The 96 Theses: Constructive Suggestions for Improving the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 85-96

85.  The Church ignores important issues such as the environment, capital punishment, war, poverty, and social justice.

86.  The Church should focus on programs to alleviate poverty, improve the environment, oppose war, and fight for the oppressed and downtrodden as this is an integral component of the gospel taught by Jesus Christ.

87.  The Church is a white male gerontocracy.

88.  The Church should institute term limits for General Authorities: mandatory emeritus status at age 75 for Apostles and 5-year terms for Seventies.  As the apostles retire and the Seventies serve out their terms, women, minorities, and members outside the United States should be called into highest quorums of the Church.

89.  Richard G. Scott, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, has taught in General Conference that childhood victims of abuse need to repent for the part they played in the abuse. The Church has not corrected or repudiated this teaching since it was spoken in 1992.

90.  The Church should acknowledge the harm caused by Elder Scott’s remarks and apologize to childhood abuse victims. The Church should retract and repudiate Elder Scott’s remarks and make clear that his remarks do not represent Church doctrine.

91.  Dallin H. Oaks, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, has taught in General Conference that women who wear clothing deemed immodest by the Church’s standards constitute walking “pornography” and bear some responsibility for problems men may have with pornography.

92.  The Church should acknowledge the harm caused by Elder Oaks’s remarks and apologize to women for them. The Church should retract and repudiate Elder Oaks’s remarks and make clear that his remarks do not represent Church doctrine.

93.  Russell M. Nelson, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, has taught in the Church’s official periodical that God’s love is not unconditional.

94.  The Church should acknowledge the harm caused by Elder Nelson’s remarks and make clear that his remarks do not comport with the scriptures. The Church should retract and repudiate Elder Nelson’s remarks.

95.  The Church shows disrespect for members of the Church who request no contact from Church representatives by ignoring such requests and harassing members who would prefer to be left alone.

96.  The Church should put in place a system to ensure that the wishes of members who request no contact are honored, and the Church should apologize to members who have been harassed by leaders who have failed to respect personal boundaries established by Church members.

The 96 Theses: Constructive Suggestions for Improving the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 73-84

73.  The Church wastes its missionary force by focusing almost exclusively on proselyting.

74.  The Church should shift focus to humanitarian service missions rather than active proselyting missions.

75.  The Church expects its members to attend 3 hours of Sunday church services. Members in leadership positions often spend another 2-3 hours at church on Sunday. 2 of the 3 hours are spent in class instruction, so many members spend additional time preparing and teaching lessons.

76.  The Church should institute a 2-hour block of meetings on Sunday and eliminate individual Primary and youth Sunday School classes.

77.  The Church expects members to speak in Sacrament meeting, often resulting in dull and uninspiring meetings.

78.  The Church should employ one or two professional speakers in each ward to give sacrament meeting talks or, alternatively, call a few individuals with public speaking skills to the position of Sacrament Meeting Speaker.

79.  The Church requires potential new converts to commit to pay tithing and live a strict interpretation of the Word of Wisdom as well as profess loyalty to the President of the Church before being baptized.

80.  The Church should allow all professing a belief in Christ and a desire to follow his teachings as they understand them to be baptized and confirmed in the church.

81.  The Church holds a monthly Fast & Testimony meeting during Sacrament meeting in which members make repetitive professions of faith.

82.  The Church should abandon the Fast & Testimony meeting as it is simply a psychologically manipulative tool to enforce orthodoxy.

83.  The Church’s General Handbook of Instructions (the “CHI”), is not made public and not available to members.  Indeed, the Church has undertaken legal action to prevent the contents of the CHI from being disseminated on the Internet.

84.  The Church should publish the CHI on its official web site and allow members to know the rules by which they are governed and judged.

The 96 Theses: Suggestions for Improving the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 61-72

61.  The Church teaches that the Book of Abraham is an ancient document written by the hand of Abraham upon papyrus and translated by miraculous means by Joseph Smith, despite a mountain of evidence that suggests to a reasonable certainty the falsity of that proposition.

62.  The Church should acknowledge that the Book of Abraham scrolls and the text written thereon do not date from Abraham’s day and that the text of the Book of Abraham produced by Joseph Smith has no connection whatsoever to any ancient document but is instead a product of Joseph Smith’s own creative genius.

63.  The Church teaches that the Lamanite people of the Book of Mormon are the “principal ancestors” of the Indians of North, South, and Central America.

