable loss of the spirit (or at least the theory suggests). Then when the Elders or Sisters return and answer questions, they would hopefully steer the discussion to testifying of the basic truths. The spirit returns. It’s this contrast that should make their message so compelling.

    Another formulation: Assume that the spirit is most likely to come when fervent testimony is borne. Then posit that fervent testimony is most likely to be borne when core gospel truths are being discussed. (Imagine the opposite….a discussion of polygamy ends with a fervent testimony of… what? I would guess most members don’t have a testimony of it at all, and those who do surely wouldn’t have any expedient grounds for bearing it to investigators, would they?). Thus, if you believe that the spirit is the key to conversion and general gospel teaching, you must agree (if you can accept the above premises) that the trivial debates over the history and side-theology of the church are unhelpful in any conversion. Remember, the main objective is not to inform. It’s to convert. The two objectives suggest very different methods.

    Finally, I think in your final paragraph you assume that to leave out the complicated details is to “manipulate the message.” Again, I strongly disagree. We have no duty nor strategic advantage to be gained by highlighting the warts and knots of our narrative. That is not manipulative, it’s telling the story in the way best calculated to bring the spirit.

  194. Ryan said:the Elders or Sisters return and answer questions.

    The problem is that missionaries (and many members) know squat about the issues these websites raise. Even if the missionaries are able to steer to conversation back to more central (and important) issues like the Book of Mormon, the fact that they don’t know anything about (insert random historical/scriptural issue here) establishes one thing in the investigator’s mind- the informative (anti) website knows more than the official church representatives. Who will they rely on for information when that’s the case?

  195. Ryan: “Remember, the main objective is not to inform. It’s to convert.”

    I am not so sure. Conversion is God’s objective, but I am not sure it should be mine. I realize how odd that sounds. I think my obligation is to inform. I should explain gospel truths to the best of my ability. But I don’t think I should take it upon myself to tailor the message in the way that I believe will most likely result in my audience believing what I believe. I used to do that for a living, but I don’t think I should teach the gospel that way. When something other than a simple explanation of truth is our objective, then truth will be subordinate to our other objective and that is always dangerous.

    I do realize that this issue is not as simple as I may seem to be portraying it. I would love to get into this discussion in more detail, but I am leaving for the airport shortly and will be out of town for a few days, so time constraints prevent me from doing justice to your response. Thank you for your comments. This is an issue that interests me and I really appreciate the insights of the people who have commented on this topic.

  196. Ben raised a good point: The internet changes everything. Milk-before-meat used to be a viable approach, but now the world has immediate access to meat whether we think they’re ready for it or not.

    I’m very sympathetic to investigators who feel the Spirit but are faced with troubling issues that are not satisfactorily addressed by the pro-LDS side. If they’re not able to “put it in the shelf” as we’re sometimes counseled, what resources are available to help them? A lot of the LDS internet presence smacks of hack apologetics rather than real scholarship. FARMS tries to transcend this, but I’m not always impressed by their approach, and it seems that we could do so much more.

  197. Ben raised a good point: The internet changes everything. Milk-before-meat used to be a viable approach, but now the world has immediate access to meat whether we think they’re ready for it or not.

    I’m very sympathetic to investigators who feel the Spirit but are faced with troubling issues that are not satisfactorily addressed by the pro-LDS side. If they’re not able to “put it in the shelf” as we’re sometimes counseled, what resources are available to help them? A lot of the LDS internet presence smacks of hack apologetics rather than real scholarship. FARMS tries to transcend this, but I’m not always impressed by their approach, and it seems that we could do so much more.

  198. Ben raised a good point: The internet changes everything. Milk-before-meat used to be a viable approach, but now the world has immediate access to meat whether we think they’re ready for it or not.

    I’m very sympathetic to investigators who feel the Spirit but are faced with troubling issues that are not satisfactorily addressed by the pro-LDS side. If they’re not able to “put it in the shelf” as we’re sometimes counseled, what resources are available to help them? A lot of the LDS internet presence smacks of hack apologetics rather than real scholarship. FARMS tries to transcend this, but I’m not always impressed by their approach, and it seems that we could do so much more.

  199. Ben raised a good point: The internet changes everything. Milk-before-meat used to be a viable approach, but now the world has immediate access to meat whether we think they’re ready for it or not.

    I’m very sympathetic to investigators who feel the Spirit but are faced with troubling issues that are not satisfactorily addressed by the pro-LDS side. If they’re not able to “put it in the shelf” as we’re sometimes counseled, what resources are available to help them? A lot of the LDS internet presence smacks of hack apologetics rather than real scholarship. FARMS tries to transcend this, but I’m not always impressed by their approach, and it seems that we could do so much more.

