Or maybe two kinds of Mormonism. Go read Boyd Peterson’s recent essay “Eugene England and the Future of Mormonism” and decide whether you are an England Mormon or a McConkie Mormon. Or whether you prefer England Mormonism or McConkie Mormonism. Or whether, if you were moving into a new ward, you would rather find Bishop England or Bishop McConkie to be your new local leader.
In the essay, Peterson gives a balanced appraisal of both approaches to Mormonism and finds each to be important. Regarding Elder McConkie’s approach, he reflected on the powerful General Conference address and testimony that Elder McConkie delivered in 1985. Peterson also recalled a course he had at BYU: “I was enrolled in a Book of Mormon course taught by Elder McConkie’s son, Joseph. There I found that same McConkie testimony and authority that inspired deeper scripture study and personal commitment.” Regarding Eugene England’s approach, he said:
I believe Gene’s vision of owning and confronting our past is critical. He understood that burying shameful history can lead not only to individual disillusionment and loss of faith, but also to institutional dishonesty. But Gene’s honesty about our historical and theological history was not disinterested, nor disheartening. He loved examining the difficult choices members of the Church confronted because he saw that we each confront many of the same problems.
It is surprising that now, almost two generations later, England and McConkie still personify these two different approaches. Peterson concludes his essay with the observation that, while both Elder McConkie and Professor England “brought me closer to the Spirit of God and closer to the community of Saints,” the ubiquity of information in the Internet Age “requires us to embrace an approach to the Gospel closer to that of England’s.”
Note he does not simply endorse England’s approach but one “closer to that of England’s,” so he still sees a mixed approach as ideal, just in different proportions. My response to conservative readers worried about this specter of an emerging liberal Church is that in reality the vast majority of local leadership follows an approach much closer to that of Elder McConkie, and they are encouraged in that approach by senior LDS leaders. When the chips are down, formal priesthood authority is the only trump card; the merits of an issue or pragmatic concerns carry little or no weight. If disagreement persists, formal church discipline has once again become the pastoral weapon of choice. We’re stuck with a McConkie church in an increasingly England world.
I’ve often heard that there are two types of people in the world: those who divide the world into two types of people and those who do not. (Comedian Steven Wright’s?) Personally, if I were to play the dichotomy game with Mormonism, I would divide us all into earth stewards and earth degraders. Because I think this is the division that in the longest run imaginable will be the one that is most informative in our spiritual growth and eventual exaltation.
The Church isn’t Mcconkie’s or England’s, it is the Lord’s. We are members of the only Church led by leaders who can authoritatively declare what “Thus saith the Lord.” It is a great blessing to be members of a church that can provide definitive answers to theological and social questions that perplex mankind.
The Church cannot navigate its proper course without a rudder that is capable of swinging to the right as well as to the left.
“It is a great blessing to be members of a church that can provide definitive answers to theological and social questions that perplex mankind.”
I think Peterson’s essay and Dave’s post are in the context of the areas where those answers have not been provided.
“We’re stuck with a McConkie church in an increasingly England world.”
I like this and will probably re-purpose it (with or without attribution??).
I have found it useful to think on another slightly different dichotomy (which came up in actual conversation with a McConkie son or grandson, so I think of it as the McConkie-Kimball dichotomy), which is that Elder McConkie believed that through study and prayer all things can be known, whereas Elder Kimball believed that we can know enough to take action (“all the things I must do”), but that God does not reveal all things, that there is much we do not know and may never know.
I’m never too sure what to think about posts like this. It comes down the the uncomfortable tension between the commandment for the church to be of “one heart and one mind” and our acceptance of diversity (one doesn’t find many, if any commandments that support the later).
I would never suggest that a division of intellectual labor *necessarily* precludes a righteous unity among the saints (although Marx certainly did suggest it!), but I just have a hard time imagining the peaceful coexistence of these two types in the Zionist model in which all disputations had come to an end.
Jeff G.–if you think that the church doesn’t accept–and even welcomes–diversity, I invite you to study some of President Uchtdorf’s General Conference talks.
