Let me share a friend’s story; it won’t be new to you. He was raised in the church, did all the things, went on a mission, blah blah blah, and in his 30s, heard for the first time that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon by looking at a stone in a hat. He was completely thrown for a loop. Major faith crisis. Feels like the church lied to him. Feels like he lied to people on his mission. Wonders what else the church is “hiding” from him. Wonders if he can trust anything else he was taught in church.
If you introduce the hat in Primary, the kids don’t blink. There’s nothing about a stone in a hat that is any weirder than an angel with gold plates, right? If my friend had heard this as a kid, it would have been a total non-starter for a faith challenge. The problem isn’t the hat; the problem is (1) not learning about the hat until you are an adult and (2) being taught a narrative that doesn’t include the hat–a narrative which you later have to unlearn under duress.
I can’t even tell you how happy I am about the new lds.org essays which teach a narrative that will not require later unlearning. I know it will take a while to trickle down, up, and sideways, but we’re now on a path where the number of faith crises related to these historical issues should decline significantly.
So all is now well in Zion, right?
Historically, most of the pushback against Mormonism has come from evangelicals. So it is no surprise that the attacks concerned topics where Mormons differed from evangelicals and thus focused on LDS Church history. But the evangelical movement is waning as secularists advance. I suspect this means that future attacks against Mormonism will change, especially since the church’s new lds.org essays, the Joseph Smith Papers Project, etc., have largely defanged the common attacks levied against the church.
One thing our evangelical sisters and brothers never pressed us on was the reliability of the Bible and the New Testament in particular. But secularists will. (The attacks won’t necessarily be aimed uniquely at Mormons but at all Bible believers.) These attacks will poke at the NT to argue that it can’t possibly be used as a basis for faith in Jesus Christ, and thus there is no basis for that faith. Judging by the number of faithful believers (LDS and other Christians) who begin graduate studies in the Bible precisely because of their love for the Bible, only to lose their faith, these challenges have the ability to destroy the testimonies of some people.
But once again, the problem is not the hat, by which I mean that a serious engagement with the New Testament will not destroy one’s faith in Jesus Christ. The problem comes from not learning about the hat until you are an adult while having learned a narrative that didn’t include the hat. The hat-less narratives that students will later need to unlearn about the Bible often include these ideas:
1. The doctrine taught in the scriptures has always been the same throughout history.
2. Writers of scripture and other church leaders have always taught exactly the same doctrines.
3. The simple, surface meaning of the text is the correct one.
4. The text as you read it reflects precisely how it was originally written.
5. There is no historical, cultural, or literary background that you need in order to understand the text.
6. Every detail of the scriptures is literally, historically true and accurate.
7. The same word always means the same thing in the scriptures.
8. The author and date commonly attributed to the book in question are always accurate.
9. Nothing in the Bible reflects the cultural biases of the authors.
I could go on, but you get the point. The thing about these statements is that a close study of the Bible shows that not a single one can be affirmed in its entirety. This can be an enormous problem for conservative evangelicals but it need not be a problem for Mormons. After all, #1 and #2 are the natural results of continuing revelation, #4 restates the Eighth Article of Faith, etc. Mormonism is entirely capable of withstanding a close study of the Bible, something that can’t, I think, be said for some of the more conservative strands of evangelical thought.
So we should be sure that the way that we teach the scriptures does not include Hatless Narratives about the Bible that will later need to be unlearned; we need to teach about the hat from day one. Based on what I see from my kid’s seminary class, he’s not going to be blindsided by an evangelical who sneers at him about multiple conflicting accounts of the First Vision–they’ve covered that. But as far as I can tell, no church curriculum is in place to prepare him to be sneered at by an atheist who points out to him the irreconcilable details of the four gospels and uses them as a springboard to argue that nothing about the gospels can be trusted.
This is one of the reasons why I am concerned about the coming shift in BYU/CES curriculum to a more topical and less contextual approach to the scriptures. It seems like there is groundwork for the new “Restoration” class to engage the tricky historical issues of LDS Church history, but I’m worried about The Class Formerly Known as New Testament, which seems to focus primarily on the Plan of Salvation and not so much on the NT. I realize it’s early days and things could change; it also seems, judging from the letter that was released, that what happens at BYU may be quite different from what happens in CES. But I’m nervous that we are moving in precisely the opposite direction that we need to be in terms of preparing the next generation for what is most likely to challenge their faith, which is the findings of the academic study of the Bible which challenge some common assumptions. When the focus of the class is on Jesus’ role in the plan of salvation or the eternal nature of families, where the is warrant or the support–or even the time–to talk about how to understand the fact that some common but naive assumptions about the biblical texts will not withstand strict scrutiny? It seems more likely that the structure of the class could actually employ some of those assumptions if they end up cherry-picking texts to advance the main theme of the class or, at the very least, end up reinforcing the legitimacy of acontextual readings. Are we setting our kids up for precisely the same kind of faith challenges which plague this generation, but related to the Bible instead of LDS church history?
You hear stories about the planning stages of World War I, when some generals thought that the most important thing would be the cavalry. It is unfortunately the case that most people prepare to fight the last war instead of the coming one. It would be a shame if we were preparing the next generation to be really good at explaining why the translation of the Book of Mormon was no big scandal while leaving them entirely unprepared to respond to attacks on the reliability of the story of Jesus’ mortal life.
“Are we setting our kids up for precisely the same kind of faith challenges which plague this generation, but related to the Bible instead of LDS church history?”
These issues were just as difficult for me as the church history issues.
Darn. When I read the title “The Next Generation’s Faith Crisis,” I naturally assumed the discussion would involve these challenges (i) Geordi La Forge’s sight being restored through scientific means rather than priesthood blessing, (ii) special permission for Data to be sealed in the temple even though he cannot biologically reproduce, and (iii) whether the Borg are closer to outer darkness or the celestial kingdom.
“If my friend had heard this as a kid, it would have been a total non-starter for a faith challenge”
And if your friend was a convert and was absent that day? Or what if your friend heard something else that wasn’t covered, which became the claimed catalyst for a major faith crisis?
“when some generals thought that the most important thing would be the cavalry. ”
Which are you, an arm chair blogging general or a prophet on a watch tower. I know what you’re claiming to be, and what you’re claiming the church leadership to be. But today isn’t opposite day.
ps – I would tend to disagree with the topic based curriculum in an academic setting where you’re studying a book of scripture* But I certainly don’t disagree with it from a testimony building and strengthening aspect.
*Except that many University courses these days are very specifically designed with a sort of agenda. Only these courses don’t have a far-left agenda but a church-message oriented one.
I should give a substantive comment as well. I do not believe that we can “inoculate” the youth (or adults) if inoculation means giving them all the context for all problematic issues or, even worse, a catechism of simple answers for every gospel question. I very much appreciate the essays, but they are just facts, not inoculation, and even then they essays avoid many salient facts (Partridge sisters; 1949 FP Statement, etc.)
The only durable inoculation comes by letting members (the younger the better) stew over difficult issues themselves. Inoculation comes by one’s own wrestling through which one’s immune system gains it’s own strength. Or to use a scriptural analogy, oil can only be placed in a lamp by the lamp’s owner.
For me, inoculation began when I was thrown for a loop as a deacon regarding the conflicting commandments given to Adam and Eve in the garden. I had leaders who tried to quickly show it was a non-issue. But my wise parents responded differently: “that’s a tough one; I’ve struggled with it myself and I’m not sure I know the entire answer; why don’t you study, pray, and come to your own conclusion.” Because of that struggle my testimony grew and I owned it. I have not felt blind-sided by new information, even though I have learned of many of the standard issues as an adult (e.g., I did not learn of the rock in the hat until about age 30).
Easy: everyone is happy for Geordi (if no one complains, it’s not a problem), Data gets in as long as he pays tithing, and even the Borg can be redeemed. These are easy compared to the biblical interpretation issues facing the Church. Getting the history right, while a new departure for the Church, is conceptually straightforward. Getting scriptural interpretation right requires a whole new paradigm. I am afraid this ship just won’t sail there. If that’s where you need to go, you’ll need a different boat.
Historical criticism is a huge problem with Christianity in general and mormonism as well because mormonism depends so much on the bible. I wouldn’t declare victory too soon with the new church essays however. The rock in the hat and having the plates in the woods while JS claimed to be translating is hard to rationalize. Why were the plates even necessary? Why take all that time making them and hauling them from place to place if JS wasn’t even going to use them?
Anyway, Mormons believe the bible has mistakes so that shouldn’t be a problem. The problem as I see it is that historical criticism shows there were probably at least two different authors of Isaiah and possibly three. This kills the Book of Mormon and its historicity claims. Also bible scholars following historical criticism rightfully question whether Adam even existed as claimed and whether Jesus was as advertised. This is a problem because Joseph Smith made Jesus into an even more fantastical figure than other religions.
Julie, this reminds me of Nate Oman’s post a while back about the message of Mormonism and how it might have to change in response to a changing world. It also reminds me of a sacrament meeting done by our ward mission leader and the fulltime missionaries a few months ago. One of them gave a talk about authority, to baptize, to seal, and how that authority is vested only in the restored gospel. I have nothing against that message, I’ve heard it all of my life, I’ve taught it on a mission and in lessons. But as the missionary was speaking I started to think about all of the people I work with and associate with, I was willing to bet that not one of them had spent a minute of their life worrying about who has the proper authority to baptize them. It doesn’t seem to be an answer to the questions of 21st century life, instead it seems to be a 19th century answer to a 19th century concern.
Doug–isn’t it odd that Nephi never quotes Third Isaiah then? This “problem” is no different from any other in the BoM. Whatever failings the book may have from a modern perspective, there remains a mountain of details that are just a little too far beyond the reach of JS to have guessed all of them right. Would it really be that surprising to learn that Second Isaiah existed in previous versions at the time of Lehi but that the angelic translators who provided JS with the BoM text through the interpreters still chose to use the later, more familiar version? As a professional literary translator I find that more than plausible since I make the same sorts of “unfaithful” (to the literal source text) decisions all the time.
This applies to the OT and NT too–learning about what they really are rather than what we would like them to be reveals so much beauty and fascinating detail that worries about such a study not being “faith-promoting” feel rather insulting not only to the intelligence of members but to the books themselves. These things are worth believing.
“Inoculation comes by one’s own wrestling through which one’s immune system gains it’s own strength” yes, but that’s no reason to make them reinvent the wheel.
At least we shared a general theistic worldview with Protestant attackers.
KLC is on the right track to me.
Nobody under 30 that I know cares at all about history.
The historical tradition seems tied up with legal tradition and political tradition where “founding myths” are told as a way of creating power today.
