Spoken as a Man not a Prophet
Lost Opportunity

The Message of "The Mormons"

In reading the comments around the DAMU and the Bloggernacle over the last week on the PBS dcoumentary The Mormons, one thing became clear: mainstream believing members of the LDS Church reacted very negatively to the program.  As noted in my earlier reviews, many who expressed their displeasure cited an alleged lack of balance and perceived inaccuracies (generally without supporting their assertions).  Many also lamented the amount of time spent on the Mountain Meadows Massacre.  I think, though, that what really made devout Mormons squeamish, what really set them off, was the subtext that ran throughout the documentary.  They might have been able to stomach the Mountain Meadows segment if not for the way it was used by the producers to accentuate what I think is the main message of the documentary: that for whatever monumental changes Mormonism has undergone from its inception to today, one constant has remained a bedrock principle of the religion, and it is this fact that justifies, at least to a degree, the trepidation many feel about having a Mormon in the White House.

The bedrock principle is obedience to priesthood leaders, right or wrong.  Mountain Meadows was an example of the violent, deadly consequences that flow from taking the principle of absolute obedience and loyalty to one's leaders to its ultimate conclusion.  Of course, most members of the church naturally will argue that Mountain Meadows is an historical anomaly, an aberration, and in no way connected to Mormon teachings and practices.  If the documentary had taken that position, I don't think so many faithful members would have been as upset with the program.  But what the filmmakers did, and I think did brilliantly, was connect 19th-century Mormon fanaticism with 21st-century Mormon zeal.  And the church's leaders, especially Dallin Oaks, were the producers' unwitting accomplices.  The documentary's stated purpose, of course, was to examine how a small religious sect of outcasts, hated by the American government and the American people in the nineteenth century, managed to become almost the definition of the American mainstream.  So, in the first installment the producers focused on a lot of the historical things that made Mormons different from their fellow Americans in the nineteenth century and then, in the second installment followed the mainstreaming theme through the renunciation of the practice of polygamy, the Smoot hearing, and the McKay years, focusing on the church's efforts to downplay its differences with mainstream Christianity, its embrace of capitalism, and its willingness to support the U.S. military and government.  But interwoven through the entire piece are the stories of Mormon zealotry.  The missionary whose mother dies and he doesn't return home for the funeral.  Later, the unveiling of the story behind why his mother died--his parents, believing fervently in the Mormon folk doctrine of premortal spirits being assigned certain families on earth, felt compelled to have an eighth child, knowing that it would endanger the mother's health.  The images of children being taught from preschool age onward to sing "I Hope They Call Me on A Mission."  Pictures of missionaries on the street literally accosting passersby.  The descriptions of absolute control over mission life both in the MTC and in the mission field, punctuated by the Tal Bachman quote where he says he'd have done anything his Mission President asked him to, including sacrificing his life if necessary (incidentally, many have criticized this quote as being extreme, but the producers could have said more on this point--they did not, for example, include any of the language from the temple ceremonies in which members agreed to have their throats slashed and in which members still today agree to consecrate their lives if necessary to the church). Discussion of genealogy and the vault that can sustain a direct nuclear strike.  Mention of the vast financial holdings of the church which are kept strictly secret, hidden from not only the world but the members, too.  And, of course, the whole segment on what the church does to those who dare question or in any way get out of line with their priesthoood leaders.  Toscano, Nielsen, Johnson, Fielding, Palmer, Quinn.  And what crime did these folks commit?  Church apostle Dallin Oaks summed it up nicely: "it is wrong to criticize church leaders even if the criticism is true."  With that quote, the producers expose the one thread that ties 19th-century Mormonism to 21st-century Mormonism: the absolute authority the leaders seek to exert over the followers.  All else has changed: ordinances, doctrines, practices, culture.  The only thing that remains firmly ensconced in the Mormon experience is deference to authority, obedience to the Prophet and priesthood leaders, loyalty to the church as an institution. I imagine that some of my faithful-Mormon readers will take issue with this statement.  They might argue that the fundamental, bedrock principle of Mormonism is the atonement of Jesus Christ, not obedience to priesthood authority.  To test this proposition, simply look at the statements of the church leaders interviewed for the program and the actions the church has taken against dissidents and critics in recent years.   When asked what sorts of things could subject a member to church discipline, for example, Elders Jensen and Holland and BYU Professor Daniel Peterson focused on things like not believing in the literalness of the Book of Mormon, supporting gay marriage and speaking out against the church's activities in trying to curtail equal rights for gays, and saying Joseph Smith lied (about anything).  Not a peep about Jesus Christ. And what do all the scholars who have been disfellowshipped or excommunicated in recent years have in common?  At the root of their clash with the church has been the fact that they upset their church leaders.  The truth of their positions was not an issue.  Michael Quinn was disciplined for publishing on post-Manifesto polygamy.  The church did not contend that he published anything untrue about the church.  The truth he did publish, however, was seen by leaders as critical of past church leaders.  That was his great crime.  But Quinn has said he has a testimony, particularly of Jesus Christ.  If Jesus Christ were the true foundation of the LDS church, it seems that a testimony of Jesus would outweigh any criticism one might have of a past Mormon leader in determining one's "worthiness" to be a member of the church.  Likewise, Grant Palmer has always maintained that he has a strong testimony of Jesus. Like Quinn, Palmer was disciplined for publishing a book that could be viewed as critical of a past Mormon leader, in this case Joseph Smith.  He was disciplined not because anything in his book was false but simpy because his leaders feared that some members, exposed to true accounts surrounding the origins of the church, might lose their testimonies (since Palmer's book shatters many of the myths members are taught in church-correlated materials).  That Palmer had a testimony of Jesus was not material to his ecclesiastical accusers. So, it is clear from the LDS church leaders' words and their actions that dissent from, debate with, and criticism of church leaders will not be tolerated.  Whatever else has change in the church, absolute obedience to priesthood authority is still very much alive and well in modern Mormon culture.  And it is that fact, exposed for all to see on a nationally televised broadcast, that inspired the apoplectic reaction among so many devout Mormons this past week.  And it is that fact that has so many Americans justifiably questioning whether they really want to vote for a Mormon for President, even one with great hair and brilliant white teeth.

