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. 

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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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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 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.

Psychological Effects of Mormonism

Free At Last, a poster at the Recovery from Mormonism site, has put up a new web page on the subject of the Psychological Effects of Mormonism.  I recommend it to readers of Equality Time.  It covers much of what I covered in my post "Fear and Loathing in Salt Lake City."  (On the fears engendered by Mormonism, Free At Last has compiled a much longer list than the one I present in my post on the subject.  It can be found here. ) Essentially, Free At Last is arguing from a similar point of view to mine.  That is, the biggest problem with Mormonism is its effect on an individual's mind and soul.  Rather than using healthy methods to motivate its members, the LDS Church uses fear, guilt, shame, and psychological intimidation to foster dependence on and loyalty to the organization, at the expense of the psychological and emotional health of its members.  In my view, a religion ought to uplift, inspire, heal, encourage, enlighten, pacify, strengthen, educate, and equip its members for dealing with life's challenges.  What I see in the LDS Church is a religion that systematically breaks down an individual 's autonomous will, substituting the church's dogma and values for personal conscience.   Free  At Last's web site outlines how the church accomplishes this, and provides resources for further study of this phenomenon.

For a list of psychological symptoms often experienced by members of the LDS Church,  see here.  If you are a member of the church, I encourage you to look at the list and see how many symptoms you recognize in yourself.  A healthy religion, in my opinion, would not generate such thoughts and feelings.

For detailed case studies on the effects that Mormonism's hierarchical authoritarian structure has on individuals, see this site.

Bob McCue has written in a similar vein on how Mormonism uses Belief-Shaping Techniques to command obedience to church authority.  His insightful essay, which I think complements Free At Last's page nicely, can be found at Bob's web site.

President Hinckley has said on occasion that Mormonism makes bad men good and good men better (not sure what he thinks it does for women, whom he relegated at the latest General Conference to the status of "possessions" of their husbands, but I digress).  Richard Packham addresses this question at his web site and finds Mormonism wanting.

Addressing the topic that Hinckley has ignored--the deleterious effects of Mormonism on many women--Dr. Kent Ponder discusses the results of his study of Mormon women and depression over here.

An interesting discussion of the teen suicide rate in Utah, and the role Mormonism might play in it, can be found at the Mormon Stories blog.

Finally, for a long but fascinating exploration of the "pattern of the double bind" in Mormonism, see this book published online. 

If anyone has additional links to sites discussing the psychological effects of Mormonism on the individual, please let me know and I will update this post.  Thanks!

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 [email protected]

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
  • Finally, for a somewhat conservative, faithful, mainstream conversation from the traditional Bloggernacle, check back here if/when one presents itself.

Fear and Loathing in Salt Lake City

Religion is based, I think primarily and mainly upon fear. It is partly the terror of the unknown and partly, as I have said, the wish to feel that you have a kind of elder brother who will stand by you in all your troubles and disputes. Fear is the basis of the whole thing - fear of the mysterious, fear of defeat, fear of death.

--Bertrand Russell

They say there are strangers who threaten us,
Our immigrants and infidels.
They say there is strangeness to danger us
In our theatres and bookstore shelves,
That those who know what’s best for us
Must rise and save us from ourselves.

Quick to judge,
Quick to anger,
Slow to understand
Ignorance and prejudice
And fear walk hand in hand.

--Rush—Witch Hunt (Part III of Fear Trilogy)

In a previous post I said I was preparing a post on fear and the LDS Church. In this post, I’ll explore ways the church instills fear in its members, and offer my opinion on why I think the church uses fear as a tool of social control and institutional preservation. In reading many blog posts and participating in numerous discussions in Internet fora over the last year and a half, I have observed that fear is an aspect of nearly everyone’s experience in Mormonism. At the same time, each individual’s experience with Mormonism is unique, and it appears the church has a variety of fears in its arsenal.

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Mormonism: Church or Ranking System?

I often wonder if I belong to a church or more of a ranking system.

I grew up BIC, TBM believing that the God had restored his one and only true church to the face of the earth, through a modern-day prophet Joseph Smith.  As I grew, I was taught that God is no respecter of persons, and that every soul is valuable in the sight of God.  I was also taught that God judged men on their heart and not on their outward appearance.  It seemed as thought God was really fair-minded, and as God's mouthpieces on earth, the church leaders were likewise fair-minded and true followers.  I grew up believing that the color of one's skin did not matter to God.  I was also taught that someone's weaknesses would become their strengths, with the help of God.  It seemed that everyone was empowered and considered equal in God's sight.  I was taught that we would not be judged for others transgressions, and that it was wrong to judge others.