Nobody cares about books or myths or traditions or churches or Gods other than in terms of what they can do for them today.
Does it work for me? That is the question of today.
outstanding points julie.
it does seem that even as we are finally and officially beginning to come to terms with difficult issues in our modern church history, we are far behind other new testament readers in coming to terms with issues in ancient church history.
it even looks like leadership on the whole is banking — and has been banking for some time — on most members not ever trying to come to terms with those issues. i don’t think it would be conspiratorial to say that members are in fact discouraged from trying to do so. it’s as if leadership thinks most members won’t be able to handle it.
so a question: just how parallel do you see ‘the hat’ and serious engagement of the nt (and bible altogether)? in order to avoid the future faith crisis that i think you predict all too accurately, would we not only need to start early with the serious engagement but also broaden our definition of what is acceptable belief about jesus? what are the non-negotiables, if any?
in other words, is the price for avoiding such a future faith crisis going be a bigger allowance to membership, so that while some members continue to believe that jesus was the universal savior of everyone on this and additional planets, others might be allowed to believe he was in the end a failed jewish messianic figure and apocalypticist or a cynic-style philosophical preacher or a charismatic healer — all members given an allowance to believe as they will, without anyone feeling threatened by anybody else? is that possible?
Julie, this is perfectly stated. My husband and I have long been of the opinion that it’s the securlarists who pose the biggest threat, not evangelicals. But our apologists have always been — and continue to be — pointed at the latter.
I keep thinking, “The younger kids aren’t worried about the specifics of the triune God, they are worried that there is no God at all.”
My only possible disagreement is this:
I agree that things we see/hear all our lives seem “normal” whether they are or not. The symbolism of the sacrament and baptism are every bit as “weird” as parts of the endowment, but since many of us have seen it repeated since we were babies, it’s nothing.
Still, things that we accept as a child can (and should) be re-evaluated when we are adults. Those can still be troubling.
For example, yes, it’s good to get all the polygamy junk out there, but now what do we do with it? While I’m glad for the long-awaited transparency about it, none of it is explained. Since I have known it for over 20 years (after almost the exact process you describe and finally reading Mormon Enigma in the early 90s) and struggled with no answers, my place on the issue hasn’t really moved with the “new revelations.”
Very frankly, this is one of those cases where diversity (in age and gender) in the upper-decision-making echelons could make a huge difference.
g. wesley, you raise good questions.
First, I’m going to disagree with you on the point that “it even looks like leadership on the whole is banking — and has been banking for some time — on most members not ever trying to come to terms with those issues.” Because I think it would be more accurate to say that most leaders are simply not aware of the issues that come from a close study of the Bible. (A few are, of course. You hear it when, for example, Elder Holland says “The author of the epistle to the Hebrews writes that . . .” etc.)
Second, you are right that some items under the “acceptable belief about Jesus” category will need to be re-evaluated. But this will not necessitate jettisoning everything. I sketch out one way to think this might play out in regards to NT miracle stories here:
Regarding your final paragraph: it might be useful to split your questions into two categories: (1) who is welcome into the pews? and (2) what is taught from the pulpit? As far as (1), the answer should be: everyone is welcome. If all Jesus can be to you is an itinerant preacher, I still want you in my ward. As far as (2), that’s harder, of course. I do see a robust role for inspiration through LDS leadership to set some firm lines. (I don’t have a problem with, for example, employment in CES or GA status or even just teaching GD being denied to someone who does not think Jesus was divine. Those extreme cases are easy; the borderline ones are much harder, of course.)
As far as me personally, I like to sketch out possibilities and then suggest that a definitive answer doesn’t always matter as much as we think once we get beyond some very limited issues (which are perhaps coterminous with temple recommend questions?). Just this morning my 13yo asked me what I make of stories of demonic possession. I sketched out all of the leading theories (response to oppression, literal demons, mental illness, epilepsy, symbolic of evil,mythic representation of Jesus’ powers, etc.) and told him I wasn’t sure what to think, but that I believe the stories show–and I have faith that–Jesus’ power is superior to whatever-it-was, partially because the texts move in that direction and partially because I’ve seen that power in my own life.
Also one of the reasons I’m such a fan of literary approaches to scripture is that it gets us away from these questions into more productive ground.
Upon encountering new information, one possible alternative response to a sense of betrayal has always been, “Oh… that is interesting. I did not know that. It could be that my teachers didn’t know, or that I wasn’t paying attention. And given the lay membership, and tendency to inattention chronic to my generation, either is just as likely. I wonder where I can go to learn more? It seems like there are a lot of well informed scholars in the church who seem like they ought to know about this stuff, and they don’t seem at all rattled.” And rather than crisis, we move to a self-directed, self-motivated initiation into the scholarship of Richard Bushman, Steve Ricks, FARMS, the FAIRMormon wiki, Dialogue, Sunstone, BYU Studies, Brant Gardner, Terryl Givens, and company. Rather than feeling betrayed and lied to, one could, by interpreting the initial significance according to a different narrative, one could perform experiments, feel one’s understanding, grow, one’s mind expand and soul enlarge, and discover along the way, many bits of new information that otherwise, would have never been imagined.
A sense of betrayal usually linked to a sense of entitlement, nicely expressed by Jeremy Runnells and quoted by John Dehlin, when he states that: “I believe that members and investigators deserve all of the information on the table to be able to make a fully informed and balanced decision as to whether or not they want to commit their hearts, minds, time, talents, income, and lives to Mormonism.”
“All of the information on the table” is rather a large order. What it actually means is we all deserve “God-Like Omniscience” as a basic human right, to be provided by institutional authorities before students and investigators make any serious decision or commitment. This demand for absolute certainty and omniscience as a gift to students before they make any faith decision would, by its nature, rule out the possibility of any faith decision being made. Faith decisions, by definition, are based on incomplete knowledge.
Think about it. Where exactly can we go to get that basic right of pre-digested, spoon-fed omniscience on demand fulfilled now? One thing that 40 years of serious readings have taught me is that the critics always leave a great deal of important information off the table, even those who insist that they are just honestly facing problems. Was Othello honestly facing the bitter truth about Desdemona while he strangled her? When a capacity to boldly face problems without flinching becomes desirable in itself, solutions become counter-productive, mere, apologetic or mental gymnastics, exercises to which mental couch potatoes tend to avoid.
Over the years, I continue to be impressed by the parable of the sower. “Know ye not this parable? How then shall ye know all parables.” That comment by Jesus in Mark, I think, is a good indication of the importance of giving it a little thought.
There will always be many trials of faith. Do we need to argue about which are the best ones?
Again, Julie, you are on a roll. I hope someone in the COB is reading this.
I also find myself agreeing here with Alison Moore Smith. The fact that there is a problem is obvious, but it appears to me to have been misdiagnosed, likely due to lack of diversity in leadership and massive deference to leadership. Look at the reported initial vote on the cornerstone proposal at BYU, yet they are moving ahead.
What I don’t understand is the seemingly unified approach between Sunday curriculum and CES. Why double down on a single approach? Why not have a devotional and indoctrination focused approach for Sunday and an academic approach for CES?
We are setting members up to eventually see the scriptures as useless if we continue to give a false sense of what the scriptures are.
FWIW, I live in one of the pilot stakes for the new Sunday curriculum. If the new curriculum looks like what they gave us, then it will not be topical. Rather, the change would be new manuals (with the same sort of content as the previous manuals) and a stronger emphasis on class discussion and teachers extending invitations as part of their lessons. Of course, things could change between the pilot materials and the actual roll-out.
Julie, a related point is that LDS leaders who march blithely forward showing no clue about general biblical scholarship risk, at some point, losing credibility. When I hear some LDS leader or writer talking about Paul’s doctrine of this or that by quoting from Hebrews or the pastoral epistles, it’s like a flashing sign appears above their head saying, “I don’t really know what I’m talking about.”
There are two separate problems here. One is the extent to which biblical scholarship ought to be incorporated in teaching and curriculum, and opinions can vary on this. The second is the apparent lack of any familiarity with biblical scholarship by senior LDS leaders. This is a much more serious problem, and I have never seen the slightest hint of awareness by LDS leaders or CES teachers that it is n fact a problem. I have little doubt they would view biblical scholarship, rather than lack of awareness of it, as the problem.
That young people today are inoculated with better historical information still does not insure that they will be able to make sense of the information within the immanent frame of modern, skeptical secularity. A hermeneutic of openness to truth and of consecrated charity will still be needed to put the problem of magic stones, the origins of the Book of Abraham, and the content of the temple rites, for example, in their proper perspective. Getting the history right (or at least responsible to the data) is only the first step, whether we are talking about NT, OT, or CH. The interpretive tools that allow a soul to find transformative power in the spiritual content that Latter-day Saints derive from those historical phenomena is the main desideratum, and will be until our authorities honestly come to grips with these issues themselves and begin to teach and administer teaching on that basis. We must be able to step away from blindly literalistic interpretation as the only true way to understand what the scriptures are offering us. Unless that happens, the spiritual health of the Saints will continue to be anemic and fragile, and we will not be open to receive the richest gifts of our sacred texts.
“This can be an enormous problem for conservative evangelicals but it need not be a problem for Mormons.”
This is something that has struck me ever since I read “Misquoting Jesus” by Bart Ehrman many years ago. In the intro he talks about his own faith crisis as he moved from inerrant bible-believing, born-again Christian to skeptic to agnostic. All of this was initiated with his deeper study of the textual history of the Bible, with countless variations between manuscripts and clear alterations by scribes making it difficult, if not impossible, to piece together an original text that itself would only be a writing 20-100 years after the events they describe by an unknown author who likely did not witness these events . . . you get the idea.
As I read about this, I couldn’t help but think that this never would have happened to a[n informed] Mormon. Don’t get me wrong – I know Ehrman’s thoughts on Mormonism, and I don’t expect him to become one any time soon. But this is pretty much what the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith had been teaching all along.
But the big issue was not just that changes happened and that the Bible may not perfectly reflect its “original” text; what really shook Ehrman’s faith was that this called into question the fundamental messages of the New Testament (and the Bible as whole).
For me personally, this is where I really see the power of the Book of Mormon and the restoration. One of the stated purposes of the Book of Mormon is to “establish the truth” of the Bible (1 Ne. 13:40). This always seemed odd to me – after all, what Evangelical would ever think to turn to the Book of Mormon as a way to strengthen their faith in the Bible? It wasn’t until I read Ehrman’s book that I gained a greater appreciation for what the Book of Mormon can really offer – a confirmation of the general message of the Bible to a generation that is becoming more and more aware of its textual history and challenges.