Comments

angrymormonliberal

You captured that very well Equality. I knew there was something bothering me, a substrate to the documentary.

The interesting connection here, is that while JFK's church had it's own very recent history of repression when he was running for office they were engaged at that time in one of the most open periods of their history, Vatican II changed so many things. Romney's church will require a major crisis in order to consult with it's members and make decisions in a spirit of openess

Mayan Elephant

Yo E,

Reading this makes me think that Oaks comment was the. greatest. factor. and motivation behind the second round of press releases by otterson.

I gotta think that the quote was disturbing to tbm and evildoers alike.

Matt Thurston

I think you are right about the obedience-to-leaders subtext making many faithful LDS squeamish. However I wonder how many recognized it? And those that did not, if it were pointed out to them, would they see it?

The general opinion from those I talked to today at Church about "The Mormons" was mostly negative. We ended up spending my entire Sunday School class talking about it. (I teach 17-18 year olds.) (I'm also kind of worried I'll get a phone call later today from a concerned parent or leader...) In any case, I think the problem most faithful LDS have with the documentary is even more elemental that what you describe in your post.

The reaction Mormons are having is emotional, almost entirely feelings-based. This is because they've almost always related to the faith at that level. The documentary didn't "feel" right. Were their collective emotions given voice, I think they'd say something like: "That isn't MY church... my church is so good, it's about love, and service, and Christ... not THAT." Most LDS little to no experience viewing their faith from the detached, clinical point of view of the documentarian. They've never examined their own faith using a scalpel or a microscope.

For most Mormons, watching the documentary was like seeing a mortician poke and prod the lifeless body of the Church. "Yeah, that's the body alright, but where is the life?"

The comments you highlighted in your review of the first night all point to this. They couldn't say what was right or wrong, just that it didn't feel right.

These are people with a Conventional, Stage Three faith (see James Fowler), which describes most members in the Church. The response of many faithful Mormons around the bloggernacle to the documentary, on the whole, was more positive. This is because many have examined their faith using both their feelings and the detached, clinical tools of the scholar, philosopher, scientist, and documentarian, (whether you agree with their conclusions or not.)

If anything, the bloggernacle should be positive evidence to LDS leaders that a more open approach to church history and/or other controversial topics need not necessarily mean that members will all jump overboard...

aerin

I find it so interesting that faithful mormons found part 2 devoid of life.

It seemed packed (to me) with testimonies of the faithful, descriptions of how important the family was, how important a mission was. I'm thinking specifically of all the photos of the weddings - even the family where the daughter had the heart problem - with how great thou art playing in the background.

It wasn't all roses, but for the most part, the devotion that most active members have to the faith and to family was loud and clear.

I felt like there was more of an even-handed approach to the documentary. The history was not focused on, but it was mentioned. I felt it was much more positive than many give it credit for - it wasn't a missionary piece but it was something trying to bridge the understanding of the mormon faith from a non mormon perspective.

GDTeacher

For some time, I have held the position that the most tragic thing about MMM, aside from the killing of the innocent men, women, and children, was the obedience required of the Mormon men in the meadow. Although I do accept that the MMM is an aberration, the required obedience that it highlights is not an aberration, it is an outright expectation. Members of the church are required to be obedient. It is the "First Law of Heaven." Elder Rex C. Oaks pointed out that we should be "unquestioningly obedient" in 2005. MMM highlights in neon lights the problems that can happen if we are unquestioningly obedient. If there is nothing that church members can learn from MMM other than that they should without reservation, question what their leaders say, a huge victory for ethics and human dignity would be won.

At church on Sunday, I had the "opportunity" to present the view that MMM highlighted the need that one obey, only if it makes sense. This was not in a group setting, but one-on-one, with six individuals. I suspect the message largely fell on deaf ears, but a seed may be planted.

Equality

GDTeacher,
Thanks for posting. I have been debating over on Mormon Stories with a fellow who says the latest press release by the church, saying that statements of individual church leaders are not considered doctrinal, has been long taught in the church. I disagreed, saying that in my experience, there has been an emphasis on obedience to the prophets regardless of whether what they say has a basis in scripture or official pronouncements. I was reminded of your essay on obedience that you posted here awhile back:
http://equalitysblog.typepad.com/equality_time/2006/04/obedience_in_th.html

mel

If the church is as true as it claims to be and if I were to still have a testimony of its truth, I would participate in a MMM with conviction and with an expectation of reward. Sure, I'd no doubt experience some cog-dis but only to the degree that I lacked faith and failed in my valiance -- and this is exactly how I would see it...as a trial of faith and a tempering of soul.

So folks can go on all they want about how MMM was just an anomaly and how the church is led by a group of very nice men who would never require that promises made it the temple be anything more than figurative of, of, what? If they cannot imagine themselves doing the most atrocious acts in the name of obedience, then they either lack faith sufficient to salvation or they lack imagination. My money's on a lack af imagination for the core of Mormon faithful.

Open your eyes people. You didn't like it because you don't like the truth. But you will act accordingly if you don't get out in time.

Jordan

Mel:

I would not do that. The Lord blessed me with a brain and a conscience, and he has asked me to use them.

I think you are wrong on that point. Perhaps I just lack imagination, but I cannot imagine myself doing that under any circumstances. Giving my life and all my resources to build up the Kingdom of God on the Earth is one thing, killing to accomplish that end is quite another. I don't remember making a covenant to do that.

I have trouble believing that you would have committed such atrocities yourself, despite your claims that the TBM-Mel would have. I highly doubt it, knowing what I know of you, having read you here and elsewhere for a long time now.

