An LDS Gem: Elder Holland's Opus

This past Saturday and Sunday, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held its 179th Semi-Annual General Conference, at which Latter-day Saints (Mormons) gathered to hear sermons from their ecclesiastical leaders. At the afternoon session held on Sunday October 4, 2009, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles delivered a 16-minute address that quickly became the talk of the 10-hour-long conference.  The text of all General Conference addresses are available at the LDS church's web site.  The text of Elder Holland's address can be found here.  The church web site also makes the talks available in audio and video formats.  After the jump, I embed the talk as it appears on YouTube, in two parts, and then provide my commentary on it.  In sum, Elder Holland's talk is rife with lies and logical fallacies, and relies on emotional and psychological manipulation rather than rational argument to affect his audience.

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Great New Web Site from "LDS Missionary"

Every once in a while, I stumble on a web site or blog that has information on Mormonism presented in a unique way, or which contains information not commonly found elsewhere.  For those looking for just such a site, I recommend clicking right here.   It's a site by a former LDS missionary who has recently become disillusioned with the faith (sound familiar?).  His latest post is on the racist doctrines of the LDS church (which have never been repudiated; only swept under the rug).  Since tomorrow is Juneteenth, and this month is the 30th anniversary of the "policy change" declaration through which God decided He was no longer racist, it seems an appropriate time to send readers of Equality Time over there.


Images of the Restoration in the News

Not long ago, I featured the blog Images of the Restoration as a "Site of the Week."  Well, it appears this wonderful blog with accurate depictions of events from Mormon history is getting some attention in the mainstream religion press.  Yesterday, a story appeared at Beliefnet.com about the controversy this little blog has stirred up in Mormon circles.  In an article titled Artists Present an Uncensored View of Mormon History, religion writer Menachem Wecker describes the harshly negative reaction of church representatives and leaders to an accurate depiction of Mormon history.   Church public relations employee Kim Farah had "zero interest" in commenting on an "anti-Mormon" blog.  An LDS Bishop said the artists were "anti-Mormon activists parading as historians" and compared viewing their works of art with asking Hitler his opinion about the Jews. 

I find these comments from official representatives and leaders of the LDS church fascinating.  What they are saying is that depicting events from Mormon history (taken from official primary church documents) accurately is an "anti-Mormon" enterprise. In short, they are admitting that truth is antithetical to Mormonism.  It's a stunning admission, really.  Also interesting from the article is the fact that neither the church representatives nor any of the Mormon apologists were able to point out any inaccuracies in the portrayals found on the site.  Some criticize the quality of the depictions, but none could contest that the events depicted did not happen.  So, what's the problem? If, as some of my Mormon friends assert, the LDS church is not opposed to accurate depictions of its history, why the harsh criticisms and vitriol thrown at this site?  It's a curious thing, really.


Obfuscation, Evasion, and Half-Truths: The LDS Church Answers Fox News

Over at the Fox News web site, they have posted 21 questions posed to the LDS church and answered by the voice for the "one true and living church on the face of the earth"--yea, even the unnamed public relations spokesperson.  While some of the questions are poorly worded, they do represent a decent sampling of questions frequently encountered by members of the LDS church.  So, how did the church do in answering?  I present here the questions, the answers, and my commentary.  Before getting to the Q&A, I find this from the article interesting: "The Church objected to answering some of the questions on the grounds that they misrepresent the basic tenets of the Mormon religion."  I am not sure why that would be an objection?  Why not just correct any misrepresentation in the answer?

Also, the church's prefatory statement is curious: "
Many of these questions are typically found on anti-Mormon blogs or Web sites which aim to misrepresent or distort Mormon doctrines.  Several of these questions do not represent ... any serious attempt to depict the core values and beliefs of its members."

Which questions? And which blogs and which web sites "aim to misrepresent or distort Mormon doctrines"?  Is the church perhaps referring to the www.josephsmith.net web site and its misrepresentations of the gold-plate translation process and Joseph Smith's family life?  It's hard to know.  And should questions that people have about Mormonism make a "serious attempt to depict the core values and beliefs of" Mormons?  Isn't the point of the questions to find out about those beliefs and values?  A strange objection, to be sure.  On to the Q&A.

