Jul 29, 2009

What Would Joseph Smith Think About The Modern LDS Church?

I think what I loved best about Rough Stone Rolling by Richard L. Bushman was the theological aspect. Despite all his many flaws and troublesome practices and dealings in life, some of Joseph Smith's theological writings and teachings blow me away. I'm not sure that I can believe them all, but I was astounded to read so many things that I had never heard of in my lifetime as a Mormon.

I sometimes get the feeling that the modern Church, while maintaining a thriving and rich culture, is lacking what it once had in terms of radical theological thinking and discussion. One could, of course, argue that this is a good thing. After all, many of us argue over what constitutes "official doctrine" and what doesn't. Speculation can be a dangerous thing, as it leads to false doctrines and gives birth to cultural myths being accepted as truth. So the less there is to speculate on, the better, right? But I must say that I often feel that Mormonism today, as it is practiced and preached in church and everyday life, is so "contained" that it's lacking in thought-provoking theological and philosophical discussion -- at least if the official manuals are an accurate indication of the type of discussions that we have at church on a weekly basis. I wonder whether it's only natural that the Church wouldn't be able to maintain the pace of revelation and theological discussion that Joseph accomplished in his short life, or whether the modern Church feels too "settled" in a sort of "comfort zone" so that it is therefore cutting itself short on additional revelation.

I think that a lot of Mormons, after reading Rough Stone Rolling or dabbing into Church history, come away feeling like the Church back then and the Church now are similar and yet vastly different -- not just because of polygamy, but many other things. Just to name a few, here are some things that come to mind:
  • School of the Prophets (is the Sunday School program the modern-day equivalent?)
  • Journal of Discourses (is the Ensign the modern-day equivalent?)
  • Additional and regular canonized revelation, such as what is found in D&C
  • Spiritual gifts being revealed in dramatic fashion at church, such as speaking in tongues, visions, etc.
  • Women being permitted to administer blessings
  • The close relationship between Mormons and Freemasonry. By this I don't just mean the temple ritual similarities, but the fact that Joseph Smith and other early Mormon leaders were active Freemasons and established a lodge in Nauvoo. In modern times, however, although the Church has not taken an official standpoint on Freemasonry, "Don LeFevre, a past spokesman for the church has said the church "...strongly advises its members not to affiliate with organizations that are secret, oath-bound, or would cause them to lose interest in church activities." (Wikipedia)
Questions for discussion:
  • Do you think that the modern LDS Church is the vision that Joseph would have had for it as it grew and spread throughout the earth?
  • What do you think would have pleased Joseph in the modern Church?
  • Is there anything that you think he would object to or be troubled by in today's Church?
  • What would Joseph think of Sunday School and Priesthood/RS meetings today?
  • How do you think he would have written about himself in his memoirs if he had lived to write an autobiography? Would it have resembled Rough Stone Rolling or the current Priesthood/RS manuals?

Jul 19, 2009

Can Love Be A Bad Thing?

The following must not be interpreted as petition to the Church. It's simply a summary of some thoughts I have had that I would like to hear other perspectives on. Criticisms are welcome, but let's keep it respectful, compassionate, and understanding.

I actually wrote this post a while back for Mormon Matters, but for some reason I was waiting to post it on my own blog. After the latest Church vs. Gay controversy on Main Street Plaza in Salt Lake City, I think the time is right to discuss it again. (GayLDSActor did an excellent post about "the kiss" here for those who are interested.)

This post isn't about marriage. It isn't about sex.

It's about love: something that we all desire, crave, yearn, seek, and strive for. I have, and so have you.

Romantic love is not sex. Neither does it necessarily involve or lead to marriage or sex. It's that feeling of being captivated by another human being and caring for them, as well as expressing our emotions for them verbally or physically, often in a non-sexual manner such as holding hands, embracing, caressing, and innocent kissing: behaviour that is appropriate, according to LDS tradition, even between a couple that is not yet married. In other words, it's not like loving your mom.

It's not unheard of for people to live their entire lives and, if they never enter into marriage, never go beyond the non-sexual displays of affection that I just mentioned. Contrary to what some may think, most human beings are capable of living and functioning without sex, without suffering any "damage." I'm not sure, however, that the same would be true for all who desire and yearn for romantic love, but are denied that opportunity. Can you imagine life without love? If you are not currently in a romantic relationship, you probably have it as a hope or are always on the lookout for an opportunity, even subconsciously. Right?

A sexual relationship between two unmarried adults is immoral. Sex is, in this case, sinful. But is their love also a sin?

Look at the picture above. If the two people were of the same sex, how would you feel about it? Would you feel differently about it? Would you see their behaviour as immoral and something to be avoided? Why or why not?