Not vocally ciriticizing church leaders is a far cry from slaughtering innocent people. I think claiming that TBMs would perpetrate such an act today if asked to do so is sensationalistic and an exaggeration in the extreme.

If MMM was not such an anomaly, if it were "par for the course," it would not receive so much attention. But it receives the time that it does in the press and in scholarly attention precisely BECAUSE it was an anomaly- one that people want to figure out.

Changing the subject slightly, has anyone pursued an academic study documenting the lives of those who participated in MMM? I wonder how their participation impacted the rest of their lives. It must have haunted them...

mel

I see your point, Jordan. And I think you mis-represent (no doubt unintentionally) the motivations and views (and brains and conscience) of those who did participate in the MMM as being beyond reason and justification. These folks were probably not much different from you and me -- with the exception of having the circumstances at hand that we yet lack.

The most potent thing we have in common is a degree of conviction that god will not command (by his servants -- is there any other way?) an unjust act. It's quite easy at this point to say that we would not have done what others have done, but I would suggest that they would have had similar thoughts were they in our shoes. But they were not and we are not, and what we do know is that we share very similar assumptions and dispositions ... you know, being human and all. And if those assumptions and dispositions include a firm belief in divine authority and wisdom then we require only the proper circumstances for acts of atrocity to appear reasonable and righteous...divinely sanctioned to be sure.

You may consider this "sensationalisic" and "exaggeration in the extreme" but by doing so you merely remove all possibility of correcting the predisposition in yourself and others that waits like a dry powder keg for the incendiary moment.

And such moments would no doubt haunt those who have experienced them -- 'cause they are just like you and me. The better question is to what extent were they comforted both in the act and after by their faith? That would be interesting. But really, the only question that should matter to us and to them is: how could it have been avoided in the first place?

belaja

In fact, the participants in the massacre DID take an oath to kill--or at any rate an oath that could reasonably be construed to include killing. That oath was a temple oath to avenge the blood of the prophet Joseph. This is all documented in both Brooks' and Bagley's treatments of the massacre. It is very easy to sit here in safety with no pressure on and say those people were anomalous or that massacre was anomalous or whatever. But in fact, it was ordinary people just like you and me who perpetrated it (as Mel so rightly describes)--and it was ordinary people who carried out the holocaust and it was ordinary people who carried out the My Lai massacre. And the renunciation of personal responsibility (in the case of MMM, obedience ot priesthood "leaders") in a climate of authoritarianism (for MMM, the Mormon reformation) is one reason (not the only reason but a particularly salient one) that those atrocities were carried out by people who were just like you and me. You can't exempt yourself from that aspect of the human condition by making monsters of them. They arrived at "monstrosity" step by careful step from a place not so unlike where any of us are standing. And again, as Mel says, if you exempt yourself from that, if you refuse to look at the shadow in your own heart (and we ALL have it--I'm not pointing a finger at individuals) then, to paraphrase Jung, where evil is denied, the shadow enters in. And frankly, I find this a huge danger in the church in that the church institutionally, and for the most part culturally, refuses to look at or even admit to its own shadow side, past OR present. And that leaves the door open for all kinds of evil that doesn't have to rise to the level of a MMM. If you look very closely for example at the problem of sexual abuse in the church (and it's a huge problem--despite rhetoric of a "blip here and a blip there")a big feature of the reason it can flourish in the church as it does is this refusal to admit that evil can be committed by perfectly ordinary, even by external appearances "superior" (ie NOT anomalous) persons--and that leaders are for all intents and purposes not questionable. You can comparmentalize mountain meadows if you want to--most Mormons do. But I'll just repeat Mel's brilliant summation of the problem with that kind of compartmentalizing (because it was so cool it bears repeating):

"You may consider this 'sensationalisic' and 'exaggeration in the extreme' but by doing so you merely remove all possibility of correcting the predisposition in yourself and others that waits like a dry powder keg for the incendiary moment."

GDTeacher

There are a couple of psychological factors that come into play in the MMM that are signficant. The first is that people behave differently in a group than they do individually. People do things in a group that they would not do individually. Variations on Milgrim's experiment showed that as a group people would allow others to be harmed where they would not otherwise. Studies of riots show the same thing. There is a probably link to people seeing others do things that somehow justify the action even though they may not have independently chosen to do so.

Another things that is very important is people who are prone to be obedient to authority figures have been shown to follow the dictates of authority figures even though they may not have independently chosen the course of action dictated by the authority figures. This is particularly an issue for authoritarian religious structures like the Mormon church. Recalling the time frame of the Utah Reformation, the Mormons were told that they were not good enough, obedient enough, righteous enough by Brigham, Jedediah Grant, George A. Smith, etc., etc. The southern Utah people were said to be more taken up by the Reformation fervor than other Utahns, but I don't know if that is only speculation or if there is really some objective measure of that.

These things taken together, group mentality, and "unquestioning obedience," as recently outlined by Elder Rex C. Oaks, and the implications of the internalization of the firery Reformation rhetoric, led to a situation where the partipants executed their duty unquestioningly. They may not have wanted to on a personal level, but they did so unfailingly.

The question that this leads us to today is not whether Mormons or other adherents of authoritarian religious structures in the U.S. are out participating in mass killings, but whether or not these people are unquestioningly obeying church leaders in areas that are less extreme than murder, but nonetheless harmful to themselves or the world at large in some way. We can still see examples today in the mid-East about people who adhere to authoritarian religious structures like Mormonism that participate in mass murders because they are obedient or because they are seeking a martyr's reward in the next life.

GDTeacher

Separately, I recently read a comment from someone that went something like this:

Atheism doesn't make good men bad. Religion doesn't make bad men good. But only religion can make good men evil.

I'm probably misstating in some what, but the implication was that actions done in the name of religion are amongst the most evil deeds perpetrated upon the earth. MMM is one example. The Inquisition is another example. The Crusades is another example. Etc., etc., etc.

Jordan F.