“(W)e are diverse in our cultural, social, and political preferences. The Church thrives when we take advantage of this diversity.” (Four Titles, April 2013)
“Brothers and sisters, dear friends, we need your unique talents and perspectives. The diversity of persons and peoples all around the globe is a strength of this Church.” (Come, Join with Us, October 2013)
I know in my own ward, diversity is discouraged. As recently as last week’s EQ meeting, “diversity” was listed as a negative. But that’s not the message that we’re receiving over the pulpit in GC, at least not from President Uchtdorf.
That is the interesting thing isn’t it, those of us with big imaginations feel the commandment to love those with small imaginations but those with small imaginations don’t feel the obligation to love those with big imaginations, but, hey, where much is given much is expected.
Has “formal church discipline” really “again become the pastoral weapon of choice,” resorted to by local leadership at the encouragement of the general leadership? It doesn’t look that way, at least to me out here in the wilds of Texas. All the leaders I’ve dealt with seemed to treat it as a last resort.
All i was saying is that if we hold up the commandments toward unity and the commandments toward diversity, the former are, generally speaking, MUCH stronger than the latter. I don’t think this is an unreasonable assertion on my part. Indeed, most passages regarding diversity are more about the process by which diversity is assimilated into a unity – the very opposite of our more romantic inclinations.
Again, I do not think that a unity of mind necessarily precludes an intellectual division of labor or a bland uniformity, but clearly there is a tension that we would do well not to elide. Perhaps the tension is better cashed out in terms of diversity vs synthesis wherein the latter just is a process in which the former is, at least to some extent, reformed, subsumed and repressed.
Personally, I see the gospel in terms of a diversity constrained by authority such that each person is allowed maximal creativity within the stewardship granted and boundaries set by those above him/her. Thus, the amount of diversity that will be encouraged within any given unity will vary from context to context.
Back in the day it was “Clark men” and “McKay men”. The McKay men had a big vision but administratively, they were a hot mess. Now we’re getting “McConkie members” and “England members”. I consider myself to be both, thank you very much.
As usual, right on the money, Dave. This is reminiscent of Iron Rod and Liahona Mormons. The McConkie Mormons dominate the church leadership and they tend to choose leaders who appear to think and act like them. The Englands of the church are fading, too. The Jeff Gs and Millennial Starrers of Mormondom have made it an issue to push them out. They don’t like questioners and people who dwell at length on the church’s historical issues. They like doers who are swift to action and slow to question or pick and choose.
Alright, we’ll mark you down as a McConkie-ite.
Why do people take such pleasure in categorizing themselves and the rest of humanity with labels, and then using those labels to separate between same and other?
I don’t think it’s right to tell a person who they are or aren’t—let each person speak for herself or himself.
If you want to call yourself a McConkie follower or an England follower, you have every right to do so. But if someone like symphonyofdissent just wants to call himself or herself a Christian, who are you to say differently?
Jeff G, have you considered that the Lord’s tool for unity can be diversity? As Jesus taught:
“And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and be baptized in my name, and become as a little child, or ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and whoso buildeth upon this buildeth upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them.
“And whoso shall declare more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil, and is not built upon my rock; but he buildeth upon a sandy foundation, and the gates of hell stand open to receive such when the floods come and the winds beat upon them.”
Repent, be baptized, and become as a little child. That’s Jesus’s doctrine. It’s super basic, and within that, there is room for a lot of diversity.
Please let’s stop setting up man-made creeds to isolate ourselves from one another and from Christ. Let’s try to see the shared good in what other people believe.
I have no clue how anything that you said contradicts what I said.
Oh, good, we’re in agreement, then. I must have misunderstood the points you were making. Sorry about that.
Because it helps us identify who we are. If we can identify with a group, we can use the knowledge of common group attributes to help guide us through new situations.
If you think you are the only person who feels, thinks or is a certain way, it can be very troubling. And then discovering that there are others like you, can be very relieving.
I just listened to the This American Life podcast I thought I knew you and it can be very difficult when you’re having trouble identifying those around you. And so sometimes you need to be able to find kindred spirits as a refuge from the storm.