The following "compromise," if you want to call it that, will not satisfy all. It will not satisfy those who demand no less than equal marriage status within the Church, heterosexual or homosexual, as well as Church-sanctioned homosexual sexual relations; neither will it satisfy those who believe that two members of the same sex who even sit together like that couple in the picture are treading down a wicked path. The term "compromise" is, actually, misleading in my opinion, because the way I see it, the Church would not be compromising anything in regards to the doctrines or policies related to marriage, families, or the Law of Chastity. The only thing that would change would be that heterosexual and homosexual members of the Church would truly be held to the same standards of chastity and morality outside of marriage. That would mean that a couple, such as depicted in the photo, sitting on a bench on BYU campus or outside the Tabernacle, would face no disciplinary action for their innocent display of romantic affection -- whether heterosexual or homosexual.

We know that we have a problem in the Church with homosexuals feeling alone, ostracized, without real purpose, and some even resorting to suicide.
  • Would acceptance of non-sexual same-sex relationships within the Church help to ease the burden of those who struggle and help them to remain in the Church?
  • What if gay members of the Church were truly held to the same standards of the Law of Chastity when it comes to expression of love and dating relationships?
  • Do gay members of the Church need to be celibate AND alone in order to be chaste?
  • What, if anything, would the Church be sacrificing or compromising on in order for gay members to be able to date openly, in the same way as heterosexual couples, without facing discipline?
  • Why is/isn't this a good idea?

"Hatred stirreth up strifes: but love covereth all sins."
-Proverbs 10:12

Jul 14, 2009

Does Mormonism Have Any Official Doctrine?

There seems to be a lot of confusion among Mormons as to what constitutes "official doctrine" in the LDS Church. I've even seen the claim that Mormonism is a religion without any official doctrine. Even if this is not true, it certainly seems that there is rampant misunderstanding surrounding the subject.

Many Mormons equate the following with "official doctrine," when in fact, according to this guide put out by FAIR (Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research: A Foundation created to counter the misrepresentation and criticism of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), they don't -- in my opinion -- appear to fulfill the criteria for being considered doctrinal:
  • Church manuals
  • General Conference talks
  • First Presidency message in the Ensign
  • Proclamation On The Family
  • Quotes, statements, and teachings from prophets
And then there are certain teachings that were probably considered doctrinal at the time (i.e. polygamy, Adam-God theory, Blood Atonement, priesthood ban), but have since been abandoned by the Church and downplayed in importance. For example, the Adam-God theory, presented by Brigham Young, was later declared to be false doctrine by later prophets. The priesthood ban is now considered to have been policy and not doctrine, even by President David O. McKay, and President Hinckley famously told Larry King that he condemned polygamy, stating that he did not believe it was "doctrinal." Also, the practice of polygamy is no longer considered essential to salvation as was once taught.

Now, going back to the FAIR guide, I have to ask myself: what is official doctrine? Well, it would apparently have to:
  • "...generally conform to what has already been revealed. “
"It makes no difference what is written or what anyone has said, if what has been said is in conflict with what the Lord has revealed, we can set it aside,” wrote J. Fielding Smith. "The standard works are the measuring yardsticks, or balances, by which we measure every man’s doctrine.”

It almost sounds like J. Fielding Smith is telling us that we shouldn't expect anything too earth-shattering in terms of doctrine, since it cannot be in conflict with what the Lord has already revealed in the scriptures. Interesting how he uses the term "man's doctrine." Is he downplaying the role of prophet here, by allowing much larger leeway for error than what is commonly assumed by Mormons who have an infallible view of the prophet being God's mouthpiece?

"Harold B. Lee expressed similar thoughts when he taught that any doctrine, advanced by anyone—regardless of position—that was not supported by the standard works, then “you may know that his statement is merely his private opinion.” He recognized that the Prophet could bring forth new doctrine, but “when he does, [he] will declare it as revelation from God,” after which it will be sustained by the body of Church."

But are the scriptures "official doctrine?" After all, we only "believe the Bible to be true as long as it is translated correctly." (8th Article of Faith) Do we need to allow room for error where the scriptures are concerned as well?

According to FAIR:

"The Prophet can add to the scriptures, but such new additions are presented by the First Presidency to the body of the Church and are accepted by common consent (by sustaining vote) as binding doctrine of the Church (See D&C 26:2; 107:27-31). Until such doctrines or opinions are sustained by vote in conference, however, they are “neither binding nor the official doctrine of the Church."

When was the last time that happened? Seriously, I can't recall a single event. I've seen those who have argued that the Proclamation On The Family is official doctrine. Perhaps I was just to young to remember, but I cannot recall a sustaining vote in General Conference when it was presented.

So, based on the guide put out by FAIR:
  • Does the LDS Church have any "official doctrine?"
  • If you think it does, can you name some "official doctrines?"
  • Assuming that the priesthood ban was a policy and not doctrinal, as indicated by David O. McKay, is the Official Declaration in D&C regarding its cessation "official doctrine?"
  • Do you view the scriptures as doctrinal?