Belaja:

I know about the oath taken by the early church members. However, I did not take such an oath, since it was done away with in 1927. That is why I say that I have not made such a commitment, therefore, if called upon to do something akin to MMM, I would not. And I doubt most practicing mormons would.

REgarding sexual abuse, I would not put it past any person in the church, leader or not, to commit such heinous acts. I do not trust any male person with my children, period. And I will not even touch or hold other people's children for the same reason, unless their parents are sitting right next to me- I would not want to be accused of something like that.

If I were asked to teach primary alone, I would turn down the calling because I would not want to be exposed to any liability.

In short, I, and many other Latter-day Saints, acknowledge that this is a huge problem with sexual abuse of children in our society.

What I would take issue with is somehow saying that this problem is MORE prevalent among Latter-day Saints than among the rest of the population. If anything, it is commensurate with the rest of the population. That is tragic and sad, because I personally would hope that Latter-day Saints would try to hold themselves above reproach (as I try to do in that regard by avoiding all contact with other people's children), but they are still people.

Thus, I still consider Mel's assertions "sensationalistic" and an "exaggeration in the extreme", and I hope that in so doing I am not removing any predisposition to correction in myself. I cannot speak for others.

Now, who is refusing to admit a "shadow side?" I freely admit that members of the church have perpetrated evils and wickedness upon this Earth, just like people of any faith do. I do not agree that being a mormon makes one more or less likely to do bad things.

In the end, every person has a brain and a conscience, and can choose whether or not to use them.

Jordan F.

Well, I also exaggerated a bit. I don't cut off ALL contact with other people's children. But I am extremely paranoid about being alone with a child. That is not because I don't trust myself or something, it's because I don't trust others.

It's the same reason I am very hesitant to leave my little children in the care of men. I don't trust them.

That has little to do with being a Latter-day Saint, and much to do with my belief, rational or not, that most men are pretty nasty characters inside.

Lincoln

Jordan's comments reveal that TBMs consider our church to be a liability-driven organization, like most organizations. I agree. But what happened to the organization that was set up by Christ, and based on love and compassion? When Jesus asked the little children to come to him, do you think he put on plastic gloves, or asked them to sit on a bench next to him, so that he wouldn't have to touch him? I really don't think so.

Jordan has made a very good point by focussing on the excessive care that must be taken, in todays's society, to avoid any kind of liability. The church operates in a very similar fashion to any other multi-national corporation. This is just another fine example that the church is a man-made organization.

Jordan

Lincoln:

I don't think so either, but with so many sickos in today's society, one has to be careful not to be labelled as one.

I was speaking for myself, not for the church.

But I must say that the church seems damned if it does, damned if it doesn't. If the Church does not do something to protect children in its congregations, for example, by not allowing men to serve in primary, then it is accused of harboring child abuse. If the church does take such precautionary measures, then it is accused of behaving like a man-made corporate organization instead of Christ's church. What in the hell is the church supposed to do to satisfy everyone?

The precautions I take are mine and mine alone. I admit that I am paranoid about such things- probably overly so. I also feel bad about it because I know that I am not living up to Christ's expectation of aloowing the children to come to me. And, truthfully, I would not deny a child access to me who needed comfort or care. I just don't seek it out myself, and I avoid situations where I might be alone with other people's children like the plague. Still, I know that I am not being Christlike in avoiding children the way I do, but thanks for rubbing it in more, Lincoln.

My comments reveal nothing about the church, but they do reveal that I am a liability-driven person. I am a lawyer. Would you expect anything different?

P.S. My wife won't allow me to make the neighbors sign liability waivers before they swim in our back yard pool- I shake every time someone else uses our pool without one, though. Does that say something about the church?

Jordan F.

The point of all of this is that I, like most Latter-day Saints, recognize that our leaders are fallible individuals. Also, like most Latter-day Saints, I affirm the value of using one's brain and one's conscience as tools. Like most Latter-day Saints, I think that the gift of the holy ghost only supplements a brain and a conscience. When someone refuses to use their brain or their conscience, they also are not using the gift of the holy ghost.

Mayan Elephant

Jordan, I like you. Sometimes I want to just slap you upside the head. Sometimes I want to buy you a beer. But for some ridiculous reason, I like you.

You really need to change your approach with these fears of bad people. I mean that. Fear is a powerful tool. Often our best tool. But it sounds like you have converted fear into paranoia. I may be wrong.

Back to the Mormons. Your last sentence reminds me of that dumb fucker in The Mormons that is a widower and cant seem to get it. (I do think that Whitney was sick to ask him if he would do it again.)

Common sense and intuition are often all we have to work with. More mistakes are made by dismissing our own intuition and common sense and relying on a ghost. Maybe your point is that in order to use the ghost, we must also be using our brains but that doesnt really jive with the mormon legends about the ghost. The ghost can help you defy logic and reason to do what is right. It may not make sense, but the ghost says we should walk down that street.

Jordan, have you read this book?

http://www.amazon.com/Gift-Fear-Survival-Signals-Violence/dp/0747538352/ref=sr_1_1/104-6898969-5516748?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1178736091&sr=1-1

It is amazing.

Sister Mary Lisa

Jordan ~

I think that there are many many many Mormons who don't feel comfortable thinking that their leaders or friends at church could be capable of abusing children or sinning in such an evil way, so they don't think about it, and deny that a problem exists or COULD exist within their society of friends at church. This has led to many problems, probably many more than we have heard of, considering the insidious nature of sexual abuse.

I think it would be wise for all the churches to have glass windows installed on all the classroom doors as well as on the bishop's door.

And who says it's only men who are capable of sexually abusing children?

Jordan F.

Maybe I have had more experience with the fallibity of "Stake and local leaders" than many. Two of my Stake Presidents have been excommunicated (one of them was President Hinckley's personal secretary), and when I was growing up, a very prominent Bishop in Highland Park was excommunicated.