Then I went on a mission.  I realized that those missionaries who were related to General Authorities, or "important" members of society, were given preferential treatment.   The preferential treatment was received by way of leadership callings, good companions and assignments to the most beautiful parts of the mission field.  One Elder I clearly recall was a grandson of Spencer W. Kimball.   He was an average guy without special abilities or missionary skills.   Yet, we knew about him.  Everybody knew about him, and nobody was surprised when he was called to be an AP and serve in the most beautiful zone of the mission to close out his two years of missionary service.  There were a number of other Elders in my mission who were sons or nephews of some of the Quorum of the Seventy, and likewise received great companions, great areas, and leadership callings.  At the time it was kind of an irritant, there was some cognitive dissonance involved, but I got over it.   It was pretty funny when this grandson of SWK,  and the son of a US congressman, were assigned as AP companions together, and neither had been an outstanding missionary.  It started the wheels turning.

Since those initial wonderings, I've noticed a clear effort on the part of the church to take care of its leaders and their progeny, as well as the high-society members and their progeny, while seemingly ignoring the rank-and-file membership, and their service.  Fame and fortune are worshipped by the brethren.  On a local level, Bishopric members sons serve as their quorum leaders, or in the Young Women's leadership.  The sons and daughters of members of the High Council are treated differently than those of the rank-and-file membership.   I've also noticed that our high profile members, professional athletes, and so forth who don't serve missions are not held under the same tacit condemnation as other members who do not choose to serve mission.  Indeed, if any member has any noteworthy position in society, once again they are treated as mormon royalty.   No one need go any further than the example of the Osmonds, who parlayed their 60's and 70's fame into a position of special treatment in the church.   As it turns out, a young man at BYU who wanted to date Marie Osmond had to have a special recommend from his stake president, to be considered for a date.  Not a temple recommend mind you, but a special "you are good enough for Marie Osmond" recommend.  I have no idea what questions were asked in order to receive one of these.

I have also noticed that those who are given leadership callings many times take it upon themselves to walk around with a chip on their shoulder.   Indeed, the higher ranking General Authorities of the church must be addressed a certain way by the membership, as "Elder" or "President" so they are afforded the proper respect of their high calling.  It makes me wonder if Jesus would want me to call him Elder, or bow and kiss his ring if I met him.  Local leadership such as Stake Presidents and High Councilmen ofttimes take it upon themselves to offer their "special" interpretation of a scripture, or to change the words of a scripture to somehow make it "more" relevant.  Most local members assume that these men are above them, and somehow score more points on some imaginary "righteousness" scale.

Is there an unwritten righteousness scale within mormonism that allows its members to self-righteousness judge one another?  I believe that there is.   I believe that many members assess one another on whether or not someone is wearing garments.   On whether or not they obey the Word of Wisdom.  Many times members judge one another on whether a priesthood holder is wearing a white shirt, or has facial hair.  Women are judged on how many children they have, and whether their children are active.  Men are judged on their profession, their financial accomplishments, their educational attainments, and their leadership position within the church.  If you are on the high end of the judging scale, then maybe a member will "allow" you to be their friend.  Certainly many members who employ these methods of judgment will not allow you into their social circles until they know more about you, and have judged you worthy.

I would dare say that many members of the church constantly look at others in order to make a thumbs-up or thumbs-down determination, in quite a few categories, depending on the ward and its particular viewpoints.   Some Salt Lake wards I lived in were very cognizant of which General Authorities you were related to, or which of your ancestors was prominent in church history.  If you had many ancestors in Nauvoo and Kirtland, who later became pioneers, your score would increase accordingly.  In other wards, financial position and possessions are the benchmarks.  What kind of car do you drive?  How large is your house?  Is it on the east bench?  Do you have a BMW?  Is your house over 5000 square feet?  Where do you vacation?  Where do your children attend school?  Who are your friends?  Are you connected socially?    Are you going to Italy again this summer?  How do like that private school?  Your family is friends with the Huntsmans?  Oh, you dated Marie Osmond at BYU?   

On the other hand, negatives are also seemingly sought out, and factored into the equation.  Are you divorced?  You are single at 34 and never have been married?  Your sister is gay? Your uncle served prison time?  Your father declared bankrupcy?  You declared bankrupcy?  You had a drug addiction?  Your brother was excommunicated on his mission?   You dropped out of college?  You don't shop at Nordstroms? You have examined anti-mormon material?  You used to get drunk as a teenager?  You didn't serve a mission?  Your spouse was layed off?  You don't have any foodstorage?  You don't go to a professional hairdresser?  Your credit is bad?  You cheated on your spouse?  Your son left the church?   Your father was never a member?  You're a convert?  You don't have any pioneer ancestry?  Your son was convicted of fraud?  Your brother-in-law is serving time in the state penn?  You don't pay tithing?  You can't afford a boat?  You never go on vacation?  You don't own a suit?  You won't shave off your beard?  You have three earrings in one ear?  You don't have a temple recommend?  Your spouse does not wear garments?  You only attend Sacrament meeting?  Did your sister really marry a black man?  Why can't you afford to go with us to Antigua?  What's wrong?  Have you lost your testimony? 