64.  The Church should acknowledge that scientific evidence demonstrates to a degree approaching absolute certainty that the Indians are not descendants of any Israelite group from the time period covered by the Book of Mormon text and should stop teaching as true something which is demonstrably false.

65.  The Church teaches that the Book of Mormon is a literal history of (essentially) two separate groups of people who sailed from the Middle East to the Americas, the first coming in wooden submarines around 2200 B.C.E. and the second in a surface ship around 600 B.C.E. The Church teaches that these separate groups established great civilizations with populations that numbered in the millions. The second group allegedly built great cities, had use of the wheel, smelted various metals, had a system of money, planted crops (such as barley), and domesticated animals (such as the horse and oxen). This civilization also practiced a hybrid form of Jewish Christianity during the 600 years before the birth of Christ. Both civilizations were destroyed at similar last great battles involving the use of weapons of steel by millions of combatants resulting in at least two million deaths. Both civilizations also kept written records on metal plates. The Church misleads its members and potential converts by producing videos and funding apologetic organizations that suggest there is scientific evidence supporting the Book of Mormon’s historical narrative.

66.  The Church should acknowledge that there is no scientific evidence supporting the Book of Mormon’s historical narrative, should stop producing videos and teaching materials that suggest otherwise, and should stop funding the production of materials by apologetics organizations that suggest otherwise. The Church should stop teaching as historical fact anything for which there is no evidence in support.

67.  The Church teaches that human history began with a literal Adam and Eve, who were the first of our species to live on earth and that no human beings lived and died on earth prior to Adam and Eve, who lived approximately 6000 years ago.

68.  The Church should acknowledge that scientific evidence demonstrates to a degree approaching absolute certainty that human beings of our species (homo sapiens) have lived and died continuously on the earth for at least 100,000 years, that animals, including earlier human predecessors of homo sapiens, lived and died on Earth for millions of years, and that life and death on Earth began approximately 3.5 billion years ago. The Church should stop teaching something as true which is demonstrably false.

69.  The Church allows marriages for “time and all eternity” to be performed only in the temple but does not allow nonmembers or members without temple recommends to witness such weddings. And the Church does not allow a couple to have a civil ceremony before going to the temple; the couple has to wait a year after a civil ceremony to be sealed in the temple (except in some countries where civil marriages are required by law).

70.  The Church should allow family members to attend marriages and sealings in the temple or, alternatively, the Church should allow couples with family members not holding temple recommends to have a civil wedding ceremony followed soon thereafter by a temple sealing (as it does in some countries where required by law).

71.  The Church requires members who have been through the endowment ceremony in the temple to wear “both day and night” special undergarments with Masonic markings on them. The undergarments can be purchased only through Church-owned businesses. The Church teaches its members that the “garments” will be a “protection” to them as long as they wear them and failure to wear the garment will place the member in Satan’s power.

72.  The Church should abandon the garments altogether as a vestige of Joseph Smith’s scheme to keep polygamy a secret.

The 96 Theses: Suggestions for Improving the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 49-60

49.  The Church perpetuates a perfectionist culture by demanding exacting obedience in the most mundane and trivial aspects of its members’ lives.

50.  The Church should acknowledge this perfectionist culture as a contributor to high rates of depression, emotional breakdowns, and suicide among Church members and Church leaders and lesson materials should focus more on the inherent worth of individuals and less on demands for obedience to arbitrary rules.

51.  The Church teaches that masturbation is a serious sin and Church leaders are instructed to interrogate young men about their personal habits with regard to this practice.

52.  The Church should acknowledge the scientific evidence that demonstrates to a degree approaching certainty that masturbation is healthy, normal, and not at all harmful when undertaken in private and in moderation. The Church should apologize to the many young men who have been psychologically damaged by the Church’s harmful enforcement of its prohibition on masturbation and instruct its ecclesiastical leaders not to ask Church members about this personal matter.

53.  The Church uses funeral services as proselyting opportunities by having local Church authorities plan and conduct funeral services and by focusing on church doctrines rather than the lives of the deceased and the deceased’s family.

54.  The Church should cease to use funeral services as proselyting opportunities and allow families to plan  and carry out funeral services according to the deceased’s and the family’s wishes.

55.  The Church uses the tragic deaths of missionaries killed during their missions as public-relations opportunities.

56.  General Authorities, unless related to or friends of the family, should not appear at funerals of fallen missionaries and should not compound the pain of grieving families with insensitive remarks at or after such funerals.

57.  The Church teaches that members should pay a “full and honest tithe” but the Church does not define what constitutes a “full and hones tithe.”

