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Posts Tagged ‘LDS Church’

Imagine that the Mormon church announces tomorrow that they’ve received a revelation from God telling them to accept gay marriage.

(Please note that I am absolutely NOT “agitating” for something like this.  This is merely a thought exercise to make a point.)

In a perfect world, mainstream society would react like this: “They’ve worked so hard for so long to make sure we all know that they love us and want to be friendly with us, we can’t deny that only fidelity to their beliefs was what led them to the policies they had.  Their efforts at explaining those beliefs kindly and reaching out to everyone in welcoming were nothing short of amazing.”

Of course, the more realistic reaction would be: “Well, it’s about time those morons decided to stop being so mean and hateful.”

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I’ve lost track of how many articles lately, and how very many comments on articles,  claim to reveal to the world the secret, sinister beliefs of the LDS Church.  Their attempts at scandalous revelations tend to revolve around the same few topics, and they’ve all been squarely addressed (I covered the whole “Mormons want to become gods who rule their own planets” trope last summer), so I don’t want to analyze them one by one here.

What most strikes me about these alleged controversies, though, is how deep into obscure arcana the critics have to dig in order to find objectionable stuff.    If the worst dirt you can find on an organization is based on a handful of rumors, gossip, and secondhand quotes from 19th century figures, how bad can the organization really be?

Imagine a make and model of a car that someone wants to take down.  So they write some snarky blurbs about it online that show the world the truth: the company logo on the rear end is kind of derivative.  And the antenna is a bit hard to unscrew.  And don’t even get me started on the horrors of the rubber coating under the front passenger floor mat.

“Trust me,” says our automotive Internet muckraker, “I know all about the dark, seedy underbelly of this scam.”

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Sunday School Honors?

Something that critics of the LDS Church, both those on the inside and on the outside, like to say is that the Church doesn’t openly teach what it “really” believes.  They accuse the Church of hiding the truth about its more challenging doctrines and history behind a facade of bland pablum.

I could easily argue the problems with this view: that church materials and General Conference talks are actually deeper than many suppose, and that the church does nothing to hide anything related to it and even facilitates such research far more than people give it credit for (Some critics like to “shock” Mormons by revealing that Joseph and Hyrum Smith  defended themselves with pistols when attacked in Carthage Jail; the Mormon church is so scared of this fact and works so hard to cover it up that the pistols in question are on display in their official history museum, at Temple Square, free and open to the public).

Besides, if church-produced materials are so facile, I suppose I could quiz you on them and you’d know them all backwards and forwards.  Wait, what?  You mean you haven’t really squeezed every drop out of them yet?

Or consider this: the textbook used in church history classes is already an oversized monster and more than 600 pages long.  You don’t think the Church is trying hard enough to teach people about its history?  Good grief, just how much longer do you want that book to be?

But I think the biggest flaw with this criticism is that it simply isn’t the Church’s job to make sure that everybody everywhere knows everything about it.   (more…)

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This article made me sad.  Not because it mischaracterizes my church, which it does, and not because I think Maren Stephenson, the author, is an awful person, which I don’t, but because I think she totally misunderstands what she rejects and needlessly misses out on something wonderful because of it, even though she must have been so close to it.

The author writes about how her husband, and then she herself, became intellectually disillusioned with the LDS Church, and became happier after leaving it.

For someone who calls herself a “scholar” in her own article, she doesn’t seem to know the difference between doctrine and urban legends, and she seems ignorant of some obvious facts that contradict her new worldview.  It isn’t the factual errors that are heartbreaking, though–it’s the personal drama that accompanies (and perhaps fuels) the skepticism, which seems to lead her to a badly warped view of the LDS Church:

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A comment on a news article last week called the Book of Mormon racist because of its references to dark skin in conjunction with a curse.  I responded with the usual explanation: the curse is spiritual separation from God (2 Nephi 5:20), and the dark skin was just a useful way to distinguish those who’d been cursed.  However, the more I looked at what I’d written, the less satisfied I was.  I felt like I was missing something.  I went back to the text.

I don’t think the Book of Mormon references to dark skin are literal anymore; I think they’re only a poetic idiom.  Subsequently, I now have a different theory for what the mark of the curse really was.

The Controversial Verses

First, look at the relevant text.  There are three passages in the Book of Mormon that specifically mention dark skin as the mark of a curse (in 2 Nephi 5, Jacob 3, and Alma 3), and a fourth that bears on them (3 Nephi 2).  Here are the most controversial verses:

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In 2005, the LDS Church celebrated the 200th anniversary of Joseph Smith’s birth.  As major an event as that was, the next big milestone is far, far more important, and as it’s only a little over eight years away, I wonder if plans are already being made to honor it adequately.

The 200th anniversary of the First Vision will be in the Spring of 2020.  General Conference that season will likely be on Saturday, April 4th and Sunday, April 5th.  I imagine celebrations could most conveniently coincide with that.  Certainly it’s what all the talks will be about!  But this will be a celebration that the whole world should know about, and be included in.  It should, conceivably, be the biggest event the Church has ever undertaken to organize and present, with the possible exceptions of the pioneer migration and the construction of the earliest temples.