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When What You Already Know Just Ain't So

My friend, colleague, and fellow ward-mate Jordan F. recently put up this post on the "Mantle and the Intellect" at the blog he co-hosts with his brother John--A Bird's Eye View.  In the post, Jordan defends an oft-criticized talk given by President Boyd K. Packer in 1981 titled "The Mantle is Far, Far Greater Than the Intellect."  In that talk President Packer, among other things, encouraged LDS church scholars and educators to teach a faith-promoting version of history and to downplay or ignore entirely any facts or evidence from the historical record that could cast the leaders of the church in a negative light.  He discouraged the dissemination of information about church leaders that would show their humanity, telling church educators to focus exclusively on information that supports the Mormon truth claim that God is leading and guiding the leaders of the LDS church.  I disagree with much of what President Packer says in the talk, and with the way he says it.   Jordan has a different view, seeing the talk as "a beacon of light in today’s sea of spiritual darkness that is much of academia."

In his spirited defense of President Packer, Jordan notes that at the heart of Packer's talk is the idea that Mormon history cannot be properly understood without starting with the conclusion, born of the Holy Ghost, that the foundational claims of the LDS church are true.  In other words, the only proper approach to Mormon history for consumption by members of the LDS church is from the perspective of a true-believing Mormon who accepts Joseph Smith as the prophet of the restoration, the Utah-based church as the only true and living church on earth, the Book of Mormon as literal history translated by the gift and power of God, and the authority of those who lead the LDS church as absolute.   In other words, as Jordan puts it, the facts about Mormon history "cannot be properly understood divorced from a belief that God orchestrated the whole thing through imperfect and misunderstanding human beings."  Jordan thinks that, regarding Mormon history, "one MUST look at the foundational events of the Church through a lens of testimony in order to see the evidence of the divine hand in them, and . . . this is also how church history MUST be taught in LDS classrooms." 

In Jordan's post, he points to me as a living example of the "problem" Packer was seeking to prevent with his "Mantle and Intellect" talk.  Jordan quotes  from an earlier post of mine here at Equality Time, in which I discuss my decision to re-assess Mormon truth claims by examining the facts and evidence with my "testimony lenses" off.   This re-assessment led me to doubt, then reject, the literal truth of the LDS church's foundational claims.  And this gets to the heart of the disagreement between me and Jordan.  He thinks that Mormonism's foundational truth claims should be assumed, a priori, and that one's evaluation of church history and doctrine must be filtered to support that beginning assumption.  Any examination, exploration, or exposition of Mormon doctrine or history should be informed by and infused with a testimony of the divinity of the work.  To quote my friend, we should "view the historical record through the lens of faith and our spiritual impressions." I respectfully disagree.

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Moroni's Pitch

By Guest Blogger Juggler Vain

The LDS Church, like any organization that asks people to do things they wouldn't normally do on their own, employs a variety of persuasive techniques. What follows is an examination of three of the LDS Church's techniques: (1) Moroni's Promise, found in Moroni 10:4; (2) Alma the Younger's Sermon on the Seed, from Alma 32; and (3) Boyd K. Packer's Testimony Experiment, from "The Candle of the Lord," a 1982 address to mission presidents, published on page 51 of the January 1983 Ensign.

The Low Ball

The "low ball" is a common sales technique that consists of offering a really good deal to a potential customer, building rapport, and then subtly adding conditions to the deal that make it less of a bargain, relying on the customer's reluctance to walk away and be perceived as (1) greedy, shallow, or cheap (for only wanting the best deal), (2) stupid (for not realizing there would be conditions), or (3) a liar (if they promised to buy before learning of the conditions).