58.  The Church should clarify for its members that a “full and honest tithe” should be paid on one’s “surplus,” that is, on the amount of money one has left over after paying for taxes and necessary living expenses such as food, housing, clothing, utilities, and transportation.

59.  The Church requires the payment of a “full and honest tithe” in order for a member to qualify to enter the temple and serve in Church leadership positions.

60.  The Church should not use the payment of tithing as a requirement for entry to the temple. The temple should be open to all who seek fellowship with the saints and with the spirit of the Lord.

The 96 Theses: Constructive Suggestions for Improving the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 37-48

37. The Church shows disrespect for scholars, academics, and other honest truth seekers by denigrating them and subjecting them to ecclesiastical discipline.

38. The Church should apologize to and reinstate the September Six and other scholars and academics who have been subjected to ecclesiastical discipline for nothing more than engaging in honest academic inquiry and publishing the results of their pursuits.

39. The Church shows disrespect toward homosexuals by supporting a constitutional amendment to prevent states from granting all the same legal rights and privileges to homosexual couples that married heterosexual couples enjoy.

40. The Church should voice support for equal treatment under the law for all people regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation.

41. The Church shows disrespect toward homosexuals by subjecting them to ecclesiastical discipline and by fostering a homophobic culture.

42. The Church should acknowledge the inherent worth and equality of all people, should not subject homosexuals (practicing or celibate) to church discipline, and Church leaders should foster a culture of acceptance, tolerance, and respect for all.

43. The Church shows disrespect for members whose spouses are not members of the Church or are disaffected with the Church by teaching that only couples sealed in the temple who maintain strict obedience to Church teachings and requirements will enjoy family relationships after death.

44. The Church should stop using fear as a weapon to intimidate members into marrying only within the faith and should clearly enunciate the Church’s position that a spouse’s disaffection with the Church does not constitute a legitimate ground for divorce. Nonmember or disaffected spouses should be treated by the Church with equal dignity and respect afforded faithful members of the Church.

45. The Church shows disrespect for the sincere religious beliefs of those who belong to other faith traditions and misrepresents other religions in missionary lessons, church materials, and in talks and other communications by Church leaders.

46. The Church should remove from all its lesson manuals denigrating and misleading remarks about other religions and their beliefs (as the Church did in 1990 with the temple endowment ceremony) and should acknowledge and apologize for the pain caused by the Church’s past insensitivities on the issue.

47. The church disrespects all members by fostering the illusion that church leaders are infallible through teaching that the prophets can never lead the church astray. This causes members to believe that they should be obedient to the commandments of men.

48. The church should frequently and publicly acknowledge the fallibility of church leaders, provide examples, and regularly counsel church members to only obey church leaders if they individually determine it to be in their best interest to do so.

The 96 Theses: Constructive Suggestions for Improving the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 25-36

25.  The Church shows disrespect toward women by withholding the priesthood from them.

26.  The Church should grant women the priesthood and the right to officiate in all the offices pertaining thereto.

27.  The Church shows disrespect toward women by teaching that they should not achieve higher levels of educational attainment than their husbands.

28.  The Church should not discourage women from obtaining all the education they can, regardless of the level of educational attainment achieved by their husbands.

29.  The Church shows disrespect toward women by teaching that a married woman with children should not be employed outside the home.

30.  The Church should acknowledge the independence and equality of women and should recognize and celebrate the diversity of choices women in the Church make with respect to their education and careers. The Church should encourage girls to do what they think is best with respect to career and family.

31.  The Church shows disrespect for single adults by speaking to them as if they are children and defining them by their marital status.

32.  The Church should acknowledge and apologize for the harm it has inflicted on single adults with its undue emphasis on marriage, and should recognize and celebrate the contributions of single adult members of the Church, whether they are widowed, divorced, or never married.

33.  The Church shows disrespect for people of black African descent by failing to repudiate the racist doctrines used to justify and defend the policy under which black men were denied the priesthood until 1978.

34.  The Church should repudiate the racism of its past leaders that led to the imposition and continuation of the priesthood ban and the Church should repudiate all scriptural interpretations or doctrinal pronouncements by past General Authorities that sought to justify or defend the Church’s racist policies.

35.  The Church shows disrespect for Jews by continuing to allow temple work to be performed for Holocaust victims and by allowing the temple work for Adolf Hitler, Hermann Göring, and other prominent Nazis to be performed and recorded.

