If Jesus were to walk into an LDS church meeting today, how would He be received? If the latest article in a church magazine on the subject of dress and grooming is any indication, Jesus very likely would be asked to leave. Why? Well, let’s start with hair: in all the pictures I have seen of Jesus, He has long hair. And, typically, He is shown wearing open-toed shoes. According to an LDS church General Authority, such things are offensive to God.
On December 15, 2007, Elder Russell M. Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the LDS church gave an address to graduates of BYU-Hawaii. He spoke about the changes in media he has witnessed in his 80 years. In his address, he shows that he is up to speed on the new media--his grandkids gave him an iPod, he uses email, he is aware of Facebook, blogs, and podcasts. This in itself is refreshing. Some in the Bloggernacle have on occasion wondered whether church leaders are wary of blogs and discussion boards dealing with Mormonism, and whether the church might try to "crack down" on members' online expressions. Elder Ballard's talk appears to alleviate some of those fears (though it is not clear that all the Brethren share his views; nonetheless, it is gratifying to see a member of the Twelve embrace the new media). Here is an excerpt:
Today we have a modern equivalent of the printing press in the Internet and all that it means. The Internet allows everyone to be a publisher, to have their voice heard, and it is revolutionizing society. Before the Internet, there were great barriers to printing. It took money, power, or influence and a great amount of time to publish. But today, because of the emergence of what some call New Media, made possible by the Internet, many of those barriers have been removed. New Media consists of tools on the Internet that make it possible for nearly anyone to publish or broadcast to either a large or a niche audience. I have mentioned some of these tools already, and I know you are familiar with them. The emergence of New Media is facilitating a world-wide conversation on almost every subject including religion, and nearly everyone can participate. This modern equivalent of the printing press is not reserved only for the elite.
Of course, he has to put in the obligatory "Satan wants to take this great thing and wreak havoc with it" meme, but then he goes on:
That word conversation is important. There are conversations going on about the Church constantly. Those conversations will continue whether or not we choose to participate in them. But we cannot stand on the sidelines while others, including our critics, attempt to define what the Church teaches. While some conversations have audiences in the thousands or even millions, most are much, much smaller. But all conversations have an impact on those who participate in them. Perceptions of the Church are established one conversation at a time.
Far too many people have a poor understanding of the Church because most of the information they hear about us is from news media reports that are often driven by controversies. . . . You, too, can tell your story to nonmembers in this way. Use stories and words that they will understand. Talk honestly and sincerely about the impact the gospel has had in your life . . . . The audiences for these and other New Media tools may often be small, but the cumulative effect of thousands of such stories can be great. . . . You could help overcome misperceptions through your own sphere of influence, which ought to include the Internet.
I am gratified to know that what I am doing here as a Latter-day Saint with my little blog has the blessing of an apostle. I agree with Elder Ballard that there are many misperceptions about the LDS church. I hope that my blog helps correct some of those misperceptions. Whether people have misperceptions because of something they have read in an evangelical tract, a mainstream newspaper, or they have misperceptions because they received erroneous information from the missionaries, the gospel doctrine teacher, or the church PR department*, it is the same. And if I can help people gain a balanced, correct understanding of the church, well, I consider myself blessed.
*My next post will be devoted to correcting some of the misperceptions people may have formed as a result of relying upon the LDS church PR department's answers to questions posed by Fox News journalists. I hope Elder Ballard appreciates the effort I am putting forth in setting the record straight.
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.
What follows is a heartrending email I received from an Equality Time reader. Mike (not his real name), who was a returned missionary, married in the temple, and active member throughout his adult life, became disaffected with the LDS church and sent his family a respectful letter informing them that he would no longer be an active participant in the LDS church and explaining some of his reasons (doctrinal, historical, logical, etc.) In response, Mike's father sent an email to all of Mike's brothers and sisters and did not include Mike on the distribution. Fortunately, one of Mike's siblings forwarded the email to him; otherwise he might never have known his dad's true feelings.
One might expect a church that claims to be the one true church of Jesus Christ to instill the principle of unconditional love in parents. Members of the LDS church often point to the "fruits" of the restored gospel as evidence for the church's truthfulness. Read the following letter Mike's dad sent to Mike's siblings. Witness the fruits of the gospel in action. And judge for yourself what they may tell us about the church's truth claims.
Last week, I posted on What I Want for My Daughters. This week I post on What I Want for My Son.
I want my son to know that he is loved no matter what he believes about God, Jesus, Joseph Smith, or the LDS Church. I want him to know that I respect his intelligence and his freedom to think for himself and to choose for himself, and that his parents' love for him is not conditioned on his believing in or practicing any particular religion, going on a mission, being straight, or marrying in the temple.