And sometimes knowing even that there is difference is the starting point of solving a problem. We can go out and preach our message to others, but they can have a totally different context for the conversation we’re trying to have with them. As a result, it’s like both sides are talking to brick walls, and neither of us can figure out why the other side doesn’t seem to be hearing us.
I can understand wanting to self-identify. But I just don’t see how that carries over to any beneficial utility of consigning others, without their willing participation, into one’s preconceived categories.
I think the podcast you referenced is a really good example: in the first story, the home buyer and real estate agent made some very erroneous presumptions about each other based on what they thought they knew about one another, which ended up being completely wrong. I think that is the norm, and not the exception, when we try to classify others.
So I understand if you want to call yourself a McConkie Mormon, and gain a sense of self-identity from that which you feel benefits you in some way. But can’t you do that without classifying other people as being either England Mormons or McConkie Mormons?
And furthermore, while there might be benefits to the kind of self-identification you talk about, aren’t there just as many downsides to it? While it can help you find people you agree with, doesn’t it also have a tendency to discourage relationships with other people who, if you spent the time, you could also find things to identify with, too?
To me, that’s important, and key to the Gospel: the idea that every person is fundamentally the same. We’re all part of the same in-group, which is why universal repentance, baptism, and becoming child-like are essential. Children tend to be a lot more accepting of people as part of their in-group than adults are.
“. . . the vast majority of local leadership follows an approach much closer to that of Elder McConkie, and they are encouraged in that approach by senior LDS leaders.”
Truer words have never been written. Indeed, even when local leaders are overzealous in their quest to eradicate all signs of unorthodoxy and nonconformity, their minders in Salt Lake will not rein them in.
By the way, I don’t need to read Peterson’s essay—I’m with England all the way.
For those of you think there is merit in both points of view and that they should be able to peacefully co-exist, study your church history. It was the ultra-orthodox, beginning with McConkie’s father-in-law, who took steps to ensure that the likes of B.H. Roberts, James E. Talmage, John Widtsoe, Hugh B. Brown and other progressive, liberal-minded leaders would never again be allowed to enter the inner sanctum.
Once upon time, diversity of thought was both welcomed and tolerated in our church. Today, however, our leaders have chosen to surround themselves with only those who share their political (Republican), social (ultra conservative), and religious (obedience with exactness) view points. Is it reasonable for them to think that we should behave any differently?
No, it’s not reasonable for conservative leaders to think liberal Latter-day Saints should behave differently. History often shows that the first thing marginalized groups do when they gain power is to suppress and persecute their former oppressors (the Protestant Reformation in particular comes to mind, although there are lots of other examples).
But why not break the cycle, and try to set a better example? We all need to repent, and we all refuse to acknowledge some of the things we need to repent of. I don’t think that should stop us from working together in Jesus’s church.
Also, I’m not sure I agree with your “never again” characterization. James Faust and Dieter Uchtdorf both seem pretty liberal in their views, and both have been in the First Presidency, the top governing organization of the church. 2 out of the 6 First Presidency Counselors called since Joseph Fielding Smith ended his presidency doesn’t seem that bad.
“the likes of B.H. Roberts, James E. Talmage, John Widtsoe, Hugh B. Brown and other progressive, liberal-minded leaders”
I had somewhere come away with the impression that it was Widtsoe’s writings on the priesthood that were at least in part instrumental in pushing women out of the performance of/Participation in blessings/ordinances… do tell me where I got it wrong.
I disagree with the assessment that most general and local church leaders are still in the McConkie vein.
President Uchtdorf does give me hope for the future. I love the man, but he, and to lesser extent, Elder Faust, are about the only straws left to grasp for those in the church who aren’t simply willing to conform and sit the prescribed distance from the campfire.
And, if I didn’t think we should work together in Christ’s church, I would leave. Nevertheless, because I do not believe and accept everything pronounced from the pulpit, there are those who wish I would depart. I am a source of cognitive dissonance, which makes them uncomfortable, forces them to think, to use their agency. They hate that.