Some other important 200th anniversaries that we might already start keeping in mind:

  • Thursday, September 21st, 2023:  Angel Moroni appears to Joseph Smith and mentions the Book of Mormon
  • Wednesday, September 22nd, 2027: Joseph Smith receives the Book of Mormon plates
  • Tuesday, May 15th, 2029: Restoration of the Aaronic priesthood
  • Tuesday, March 26th, 2030: Publication of the Book of Mormon

And, of course:

  • Saturday, April 6th, 2030: Organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

So at least one major event’s anniversary will actually fall on a weekend!

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Last month, my college classes had an assignment to write a problem/solution essay.  Being young adults, almost all of them wrote from a politically liberal perspective.  Now, some of those papers were clever, articulate, and well-written, even if I personally disagreed with their premises and conclusions.

But not many of them.  Many of them were angry, juvenile rants with no more basis in reason or reality than the most fevered stereotypes of leftist loonies.  One guy wrote three pages about how global warming puts “all life on earth in danger of destruction very soon,” for example.  Several wrote about cheerfully banning anything they don’t like, from fast food to cigarettes to belief systems.  One student summed up that philosophy like this: “If people can’t make the choice to stay away from it themselves, it should be banned.”

I admit, I find this tendency to automatic tyranny scary.

But wait, belief systems?  They wrote that they want to ban belief systems?  Yes.  The most popular subject was gay marriage, and some writers were quite assertive in their condemnation of anything that wouldn’t agree with them.  By far the scariest lines in any paper I read were these:

“[He] was picked on because of his sexual orientation and now those who believe that his sexual orientation does not go along with their religious beliefs can bully him.  Apparently Al Qaeda was completely okay and the Holocaust can be justified too.  Al Qaeda occured because of religious beliefs…Then the Holocaust killed millions of Jews simply because of Adolf Hitler’s moral beliefs.” 

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In a blog post last week about Mormons and the Civil War–focusing on the relationship between Abraham Lincoln and Brigham Young–the New York Times mentioned this:

Fascinatingly, Joseph Smith had prophesied in 1832 that an immense civil war would someday transform America, and that it would start in South Carolina.

It is fascinating, isn’t it?  A couple of commenters noted that there were good reasons in 1832 for predicting such a thing, but that hardly does the prophecy justice.  I submitted the following as a comment, but it hasn’t been published yet:

Joseph Smith’s Civil War prophecy is impressive.  As Jeff Lindsay notes, in 1832, Smith predicted that:

  • The war would begin with the rebellion of South Carolina.
  • It would cause the death and misery of many souls.
  • The Southern States would be divided against the Northern States.
  • The Southern States would call upon other nations for assistance, even upon the nation of Great Britain.

And that, later, Great Britain would enlist help from other nations in wars which would “be poured out upon all nations.” 

For those who think this was a lucky guess based on 1832 politics, one would be hard pressed to explain why the opinion wasn’t common, and why Smith repeated the claim eleven years later, in 1843.  The original prophecy is in a Mormon scripture called Doctrine and Covenants 87; the reiteration is found in D&C 130:12-13

Not only did Smith predict the war, but he even foresaw details like the South calling on Great Britain, which it did (this fact is even mentioned in the second National Treasure movie). 

There are plenty of other instances of recorded prophecies by Joseph Smith which came true:  http://www.jefflindsay.com/LDSFAQ/FQ_prophecies.shtml

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Excellent.  Today, the Daily Beast recognizes Romney and Huntsman’s uniquely pro-science stances in this presidential campaign as reflecting the nature of their faith.

One of many great quotes:

From the very founding of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, its leaders have allowed scientific thought to coexist with their teachings, sometimes in ways that were radical for their time. Modern Mormon scientists, for instance, are quick to quote Brigham Young, who said in 1871, “In these respects we differ from the Christian world, for our religion will not clash with or contradict the facts of science in any particular… whether the Lord found the earth empty and void, whether he made it out of nothing or out of the rude elements; or whether he made it in six days or as many millions of years.”

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In a 1990 address to Regional Representatives, Elder Boyd K. Packer said:

In recent years I have felt, and I think I am not alone, that we were losing the ability to correct the course of the Church. You cannot appreciate how deeply I feel about the importance of this present opportunity unless you know the regard, the reverence, I have for the Book of Mormon and how seriously I have taken the warnings of the prophets, particularly Alma and Helaman.

Both Alma and Helaman told of the church in their day. They warned about fast growth, the desire to be accepted by the world, to be popular, and particularly they warned about prosperity. Each time those conditions existed in combination, the Church drifted off course. All of those conditions are present in the Church today.

Helaman repeatedly warned, I think four times he used these words, that the fatal drift of the church could occur “in the space of not many years.” In one instance it took only six years. (See Helaman 6:32, 7:6, 11:26)

It’s especially interesting that he mentions the book of Helaman as being a prophetic parallel for our day, in addition to Alma.  The superscription to Helaman–the introductory summary between the title and chapter one of the text–is part of the scriptural record, not an editorial study aid by modern church printers, like the individual chapter headings are.  One of the items in that ancient superscription is this:

An account of the righteousness of the Lamanites, and the wickedness and abominations of the Nephites.