Also, I personally know of people who were sexually abused by their bishop while he was serving as Bishop.

Such stories are heart-breaking and very unfortunate, and they are why I would not attribute infallibility to any leader of the church. Yet, in my opinion, the fact that such sickos find their way into leadership callings does not undermine what I consider to be the truthfulness (or as some of you have put it, the "truthiness") of the Church in my eyes.

Again, the point is that I do not believe in blind obedience to fallible men, but I do not believe this disqualifies me from enjoying the fruits of what I consider to be the true gospel of Jesus Christ.

All going back to refuting the initial assertion by Mel that LDS temple covenants and the premium placed on non-critical obedience by Latter-day Saints necessarily compel them to act in ways similar to those who perpetrated the heinous MMM.

Jordan F.

Regarding ME's comments:

No, I have not read that book. Yes, I realize and acknowledge that I am overly paranoid in that regard, but I have good reason.

Someone I know very well spent time in prison for alleged inappropriate "touching" of a child. This person is not very smart, and probably did do something that could be construed as inappriate. His conviction really threw me for a loop in two ways- (1) it showed me how easily a person can get convicted of such a thing in a "his word against mine" type of situation (assuming the abuse did not actually happen) and (2) it showed me how someone I trust might actually be guilty of such heinous acts (assuming he was guilty).

I don't know if my close, formerly-trusted acquaintance (OK- relative) was innocent or guilty, but either way, it shattered my weltanschauung in a major way. If he was innocent, it shows that men are not trusted with children in our society, hence my extreme hesitance to be near children. If he was guilty, it shows how even those you trust the most and look up to your entire life are really sick perverts, ensuring that nobody can really be trusted.

Perhaps that is an overly paranoid view, but then again, perhaps not. Whatever the situation may be, it has caused me to live in the shadowy fear between not trusting others and being vary wary of being alone with children.

Equality

Jordan F., I don't think Mel said that the blood oaths and the premium placed on non-critical obedience by Mormons "compelled" them to perform those heinous acts. He did say that they committed those acts in large part BECAUSE of their fervent religious belief that the Mormon church was true and their leaders were inspired and their orders entitled to great deference and respect. Without a "testimony" they surely would have let their consciences be their guide, and been unwilling to commit mass murder. One cannot divorce the religious zeal of the participants from the acts they committed.

My point is that the same zeal that resulted in good accomplishments (temples, cities, crossing the plains, etc.) also resulted in this horrible tragedy. Religious ardor is a two-edged sword.

I am not sure your position re: the truthiness of the church is altogether sound. If the men who lead the church at all levels are fallible and giving us their own wisdom, how is the church any more true than any other human organization? The truthiness of the church rests on the foundation of divine authority and revelation--the idea that God Himself is leading, guiding, directing His chosen priesthood leaders. If that is the case, how do pedophiles get called to be Bishops and Stake Presidents in the first place. And why doesn't God "reveal" to his servants when one of these men is secretly abusing children? To reveal to the SP that one of his bishops is molesting children would not violate anyone's free agency, would protect the church, and protect children. Why wouldn't God, who apparently reveals His will concerning earrings, tattoos, and poker parties, be silent as children are abused by those who have been called to leadership positions by the "spirit of prophecy and revelation"?

Jordan F.

Because I personally believe that the Lord leaves much of the running of things up to us and only intervenes in extreme circumstances.

While such child abuse is probably heinous enough to warrant divine interference, but I have to believe that God either (1) does intervene but the local leader and/or General Authority is too prideful in relying upon his own instincts to really listen and "calls" such a person anyway, ignoring the "promptings of the Holy Spirit", or (2) does not intervene for some purpose that only God knows. I tend to think that God usually does not intervene, allowing us to choose to act in certain ways and thus seal our fates. That is why the atonement is so important to help those who suffer because of the agency of others.

Perhaps that is not "altogether sound" but it is what I believe.

Jordan F.

In other words, when someone is called as Bishop or Stake President, etc., I think it is usually left up to the mind of the individual doing the calling, and that "whom the Lord calls [through the (hopefully inspired) intuition and judgment of leaders], the Lord qualifies." I know that when I have served as EQP in the past, I did not receive any real "revelation" that certain individuals should serve in the presidency, I just thought that those who I called would (1) do a good job and (2) had the time and desire to serve. When I brought it to the Lord and did not feel compelled against choosing those individuals, I called them.

I think that more often than not, such decisions are left up to us in our agency. After all, men are commanded to bring forth of themselves much righteousness, and he who must be commanded in all things is an unwise and a slothful servant.

In my opinion, that is why those who succeed in temporal affairs (such as those with a sound head for administration in business or elsewhere) often also succeed as leaders in the Church. One department head of a German department at a major university who was also serving as Bishop in his ward once told me that his position at the University helped him with the skills necessary to succeed as Bishop and vice versa.

Anyway, just some of my philosophy as to why the Lord allows leaders to impart to us their own wisdom, and why "revealing" that some man is a child molester might actually interfere with agency, both the agency of the leader in calling the man and the agency of the one abusing.

Finally, I am not certain that the counsel regarding earrings (which I think gets very exaggerated in the DAMU), tattoos, and gambling is really the Lord's will or the well-informed opinions of well-meaning men who have been around for a while and have wise counsel to give, revelation or not.