Abu Casey, thanks for the interesting comments on the contours of the new SS curriculum. I’m curious to see what the focus on class discussion will look like in practice, since there is already a tremendous focus on participative class discussion.
JT, thanks for that comment. That’s one thing that is _so_ frustrating to me–we have the tools in place to handle this; we are just choosing not to use them and teach them to the youth.
I want to address some assumptions in your comment.
Assumption 1: People can reasonably respond to new information just as you have, that is to say, with patience, open mindedness, and a desire to do some long, hard work to examine that information all while withholding judgement about the information until satisfaction has been met.
While this is commendable on your part, it is probably not realistic that many others will react similarly, given peoples’ varying personalities, resources, opportunities at education, etc.
Assumption 2: Within the Mormon world, there is scholarship or literature which adequately engages with Biblical criticism and STILL provides answers satisfactory to a Mormon worldview or Mormon understanding of scripture.
I grant that there are a few voices in Mormonism who can and do adequately engage with the field of Bib. crit., but few of these who are actually trained in Bib. crit. are able or willing to reassure the puzzled and distressed Mormon in the way you seem to be suggesting. Unable because there aren’t answers for many questions a distressed Mormon may have. Unwilling because to provide a reassuring answer would do violence to his or her training and field of expertise. Many of the names and organizations you list are patently given to apologetics. Apologetics has its place, but there simply are no good apologies for many of the serious issues about the HB/OT, NT, and ancient Christianity/ies. So even if your imaginary young person is patient, open minded, and puts in some hard work reading the material you mention, answers are still going to be absent.
Assumption 3: Answers. You seem to me to claim that satisfactory answers are available for the patient and hard working.
To suggest that seems off base on a few counts. First, it puts you in a stingy gatekeeper position, as in, “There are answers, I have them, but I won’t just give them to you. Sorry. Try being less lazy.” Second, to suggest that answers need only be uncovered is too facile and demonstrates either little familiarity with, naive trust in, or disingenuous gesturing toward historical-critical methods and their products. Answers, at least the kind that you are suggesting are discoverable, are preciously few or nonexistent. What Julie is arguing for, I think, is not study of the NT for the sake of uncovering and piling up answer nuggets. It is for the purpose of developing a hermeneutic that accepts non-answers and even incontrovertible challenges to many of our foundational ideas or “facts.” This, I think Julie is asserting.
Have you ever wondered why so few RelEd profs go on to become GAs? You would think that a lifetime of studying, teaching, and modeling the disciple’s life would lead to larger leadership positions, but it doesn’t. Why is the curriculum change top-driven, from outside BYU, rather than bubbling up from the faculty as they assess and acknowledge that learning objectives are not being met?
The Book of Mormon quotes extensively from deutero isaiah, who wrote after the Nephites allegedly left jerusalem. Certainly that is a problem.
Julie Smith is the Madison Bumgarner of the Bloggernacle.
Julie wrote “I wasn’t sure what to think, but that I believe the stories show–and I have faith that–Jesus’ power is superior to whatever-it-was, partially because the texts move in that direction and partially because I’ve seen that power in my own life.
Also one of the reasons I’m such a fan of literary approaches to scripture is that it gets us away from these questions into more productive ground.”
It is only more productive ground if “stories about the power of Jesus” from a literary approach is productive ground.
What makes you think that literary and personal stories can hold there own better than incorrect historical stories?
Why do you have more faith in good fiction and biography than in bad history?
Once things are on a literature and biography ground it is every person and idea for themselves. Aren’t faith crises about young people saying I trust my own beliefs more than those given to me by tradition. Its not like there is any common pattern at all to what people replace their mormon tradition with.
However, one clear theme for young people is that the past is where the bad people lived. The racist, sexist, materialistic, scientifically illiterate, technologically deprived people. Why would young people care about their literature?
A very important part of the church is its finances. The reason this is so could be that they want to have enough money to spread the word, etc. So, they call lawyers and businessmen to authority positions mostly.
I guess you are correct in that she is throwing high and the Royalists are chasing her pitches.
Martin James, “incorrect historical stories” is a phrase with a bunch of assumptions in it–assumptions which I dispute. You’ll notice that what I said was _not_ that stories of demonic possession are “incorrect historical stories,” but rather that the kind of stories they are is, in some respects, inaccessible to us. That is, we don’t know precisely what phenomenon they are describing. But we know the stories point to the idea that Jesus is more powerful than whatever-it-was, something my personal faith affirms. This isn’t to view the stories as fictional or bad history.
Given that we are still fallen, if marginally less racist, sexist, etc., than other generations, I think we still have much to learn from stories told by and about imperfect people.
Finances are important in every organization; most hire a few experts to take care of it. More likely, it reflects the low level of respect for learning about religion, or even the wider humanist tradition of the study of religious texts,outside of activities that can be loosely grouped under the label “religious indoctrination.” But, I am open to hearing other ideas. And, I think that the BYU faculty have pretty well bought into that idea for some time. There was an issue w/ secular study of the Bible at BYU early in the 20th century; the ensuing purge left only Sidney B. Sperry in place, as I recall. I don’t think the study of religious texts in LDS.venues has ever recovered from that.
Your position makes perfect sense to me as “this is what works for me and I find useful.” I even agree with it.
My question is why you have faith that your position at all addresses the next generation’s faith crisis.
For example, I don’t think it is possible to use the term “fallen” with the next generation. its inaccessible. I just find it next to impossible to keep a literary tradition going when our interaccessability is threatened by literary understandings.
Sunday school with radically differing levels of literalness from all the way from yes, 2 of everything and the whole Earth covered with water, to Jesus is a fictional character, is inaccessible to me.
I mean imagine trying to have a weekly book group with a ward Sunday school class. Its just not that workable.
My view of the faith crisis is just people wanting a smaller book group. What gives you faith that a group the size of a ward, let alone a church, can meaningfully interact on a literary basis? Does the world not strike you as getting more and more incommensurate?
I generally agree with the point (#14). But I can see why some might think it’s smug and disingenuous or naive.
For many who feel betrayed, the problem is not that no one “spoon fed” them the vaccinating version. It’s the combination of the Church—and especially local culture that the Church promotes—(1) affirmatively teaching a faith-promoting account that is half-truth (i.e., deceitful), and (2) aggressively discouraging personal research in any materials that might lead to doubt.
Yes, it’s disappointing to learn that the Wizard of Oz is a man behind the curtain. But it eviscerates trust when you have to discover that yourself, after having been indoctrinated that that only anti-Mormons look behind the curtain. Then, it sends you over the edge to hear an apostle tell you to “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain” (e.g., Elder Anderson’s talk in the last conference). At that point, it can be infuriating to hear a snooty academic say ‘well, of course no one volunteered that there’s a man behind the curtain, you lazy simpleton.’
Perhaps the easiest and most-effective course shift would be to SIMPLY STOP DISCOURAGING independent research, in whatever sources, simply because it might lead to doubt. Return to the bold rhetoric of Elder Reuben J. Clark and Hugh B. Brown about having nothing to fear from inquiry.
First, few people will ever take the time to really study. But, most importantly, at least we’d minimize the damage caused by the paternalistic deceit (offering half-truths while stigmatizing inquiry as dabbling in anti-Mormonism).
To clarify, what I meant by bad history and incorrect historical stories, was just whatever is done by people who haven’t unlearned the 9 things about the bible you referred to in the OP.
“aggressively discouraging personal research in any materials that might lead to doubt.”
This is really highly variable from person to person and ward to ward. I don’t want to suggest it hasn’t happened, but I’ve seen very little of it myself, and almost always on a local level. There’s also high variability what how one defines “material that might lead to doubt.” For some, it’s only the scriptures and Deseret Book. For others, a bit broader (other translations, LDS journals, etc.) And for yet others, plenty of non-LDS material is profitably read. Even at the highest levels of the Church, there was disagreement over something like Rough Stone Rolling with some touting it and at least one finding it not “faith promoting.”
In the BYU classes I taught and a decade of volunteer Institute, no one has ever put the kibosh on me teaching, encouraging, berating, and begging people to go out and read. Regular Times&Seasons readers know how likely I am to throw up a bibliography, a booklist, a handout with sources, etc.
I also think “deceit” is quite a loaded word to use. Sometimes it’s a question of differing historical interpretations, sometimes questions of practicality, sometimes a lowest-common-denominator milk-before-meat philosophy, sometimes incompetence, and sometimes just the fact that all teaching and history is inherently reductionist.
Kevin Christensen (#14):
Thank you for your comment, especially the first paragraph which so perfectly captures so much of my own response to so-called difficult issues. I don’t think we’re as uncommon as our online experience would suggest. I think our pews are full of people like us, but this approach seems to normal, so obvious, lacking all the drama of a faith crisis, that it doesn’t occur to us to talk about it very often.
Heck, the Institute building I taught at in Urbana IL had a whole library, with all the back issues of Dialogue, Sunstone, JMH, BYU Studies, plus biographies, scripture commentaries (including the JPS Torah Commentary series), etc. It was probably a 20×25 room just with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and some reading tables and lights.
If there’s an institutional directive against that kind of thing, it’s being implemented very poorly.
That said, I think we do have a culture that is incurious, and half of Deseret Book’s problem is that they’re pandering to a market that doesn’t want to be challenged or learn anything. That’s changing slowly, perhaps. IT helps to have local encouragement. I’ve done firesides and pushed booklists in Sunday School classes with Bishops and Stake Presidents present, and instead of clamping down, they go out and buy a book or two and tell me or the ward about it later. I’ve generally had very positive experiences.
I want to address some assumptions in your comment.
Assumption 1: People can reasonably respond to new information just as you have, that is to say, with patience, open mindedness, and a desire to do some long, hard work to examine that information all while withholding judgement about the information until satisfaction has been met.
It seems to me a viable assumption, based on life experience. Better than to assume that the only natural and reasonable response to new information is permanent and final disillusion. Enlightenment, is another posible response to new information and perspectives. Sometimes the whole difference is the
nature of the wine bottle relation to the new wine.
While this is commendable on your part, it is probably not realistic that many others will react similarly, given peoples’ varying personalities, resources, opportunities at education, etc.
I am realistic about the situation, which is why I cite the parable of the sower. Responses to the word vary, depending not just on the seed,but also soil, nurture and patience. So no matter what the institution side of the church does or does not provide through official channels, we have no absolute
guarantees on individual responses.
Assumption 2: Within the Mormon world, there is scholarship or literature which adequately engages with Biblical criticism and STILL provides answers satisfactory to a Mormon worldview or Mormon understanding of scripture.