Jul 8, 2009

What Would You Do If Polygamy Came Back?

Mormon Heretic had an interesting discussion on his blog recently about polygamy and I learned a lot about the good, the bad, and the ugly about its practice. It was especially interesting to hear the side of orthodox members who believe it to have been a divinely-inspired practice. Even though I don't agree with that view, I have to say that part of me admires the faith and willingness of those who claimed to receive confirmations about it to sacrifice so much in order to practice it as they believed it was supposed to be practiced -- even though, admittedly, I'm often disturbed by how it was practiced. Even just to be able to say today, as modern Mormons, that you believe that the way polygamy was practiced back in early Mormon history was divinely-inspired, takes a certain amount of guts and courage, in my opinion. Even Mitt Romney -- whose family tree contains examples of polygamy -- called it "bizarre" and "awful."

Have you ever thought about what you would do if Thomas S. Monson told us suddenly that the Lord was requiring his people to live this practice again in order to be saved? Or even if you personally didn't have to participate, what if men with higher callings (i.e. bishops, stake presidents, high priests) were instructed to take on at least one additional wife? Would you accept it? Or would you feel compelled to leave the Church?

Some things to consider:
  • Would you believe such a "revelation" if Thomas S. Monson and the Quorum of the Twelve sustained it?
  • Would you be OK with it as long as you didn't have to live it personally?
  • Would it be unacceptable to you even if only brethren with higher callings were instructed to practice it?
  • If you're a woman and your husband was asked to take on another wife, would you consider granting permission?
  • If you're a man, would you ever consider being eternally sealed to another woman even if it was a spiritual marriage only? (non-sexual)
  • Do you think that modern-day Mormon polygamy would look anything like Big Love?
  • Do you think you could be happy in a polygamist relationship?
And ultimately...
  • Would you leave the Church over it? Why or why not?

Jul 2, 2009

What Is "Anti-Mormon?"

To be honest, I always thought of "Anti-Mormons" being those who really do hate Mormons (like Westboro Baptist Church, who hates pretty much everything and everyone) and those who hand out ridiculous pamphlets or operate websites that are concerned with "exposing the Mormon Church," all of which range from partial truths and twisting of facts, to wild speculation and downright bullcrap.

During the election, I saw many label John McCain's mother an "Anti-Mormon" for her comments about Mormons causing the Salt Lake City Olympic scandal. Were her comments unfair? Yeah, I think so. Were they Anti-Mormon? Perhaps.

There was also Mike Huckabee, who was suspected of being an Anti-Mormon after asking whether Mormons believed that Jesus and Satan were brothers. Slimy campaign tactic? Absolutely. A valid question if asked sincerely? I think so.

Recently I watched the movie September Dawn. Not until after I watched it and read about it online did I realize that it, too, had received the label "Anti-Mormon." In many ways I agree with that assessment, as it contained some gross interpretations, misrepresentations, and wild speculation about Mormons and the actual history surrounding the Mountain Meadows Massacre. The end result was a scathing portrayal of Mormons that was presented as historical fact to uninformed viewers who would assume that we really know all the facts behind what actually happened. It did, however, contain a lot of selected truths. Was it Anti-Mormon? I would say so. But I think it would be inaccurate to say that it was 2 hours of pure lies.

I've also seen a few bloggers -- friends of mine -- be accused of being Anti-Mormons -- either consciously or unconsciously -- for their unorthodox views or questions. Am I an Anti-Mormon, too?

I've come to believe that Mormons use the term "Anti-Mormon" way too liberally. It seems to me that it's sometimes so overused that it's lost it's real meaning. In some cases, I think it's used to dismiss sincere and legitimate concerns that members and non-members have about Mormonism. Recently, when I communicated some concerns of mine regarding Church history with someone I know (and admire), I, too, was told in a tactful manner that I had been "affected by Anti-Mormon views." I was a bit taken aback by this, as most of the concerns I expressed were directly tied to Rough Stone Rolling, which I'm told is sold at Deseret book stores. Has Deseret started to stock Anti-Mormon literature?

So what is your criteria for assessing what is or what isn't "Anti-Mormon?"

The following are "Anti-Mormon," YES or NO and WHY:
  • John McCain's mother
  • Mike Huckabee
  • Gay marriage proponents
  • Any book that "exposes" the warts of Mormonism's past and present
  • Blogs and other media that ask provocative questions or debate Mormonism's history, doctrine, or policy
  • Mormon Stories podcasts (for those of you who have listened to them)
  • Those who question authority in the Church
  • Those who have objections to certain policies or practices in Mormonism
  • Disenchanted ex-Mormons