Equality

I might could go along with your idea of a mostly non-interventionist God who only gets involved for some really big things. Kind of like a Watchmaker God who sets everything in motion and then lets things go, occasionally intervening to "wind the watch" so to speak. But that is decidedly NOT the God of Mormonism--the God who helps you find your car keys and helps you find the bunny rabbit to shoot when you are hunting; the God who sends an angel with a flaming sword to "force" Joseph into taking extra wives; the God who reveals to Joseph the identity of Zelph the White Lamanite; the God who answers Joseph's prayer over a Johnnycake with a knock on the door by a turkey-wielding friend; in short, the God of the Mormon Journal section of the Ensign. The God of Mormonism is a God of continuous revelation and intimate involvement in the most mundane of all our affairs. He is a God who cares about what goes on in the marital bedroom; the MPAA rating on the movies we watch; the temperature of the beverages we drink; the marks on our underwear. And yet this nettlesome, meddlesome God can't be bothered to get the message to his servants that children in their stewardship are being abused by priesthood leaders in their sphere of influence and control? You may find that God worthy of your devotion and worship--I find that God worthy of my contempt. And if, as you say, the fault lies with the leaders who are blind and deaf to the revelation God is trying to send them, well, why should I follow such men? How are they any more reliable guides than the Pentecostal or Presbyterian minister down the street, exactly?

Equality

Jordan,

You make a very good case for the assertion made by many in the DAMU that the church is just another human organization, devoid of any meaningful revelation and without any special dispensation from God. I mean, what is the point of having prophets who don't prophesy and Bishops with the gift of discernment who don't discern anything that people without the supposed gift could have discerned?

Mayan Elephant

This makes my head spin round round baby round round like a record baby round round round round.

Jordan, lemme strip this whole thing of lawyer-speak just a bit.

Who gets to be a bishop? Answer: dudes that buy into the truthiness and want the job. The SP can only pick from people that have their hand raised in some way. Maybe there are exceptions, but for the most part, its fairly obvious who is willing to do it and would work best with the SP.

Why do bishops do shitty things? Because, they are just men. Meaning, they really dont have a ghost friend helping them. They are living a fucked up life and suppressing a lot of stuff to show an outward public appearance of obedience and piousness (is that a word?) And, this fucked up submission and bizarre life gets acted out in strange fucking ways. This is why, as much as I hate many bishops and leaders, I hate this part of the church and its leadership system more. Because, in many ways, the bishops are victims too. (Feminists, you can fire all your guns now. I am ready)

It does prove the church is true. Yes. the church is true because of these points you make. It is true that bad shit happens to good people, even in a church. That is true. And, it proves that the institution can go on perpetually because good people will just shut up about it and go to church, happy or not, because it is true.

Mayan Elephant

"While such child abuse is probably heinous enough to warrant divine interference, but I have to believe that God either (1) does intervene but the local leader and/or General Authority is too prideful in relying upon his own instincts to really listen and "calls" such a person anyway, ignoring the "promptings of the Holy Spirit", or (2) does not intervene for some purpose that only God knows. I tend to think that God usually does not intervene, allowing us to choose to act in certain ways and thus seal our fates. That is why the atonement is so important to help those who suffer because of the agency of others."

I am about to sin E, forgive me in advance.

Yours, Jordan, is the description of "God, the all-powerful Useless Wimp That Loves to Fuck with People"

There is really no use in that god you described. Seriously, useless piece of shit. Go read that book, its time to tap into something else, yourself.

Equality

Jordan,

I do not understand how the Lord revealing to a Stake President that one of his Bishops is molesting kids would in any way violate anyone's agency. Just this week, law enforcement officials were tipped off to a terrorist plot at Fort Dix in New Jersey. They foiled the plot before the terrorists were able to carry out their desired destruction. If God had revealed the plot to an FBI agent, would it have been any more violative of the terrorists' agency than a convenience store clerk tipping off law enforcement? How?

And what do the scriptures tell us about this? Isn't there a story in the Book of Mormon where there is a murder and God reveals to his prophet who the murderer was? I think that story is found in Helaman chapter 9, IIRC. Was Seantum's agnecy violated by this revelation?

Jordan F.

Well, those are just my thoughts. If you don't buy them, then I am not offended.

I usually think people's stories of how God helped them find their car keys are ridiculous. I believe that God only gets involved when it is absolutely essential for some divine purpose, otherwise, he leaves things to our ingenuity- the ingenuity with which he blessed us, and we are free to either dig our own graves and/or the graves of others or to bring forth much righteousness.

I think the key to doing the Lord's will is to consecrate whatever we decide to do which is good to him.

For example, there was one time when I was trying to decide whether to finish a Ph.D. or go to law school. I got the feeling that either was fine with the Lord- the choice was mine to make and he would bless my efforts either way, so long as I promised to whatever I had to build up his kingdom here on earth.

It was the same with the decision of who to marry. The Lord left that decision in my hands, to decide for myself. My opinion is that he always leaves such decisions up to us, for better or for worse. Perhaps some people receive some revelation regarding who they marry, but I think most who claim that really just were in love and thought it was revelation. Only in rare circumstances would the Lord actually interfere and "take the reins" so to speak.

Sure there are times when we are to be "led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things that we should do," but those times are rare indeed as far as I am concerned. At least they have been in my life. Most of the time, I believe the Lord lets us make our own decisions, for better or for worse.

Hence, John D. Lee decides that he should massacre innocent people, and the Lord does not stay Lee's hand. It is not that he is powerless to do so, but he will normally let nature take its course and lead where man's agency brings it.


That is why I believe the atonement is so essential. It compensates for all the inequity that comes into the world due to the poor decisions people make, both for their effects on the acting and on the acted-upon. That is what I choose to believe, using the agency with which I have been blessed- the agency that says I can believe what I want and worship God according to the dictates of my own conscience.

About the Helaman story, to the extent that it actually describes a historical event, it must have been one of those times when the Lord saw fit to intervene for some reason.

Anyway- feel free to disagree! :) I still think that Mel is wrong about Mormons- we are not "morgbots" as the current exmomo lingo goes, but human beings with brains and consciences and we are not afraid to use them.

belaja

"Hence, John D. Lee decides that he should massacre innocent people, and the Lord does not stay Lee's hand. It is not that he is powerless to do so, but he will normally let nature take its course and lead where man's agency brings it."