There are two observations Winston Churchill made, one about democracy, the other about Americans, that I have modified to capture my feelings about the church:
1. The Mormon Church is the worst church on the face of the earth for me—except for all the rest. (Please take this in the spirit intended. It is NOT meant to disparage any other religion, many of which I hold in high esteem and believe we can learn much from.)
2. Mormons always do the right thing—after they’ve tried everything else.
There are two types of people. Those who categorize people and those who don’t.
You assume that the choosing of apostles is based on nothing “higher” than personal preference, political ideology and a kind of class warfare. I might not be able to prove it wrong, but it is a very unMormon and secular assumption that is quite foreign to faithful membership.
This feels like a false choice and unnecessarily hostile take on the situation. Isn’t the church more open about its history than ever before? Can’t you read just about any historical detail from an official or at least faithful source? It seems like a logical trend that will continue. And unless you are going full John Dehlin, it seems unlikely for one to get firebombed with “the pastoral weopon of choice”
I confess to being very confused about what is meant by liberal in all this discussion. I’m not sure I’d call Talmage, Widstoe, or Faust particularly liberal. It seems to me this term is being used at best in a very ambiguous way and most likely we’re all equivocating over it.
Jeff, I think unless we understand what “one heart and one mind” means and how that relates to diversity it’s hard to make much headway in all this. Does being of one mind mean we all share the exact same focus and abilities? I don’t think so. I think we’re creating a dichotomy where none is necessary. My wife and I are quite different but I’d like to say we have the same aims and are of one heart and mind as best as possible. (Which isn’t to say we can’t do better – just to say that following Paul we might all have different parts to play while all being after the same thing)
I have made no such assumption at all. And for you to imply that my point of view is unMormon and unfaithful seems rather un-Christian and divisive. Sadly, this is not the first time I have been on the receiving end of such intolerance.
I have never said that inspiration does not play a role in the selection of our leaders, but to deny that the personal preferences and biases of the prophet play a role in the selection process is, at best, naive and, at worst, delusional.
Hugh B. Brown was the first and only member of the first presidency in the history of the church who was not asked to continue as a counselor when the sitting prophet (David O. McKay) died. I suppose there are members who believe that Brother Brown’s staunch support of the civil rights movement and for reversing the priesthood ban—views that were directly contrary to those of Harold B. Lee—had nothing to do with President Lee’s decision not to include him in the first presidency, but I’m not one of them.
FarSide, they could affect it indirectly. i.e. Pres. Lee might have had some hard feelings towards Elder Brown and that’s why he didn’t feel like they could function well together. So it was that relationship rather than the cause of the relationship break that would have been at issue.
One does need to compare and contrast. While it may be possible to not classifying others – and even if you do you have to allow room for others to change – you at least need to be able to classify talks or statements as being one or the other. And it’s kind of handy if someone really identifies with one group, to induce that future comments from them will also align with their chosen group.
Oh, there are tons of downsides to it. War, tribal conflict, gang turf wars, someone getting beat up and hospitalized just because they cheered for the other team, etc. It’s very easy to see the ‘others’ as the ultimate problem with all that’s wrong in the world and discriminate, abuse, abolish, or kill the other group. There are huge downsides to it! I’m not saying that it’s the greatest thing in the world, you just asked why it happens, and so I pontificated on the subject.
Don’t forget Marion G. Romney. Or Joseph Fielding Smith.
Clark, I do not discount that possibility. Clearly, the Lord provides guidance and revelation within the limits of the capacity of each us, including his prophets, to receive it. He acknowledges this fact when He says that He gives commandments to his servants “in their weakness, after the manner of their language.” D&C 1:24-25. But this fact should make us realize that sometimes we draw the wrong conclusion from the inspiration we receive—while the Lord may be willing to bless a given decision we bring to Him for confirmation, we shouldn’t necessarily conclude that He is pleased with it or with us.