I grant that there are a few voices in Mormonism who can and do adequately engage with the field of Bib. crit., but few of these who are actually trained in Bib. crit. are able or willing to reassure the puzzled and distressed Mormon in the way you seem to be suggesting.
Unable because there aren’t answers for many questions a distressed Mormon may have. Unwilling because to provide a reassuring answer would do violence to his or her training and field of expertise. Many of the names and organizations you list are patently given to apologetics.
Apologetics has its place, but there simply are no good apologies for many of the serious issues about the HB/OT, NT, and ancient Christianity/ies.
So even if your imaginary young person is patient, open minded, and puts in some hard work reading the material you mention, answers are still going to be absent.
Which answers or non-answers, scholars and non-scholars are you talking about? Is this an all or nothing scenario, that if we don’t have all the answers and secular approval on the shelf, we might as well cave? What if I am willing to settle for what Alma calls “cause to believe” in a promising and rewarding portion of the word, rather than holding out for final absolute certainty in the here and now, formally approved by the secular academy?
Assumption 3: Answers. You seem to me to claim that satisfactory answers are available for the patient and hard working.
To suggest that seems off base on a few counts.
First, it puts you in a stingy gatekeeper position, as in, “There are answers, I have them, but I won’t just give them to you. Sorry. Try being less lazy.”
How in the world did I end up not only as a gatekeeper, but as a stingy one? The only gate I control to a significant degree is my own. I have no real institutional presence or gate keeping function to speak of.
And since I have, for over 20 years freely published answers that at least I have thought significant (Dialogue, Sunstone, The late Review, JBMS, Interpreter, and an essay published by Oxford University Press, for example),
it seems to giving what I have is the best way I have expressed my gratitude for those who freely help me. How is that stingy?
There is a scripture that says, “Seek and ye shall find.” I haven’t found one that says, “Blessed are they who sit like lumps, for they shall be spoon fed.” The is a law of the harvest that seems to make sense.
Second, to suggest that answers need only be uncovered is too facile and demonstrates either little
familiarity with, naive trust in, or disingenuous gesturing toward historical-critical methods and their products.
Speaking of methods and their products, consider this from John McDade, published in a Catholic Journal over 10 years ago, a survey of a wide range of Jesus scholarship:
There is then a radical dependence between the reconstructed Jesus and the reconstructed context/model: how the context and social model are understood determines how Jesus is understood.
‘Determines’ is not too strong a word, for one of the problems with this approach is that the grid of social and economic context is such a strong factor it can inhibit responsible handling of the actual textual evidence we have for Jesus.
That is, the selections that scholars make for foreground and background data not only provide the context for their discussions, but they also determine the Jesus that they see as a result. McDade includes a discussion of Foreground data for Jesus:
I point you to Telford’s summary of how Jesus emerges as a social type if he is considered in the light of ‘foreground data’ (the narrative tradition, especially the miracles, sayings and the traditions surrounding his death) and ‘background data’ (the elements of general context posited as appropriate to understanding him in his first century setting). Here, weighting is all and what should strike us about this helpful taxonomy is the selective and constructed character of the images of Jesus offered by historians,
depending on their choice of emphasis, what counts as primary data, which heuristic models are used.
If weight is given to the miracle tradition, then Jesus emerges as an ancient magician (Morton Smith) or as a Jewish charismatic healer and exorcist (Vermes).
“If the weight is given to the sayings tradition, then a range of images of Jesus is adduced.”
If the wisdom sayings (proverbs, parables, aphorisms etc.) are given prominence, then Jesus emerges as a sage (Vermes, Flusser) or even an itinerant subversive sage (Borg, Robinson, Funk).
If an emphasis on the authenticity of the prophetic and apocalyptic sayings is retained, then Jesus emerges as an eschatological prophet (Meyer, Sanders, Charlesworth).
If his Kingdom saying are interpreted apocalyptically (following Schweitzer), and linked with the Son of Man sayings, then Jesus is an other-worldly figure, expecting cosmic catastrophe and relatively indifferent to social concerns.
If the Kingdom sayings are not interpreted apocalyptically, and the Son of Man sayings are viewed as secondary, then Jesus emerges as a this-worldly figure, a social prophet, with a social programme (Borg, Horsley, Hollenbach).
If the emphasis is placed on the opposition to him and his death at the hands of the Romans, then Jesus emerges as a para-Zealot revolutionary (Brandon) or the pacifist victim of oppression.
McDade then looks at the effect of the Background data: “The choice of context in which to place Jesus affects the estimate given of him:”
• When emphasis is placed on the Palestinian Jewish context and within that on the Rabbinic tradition (although that did not flourish till after 70AD), then Jesus can be seen as the inspired Rabbi (Flusser, Chilton) or the Pharisee (Falk).
• If the choice is made to place him in the context of apocalyptic Judaism, then he can be seen as the ‘humane apocalyptist’ (Charlesworth) or the ‘reasonable visionary’ (Sanders). • If his Galilean provenance is emphasized, then he becomes a charismatic holy man or hasid in the same tradition as Honi the Circle-Drawer or Hanina ben Dosa (Vermes). • If Hellenistic influences in Galilee are emphasized, then he can be seen as a Cynic teacher (Mack, Crossan)
• If it is judged that he conforms to no particular social type, he cannot be placed in one of these categories (Hengel)
Addressing the LDS, Mike comments:
Answers, at least the kind that you are suggesting are discoverable, are preciously few or nonexistent.
“Answers” as concept here, I think, is used at a higher level of abstraction that I find useful. It helps to be specific about the questions that concern you,
the assumptions and methods that generate them, and the alternatives and prospects for resolution.
What Julie is arguing for, I think, is not study of the NT for the sake of uncovering and piling up answer nuggets. It is for the purpose of developing a hermeneutic that accepts non-answers and even incontrovertible challenges to many of our foundational ideas or “facts.”
This, I think Julie is asserting.
I agree with Julie. I think she does very good work, here and elsewhere. In spelling out “mine authority and the authority of servants” D&C 1 formally declares that our current knowledge is incomplete and flawed, and that truth, revelation, and virtue are available both inside and outside of our community. I do appreciate putting “facts” in quotation marks since I’m very much a post-modernist, recognizing that “all data are theory-laden.” The wine bottles we choose make a difference in what we can carry.
Interesting insight. Although the LDS church treats the Bible differently than other churches. It is true as far as it is translated correctly. Thus, LDS doctrine allows for more skeptical treatment of the Bible.
Another thing to take into consideration is that it is much easier to believe in a divine Jesus because the Bible and a brief mention in Josephus is all that is ever recorded about him, and there is really no other way to know anything about him. The passage of time has given the divinity narrative strength that will persist for centuries to come. As for Joseph Smith, so much can be known about him and the culture that he was grew up in, and this makes it difficult for many, upon learning all of the fine, nitty-gritty details, to continue to see him as someone who did more for human salvation than anyone else except Jesus.
You’re right that the stone in the hat would be really easy to inoculate for. The average LDS person accepts the idea of an angelic visitation and a Urim and Thummim. If you just started teaching kids the stone in the hat narrative, you could easily remove that stumbling block in a generation. But such inoculation would not be so easy with other points about Joseph Smith or LDS history.
Ardis and Kevin, I agree with you that for some people, these things are not troublesome. (I think whether they are or are not is partly a function of personality type.) I would just hope that we would recognize the need to do what we can to help those for whom it _is_ a problem, even if we were to conclude that, for example, those for whom it isn’t a problem have superior coping ability and/or reasoning skills and/or general attitude. Basically, I want to acknowledge that not everyone is required to be bothered by sticky issues without stigmatizing or victimizing those who are bothered. It is what it is; let’s just help whomever we can help. The point of this post is not to say that everyone should or will have a faith crisis, just to suggest that there are obvious things we can do to preempt faith crises in the rising generation.
And to be clear: I’m _not_ saying that people who have a crisis of faith have inferior coping ability, etc. I’m just saying that even if we did conclude that (=a contrary to fact hypothetical) we’d _still_ be obligated to do all we could to help them.
No doubt about it. It seems to vary wildly at all levels, even family by family. But, I’d wager that there’s a high correlation between shaming of study outside of Deseret Book materials and the sensation of betrayal during a faith crisis.
My experience is different from yours. I’ve seen very much of it. I grant that it’s motivated by genuine love and fear. My parents weren’t the most devout but they would have freaked out if they saw me reading No Man Knows My History in the mid-80’s. It would’ve been as if I were playing with a gun.
I understand that deception is a provocative framing. I think it applies mostly to correlated curriculum on Church history and some talks about history. And, here again, I recognize that it’s well-intentioned. If you’re a parent or leader certain of your righteous conclusion, you may see it as an act of love to provide only information that leads to that conclusion. Above all, protect the testimonies!
Nevertheless, if you’re shocked by what you find when you look, you may feel betrayed by those who actively discouraged you from looking.
Is my experience really that unusual? Am I the only one who heard Elder Anderson, only four weeks ago, to be discouraging consideration of new information if it might lead you to reevaluate your testimony of Joseph Smith?
That sounds like a lot of books (#37). Great.
If any of them confronted directly and candidly the different versions of the first vision, polyandry, relationship of masonry to temple endowment, Kinderhook plates, Book of Abraham translation issues, the magical world view of the witnesses, blah, blah, blah.…even better. Did they?
It’s been several years since I was there, so I don’t recall entirely. But there was a very broad selection of up-to-date as well as more “classic” material.
I reject the implication that addressing these subjects “directly and candidly” is somehow inherently inimical to faith. To quote one of Times&Seasons’ own ultraorthodox and conservative bloggers from times long past,
Joel–good point. Elder Andersen’s talk is definitely a very strange prelude to the release of the polygamy essays! I think that supports your point that the encouragement to study varies widely, which makes it unfair for those who haven’t been discouraged from being curious to condemn those who have. Part of the problem with Correlation is that it makes us feel overly comfortable generalizing about other Saints’ experiences because we think “the Church is the same everywhere you go.”
I really like JT’s comment (#20) about the Book of Mormon stating itself as evidence for the truthfulness of the Bible. The OP was fantastic, but eliminating those 9 assumptions when looking critically at ancient scripture would inevitably lead to eliminating those same assumptions with more recent church history and current leadership. In the secular worldview, bias implies lack of credibility. To suggest ancient (or modern) prophets were (are) culturally biased is akin to calling into question their authority. As much as we profess that fallible individuals can be mouthpieces of the Lord, we have a very difficult time accepting the repercussions. Even with the more recent Gospel Topics essays church leaders never err, they just sometimes have to learn doctrine “line upon line” like the rest of us.