It's a bit of a side point, but could we please with dispense with the "John D. Lee did it" crap, even by implication? John D. Lee was guilty of what he did, but he didn't just "decide" to massacre innocent people. I know the church is still trying to shill that around in the latest round in their 150 year long effort at damage control, but Lee was not in charge at Mountain Meadows. The local leaders of the church, IN THEIR CAPACITY AS LEADERS OF THE CHURCH, were the ones who made those decisions. John D. Lee (and a whole helluva lot of others who were able, because they didn't have friends in high places who could make them the scapegoat, to fade into the woodwork of history) made a decision to "follow his leaders." To be obedient. To keep his covenants as he and most everyone around him understood them. And THAT is what lead him to be there and participate more or less as a tool at Mountain Meadows.

It's a bit of a side trip, I know, but that kind of thing really rankles.

Jordan F.

Belaja:

I will admit that there is evidence to support that theory. There is also evidence to support mine.

Equality

Jordan,
One could also say that there is evidence to support the assertion that OJ killed Ron and Nicole. And there is evidence to support the idea that he didn't. Of course, that doesn't mean the evidence for these competing assertions is of equal weight or validity.

Lincoln

Come on Equality. Every rational person out there knows that Mark Fuhrman sprinkled Nicole and Ron's blood samples inside O.J.'s Bronco as a set-up! That is the most rational and likely scenario, NOT that O.J. was sprayed with Ron and Nicole's blood as he sliced them open with a knife, and it then transfered to the door and floormat of the driver's side of the Bronco, when his blood-splattered body made contact. No matter how unlikely the Fuhrman planting of evidence sounds, I KNOW with every fiber of my being that it is TRUE. I know it goes against logic, but it is a possible scenario, and it is the scenario that makes my heart feel all warm inside, so it MUST be true.

belaja

Jordan:

Um. No, not really. There's a lot of smoke and mirrors around it, starting with his second trial when it was determined that they were going to give him up quite literally as the scapegoat with the sins of the entire community pronounced upon his head.

It's not "your theory," Jordan. It's the church's party line--which they are shamelessly now STILL trying to put forward even after essentially admitting (with the posthumous restoration of all his "priesthood blessings") that their line is in fact not anything to do with the truth.

Look, I don't mean to be grumpy here, but the fact is saying 'John D. Lee did it" is just lame at this late date. That "theory" has been debunked since at least the publication of Juanita Brooks' book, in, what?, 1950. All serious scholars (including the Mormon ones) agree that the JDL did it "theory" is nothing more than an historical slander done for damage control and to take the heat of the church and its leading councils--most specifically Brigham himself. The evidence is good that when the government made the decision to go directly after Brigham because the community would not convict or give up the guilty parties, a decision was made to give them Lee to get the heat off. The question that is still out there is the role of Brigham Young--not just before the massacre, but at any point leading up to and following it. I personally don't believe he directly ordered it as some do, but what exactly he did surrounding all that--both pre- and post-massacre and his role in the fate of Lee himself--will in all probability(malheureusement) never be known. It's really easy to keep the dry ice machine running about John D. Lee because any direct documentation of any involvement of Brigham (whatever it may have been) has been either buried in the archives or concealed in what I believe are bureaucratic strategies (for lack of a better term) at the very time. The question of the nature and extent of John D. Lee's involvement is not really up for grabs in most respects. I've seen the "evidence" for the theory you propose and it's just more of the same that they've been pushing since Lee's second trial and execution.

The evidence you assert just really isn't there, Jordan. It's mostly hearsay of people both then and since who have an agenda to "protect" the church and Brigham. And to demonize JDL in order to distance themselves from any sort of identification with the massacre that was committed by members of the community. And to Equality's point, what is there doesn't carry much weight.

And which comes nicely back around to the earlier point. Let's find somebody to make into a "monster" of some kind and then we can deny that we have any shadows in our own hearts--that we might end up in such a place or pass someday.

I do not know what I would have done had I been at Mountain Meadows. I hope with all my heart I would have resisted and held to my own conscience. There were those who did and it did not go particularly well with them. But you know, this continued willingness to scapegoat one man in order to feel guiltless on some level--like WE would never do such things, MORMONS would never do such things, because WE'RE GOOD. John D. Lee was some kind of monstrous, conscienceless anomaly--nonesense! He was a Mormon's Mormon. He was loyal, faithful, devout, devoted and obedient to the core. If you will read his journals, his own writings, his biography, and the treatments of the massacre--and I have--it would not be beyond the pale to say that John D. Lee was basically Brigham Young's bitch. And he was not alone in those meadows and he was NOT the leader or decision-maker at ANY point. Nobody serious is making that argument anymore.

I don't condone what he did. But at least he stood up and said WHAT he did so that all the rest of them could die in bed as old men, their families unstigmatized. He stood up and was shot for the church--for something that was in essence a communal crime, if you want to think about it that way.

Oy. Equality do you allow the f-bomb on your blog? I don't want to say it at Jordan (who I do not hold responsible for the continued existence of this really rather disgusting meme)--honest! I just wanta say it.

No? Well, I'm off to Cherry, then. :-)

Jordan F.

Belaja:

You forgot the vey at the end of the oy. Oy vey!

(See, there, now I can justify my year at Oxford getting a masters' degree in Yiddish Studies...)

I don't think it is "beyond the pale" to say that John D. Lee was "basically Brigham Young's bitch." In fact, it has kind of a nice ring to it- a catchy catchphrase. Perhaps it's from the alliteration there, but it's definitely catchy, and not beyond the pale by any means.

But this thread is not about who was responsible for MMM, JFK, or even TSCC. It is about whether mormons today would really perpetrate such a heinous act as MMM, as implicitly suggested by Equality and explicitly described by Mel. Perhaps it shows my lack of imagination, but I cannot fathom that Latter-day Saints today would do such a thing as their "duty." Or, perhaps my imagination runs too wild to imagine they wouldn't. I'll let you be the judge of that for yourself, but I know what I think.

And that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Mayan Elephant

We may not know the answer to the hypothetical question of whether LDS faithful would repeat the crime or something similar.