36.  The Church should put in place controls to ensure that its agreement with Jewish leaders not to perform temple ordinances for Holocaust victims is honored and the Church should reverse any temple work done for known Nazi leaders and adopt procedures to prevent similar things from happening in the future.

The 96 Theses: Constructive Suggestions for Improving the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 13-24

13. The Church owns a private hunting ground on which it sells hunting permits for up to $8,500 to hunters to shoot and kill exotic animals.

14. The Church should divest itself of this property. The Church should not profit from the merciless slaughter of animals for sport.

15. The Church owns television station KSL, which is an NBC affiliate, and approximately 30 radio stations.

16. The Church should sell its interest in KSL and other media ventures. The Church should not be in the media business.

17. The Church announced the purchase of the Crossroads Mall in 2003 for over $1 billion. That project’s cost is now estimated to be over $2 billion. (the original article contained the $2 billion number; the church-owned paper later deleted the reference to the cost).

18. The Church should not be in the shopping mall business, nor should it pay for Salt Lake City’s downtown revitalization efforts.

19. The Church requires nonmember BYU faculty members to “keep” the Word of Wisdom even off campus and during semester breaks.

20. The Church should eliminate this nonsensical requirement for nonmember professors.

21. The Church strictly enforces an exacting code of conduct at BYU and other church-owned universities under which students and teachers may not, among other things, be in the bedroom of a member of the opposite sex to whom they are not married, drink alcohol (or even be in the presence of others who are consuming alcohol—deemed a “serious” offense), coffee, tea, or use tobacco products, miss more than 3 church meetings in a semester. Failure to abide by the code of conduct may result in loss of scholarship money or expulsion from the university.

22. The Church should relax the code of conduct to focus on academic honesty and respect for others, remove attendance at church meetings from the requirements, and eliminate the requirement that students obtain each year an “ecclesiastical endorsement” from their Bishop or Branch President.

23. The Church does not require its universities to adhere to the principles promulgated by the AAUP in its 1940 statement on academic freedom. The Church values loyalty to ecclesiastical leaders above the honest search for truth in its faculty and student body.

24. The Church should adopt the principles of academic freedom ... The Church should apologize to and seek to reinstate Jeffrey Nielsen and any other qualified academic whose employment at a church-run school has been terminated because of the expression of ideas different from or distasteful to the Brethren.

The 96 Theses: Constructive Suggestions for Improving the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1-12

As promised in an earlier post, I present the initial 12 of my 96 Theses, containing criticisms coupled with suggestions for how the LDS church can improve.  Where possible, I have provided links to information that provides some basis for a particular critique.  The first 12 Theses concern the church's lack of forthrightness and disclosure of information in various areas.  This secretiveness breeds distrust among members and with suspicion among outsiders.  I hope that readers of Equality Time will  comment upon  and discuss openly any of the issues raised in the 96 Theses

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Martin Luther: New Order Catholic

When I was in graduate school about 15 years ago, I took a class on the Reformation. As you can imagine, the class focused largely on the life of Martin Luther. The professor imagined Luther as a figure set squarely between the fading medieval world and the unfolding European Renaissance. Luther enjoyed certain qualities of a Renaissance humanist but wasn’t an Erasmus or even a Melanchthon. His life was thus emblematic of the change that was overtaking Europe in the 16th century. He was both a throwback to an earlier time and a harbinger of the approaching Age of Enlightenment. What I found interesting about Luther then, and still do, was the way he attacked the Catholic Church not from a Renaissance humanist standpoint, but rather by holding the church to its own lofty standards. To be sure, Luther’s 95 Theses were largely concerned with ending the corrupt practice of selling indulgences that had gotten way out of hand. Luther bristled at the sale of indulgences not just because of the way the practice worked its corrupting influence on men in positions of authority in the church but because the practice itself seemed to exemplify the Pelagian heresy condemned by the church’s own leading theologians, including Augustine (to whose order Luther had belonged before becoming a professor in Wittenberg).

When Luther presented his 95 Theses to the world in 1517, he was not just criticizing certain church practices. He attacked the very idea that the pope or any church authority could overrule scripture and the authoritative scriptural interpretations promulgated by the early church fathers and councils. He did not attack the pope or the church per se; he simply asserted limits on the right of the pope to go against scripture and tradition. He believed, in short, that the leaders of the church were apostates, and the church needed to be reformed by the “priesthood of believers” who would cleanse the church of its iniquity. He refused to offer the Papacy the blind obedience it demanded from him. You might say Martin Luther was, for a time, a “New Order Catholic.”

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