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I’ve been reading some Grant Hardy lately.  His book Understanding the Book of Mormon is excellent, so far.  I’ve also noticed some articles he’s written for Meridian Magazine recently.  Meridian is a very conservative site, and Hardy seems to lean more to the left, but his work fits in there surprisingly well. 

One article in particular piqued my interest.  In “The Book of Mormon and Social Justice,” Hardy discussed our primary text’s take on a then-controversial buzz term.  His analysis, like most explications of scriptural statements about public obligations from a liberal perspective, takes teachings about charity for individuals and church organizations and applies them to secular governments, which may or may not be warranted.  I’ve long wondered if anyone would ever find their holy grail here: a convincing scriptural story where a righteous civic leader institutes something akin to modern welfare. 

Hardy did it.  (more…)

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As our society’s “Mormon moment” continues, with the award-winning Book of Mormon musical selling out shows and a second Latter-day Saint announcing a run for the presidency, I think we’ll see more attempts by some to “expose” what they see as embarrassing or bizarre aspects of the church.  Perhaps chief among their targets will be our doctrine of exaltation.  But the descriptions given of this belief will likely be grossly warped, as they usually are.

Case in point: not only was exaltation mocked as a weird, scary secret in an anti-Mormon CNN blog post a couple of weeks ago, but an article in The American Conservative this week garnered two consecutive comments that depicted exaltation in an erroneous light:

They believe that their destiny is to become a god on another planet.

and then:

Furthermore, they claim that we are all potential gods (if we are good little Mormons) with our own universes to rule one day.

Neither of these remarks is accurate.  My goal here is to define what Mormons do and don’t believe about exaltation, as best as I can.

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There’s one big question that I haven’t heard yet about an anti-Mormon author’s twisted article on a CNN blog about the LDS Church.  She says that she disbelieved in the religion at least since the time she was nine years old, yet she was married in an LDS temple, which would require a long period of prior faithfulness: was she lying about not believing in the religion throughout her childhood, or did she lie to the Church so she could get married in the temple? 

It’s been my experience that people who are inactive, or no longer members, in the LDS Church, hate being asked about when they did have faith, and how that changed.  They’ll often give sketchy answers, if any at all, and quickly change the subject.  Fair enough—private business is private business—but if you want to be taken seriously as a public opponent of something, don’t you owe the public an explanation that establishes credibility better than this? 

This author seems to base her credibility on the fact that her she was raised in a Mormon family (as if being raised by Darwin would automatically qualify you as a scientist), and the fact that she can quote distorted versions of some doctrines and out-of-context materials from the temple endowment ceremony.  So she can use Google.  Big whoop. 

You know how sometimes a reporter will try to play “gotcha” with a politician by asking him or her an incredibly simple question, like the number of amendments to the Constitution or the name of a foreign head of state?  (more…)

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There are multiple versions of the Civil War marching song, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”  The original words to the song include this line:

As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free. 

It’s easy to see why this would be inspiring to the Union soldiers singing it to build morale.  They were imitating the example of their Lord, who gave His life to free humanity from the bonds of sin and death.  This same Lord said, memorably, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).  The North must have been encouraged by seeing themselves in the role of temporal saviors, risking and often giving their lives to free black Southerners from the bonds of slavery.  (The famous “grapes of wrath” from the first verse refers to God’s righteous indignation at the evil of the slaveholders, which was in immediate need of retribution, through the instrument of the Northern army.) 

Such an analogy was uplifting and appropriate for the soldiers of the time (and, indeed, for soldiers of any time).  However, as much as I like the injunction in the hymn to “die to make men free,” I also like the way those words are modified in the hymn book of my church, the LDS Church.  In our hymnal, that line reads:

As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free.

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The LDS Church has made another statement about illegal immigration, emphasizing their disapproval of “mass expulsion,” among other things.  I saw a news story yesterday about it and how, apparently, Church headquarters is being inundated by calls from conservative church members who are outraged by what they see as a betrayal of their principles. 

I won’t rehash what I’ve said about this before, but here’s a scripture-based illustration of my point:

In my neck of the woods, our Sunday School lesson next week will be about Jesus’s parable of the ten virgins.  In this story, ten women were going to meet their bridegroom.  Five had prepared, and five hadn’t.  When the surprise announcement was made that the hour for the wedding was at hand, the prepared five got to go in, but the other five were left with no groom but regret. 

The interpretation of this parable for Latter-day Saints has always been pretty standard: it’s meant to teach us about preparing for the Second Coming.  Since all ten women had clearly accepted the invitation to go to the wedding, they all represent members of the Lord’s church.  The sobering warning in the parable is that only about half of us–even half of those who are at least nominally on board with the Church–might be ready for the rewards we want when the final day comes. 

There are plenty of reasons why those five virgins (and many more Latter-day Saints) might be slack in their preparation for the Lord’s return, but in light of the blowback over the Church’s recent political stances, I wonder if some of those virgins might represent good people who let their faith be compromised by being offended by the Church’s positions on gay marriage and illegal immigration.

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