Julie, Ardis & Kevin – everyone will have their sticky issues. When I was taking anthropology courses at BYU, many students had problems with the evolution issue. Some of my professors, practicing members who had no personal problem reconciling science and religion, would make statements in class similar to this: “I don’t personally have a problem being a Mormon and a scientist. Many of you, however, may struggle with it. If it comes down to it, if you feel that you really have to choose between believing in science vs. religion, then I would encourage you to choose your religion. This is not worth losing your testimony over.” One of my professors even spent an entire class period focusing on fringe science topics, giving students insight into the fact that even generally accepted theories are not accepted by all scientists. Julie’s point in #41 is a good one — people who have a hard time reconciling outside data with their beliefs are not inherently inferior intellectually or spiritually. Most members will encounter cognitive dissonance on something in their lifetimes.
Love the question, but I disagree with the conclusion about where the vulnerability that secularists will likely push on that will cause faith crisis. In my view, the church already has a long established rhetorical and historical seawall against attacks on the Bible – namely our narrative of the apostacy and “as far as it is translated correctly”. In some ways, all those “changes to biblical text” actually provide intellectual support to Mormonisms interpretation of gospel history.
Rather our more fragile points come from the narrative around what replaces the Bible in terms of prophetic authority – namely our prophets. I would say the next generation of faith crises will still be rooted in actions and history of the Restoriation and after. To the extent that Mormonism and its leaders insists on embracing a “mostly infallable” prophet and teaching that as fundamental to Mormon testimony and faith, the opportunuty for faith crisis will remain large. IT will still be around what the new essays elide over and refuse to say, namely “the way in which Joseph and Brigham et. al practiced polygamy included deceit, unrighteous dominion and coercion”. Book of Mormon and DNA. Blacks and the Priesthood. Homosexuality. Gender. Finances. It will be around these issues I believe that faith crisis will continue as secularists keep asking, “how can your prophets be teaching you things that you know in your guy are wrong?” The tension will not be about the historicity of the bible but the cognitive dissonance between looking for evidence of any kind of prophetic moral mantle and historical and current acts of the institutional church.
Are there ways to “innoculate” or address these issues? Sure. However, it is unclear when or if or by how much we will be willing to walk back theologically or culturally our models of prophethood. The new essays, while a huge step forward, show a deep, deep relunctance to do so as they maintain a clear agenda of interpretting historical facts in the service of justifying Joseph (and Brigham). Same with the priesthood ban and the same with things like gender. Not only is that our most vulnerable point in the modern age with norms shifting rapidly but these are also things many secularists tend to care a LOT about. This can unspool exactly the same way, leading people from belief in an active, caring, involved God to agnosticism or atheism.
Ben S., #35, said,
“I also think “deceit” is quite a loaded word to use. Sometimes it’s a question of differing historical interpretations, sometimes questions of practicality, sometimes a lowest-common-denominator milk-before-meat philosophy, sometimes incompetence, and sometimes just the fact that all teaching and history is inherently reductionist.”
Yes the word “deceit” is loaded. On the other hand the common and ubiquitious statements of our status as the “only true church of Christ,” coupled with “living prophets,” 15 frequently sustained “prophets, seers, and revelators,” “continuing revelation,” etc. are also loaded and every bit as hyperbolic in their application. “Hyperbolic” here meaning: NOT THE WHOLE TRUTH, used for psychological/persuasive impact.
The practice of stigmatizing, devaluing, and outright discouraging doubt and personal examination of what we are taught continues to be common at the local level, and still occurs at the GA level.
If one wants to create some pressure for change in the nearly universal, culturally ingrained, head-in-the-sand, when-the-brethren-have-spoken-the-decision-is-made attitude one must create some controversy. The status quo will not ever change without it. That is a anthropological fact for both our Church, our institutions, and our country.
fbisti- I don’t think those are equivalent. “Deceit” is fairly easy to define, as it requires knowledge that what you’re conveying is wrong and false. You can have a great many discussions about the definitions, connotations, and implications of all those things you’ve raised. I have questioned some of the traditions and culture myself, here at Times&Seasons, e.g. http://timesandseasons.org/index.php/2014/02/an-offhand-apologion-and-testimony-of-sorts-and-some-reflections/ or http://timesandseasons.org/index.php/2014/03/faith-revelation-and-jewish-parallels/
I haven’t commented much before. And I appreciate that you’re engaging a new kid. Thank you.
I don’t mean to imply that all. I respect that many have candidly and directly confronted these issues and still maintain orthodox views. I’m sorry that I touched that nerve.
I merely refer to the common scenario in which someone is confronted by those complexities and is inclined to leave because of them. (I thought those were the people we were talking about.) That inclination to run (rather than stay and wrestle) can be exacerbated by a perception that the Church (even via their family) had been working to keep them in the dark.
This is a big part of the faith-crisis that is less discussed. I happen to think it’s the part that would be relatively easy to resolve. Talk with the bravado that our leaders did in the 50’s and 60’s and have the confidence to let the chips fall where they may.
How much more powerful would your point be about the institute library if it contained B.H. Robert’s Studies of the Book of Mormon, Mormon Enigma, No Man Knows My History, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, etc.? Those volumes would probably be as dusty as the others. But then you could really say to the kid frustrated about deception, “What the hell are you talking about, kid? It’s all in the library.”
Easier still, we can train leaders and encourage parents to simply play it cool when confronted with the notion of someone exposing themselves to information on the internet or potentially faith-damaging sources.
I’ll just circle back to my original point. It may ring hollow to say “it’s been there all along if you had only cared to look” when many voices actively discourage exposure to information that might even threaten to make one question.
It might be premature to speak of the next generation’s faith crisis, when the current one’s is still alive and well…
For another perspective – I am 33, BIC, strong parental home and home wards, 2 yr mission, married with kids now. None of my friends have left the Church because of “church history/theological difficulty” reasons.
Most of us are merely trying to avoid (i) becoming offended by local members, (ii) becoming addicted to drugs/alcohol/porn, and (iii) realizing that we enjoy football more than church attendance. (my group of friends has suffered some “casualties” to the aforementioned issues).
I know this is a less-sophisticated perspective, but none of the group (apart from me) seem to care about the timing of Isaiah’s writings, Joseph Smith’s wives’ ages, or even (gasp) who the heck BH Roberts was. (And they are college grads – CS, Engineering, Accounting, Business, etc.).
Still, they pay their tithing, serve in callings, and attend the temple (probably quarterly). While none of us are on the “GA-track”, my gut tells me that we make up a larger percentage of the Church than the intellectual elite.
Does that make the work of this blog, BCC, and other LESS valuable? No, but it seems to me that the faith crisis for many (if not most) in the Church will be more “experience-based” than “theologically-based.” I hope the new curriculum will continue to help the “rest of us” know where to turn when life sucks. That is where I have found my salvation thus far.
I think it’s quite often a combination of “experience-based” and “theologically-based.” Most of my friends who have left the church in the past year or two aren’t intellectuals. A good ward would have held on to them. But they move to a lesser ward, and the combination of a crappy ward and some theological concerns (regarding the place of women in the church, church history stuff, etc.) lead to their “inactivity” (in reality, actively and intentionally removing themselves from church activity).
Unfortunately, it’s some of the best people who are leaving. I think those who participate in the bloggernacle can help by continuing to participate in the bloggernacle (it’s certainly been a big help to me, especially when I’m in a spectacularly crappy ward like I am now) and by reaching out to others in our own wards who may not feel as welcome as they should, or who may have “theological” concerns.
I agree with Thor (52). (When I woke up this morning, I had no idea I’d be writing that sentence.) I’m active in my ward. It’s a wonderful ward full of people I love and admire.
I can only think of one family with intellectual concerns about the faith’s core doctrines. They’re wonderful people too and I genuinely love spending time with them.
People struggle with money problems. I suspect that will continue to affect future generations.
People struggle with marriage problems.
The biggest “intellectual” hurdle in my mind is accepting a God who intervenes in the world, at all. Once one accepts a virgin birth, or a parted sea, or any other miracle, what doesn’t God do after that? Can he reveal new scripture through stones in a hat? Yup. A God who intervenes can do it any ol’ way he chooses.
That’s the intellectual sticking point I see for any generation: Do we have a God who intervenes in human affairs? Are there miracles? If one can answer “yes,” then the intellectual difficulties become much simpler. My .02.
sketching out possibilities and then suggesting that a definitive answer doesn’t always matter as much as we think — that sounds perfect to me. would some of those possibilities include worst case scenarios, or is it best to omit them, do you think?
(about belief in jesus’ divinity being a baseline for leadership positions, church employment and volunteer teaching, does that mean you are confident that for most people a serious engagement with the nt will not challenge it? put differently, is it clear to you that all nt authors themselves saw jesus as divine?)
jt (20) and julie (22),
if i understand correctly, you’re suggesting that the book of mormon might be able to address some of the challenges to the bible and potentially shore up faith in it. while there seems to be quite a lot of evidence that such indeed was one of the reasons the book of mormon was written, and while it has arguably been quite successful since 1830 in shoring up biblical faith for millions, isn’t there a risk that serious engagement with the bible will present a challenge to the antiquity of the book of mormon itself?
could it be that the faith crisis of mormonism’s next generation was already there looming in it’s first generation — or rather that mormonism arose in part as a response to a faith crisis in eighteenth century america with the secularists of that day — and we have been living on borrowed time since the deists?
Great discussion. I would agree with Joel (42) that perhaps the sense that some people have of being misled or betrayed is related to the counsel that is sometimes heard in local LDS units or in families that one shouldn’t read a book about Mormonism unless it is published by Deseret Book. But it is hard to judge how common that counsel is. A lot of people obviously haven’t heard it or, if they have, dismissed it as irrelevant.
An alternative view is that “I was betrayed!” is certainly an easier response than taking responsibility for one’s own actions. “I failed to inform myself!” is a tougher admission to make. I don’t know why people expect a pat on the back for creating their own victimhood narrative. There is, I think, a generational component to this problem. The younger you are, the more attractive a victimhood narrative.
Both points of view and both sources of troubling issues (modern church history as now being addressed in the essays and ancient church history as largely unaddressed) can be helped by improving the quality of official LDS discourse. More ideas and less indoctrination. The glory of God is intelligence, not correlated curricula. There should be a much stronger interdisciplinary element in CES and church education to bring new ideas and new knowledge into the discussion rather than systematically excluding them.
g. wesley, again such good questions!
“would some of those possibilities include worst case scenarios, or is it best to omit them, do you think?”