  200. Milk before meat is inevitable. It’s the divine plan. Probably the best we can do is to ask investigators to come to us with problems and warn them that some people have unwittingly passed on lies and attacks on the Church, just as lots of lies and rumors swarmed around Christ and the apostles, which is one reason the Jews thought he deserved death. Please, we’d say, talk to us.

  201. Susan, I didn’t mean for my comment on the novel to be offensive or snide. I was commenting on the fact that you and Nate, though related, seem to have very different takes on things. Sorry if I offended.

    This is an interesting discussion. I think some of the disagreement stems from the use of the word “inocculate.” I think some are inferring that by “innoculating” children or investigators they are simply presenting a cleaned-up partially true accounting what opponents of the Church will one day tell them. However, that’s not how I’m using the term.

    I think it entails being honest with whomever you’re teaching, saying something along the lines of, “Look, the Church is true. Jesus is the Christ, GBH is a prophet of God, as was Joseph Smith. The only way to truly know that is to study the Gospel and then have the Spirit confirm it in your heart. As you study the Gospel, you will no doubt encounter opponents of the Church. They will cite many different facts and examples that to their mind demonstrates the Church isn’t true. Some of the things they’ll tell you will be true. Others will be distortions or outright lies.

    There are certain things in the history of the Church that are troubling to many members; these things don’t square with their idea of God’s Church. I’ve struggled with some of these issues myself. However, I believe there are good explanations for many of them. There are still ones that I don’t understand, and on these I’ve had to rely on what the Spirit told me and simply resign myself not to understand everything.”

  202. Adam: I agree. I don’t know about anyone else, but I find it much easier to get answers from Google than from other people. I assume that many investigators are like me, and need to be coaxed to bring us their questions rather than rely solely on the internet.

    But are we equipped to answer them? For decades, controversial subjects have been taboo in mainstream LDS circles, which has left many of us somewhat clueless. If we don’t know the answer, where do we turn?

    Thank goodness that conversion is a spiritual phenomenon. In my experience, seeking the Spirit will rarely answer academic questions, but will at least help us know what we should be *doing*. That, hopefully, is what motivates people to join the church.

  203. I’m coming late to this one…

    Way back on April 12, Kristine responded to Connie: “I think the question of how Mormon children & converts learn the socially expected discourse of Mormonism would make somebody a great dissertation topic.”

    Actually, this has been addressed in “Bearing True Testimony,” BYU Adjunct Assistant Professor of Anthropology Richard Buonforte’s unpublished Yale MPhil work (was to be a PhD dissertation) in sociolinguistics.

    In the early 90s, Buonforte gave us several lectures on his material…how testimonies are performed, the sociolinguistics of correct testimony bearing, etc. Hopefully he will publish this somewhere.

  204. Thanks, Rob! I do hope he publishes it somewhere.

    Hey, anybody else need a dissertation topic? I got a million…

  205. I’ve been thinking . . . I think the timing of when people encounter ideas often matters a lot, but I’ve been surprised sometimes at how many ideas that I thought would encounter resistance, say, when I was teaching a lesson in priesthood meeting, have been anticipated by members of the class and brought up before I even did. Far from resisted, anticipated and elaborated. When an idea is presented in a context such that it is clear how naturally it grows out of the scriptures, it is impressive to me how ready people are to accept it.

  206. Most of this went way over my head (showing me how much I have yet to learn about the history of my church–I learned most of what I know from SAINTS by OSC–being a convert and having missed out on all the primary songs about the love life of Joseph Smith!) but the side-concept about DISRUPTIVE WITNESS is a new and powerful one for me, and I’ll be thinking about it for days. Thanks Ethesis, and blessings to all of you.

    I also wonder if there isn’t some truth to the Old Testament notion that meat and milk don’t mix!

  207. It is not only the Church which has this problem with knowledge, when should one talk about problems in the pillars of one’s knowledge/beliefs/fields/etc., but many academic disciplines have it as well.

    I am a PhD student in History. The tools for locating problems in a History is found in Historiography, but serious discussion of Historiography or the Philosophies of History, is usually reserved for Graduate students, or, at best, is a elective for undergrads. When my adviser teaches his undergrad seminars he stays away from Historiographical issues, for the most part, because they confuse the students.

    It is the same with this. As the scriptures say, when one teaches with the spirit both people are edified. Often introduction of these kind of topics in a testimony or lesson engenders confusion and not edification. Perhaps someday I will not be so.

  208. Gardens and Testimony
    Over at T&S, Kristine posted On the Bearing of Complicated and Complicating Testimonies, which spurred an all-star discussion that I missed out on entirely. So I will try to contribute by expanding on the interesting theme of gardens and testimony

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