But, this we do know for an absolute certainty: the current leadership of the Church hasn't learned one damn thing. They remain just as evasive on this topic. Oaks may have seemed sorry or whatever, but the Church refuses to accept any responsibility for this. They are just as evasive about the leaders' roles in Hofmann's forgeries and murders. They refuse to accept any responsibility for the death of Stuart Matis. They refuse to even acknowledge the brutal electric aversion therapy at BYU. They diligently avoid responsibility for anything negative that happens to missionaries on their missions. At one point Fuckhead Ballard bragged about how safe missions were, as another missionary was laid in a grave.

I am banned for life from FAIR for arguing about the blatant lack of ownership the church took in a sexual abuse case in which a jury awarded a victim 4.8 million bucks.

These leaders are, in many ways, worse than Young. They are not living in a frontier where missionaries like Pratt could be hunted down and shot for his stupidity. Information is better and society has evolved. For these fuckwad apostles, they have sheltered themselves from resonsibility of MMM and continue the lesson learned - make someone else take the bullet because the faithful dont give a shit, as long as they have a smiley prophet and a true church.

mel

Jordan, I think you're one of the most affable people I've met out here in the intertubes and I really appreciate how you stick to what you believe. And I have another thought to add to all this great stuff that my fellow DAMUites have offered.

There's one thing about the MMM that really by itself points to the core issue and refutes this misconception of the lone, psycopathic gunman (or men) and that is the children under a certain age that were spared. You see, the bretheren who gave and/or carried out the orders did have a clear sense of duty and morality--just like you and me--which included protecting those who they deemed by their faith to be under the age of accountability. Yes, this means that all who did die were paying for their guilt before the Mormon god as discerned and carried out by the servants of the Mormon god.

Really, these people were just like us...and just as convicted of the truth of the gospel as you...perhaps more so.

Jordan F.

Thanks Mel- we have interacted in more forums than here. During periods of doubt, which no doubt plague everyone from time to time, I have posted "over there" ...

randy

Thus spake Mayan Elephant:

"Why do bishops do shitty things? Because, they are just men."

Corey--I once sat in on a counseling session with the guy who was bishop when you moved here. He floored the guy when he said he'd be rich if he had a nickel for every piece of bad advice he had given as a bishop. Here was a Mormon bishop making the point that he's just a guy doing the best he can.

belaja

Jordan--

No, I suppose the issue of responsibility for the MMM is not directly the subject of this thread. I did say it was a bit of side trip, but you did bring up (in an oblique way, admittedly :-)) the John-D-Lee-did-it meme, which is hot button of mine, I'll admit.

But I do think it has some relevance in that that meme allows the church as institution and members within the church deny shadow impulses within themselves and within the institution. If we can just throw all the blame onto some wild-eyed fanatic who was operating as some kind of loose cannon (not your words, I know, but the gist of what the church would like--and has tried--to make the baseline for the discourse for well over a century) then we don't have to look at trends in the culture and community that might have led to such and thing and--given the right circumstances--might lead to something similar. We can project it onto someone, demonize that someone, and safely and smugly reject it without examining the home we've given it in our own hearts.

Again, members of the church today might never propagate a MMM but perhaps simply because they will never be in those precise circumstances. That's why I brought up the issue of sexual abuse in the church and the way the church has covered it up over the years. Call me cynical, but I believe the only reason they've tried to do something other than cover it up in recent years is because they have been hit bigtime in the pocketbook by it.

How many times has a priesthood leader who wants to get a prosecution going on an abuser been told just to keep quiet about it because it's his "duty" to protect the good name of the church? How many times has a priesthood leader shut up a victim of abuse and told them to "handle it privately" because it's their duty to blah, blah, blah. Or a family been threatened with discipline for wanting to pursue justice because of the abuse by priesthood leader? All those things have happened repeatedly within my experience and the experience of those I know--it's first hand knowledge. I could tick off at least a dozen cases like that that I know of first hand--and I'm nobody in particular and live nowhere in particular.

All of that is happening through unquestioning obedience and doing one's duty to the CHURCH. Those are holocausts of a sort, Jordan. They are massacres of a sort. And they have a lot more victims than mountain meadows.

Members of the church are human beings just like any other--including Mormons of another time. No better and not particularly worse. They will do heinous things given the right circumstances, just like any other set of human beings. And the focus on obedience and "the thinking has been done" sorts of psychological memes (I just like saying that, OK? Meme, meme, meme...) makes them in some ways more vulnerable to these kinds of pressures. The other thing that makes them vulnerable is the resistance to any kind of consciousness of these shadow impulses. Again (and to correct my misquotation above) as Jung said, where the shadow is denied evil enters in.

You said above that members of the church today (unlike those dumb pioneers, I s'pose) are people with brains and consciences who are not afraid to use them. Well, they have brains and consciences (just like those pioneers did) but I have seen plenty, PLENTY of them who ARE afraid to use their own consciences in big and small ways if it comes into conflict with what the church wants or if it is a choice between that and "protecting" the church. I have seen it in my own family and extended family with tragic results.

Mormons don't get a pass on being human and this kind of thing is, unfortunately, part of it.

Sister Mary Lisa

Well said, Belaja.

Mayan Elephant

Randy,

That Bishop was a good dude.

Lost in Peace

I think you hit the nail on the head, Equality.

DW said to me that for the short portion of "The Mormons" she watched (perhaps 15 minutes at most) that it did not reflect her beliefs. Even if she had watched more she would not have seen the prominence of obedience as a theme in her beliefs. Coincidentally, she has never been a leader in any of the women's organizations in the church so she has never been privvy to the true authoritarian nature of the PH.

It was precisely that authoritarianism that drove me out of the church. For those who never question PH leadership nor witness their everyday flaws in judgement and decision making, obedience is not a weakness in their faith. It can only be viewed as weakness from the position of opposition.

LiP

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