This constant barrage of nonstop judgmentalism takes a toll on the rank-and-file members who are simply nice people trying to do their best.  Many members are silent notes taking.   Do they really realize how intrusive and non-christian it is to judge others?  Why do they feel they can be  judge and jury?  It would be nice if all of the things I was taught about equality and non-judgmentalism were actually practiced within my religion.  Sadly, it is the exception rather than the rule.

Is mormonism a church, or a ranking system which filters out as many as possible so only the "cream" can rise to the top?  Does God love the annointed ones more than anyone else?  Is there a mormon "royalty" that can do no evil, and receives preferential treatment within mormonism?  Does God love the rank-and-file members too, or is he only concerned with the mormon royalty?

Oh yeah, Happy New Year!!!


True Love

As I watched "Kingdom of Heaven" this weekend, I was struck by the curious nature of the crusades.  The movie is set in 12th Century Jerusalem and follows the Knights of Templar.  It's a very action packed film, although somewhat superficial in it's treatment of the underlying themes.  Liam Neeson and Orlando Bloom are cast as noblemen who try to maintain peace in the hate-driven environment of the Holy Land.  I enjoyed the film, but reflected on the sad nature of the crusades, imposing one's religious belief onto another, by the sword.  Christians and Muslims caught in a whirlpool of hatred, war, and bloodshed in a quest to impose their version of "true" religion upon one another.  The Knight's battle cry "God wills it" seems vaguely reminiscent of the cry "Do your duty" uttered by John D. Lee on Mountain Meadows in Mormonism's own miniature adaptation of the crusades.  I continue to be disgusted and appalled by people who proclaim to follow God, yet have little or no understanding of the true meaning of love.

Jesus taught us to love our fellow man.  He taught us to love our enemies, and do good to those who despitefully use us and persecute us.  He taught us to love one another unconditionally.  "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."  He didn't limit the application of love to only those friends who followed a certain proscribed set of rules.  He simply mentioned "friends."  True friends.  Jesus served as the example of one who loved all people.  His association with harlots and publicans confirms that they were his friends.   All versions of Christianity would be well-served by following the example of their founder.  Loving all people equally, rather than imposing religious views at the point of a sword or a bowie knife, shows true devotion to Christ.  He stated that the two great commandments are to love God, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Elder Russell M. Nelson, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, recently published an article in the Ensign entitled "Divine Love."  In the article he states "Divine Love is also conditional.  While divine love can be called perfect, infinite, enduring, and universal, it cannot correctly be characterized as unconditional.  The word does not appear in the scriptures."  Elder Nelson's definition of conditional love does not fit the meaning of true love.  True love is love that transcends all else. To assume that God would love us conditionally is patently absurd on it's face.  A loving God is, by definition, a God that loves truly and honestly.  Would an all-knowing, omniscient God be limited in His true love for us?  And would He communicate this limitation by revelation?  I find Elder Nelson's version of God's love unpersuasive and uninspired.

"God is Love" (1 John 4:8)  The passage does NOT say "God is conditional love."  God being pure, is only capable of unconditional powerful love.  To state the opposite is to put conditions on God's purity, and His Omnipotence.  God is not capable of conditional love, we are all loved equally because God represents the essence of love.  True love is a character trait that I have recently witnessed in the relationships of some good friends.  The ability to see good in people and to respect, honor, and support them, in spite of our differences, is evidence of true love.   Avoiding stereotypes and not judging others also is evidence of true love.  True love exists on a higher emotional plane that has no judgmental qualities or expectations.  True love is able to surpass all external limitations placed on relationships based on sexual orientation, skin color, or level of faithfulness and reach newer and higher planes of acceptance, empathy and tolerance.  True love is above all other love, and is entirely unconditional by nature.  God's love is true love, and our unconditional acceptance and warmth for those of other faiths, lack of faith, skin color, or sexual orientation is the highest manifestation of love on our part.   Killing others as a testimony of religious belief has nothing to do with love, and represents the most basic misinterpretation of God.   

True love is unconditional.  By nature.  God's love for us is true love.  Our love for our own children is unconditional, why would God's love for us be any different?  What a wonderful thought knowing that God will judge us on the content of our character and not on our affiliation with a certain religion, the color of our skin, or our sexual orientation.  His true love far surpasses those external standards, and I believe He is far more interested in what we make of our lives, and how deeply we are able to develop our own true love towards Him and other people.      


Obedience in the Mormon Church

 Presenting my second guest post, from my good friend GDTeacher, who is a moderator at the New Order Mormon discussion board:

The leaders and published teachings of the Mormon Church focus strongly on the inherent virtue and the eternal importance of obedience to God, His commandments, and His leaders. This obedience imperative is common to many conservative religions, of which Mormonism is one. In spite of the church dogma and culture supporting unquestioning obedience to church leaders, people are responsible to make their own ethical and moral decisions. This essay will explore the basis for this Mormon belief in unquestioning obedience, some of the conflicts surrounding it within the church, as well as the potential negative ramifications of this dogma.


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