I want my son to grow up with the ability to analyze facts, assess evidence, and critically evaluate arguments he reads or hears. I want him to feel free to choose an educational and career path that fits his interests and talents, and not to feel pressured to go to a specific college or enter a certain professional field. I want him to possess a thirst for knowledge and a zeal for discovering truth, wherever it might be found and wherever it might lead.
I've just finished listening to my friend John Dehlin's latest podcasts with Paul Toscano, one of the illustrious (or notorious, depending on one's perspective) September Six, having been excommunicated in September 1993 for having ideas that Boyd K. Packer disagreed with. I have listened to nearly all of John's podcasts at both Mormon Stories and Mormon Matters, and I think this is his best interview yet. Toscano had my laugh tears flowing in episodes 4 and 5. I found myself cheering when he said (I paraphrase) that he would put his body count of destroyed testimonies against Boyd Packer's any day. I found myself once again distressed and distraught at the treatment he and his family received at the hands of church authorities at every level. His only "sin" was thinking, believing, and speaking ideas not understood or believed by those in positions of authority in the LDS Church. Many people have commented that the LDS Church used to be more fun and exciting than today's staid, correlated cookie-cutter church. Part of the reason is that the church has given the boot to folks like the Toscanos. While I don't think I ever shared either Paul's or Margaret's understanding of Mormon theology, I would have loved to have had people like them in my ward--people who are passionate about studying the scriptures and exploring the ramifications of the doctrines Joseph Smith taught. I am not really sure what Boyd Packer feared from the Toscanos. I think the church would be enriched by having a diversity of thought and opinion freely expressed. I like Paul Toscano's vision of the church as a family, where the ordinances are what make the church unique, and people are free to explore, discuss, and disagree--even with the apostles--on matters of faith and doctrine.
I hope you enjoy these as much as I did and will comment freely. Mormon Stories regulates comments from non-believers, disaffected members, and former Mormons. Equality Time is the place to comment if you want to say anything that would not be appropriate for Sunday School.
When I concluded that the LDS Church was not what it claimed to be and not what I had once thought it was, I experienced a range of emotions: deep sadness, humiliation, and an existential despair punctuated by periods of relief, hope, and exhilaration, to name a few. But in shedding a world view that had informed my every thought and action, I struggled to get my bearings. Mormonism, for all its faults, does provide a framework and structure for "raising up children in the way that they should go." It provides a road map for the lives of our children, literally from the time of birth well into adulthood. Mormon children are blessed as infants, baptized at eight, given countless activities and programs and checklists with clearly identified objectives, indoctrinated every school day for four years in high school, and encouraged to look forward to missions, church colleges, and marriage in the temple. It's all scripted, and Mormon parents need only "plug-and-play" the resources provided by the church to raise their children with the beliefs and values church leaders consider most important. Upon realizing that Mormonism's foundational truth claims are bogus, I wondered whether the "goodness" of Mormonism was more important than my sense of its "untruthiness." I pondered whether, despite my dismissal of the church's truth claims, the church's values and its substantial resources for instilling those values nonetheless provided a reasonable basis for raising my children in the church. I thought about what the church teaches kids about themselves, the world around them, and their own potential. And I thought about what I want my kids, especially my daughters, to internalize. I could not help but conclude that . . .
This week's recommended site is Main Street Plaza. MSP is a group blog that straddles precariously the gap between the Disaffected Mormon Underground (DAMU) and the Bloggernacle. MSP links to both disaffected blogs and mainstream faithful Mormon blogs, and accepts contributions from a wide array of Mormons and ex-Mormons who engage in civil but frank discussion of Mormon culture.
Today's post by Hellmut Lotz focuses on the fallout from Sister Julie Beck's talk from the most recent General Conference on the Mormon ideal concerning motherhood. Sister Beck's polarizing talk was far and away the most discussed General Conference talk both in the DAMU and the Bloggernacle. Now, a few weeks after conference, President Hinckley and President Packer have apparently come to Sister Beck's defense, warning faithful Mormons gathered for a 107-stake regional conference not to express their views on Sister Beck's talk if those views are critical. To do so makes one a "servant of sin" and a "child of disobedience."
The LDS Church may have purchased the real Main Street Plaza and shut down free expression there, but the virtual Main Street Plaza is alive and kicking. Check it out and join the discussion--whatever your views.
By Guest Blogger fh451
After a hiatus, I continue the letter with a discussion of Polygamy, Kirtland Anti-Banking Safety Society, the Priesthood Restoration, and Mountain Meadows.