A low ball is commonly found in print or broadcast media, for example, when an advertisement is followed by fine print (or really, really fast talking).  In religion, the low ball is common enough to be cliche: "God will freely forgive you of all of your sins (but only if you send me money)."  Like this example, the technique usually involves an independent positive statement, followed by a "BUT" phrase.  Low balls are routinely used by the LDS Church. They are found in scripture and taught over the pulpit.

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Lyndon Lamborn--In His Own Words

In following up on the story about the excommunication of Mesa, Arizona church member Lyndon Lamborn, I emailed Lyndon asking for more details about the circumstances surrounding his excommunication. He kindly responded and, with his permission, I post his response here. The words are entirely his (with a few minor editorial revisions to clean up typos or protect the identity of those whose permission for revealing their identity I did not obtain). Some of his words are stronger than what I would have chosen to use, but I think his story is important, and it has garnered enough interest, to share it here uncensored and not watered down. The words following the jump are Lyndon's own, and it is my understanding they were originally written in response to further media inquiries. My thanks to Lyndon for allowing me to share this with the readers of Equality Time.

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On Damage and Danger

I have been participating off and on this past week in an online discussion regarding the excommunication of a disaffected Mormon in Mesa, Arizona.  The discussion has apparently shattered the record for most comments ever received on a news article published in the East Valley Tribune. The article that spawned the discussion concerns one Lyndon Lamborn, a member of the Thunder Mountain Ward in Mesa.  Apparently, Lamborn has been studying church history and doctrine from non-approved, non-correlated sources for the past couple years (sound familiar to anyone), and he has come to doubt the literal dogmatism contained in the official sources.  Lamborn shared his doubts with his Bishop and Stake President (James Molina).  He also shared some of his doubts and concerns with his brothers (who are also Mormon) and some of the members of his ward.  For this, he was excommunicated.  That's not so unusual (unfortunately).  What is unusual is that President Molina told Lamborn that his excommunication would be announced in every ward in the stake in Priesthood and Relief Society meetings.  And that's when Lamborn went to the media.

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Mormon Matters Episode 15: Inoculating the Saints, cont'd

Episode 15 of Mormon Matters is now up and ready for download.  You can get it directly from the Mormon Matters web site or subscribe through iTunes.  This latest episode continues the discussion of the concept of "inoculating" the saints to prevent disaffection when members of the LDS Church taught one thing by the church do some digging on their own and discover the truth is, well, more complicated.

Panelists on this episode include yours truly, along with guest Equality Time blogger and my good friend Mayan Elephant, as we join regular panelists John Hamer, Ann Porter, and host John Dehlin for a lively discussion.  My thanks to John Dehlin for allowing me to express my thoughts on the subject.


Comments on Mormon Matters Episode 12: Inoculation, Part II

Continuing my comments on Mormon Matters Episode 12: Inoculating the Saints, I will now address some of the arguments made by the panelists at the Sunstone Symposium.  Thanks to those who commented on my earlier remarks both here and at the New Order Mormon discussion board and the Further Light and Knowledge discussion board.

After downplaying the vexatiousness of the problems the LDS Church faces, the panelist talked about tolerance for different religious ideas and expressed his opinion that everyone has ideas that are likened to diseases and we are all constantly trying to infect each other with our idea-diseases.  This echoes a notion expressed by Boyd Packer in a speech he gave in the early 1980s in which he warned church educators against catching and spreading disease germs.  In Packer's opinion, historical facts that might threaten a basic Mormon testimony are considered disease germs to be avoided.  In a later talk, Packer reiterated his call to avoid teaching truths that were not useful in favor of those that were "faith-promoting."  Though the panelist did not invoke Packer, I couldn't help thinking that Packer would approve of this germ-based view of ideas and human interactions.  It wasn't clear to me, though, exactly what the point was.  If the speaker was saying that the "inoculation" under discussion was an inoculation against the disease germs of false ideas and anti-Mormon lies, he misses the point. 