But I also entertain the possibility that our leaders (and each one of us) periodically deceive themselves into believing that the warm and fuzzy feeling they have about a particular decision comes from God, not their own emotions. In the 1950s, David O. McKay was convinced that the Lord wanted the church to make a huge financial investment in shortwave radio stations in various parts of the world to further the spreading of the gospel. As it turns out, that was a bad and costly decision. I know there are those who will tie themselves into knots trying to defend the prophet in such circumstances—”This is what God wanted to happen all along; we just aren’t sufficiently enlightened to understand why”—but, at that point, there is nothing further to discuss. I cannot reason someone out of a position that they didn’t reason themselves into in the first place.
Always good to hear from you, Clark.
Thinking about President Romney’s last years, I looked at which General Conferences Hugh B. Brown spoke in from dissolution of the First Presidency in 1970 when Brown was 86 until his death six years later. He missed April 1971, then spoke in the next two General Conferences. He missed Oct. 1972, and the other six General Conferences before his death. I don’t know if he spoke in 1970. General Conference was still three days in 1975.
I don’t much care how faithful you as a person are or are not. When you start talking about “ultra-conservative” apostles getting all real-politik and unilaterally determining who could and could not be made an apostle, I see very little room for divine guidance in this process. If you had acknowledge that God may have guided these ultra-conservatives in this process, I wouldn’t have a problem… but then the political leanings of these men would be largely irrelevant.
And with #8, Martin James once again disproves the notion that those who demand universal love, acceptance, and kumbaya actually show it the most to others.
mirrorrim and Goble, ftw.
I’m not a kumbaya liberal, I’m a conservative libertine bound for hell.
My teasing of Jeff G. is just my frustration that my fellow conservatives won’t come to grips that the church and western culture has a giant problem that can’t be solved by appeals to authority. Specifically, authority in action was on the wrong side of civil rights and racism. No one has figured out how to atone for that in a way that leaves authority looking legitimate. The problem is that the plain text of the New Testament is completely at odds with history and authority. It is a terrible, horrible, no good, won’t go away problem. We’re toast.
I’m glad you haven’t left, Far Side. It might be selfish, but I wish there were more people like you in my wards.
I agree with everything you said, especially the quotes at the end.
And Jeff G, you do seem to be coming down on Far Side very hard, and saying her or his words are “unMormon” and “quite foreign to faithful membership” is the exact kind of assigning others to one’s preconceived categories that I feel is so terribly harmful. It’s Jesus Christ’s church, so who are you to say who does or doesn’t belong in it? Are you so much better than Far Side, that God has given you authority to say whether or not he or she is Mormon or a faithful Latter-day Saint?
The apostles aren’t chosen because they’re great people. The revelations are quite clear on that. When God says He uses the weak and the simple, I take Him at face value. If that’s true, and I really, truly believe it is, then isn’t it possible apostles could be chosen based on any qualifications, only one of which is direct revelation? You don’t have to agree with that possibility, but is it really worth kicking other people out of Jesus Christ’s church because they do? How does such a belief violate the gospel, which is repentance, baptism, and becoming like a child? Especially given certain other possible positions, like preventing children, whom, remember, we are supposed to become like, from being baptized for a decade. Of the two, one looks like it could go against Jesus’s three components to his gospel, and it isn’t thinking apostles might sometimes be chosen by other criteria in addition to revelation.
Clark Goble, I think in the context of this conversation, “liberal” is being used to mean accepting of divergent views. So for me, Brother James Faust’s liberalism was shown not because he was a registered Democrat, but because he shared a story in General Conference about forgiveness where the heroes of his story are a different religious group than our own, the Amish. Brother Dieter’s liberalism is shown when he tells a story where the hero is a middle-aged woman who never got married, but who was able to be a perfect example to her great-niece of what it means to find joy in living the gospel.
In this conversation, I think President Gordon Hinckley was a lot more liberal than we give him credit for. His actions look very conservative now, but we need to remember that when he issued The Family document, the Democratic president of the United States was supporting the Defense of Marriage Act. He exhibited a lot of benevolent sexism, it is true, but that was in a climate of a lot of hostile sexism. Saying woman was God’s crowning creation was helping elevate women to the same level of men, who have always been told that they are the holders of God’s power. And Marjorie Hinckley was probably the most influential wife of a prophet since Eliza Snow.