Our inclination is to avoid the worst case scenarios so we don’t destroy the faith of the vulnerable, but now that we can be pretty sure that they will encounter that worst case scenario later anyway, does that hesitance really make sense or is it counterproductive? The way I’ve handled this, even in a Sunday School setting, is to spend two minutes saying something like: “You will encounter people who don’t think the BoM can be ancient because it quotes from parts of Isaiah that they do not believe were written before Lehi would have left Jerusalem. LDS scholars respond by saying (90 second run-down of main options). I can recommend some sources if anyone wants them.” I’ve made them aware of the issue, gotten the worst-case scenario on the table, let them know that some people have theories that explain the problem, and removed the taboo from the topic. (And still have as much time left for the actual lesson as the teacher who begins by apologizing for not preparing as much as she wanted to because she had a cold this week. ;) )
“does that mean you are confident that for most people a serious engagement with the nt will not challenge it? put differently, is it clear to you that all nt authors themselves saw jesus as divine?”
Well, the consensus is that Mark has the lowest christology (I dispute this consensus in some ways, but that’s a topic for another day) and I think it is very clear that even Mark thinks that Jesus is far more than, e.g., just a prophet, itinerant healer, charismatic preacher, etc. Now, we might have room to quibble about the meaning of the word “divine” since Mark clearly presents Jesus as not being omniscient or omnipotent, but the Markan Jesus could, in terms of his status/authority/role, certainly be preached in GC/BYU/CES without raising any eyebrows. (This probably isn’t the case for the Markan view of discipleship or authority or women’s roles, but that’s a topic–or three–for a different post!) In general: close NT study will, I think, definitely require us to re-evaluate some themes in LDS thought, but it won’t fundamentally destroy Mormon truth claims.
“isn’t there a risk that serious engagement with the bible will present a challenge to the antiquity of the book of mormon itself?”
I think serious engagement will present a challenge to some of the naive assumptions that we have made and some of the ways in which we have interpreted the text, but I don’t see insurmountable challenges to the text itself. Maybe the move from a hemispheric model to a local model for the BoM could be the pattern here–that shift came from DNA issues and not critical engagement with the Bible, of course, but I think it’s a decent case for how the text itself wasn’t the problem, but our naive assumptions about it and subsequent interpretations were.
Dave, if you were raised in the church, went to seminary, graduated institute or BYU, served a mission, had some teaching callings, etc., I think it is reasonably to believe that over all of those thousands of hours of instructional time you would have been exposed to the basic outline (at least!) of church history. And so if no one mentioned the hat, or polygamy, or the fact that women used to give healing blessings to you in all of those thousands of hours, I think you have a reasonable case to feel misled. You weren’t lazy–you did all of the things that you were supposed to do. It bothers me when I get this “blaming the victim” vibe where we make it sound like there was this general expectation in place in the church in the 1980s that if you had _really_ wanted to know anything about church history you would, of course, have been reading Dialogue to find it.
Dave, I see what you are saying. Though in my case it wasn’t a sense of victimization at all. Once I began serious study of the Bible the sentiment was embarrassment that I didn’t know this stuff until well into adulthood.The embarrassment led to disillusion as I came to realize that church leaders and those in positions to teach at all levels were almost universally unaware of the world of biblical studies and interpretation. The disillusion then led to a sense of self reliance and independence, as in “looks like I’m gonna have to travel this road more or less alone. OK.” Many of my generation, at least in my limited circles, don’t see ourselves as victims so much as outcasts who would prefer not to be cast out. I would love to see an increase in biblical literacy and development of mature scriptural hermeneutic among our membership, but I have accepted that this isn’t in the stars.
Further to Julie and oudeonos’ point, if the Sunday School and Seminary manuals you were reared on contained pictures of Joseph sitting at a writing desk, one hand holding a pen above a piece of paper while the other is pressed against an open leaf of the golden plates that he is in the process of translating, a sense of betrayal, and perhaps even deception, is inevitable, when you stumble upon the stone-in-the-hat story.
Even for those of us who have swallowed hard and decided to stay, there are feelings of skepticism and distrust that surface each time a new essay is published or a lesson manual is revised to incorporate previously ignored sensitive topics. Why should we believe you now when you were something less than forthcoming in the past? And the church only encourages those feelings when it says things like “plural marriage benefited the church in innumerable ways.”
Re the “blaming the victim vibe.” It isn’t so much that everybody should have been reading the same things I was, it’s that they could have been reading them. I don’t blame the victim so much as I object to the steady insistence that the Church was actively “hiding the truth.” That’s something entirely different, and just as false.
That was an excellent post. I work with youth. What I have found is that for many high school kids and young adults, the most traumatizing struggle they have is dealing with the philosophies and ideologies of modernity. But not in a formal, philosophical sense. The problem is not the details of our history. It is not the internet. It is that in developing their own worldviews, they do deal with doubts, but they are not generally related to restoration-era questions. Such questions and issues are often introduced after the initial struggle with values and worldview. The difficult historical issues tend to be justifications for decisions made, but the battle is largely over.
What I think is needed is a discussion of issues during the formative years of 16 to 30. They need to be able to identify secular thinking. They need to realize that as much as modern thought has blessed us with technological benefits and democratic institutions, it still leaves us empty, even injured. They need to perceive that emptiness. They need to engage in their own search for meaning. And one of the best ways they may do this is through soulful searching of the scriptures. But for that we don’t need curriculum, we need teachers and mentors. I don’t believe that any ideology or theory can thwart a soul that has found meaning.
The struggle you describe will be more than a battle for the trustworthiness of scripture, it will be a struggle for thoughts and values.
really well put julie. i would love to see what you describe become regular practice, and i think our tradition would be stronger for it.
i also think that the knots are tangled and tied pretty tightly, though.
among possible anachronisms in the book of mormon, its highly developed christology might be one of the toughest to account for, and yet it is perhaps one of the least visible and least threatening challenges to most book-of-mormon readers because such a highly developed christology itself is for them a given, as opposed to, say, the DNA of amerindians.
i venture that many readers would sooner drop their belief in an ancient book of mormon than their belief in a jesus who pre-exists, descends from heaven to earth, is born and not in the usual way but to the virgin mary, is baptized but not because he needs to be, i.e., is sinless … organizes a rather fully formed church … sweats/bleeds in the garden, suffering and atoning for everyone, past, present, and future ….
and serious engagement with the nt could easily challenge both beliefs simultaneously.
whatever the kinds and magnitude of fall out from any engagement of the sort would be — which is where we may see things a bit differently — i agree that our tradition can’t put it off much longer without losing more and more members anyway.
then again, it’s always possible to underestimate the appeal of unchallenged belief. so a continued refusal to engage the nt seriously could actually maintain and bring in more members than it loses.
g. wesley, my thinking is that we can’t deal with KJV Isaiah in the BoM without granting some expansionist tendencies to the current iteration of the text. Once we’ve done that, using those tendencies to explain the BoM’s high christology is an obvious move. It can be framed in a non-threatening way for Mormons by talking about the multiple non-identical versions of Malachi that JS transmitted, or the discrepancies between the JSTs, or the multiple authorship of Ether 3 (there was a great post at, I think, FPR on this) and we can explain that the _norm_ for sacred texts is multiple hands (and thus voices) in their composition and that it actually makes the BoM more likely to be historical if we see that tendency in its transmission history.
So I don’t see the necessity of the either/or that you posit (either ancient BoM or high BoM christology). As for the list of threatened beliefs you name, I’m OK with “I accept it on faith while fully acknowledging that the texts don’t really support it” for some items while thinking that the world won’t end if we re-examine and perhaps modify others. For example “organizes a rather fully formed church” causes us more problems than it solves (that is, it causes us problems every time we change anything today while only solving for a view of apostasy that is in need of re-examination anyway–have you seen the Wilcox and Young book?) and thus might be a candidate for reconsideration.
(And I’d add that I think a very close reading of Mark supports the view of Jesus as sinless and baptized for other reasons–if not the one that Matthew posits–so we won’t need to reconsider _everything_.)
Good for you, oudenos, for taking up the cross of reading some biblical scholarship “well into adulthood.” The way LDS education is set up, that’s when it’s going to happen, well into adulthood or maybe in early adulthood but not as part of the curriculum. We as Mormons are encouraged to do good things of our own free will (whether it’s in the curriculum or not). I think getting informed about the Bible and our scriptures is something we are called to do. Many are called …
I’m not sure the situation is any different in the LDS Church versus anywhere else. Most people in the pews of other denominations don’t go home and read Bart Ehrman on Sunday afternoon. It’s unlikely they even read Isaiah or Mark on Sunday afternoon. That doesn’t mean we don’t have a problem — it would be nice to have a certain percentage of biblically educated lay Mormons to teach gospel doctrine — but it’s not like lay Mormons wallow in biblical ignorance while members of other denominations are up to speed on the latest scholarship. Compared to the biblical errors embraced by Evangelicals, Mormons do pretty well.
The problem with that approach is that it just isn’t true.
I am a 7th generation Mormon who grew up in Utah County. I attended church all my life, had regular family scripture study and FHE (my parents were THOSE parents), my dad was a BYU math prof and my mom a devout scripture scholar. My elementary schools took annual trips to the Beehive House and required reports about pioneer ancestors. I graduated from seminary and graduated from BYU (with all its required religion courses) and married a 5th generation Mormon (and Smith!) in the temple.
It wasn’t until I moved to Florida and my parents sent me Mormon Enigma (a book they had studied in their decades-old-grad-school study group) that I learned that Joseph Smith practiced polygamy at all.
At first, my response was the most generous. “Wow. I must have been ‘absent’ every single day this was discussed! What a coincidence!”
So the next Sunday in Relief Society — when I was introducing a hymn written by Eliza R. Snow — I mentioned the obviously well-known fact that she was one of the few people on earth to be married to two different prophets. Cool!
I was met with confusion. So I said, “Well, she was married to both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young.” Something I was sure most everyone already knew and if they didn’t it was just because it was a bit of trivia about to whom she was actually married.
Not only did this response garner surprise, but anger. Not one single person in our very large Relief Society had any notion that Joseph Smith married multiple women. And the “fact” that I would make such claims was horrific to them.
I am convinced that (at least until the essays came out and even now…) most believing Mormons didn’t know about Joseph’s polygamy and, in fact, considered such implications to be nothing but anti-Mormon.
Yes, there were places people could go to research our history more thoroughly and find out the truth. But some people aren’t historians. They spend their time researching OTHER things.
As apologetic as you may want to be, this commonly believed “faithful history” could not have been accidental. The sense of betrayal doesn’t come from those who were asleep at the wheel for decades, it comes from the systemic presentation of a carefully whitewashed history given to members who trusted the source.