Continue reading "Comments on Mormon Matters Episode 12: Inoculation, Part II" »


Comments on Mormon Matters Episode 12: Inoculating the Saints

For the 12th installment of the Mormon Matters podcast, John Dehlin has posted the audio from a panel discussion at the recently held Sunstone Symposium in Salt Lake City, Utah. The panelists comprised a “who’s who” of Mormon apologetics: Charles Randall Paul, Blake Ostler, Mike Ash, and Kevin Barney. They discussed the idea of “information inoculation” with respect to thorny issues in Mormon history, doctrine, and culture. The idea of “information inoculation” is that the church could teach troubling issues in a faithful context (in classroom instruction, periodical materials, conference addresses, seminaries and institutes, etc.) so that when members eventually encounter the troubling issues from sources critical of the church, they will not feel a sense of having been lied to, deceived, and betrayed by the church.

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"I Respectfully Dissent"

When a Justice of the United States Supreme Court disagrees with an opinion rendered by the majority of the Court, he or she often will file a dissenting opinion. These opinions traditionally include the words "I respectfully dissent." Even when the Justice passionately, vigorously, strenuously disagrees with the majority, it is customary to include the words "I respectfully dissent." (For an exception, see here). More than just a nod to decorum or a tip of the hat to tradition, this act is emblematic of the strength and vitality of the American republic. It demonstrates that even on issues of tremendous import involving, quite literally, life-and-death issues, we can treat one another with dignity and respect. The peaceful exercise of ultimate power is our nation's greatest triumph, in my opinion, and it is reflected in the simple phrase used by Supreme Court Justices in their dissenting opinions.

In religious discussions on the Internet (including here at Equality Time) and "in real life" the ideal exemplified by our nation's highest jurists is seldom achieved. I think participants on both sides of a given relgious debate contribute to the problem. On the one hand, religious devotees are often thin-skinned, unable to dfferentiate between criticism of an idea and personal animus. On the other hand, some who criticize religious dogma sometimes do engage in ad hominem attacks. On balance, I think that, at least on my blog, the discussion board I help moderate, and the blogs on which I comment (all dealing with Mormonism), the biggest impediment to a dialogue that could result in mutual understanding (if not ultimate agreement) comes from a mistaken belief among devout religionists that those who criticize specific religious ideas or practices lack respect for people of faith. For me, nothing could be further from the truth and I must say to those who hold such views, I respectfully dissent.

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Spoken as a Man not a Prophet

The following post was originally a response to Phaedrus, one of my favorite posters on the Wild Wild Web. He regularly posts at On Faith.

Phaedrus posted the following quote at Susan Jacoby's response regarding Mormonism.

"To those who would say, "But the Mormon church is a private entity, and should be able to decide for itself what rules it will enforce for its members," I say "Right you are. If it ended at the borders of the faith." But, it does not. The LDS church spends millions of dollars to combat gay marriage, and any meaningful version of civil unions, in every state that takes up the issue. In so doing, it seeks to exert its influence over the lives of "everyone," LDS or not."

This is very true. I too agree that the institution has the right to protect itself and set its own limits and rules. They can kick professors out of BYU as they see fit. They can excommunicate Janice Allred and her sister, Margaret Toscano. It is run by a few men who have been given full control of the institution.

However, it is not mandatory that all who disagree with those men, especially when it comes to civil rights, cease to speak. Otterson's suggestion, along with the chorus of faithful Mormons, that to speak against the LDS Church is somehow unamerican or lacks tolerance, was pathetic.

I noticed today something that is quite possibly the most significant reversal in the history of the LDS church. In my opinion, this position, as it is presented on LDS.org is bigger than the reversal of the race ban, it is bigger than the Manifesto regarding polygamy, it is bigger than the 1978 change that allowed women to pray in Sacrament Meeting.

You can read it here:  Approaching Mormon Doctrine

It includes this bullet:

Not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. A single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole Church. With divine inspiration, the First Presidency (the prophet and his two counselors) and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (the second-highest governing body of the Church) counsel together to establish doctrine that is consistently proclaimed in official Church publications. This doctrine resides in the four “standard works” of scripture (the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price), official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith. Isolated statements are often taken out of context, leaving their original meaning distorted. (emphasis added)

I applaud this statement. It was made on Friday, May 4th, 2007 by Michael Otterson. In my opinion, this is a victory for everyone, inside and outside of the church, with 15 exceptions - the Apostles.