With all the great resources out there for people who are engaged in religious studies generally and Mormon studies in particular, I thought I would start a new recurring feature here at Equality Time to help people find the best blogs and web sites out there on the "Internets" that deal with these subjects. For the inaugural post in what I intend to be a regular series, I feature a newly created blog by a talented artist (who, it seems, at this point wants to remain anonymous). The blog is called Images of the Restoration. The author/artist of this blog has created a number of compelling depictions of events from Mormon history--events that Mormon apologists, studious members of the LDS Church who venture outside the correlated materials, and critics of the LDS Church alike are aware of but which are seldom if ever mentioned or depicted in official LDS Church lesson materials.
Mormon apologists sometimes argue that the LDS Church, as an institution, does not whitewash or cover up its history, and that blame for artwork in church manuals, etc. that is not historically accurate should be laid at the feet of the artists and not the church that uses their work. Critics disagree, and sometimes point to the way the translation of the Book of Mormon is most often portrayed in church-approved and distributed print and visual media. For example, the following pictures are probably familiar to most members of the LDS Church:
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.
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.
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.
I said in a great thread over at the New Order Mormon discussion board that my friend John Dehlin has done more save my wife only to keep me in the church than anyone else in the world. John is now Executive Director of the independent Mormon Studies journal Sunstone, produces the excellent Mormon Stories podcasts, and has recently launched a new weekly podcast called Mormon Matters. Mormon Stories consists of one-on-one interviews that John conducts with people relate their experiences with Mormonism. Mormon Matters consists of a panel discussion moderated by John, in which each week three or four panelists interested in Mormonism discuss topics in the news and in the world of Mormon Studies. John’s goal with both Mormon Stories and Mormon Matters is to foster understanding of Mormonism and build bridges among people of varying viewpoints and perspectives concerning Mormonism. The podcasts are designed to appeal to anyone with an interest in Mormonism, from active, temple-going members to disaffected members to former members to those who have never been members of the church but nonetheless have an interest in the church and its people. I recommend both Mormon Stories and Mormon Matters to all who have an interest in hearing bright people discuss in depth the Mormon experience.
Some constructive criticism: I like the idea of having true diversity on the panel. I definitely enjoyed the podcasts in which John Fowles and Blake Ostler participated. I think having a “true believer” on each panel, if possible, is a great idea. I think some of the folks who post at Millennial Star might be good panelists (Geoff B., Clark Goble, for example). I also love having a well-informed “cultural Mormon” on the panel. John Hamer is perfect. I think the women who have been featured (Ann Porter, Rosalynde Welch, and Taryn Nelson-Seawright) have been terrific. The “Sunstoners” seem to be a bit overrepresented. But, then again, it’s a podcast by the executive director of Sunstone, so I guess that is to be expected. The glaring omission, in my estimation, is a representative from the disaffected Mormon realm. No, I am not talking about putting an “anti-Mormon” on the panel. We don’t need Ed Decker, or Tal Bachman. But there are thoughtful, articulate people posting in the DAMU who would provide a perspective and a voice of “reasoned opposition” that I think could improve the discussions. Folks like Hellmut Lotz, Chris Tolworthy, Kevin Mathie, to name a few. Or women like Belaja, Wry Catcher, or Sister Mary Lisa (all of whom post at Further Light and Knowledge, to name a few more. I mean, if Fox News can have Juan Williams on its panels, certainly Mormon Matters could stand to have one well-behaved denizen of the DAMU on occasionally.
Having said that, I think these podcasts are really wonderful. I'm amazed at the quality of the content and the professionalism with which John Dehlin pulls these off. He must be spending an inordinate amount of time to produce these and his Mormon Stories podcasts, as well as getting his feet wet in his new job at Sunstone while keeping a day job to support his family. Now, onto my thoughts on the individual podcast episodes.
In an earlier entry, I wrote about why history matters to those who investigate the claims of the LDS Church. I concluded that the history of the church matters to the extent that historical facts (actual history, not the whitewashed, “faith-promoting” version peddled by the LDS Church’s Correlation Committee) tend to establish that the church’s claims to exclusive divine inspiration and authority are spurious.
Ultimately, though, the history of the church figures only tangentially into my decision on whether to remain in the church or leave for pastures of a more verdant hue. I am not a member of Joseph Smith’s church. Or Brigham Young’s. I am certain that at the upcoming General Conference in April, there will be no talks expounding on the Adam-God doctrine or encouraging the members to “mercifully” spill the blood of heretics and apostates. It is not the historical “messes” that fuel my disaffection with Mormonism. Rather, my disaffection is fed by the expanding disparity between my personal values and a church whose doctrines, policies, and culture are diametrically opposed to those values.