I have known children to try this trick. “I didn’t tell you anything that wasn’t true! I didn’t break the lamp, it broke when the pillow hit it!” Deceit is also about CONCEALING or MISREPRESENTING. Partial truth is deceit. Quinn McKay said it best: giving a false impression.
Look at the teachings of the prophets manuals. The only one whose bio acknowledges polygamy (from my memory) is Brigham Young’s. The other bios are written in a way to make any multiple marriages look consecutive rather than concurrent.
False impression or not?
Quoth someone quoting Kevin Christensen:
The problem with that approach is that it just isn’t true.
But it is true, in some cases. It is absolutely true in my case, virtually down to the words that sometimes ran through my head. I don’t remember many instances of “encountering new information,” at least shocking new information — I can’t remember the first time I heard most of the things that bother some people — but in the few cases where I do remember it (summer 1975, Las Vegas 28th Ward, Sunday School lesson on the Garden of Eden taught by Dewaine Ence; same place, about a year later, Sunday School lesson about Psalms taught by ____ Creel), what Kevin describes is precisely true for me.
That it isn’t true for you doesn’t mean that it isn’t true for someone.
Well said, Alison.
When a General Authority takes a razor blade to a text in order to remove and hide a version of the First Version that is inconsistent, in numerous respects, with the canonized version, that is concealment.
When the church closes its doors to its archives to prevent access to some of the more unsavory aspects of its past, that is concealment.
When it excommunicates Mormon scholars who dare to broach controversial subjects, that is concealment by intimidation.
When the authors of “Mormon Enigma” are criticized by an apostle for writing a book that “represents a non-traditional view of Joseph Smith,” that, again, is concealment by intimidation.
When Mormon historians are berated by a General Authority for their “exaggerated loyalty to the theory that everything must be told,” this, again, is concealment by intimidation.
When it becomes an easy mark for a master forger because of its desire to gain possession and control over documents that may reflect poorly on the church’s founders, that is the inevitable consequence of a desire to conceal.
When I have had the temerity to ask questions in a Gospel Doctrine class or during a quorum lesson about the multiple versions of the First Version or the fallibility of our leaders, I am, to this day, told that these are not appropriate subjects to discuss in church, that is concealment by discouraging an open discussion of difficult historical and doctrinal issues.
Inoculation will not work on those who are already infected, especially when they have contracted two separate diseases: (i) doubts about the church’s origins and doctrines, and (ii) doubts about the integrity of the institution they placed their faith in.
Kevin – I am going to stand with Allison on this. I too came from Pioneer Stock. Such strong stock, we trekked West twice. Once with second company, then returning and getting John Taylors cattle and returning with the 4th. Like Allison – seminary, FHE, married RM – with pioneer ancestry (they even have a handcart statue after an ancestor).
Fast forward to a decade ago, just when the internet was making strides in personal homes. My 8th grade daughter comes home from school with an assignment to teach the class about Mormon Leaders Polygamy. We live outside of the Book of Mormon belt. Joseph was on the list, every LDS kid went home confused and upset. Most of the parents had the same attitude. In our household, I said I thought he had at least married Eliza R. Snow, I had read that in one of her biographies. We turned to the internet. At that point the church had not listed all the wives in GenWeb site, nor was LDS.org full of much information. Lots of anti-sites said stuff. So I called the Church history department. I spoke to a man who had been studying Joseph for 45 years. Brother Historian gave me the full details. I was writing frantically and overwhelmed. At the end I thanked him, and said I wished the information had been more easily available. He agreed and said, “It would make things so much easier.” To this day I wonder what he thinks now.
Anyway, we went back to the teacher with all the notes I took, we gave her his phone number and explained that my husband who was a CES teacher – that our church never teaches anything about it and rarely talks about it.
I assumed the incident was over, and it was, but at graduation that year the teacher came up and thanked us for the kind way we had handled the “polygamy lesson”. Unbeknownst to us, the other 5 students LDS parents had stormed the Principal and the School Board, asking for the firing of this teacher for teaching lies. Because of our work, and their contact with the Church History Department the women kept her job, and her one memory of a compassionate LDS group came from us – who had no resources. All week I have been curious if the other 5 families will get to read the gentle essay on Josephs polygamy.
Julie – a few weeks ago my 18 year old son pointed us to archeology that implies or upends the idea that Hebrew slaves ever built the pyramids. That is a huge unraveling for most Judeo-Christian religions.If there were no Hebrew slaves, there was no mighty exodus. If no exodus, no tablets. If no tablets…well, you can see my point. The anchors go. This is science against faith. I think this is going to be the next crisis burden, and to an extent is already.
I am with you the new BYU curriculum really worries me. I grew up with Spencer W. Kimball story of “Drink Down Stream from No Man.’ Which was focused fully on getting your answers from the scriptures – a funny miracle we don’t participate in. My proof for that came this year in Gospel Doctrine – the teacher, long standing member, former beloved bishop, etc – asked our favorite OT stories – I mentioned Ruth. His brow furrowed – then he said, “Yes, the girl that helped her Mother.” I didn’t reply – I just nodded. How could I begin to explain the stem of Jesse, House of David, Jesus Christ. I just let it go. It is that very experience that scares me with the new curriculum.
Thanks for all your pieces lately.
Allison- So, no one in Utah ever read or inquired about D&C 132?
“Partial truth is deceit.” Well, I expect you taught your 3-yr explicitly about sex and never held to that evil Santa Claus or Easter bunny lie. If I were writing a worldwide manual dealing with Brigham Young’s relevant gospel teachings, I might choose not to open that can of worms too… but given the way I teach, I probably would have spent a paragraph on it. The manual failed to mention a great many things about Brigham Young’s life and teachings. I’ll just repeat myself from above, “Sometimes it’s a question of differing historical interpretations, sometimes questions of practicality, sometimes a lowest-common-denominator milk-before-meat philosophy, sometimes incompetence, and sometimes just the fact that all teaching and history is inherently reductionist.”
Carrie- “Hebrew slaves ever built the pyramids.” I’m not sure if this is a specific point, or just a proxy for the Exodus (which does indeed have archaological/historical problems and is likely more memory than eye-witness history), so forgive me if I treat it like a specific point.
What’s interesting about this is how this common (is it?) idea represents more of a cultural tradition than anything. Exodus never attributes the pyramids to the Hebrew slaves, but says they “They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh.” (Exo 1:11 NRS) The three great pyramids were built in the 3rd millennium BCE, far predating any proposed setting for the Exodus. Moreover, building the pyramids, archaeologists agree, was largely skilled labor.
Although the above has been known for a long time, popular presentations (like Prince of Egypt) still imply that the Israelites were working on the pyramids. The miniature crisis of faith in learning the detail that the Israelites didn’t build the pyramids is a bit of a straw man, then; it’s something we believed that we probably shouldn’t have in the first place. But that requires examining the tradition, reading closely, etc., and while not discouraged, it’s not something actively modeled in General Conference or the Ensign (which I find problematic.)
Quoth someone quoting me quoting Kevin Christensen:
The untruth isn’t that some give the church a pass. I did so myself at first.
The untruth is that the general “misunderstanding” of church history is accidental and due to general members not paying attention to what the church teaches. One might recall people who were excommunicated not so long ago for saying roughly the same things in the essays.
Carrie, that’s what I’m talking about.
“It wasn’t until I moved to Florida and my parents sent me Mormon Enigma (a book they had studied in their decades-old-grad-school study group) that I learned that Joseph Smith practiced polygamy at all.”
Claims like this blow me away. When I was growing up in the 1970s, Joseph’s practice of polygamy was acknowledged in mainstream books like Mormon Doctrine, Gospel Doctrine, the Documentary History of the Church, etc. In my podunk hometown in the Midwest, our early-morning seminary teacher talked freely about it. When I flew out to Provo in early 1980 for scholarship interviews, Eugene England hosted us scholarship candidates for a discussion of polygamy, and the group seemed to be shocked–not to learn that the recipient of D&C 132 actually practiced polygamy–but to hear England (seem to) deny the eternal nature of those covenants.
Ardis or anyone else familiar with such things, any idea at what point in history Joseph’s polygamy ceased to be a point of LDS/RLDS contention, with the LDS taking the affirmative?
I can only give my personal impressions that by the time I was a teenager in the early-mid ’70s, there wasn’t much active LDS/RLDS dispute about much of anything, but to me, there seemed to be general historical memory that we LDS had strongly taken the affirmative on that question. And I don’t recall any sense that we had at that point switched to the negative. I’m wondering when it was that substantial numbers of LDS people started adopting the historical RLDS position, and what might have precipitated that.
Ben S. – The example of the 3 year old is a straw man (“straw-child” would be more appropriate) if I’ve ever seen one. Coming from you – a professed scholar and future medical student – makes it even worse.
More generally, I feel deeply uneasy about the selective disclosure of information that our Church presents to people, especially to potential converts. In many cases, we are asking converts to sever ties with their families and communities to join the Church. Don’t we owe it to them to address some of these problematic issues BEFORE their baptism – BEFORE they break the hearts of their Catholic mothers or Baptist fathers by leaving the religion of their youth? 90% of new converts go inactive anyway…why not just give them the truth up front so that they make a truly informed decision? If they choose to go ahead with their baptism, we know we’ll be getting a true gem.
On that note, as a current member, please help me to feel warm fuzzies about missionary work. When I meet potential converts, I currently cringe thinking that they’re being taught be 19 year olds who either don’t know about problematic aspects of our church, or who know and who tow the line by not revealing the info. I feel an inner agony between being loyalty to the Church’s missionary program, and being loyal to the idea of truth and loving a fellow Brother or Sister enough to disclose it. I err on the side of keeping my mouth shut, but oh how it troubles me.
The casualties of the current generation’s “faith crisis” include people who were born in the Church, were indoctrinated through CES programs, who went on missions, married in the temple, and served faithfully. If such people are succumbing to these things, what chance do new converts have? But if they have an internet connection, they’re going to find out about this stuff eventually. Better, in my opinion, to disclose it up front and risk not having a baptism, than have someone leave the Church shortly afterwards.
I also wonder about missionary work and the missionaries –going forth with 18 year- olds perhaps having no answers for the type of questions they will be asked.
yes, i agree that expansion theories of book of mormon composition are most useful and could go far. and general info regarding the transmission of ancient texts helps a lot too.
if it seemed that i was suggesting an either/or, what i meant to say was that serious engagement of the nt could challenge both traditional beliefs about jesus and the antiquity of the book of mormon to the extent that it contains those traditional beliefs in layers of the text that are supposed to be ancient or even pre-christian.