The most common apology made by Mormons, with regard to doctrine or social stances, is that past prophets and living prophets were speaking as a 'Man not as a Prophet.' It was left to the apologists to decide when something was manly or prophetic. Members were faced with the impossible position of deciding what as just a rant by an old guy in a white shirt and what was inspired. (Does Eve come to mind for anyone?)

The press release puts it all in perspective: if it's not cannonized, it aint enforcable, official, godly or important enough to even have an opinion on how another person accepts or incorporates the information. That is huge progress, even if the words in the statement are not cannonized - oh for the irony and continued dilemma. One funny thought here, does this mean that General Conference is just a soundbite, and, until something is cannonized, Mormons can just enjoy two free weekends a year?

The Mormon Scriptures do not mention coffee specifically, so, any interpretation, according to what Otterson just published, is left to the Mormon coffee consumer and not to the old dudes or a bishop or anyone else. It may take a generation for the local leadership, including  Bishops,  ( Judge in Israel) to free themselves from judging those for whom they consider themselves the leader.  "I will take a Venti Vanilla Latte with non-fat milk for me, and a Triple Espresso for my Home Teacher."

Even the The Family: A Proclamation to the World leaves some vagueness regarding homosexuality, in my opinion. Regardless of how it is interpreted, it is fair that the comments by Oaks and Wickman in this staged interview regarding homosexuality are not to be considered at face value as equivalent to scripture or God's will. Regardless of how one accepts Oak's nonsense, the church has now publicly created an allowance for people to interpret those words differently and cease the harsh judgments of others, and the horrendous forced apologies and interpretations that are the burden of members, fathers, mothers, children and friends of homosexuals.

I think there is great reason to rejoice and party in the streets.

The press release by Otterson will be dismissed by many, disected by many, and embraced by many. If members allow themselves to really believe what is said in the statement, the debate that could ensue may do more to advance the religion into the mainstream than anything I have ever seen in the Mormon Church.

Otterson, that was bold to publicly reduce the doctrine to cannonized scripture. Let's see if your peeps in the pews can show even a fraction of the boldness as they speak for themselves more, and apologize less for the leaders, including Oaks comment that was broadcast on April 30th and May 1st. After all, Oaks was not inspired, he was merely expressing the thoughts of a man that was going 'All In' in a high stakes poker game.

And finally - Woohoo! Poker is back for the elders quorum and Relief Society until we get the poker ban cannonized.


Mormon Stories # 051: Richard Bushman Part 5 — Final Thoughts (For now)

In the 5th and final part of this multi-part interview with Dr. Richard Bushman, the world’s foremost scholar on Joseph Smith and early Mormonism and author of Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, John Dehlin offers some final thoughts on his time with Brother Bushman, and Bushman himself provides some final musings on the challenges of dealing with tough Mormon issues.  He then concludes with his testimony of Joseph Smith.

To access this interview, subscribe via iTunes, or click here to listen to the audio directly.

To provide direct feedback to John Dehlin or to Dr. Bushman about this episode, please email mormonstories@gmail.com

The discussion below is intended to be, a "Robust but Thoughtful, Open to All Viewpoints, Raucous but Respectful, Virtually Uncensored" conversation--including all types of Mormons (from apologists to ex-Mormons)."  Please enjoy!!!  And a MAJOR thanks to Equality for hosting the discussion.

  • Also, for a somewhat liberal, multi-sided (yet still faithful) conversation about the series overall, check out The Cultural Hall.
  • To discuss Dr. Bushman's comments about Sunstone, and the role it plays in dealing with tough historical and cultural issues within Mormonism, check out SunstoneBlog.com
  • Finally, for a somewhat conservative, faithful, mainstream conversation from the traditional Bloggernacle, check back here if/when one presents itself.