Strawbennies & others,
What information are we exactly supposed to disclose to new converts and investigators? Do they need to know that Joseph practiced polygamy before they are baptized? Do they need to know about the Mountain Meadows Massacre? Or to the point of this post, do we also need to disclose potential issues with New Testament authorship up front if they are converting from a non-Christian background? Do we need to talk about DNA evidence & the Book of Mormon? How weird is that and what other organization, religious or otherwise, does anything comparable?
The ordinance and covenants associated with church membership are ultimately made to God and ultimately rest on faith. To someone else’s point above, we can’t teach our children or new converts to be omniscient. They, and we, need to make a commitment to God long before we know everything concerning the gospel or about controversial matters. There could always be a “gotcha”. No matter our curriculum and our efforts, no matter what we decide to disclose up front, there will always be something we don’t address that will “shock” people later. Not saying we shouldn’t try, but ultimately, it is an incomplete solution with an impossible goal.
Like Alison, I am the descendant of pioneers (8 generations on one line), I had one family of ancestors in the Martin Handcart Company, my father was a BYU professor (chemistry), my parents served a total of five missions (one each separately and four together), but I never experienced any of those late-in-life revelatory moments that she did. I’m not sure whether to blame that on the fact that Orem generally lagged behind Provo on all things educational (to say nothing of general hip-ness), or if it says something about the difference between growing up with a chemist rather than a mathematician, or maybe it’s just that I’m not a redhead. In my family, that would be my sister.
And, I graduated from seminary back in the good old days when you could get out in three years and skip the D&C–Church History class altogether.
ABM – I agree that all inconsistencies in the history of religions can’t be disclosed, but ours is new enough with enough rumors to it that investigators ask. They asked my husband over 30 years ago about polygamy. He asked his Mission President – the Mission President assured my husband it was just anti-mormon garbage. My husband trusted his superior and passed the word along. The family joined the church – then promptly left when polygamy did show up – they saw my husband as a liar and a representative of a lying church. Yes we can discuss their immaturity, we can debate if polygamy is a testimony maker or breaker, but we ask people to give up a lot of money, relationships and time under the idea that we have the only path back to God that is acceptable. That’s a huge commitment and if we know up front and have been trying to lock something away – that is a problem – for everyone. Polygamy doesn’t rock everyone’s world. I didn’t rock mine. Same with Mountain Meadows Massacre. But for some people it is important. So yeah maybe we don’t need to add a discussion filled with disclosures, but perhaps if these topics were part of our class teachings and large image understanding we might be able to help convert and assist others who find some of these things very anti-Godly as they understand a loving Heavenly Father. – That applies to convert, investigator, member.
ABM – “Not saying we shouldn’t try…” Actually, that seems to be exactly what you’re saying, since any attempt to disclose more complete info will be “an incomplete solution with an impossible goal.” Do I need to go issue by issue and say what we don’t disclose but should? I’m not going to thread-jack this one, but that would be an interesting topic for T&S to explore, which I’d gladly contribute to.
Mark, blessed be you for having the same upbringing as Allison and I and not having any struggles.
I grew up and got married in the traditional LDS way, I had 3 kids, and was a Stay At Home Mom by choice. Because of that privilege should I dismiss the pain of my fellow sisters who grew up like I did, who were faithful in practice and who have yet to marry, or perhaps never had children, or worse yet lost children to childbirth. Kind of thoughtless I think.
I don’t know their pain. I have no answers, eternally or otherwise, but I have learned that just because I don’t have something – doesn’t mean that someone else’s pain or struggle is invalid.
If you haven’t had cancer do you invalidate the upstanding Word of Wisdom practicing member who has cancer? Just curious.
Sister Carrie, I am a bit surprised that you thought my reference to Provo’s hipness was serious.
But, it’s not the reaction to those late in life discoveries that puzzles me. It’s the fact that they didn’t have them much earlier. As Ben S. suggested, didn’t people notice the implications of Sect. 132?
Because D&C 132 describes Joseph Smith as having 30-some-odd wives, including those already married to other men? Golly, Ben. S., I must have the wrong edition. Share!
Living in Florida, I spent my time in my mid-20s learning CAD and programming. In those ventures, I didn’t happen across much LDS apologetic work. I subscribed to FARMS newsletter, but accepted what I had been taught as accurate and my main interests were elsewhere.
I heard things from my evangelical friends and neighbors (my Jewish neighbors, FWIW, never said anything about my faith). I was challenged fairly frequently. But as Carrie said, when we heard (pre-internet) about troubling things, some of us deferred to our religion professors and ecclesiastical leaders. It was bogus and anti-Mormon. It was fabricated by evil people to impugn our beloved prophet. I responded with the “answers” that had been given to me. Because I believed those who gave them to me to be both honest and knowledgable as well as having greater expertise.
When the internet is abuzz with the news that “Mormon church admits Joseph Smith married a 14-year-old for the first time,” it seems a bit disingenuous to act as if we’ve always been hip to it. We might have some plausible deniability in the mix, but — just as with MMM — the most prevalent history passed in the church has always been the “faithful” one — until the internet blew that apart.
Ben S. and Mark B. since, apparently, Joseph’s polygamy of all sorts has been openly disseminated forever, please cite all the church-published sources in the last 40 years that (a) clearly addressed the historical facts about polygamy and (b) were expected to be consumed by the typical member.
Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith
References to Marriage
1827, January 18: (age 21)
Marries Emma Hale of Harmony, Pennsylvania; they are married in South Bainbridge, New York.
1843, July 12: (age 37)
Records a revelation on the new and everlasting covenant, including the eternal nature of the marriage covenant (see D&C 132).
[Recognizing these are not “comprehensive histories,” one still might consider Joseph’s marriages to 30+ other woman at least on par with, say, his contraction of typhoid and move into a small log house.]
“Upon encountering new information, one possible alternative response to a sense of betrayal has always been, “Oh… that is interesting. I did not know that. It could be that my teachers didn’t know, or that I wasn’t paying attention.”
There is no “victim blaming” in the bolded statement, the one I applied to myself. Neither is it an “untruth.” It is always an untruth to misrepresent what someone else says, though.
Mark B. the implications, yes. But when numerous seminary teachers, religion professors, ecclesiastical leaders, and “Know Your Religion” gurus have made clear that Joseph Smith never practiced it himself, only revealed information for others to do so, there is nothing in D&C 132 to disprove their claims.
And, on that note, does anyone remember the last time D&C 132 was included in the Gospel Doctrine course of study? NOTHING TO SEE HERE!!!
Doctrine & Covenants 132 is always in the Gospel Doctrine manual, for example:
How about the autumn of 2013?
“Oh, that is interesting. I did not know that. It could be that … I wasn’t paying attention.”
“in the mouth of two witnesses…” : )
Seriously, though, I remember doing section 132 in Sunday School as a teenager, complex sentence structure and all.
Ardis et al.,
Have you guys actually looked at the lesson you are citing as evidence of the full disclosure the church provides on polygamy? “Plural marriage” is the last of 6 topics, and is provided “if class members have questions about the practice of plural marriage. It should not be the focus of the lesson.” I can’t tell you the number of times the instructor has simply skipped over this part of the lesson.
As for the lesson itself, the first paragraph proof-texts the Book of Mormon and one verse of D&C 132. Nothing to see here.
The second paragraph says that Joseph Smith and other leaders were “challenged” by the revelation on plural marriage but “obeyed” it. All true, but no mention is made of the 30+ wives Joseph wed. No mention of the fact that some were as young as 14. No mention that Joseph married women who were currently married. No mention that Joseph threatened certain women with damnation if they didn’t marry him. No mention that Joseph excommunicated Oliver Cowdery in part for calling his marriage to Fanny a filthy affair. And in countless other manuals discussing Joseph Smith, there is no mention of any wife but Emma – I can’t recall anytime in my life when a church manual has actually named another of Joseph’s wives.
The 3rd paragraph is the awaited reveal-all. It says that we abandoned polygamy in 1890. Hah! Gottcha. There was actually no reveal all, at all. And certainly no mention of post-manifesto marriages, and post-post manifesto marriages, after the second manifesto of 1904, authorized by church apostles.
To say that the Church has been transparent about “plural marriage” until very recently, is really…something. Ardis – aren’t you supposed to be somewhat of a scholar? Is this the way scholars address issues?
If the truth will set us free, what will half-truths do for us?
I can’t speak to New Testament scholarship as I have not read any, but I think Old Testament scholarship lacks the potency of some other historical literature (Mormon Enigma, Lester Bush’s article on the Priesthood, etc.) to challenge faith due to the fact that OT scholars present vast amounts of diverging theories, rather than a cohesive narrative. The biggest challenge to the BoM from the OT would be the deutero-Isaiah theory, and that theory is by no means a slam dunk, especially if you believe in predictive prophecy.
Where there is consensus in OT scholarship is the fact that the Pentateuch was authored from multiple sources with varying interests and allegiances, and is therefore not very reliable as a historical record. Add to this Margaret Barker’s assertions that there was much greater appreciation for the concept of the Atonement in ancient Israelite religion compared to what we find in the post-Josiah Pentateuch, and there is a serious challenge to the BoM’s basic narrative that the Bible was a pure, reliable record until it got into the hands of Gentile translators after the time of Christ.
All that said, people don’t need to dive into the scholarship in order to understand that there are challenges; they just need to read a couple of paragraphs that explain the origins of the Bible more plausibly than the Church’s manuals. Unfortunately, this is not hard to do, and hence my agreement with Julie that this is likely to become more of a problem for the next generation.
Strawbennies, if you were more familiar with the bloggernacle, or were hooked into the FB groups of those who are, you would know that the subject of what to include in Sunday School lessons is a never-ending topic. (Check out the post lists of Ben S and Julie Smith here at T&S, for nearby examples.) Those of us who are teachers are constantly discussing the shortcomings of the manuals, and how to supplement them suitably. There’s too much to summarize in a single comment here for a n00b. The relevant point, though, is that that point in the linked lesson gives permission and opportunity for a skilled and faithful teacher to go as far as necessary, or as far as time permits. You shoulda been in my class last year. Or the classes of any of the other teachers who discuss these matters.
Neither Amy T nor I — nor any of the others who have taken part in those ongoing discussions — would defend the Sunday School curriculum to the point you pretend we do. The question we are answering here is Ms. Smith’s question about the inclusion of Sec. 132 in the Sunday School curriculum. It’s there. She hasn’t paid attention.
GOTCHA yourself, Strawbennies. When you’ve brushed up on the history of this discussion, we can take you more seriously.
I’ll close comments here. Thanks for the discussion.