If his presidency of the church started today, I wonder how he would do things differently.
mirrorrorrim, Faust’s talk about the Amish was one of the best I’ve ever heard in General Conference. I have cited it often as an example of how we can learn from other faiths.
And your point about the word “liberal” being used in this discussion to identify someone who is willing to accept divergent views is spot on. I don’t know whether the politics of Widtsoe, Talmage, or B.H. Roberts were liberal or conservative, but I do know that their acceptance of the theory of evolution was heretical in the opinion of many of their colleagues, who refused to entertain any teaching at variance with the creation myth in Genesis. What we are left with today are apostles who reject the Big Bang theory because they think it is tantamount to an explosion in a printing shop producing a dictionary. (I wish I were making this up, but I’m not.)
It is troubling to witness the pervasive inability on the part of so many in the church to tolerate, let alone accommodate, divergent points of view. That this is occurring in tandem with the polarization of our national politics is probably not a coincidence. And the result, of course, is that we all retreat to our personal echo chambers and become victims of groupthink. But, as General Patton once observed: “When everyone in the room is thinking the same thing, no one is really thinking.”
P.S. I share your assessment of President Hinckley. Though not perfect, he was one of the must humble church leaders in recent memory.
I agree it is not a coincidence but where does one go when each group distrusts the other group’s morality? It is a big problem that isn’t going away soon. Each side thinks the problem is making converts from the other side when the real problem is how to cooperate with people you believe to be evil. Sticky problem.
FarSide (34) I think everyone can be misled when seeking revelation. If Joseph was humble enough to recognize that I think we have to acknowledge it as a possibility for everyone. That said I tend to give them the benefit of the doubt. However looking back through history it’s hard not to see some errors. Often I suspect these are secondary interpretations of an inspiration rather than the inspiration itself. That’s usually when I screw up for instance.
Martin James (39) I certainly don’t think appeals to authority solve all problems. Authority to my mind (and I differ with Jeff here) is about the role one has. But being in that role doesn’t give one anything akin to infallibility. It just gives one responsibility which is far from the same thing. Our role is to help them in their responsibility. The reason I give the brethren the benefit of the doubt is because if there is a clear revelation to the church it’ll come through them and because I’m convinced from my meetings with the brethren they’re simply far more in tune with the spirit than myself.
However by way of analogy I compare it to my ignorant freshman self in college learning from extremely wise and well educated professors with doctorates. Their vastly superior skill didn’t mean they might not make a mistake in an equation that I could catch. However that simultaneously didn’t make the classroom a democracy. Now of course as an analogy it breaks down quickly but it gets at the kind of relationship I see with the brethren. Theirs is the duty to lead (and thankfully one I don’t have – I’d hate to even be a Bishop) and my duty is to figure out how to help them. Dealing with leaders when they are making a mistake (although often we only see that in hindsight) is a big challenge. I think the assumption of how to respond by many self-designating as liberal is misplaced somewhat.
Martin (42) I think that’s right. The trick is how to cooperate not with people you necessarily think evil (that’s rarely the case) but cooperate with people with deeply held erroneous ideas. Again I think we ought consider Christ who presumably understood ethics quite well dealing with a very primitive, superstition, racist and sexist group of people in first century Palestine. I think we often forget what they must have been like. Compared to the society Jesus grew up in Isis in Syria was wonderfully progressive. Yet somehow he was able to cooperate with so many in that culture and love them. If he could do that, isn’t it far easier for me to cooperate with people from a fairly ethical society I differ with only slightly?
MirrorMirror (9:42) If you mean by liberal merely accepting of divergent views I think you then have to get at the issue of what areas were seen as acceptably divergent. Again, I think if you think Talmage and company were as accepting of divergence as some suggest I suspect you’re just plain wrong. Likewise I think that in other contexts McConkie and others were far more accepting than you might think. Going by talks over the pulpit perhaps isn’t the best way to judge them.
Two kinds of Mormons: Those who classify other Mormons, and those who don’t.
Sorry; couldn’t resist! Carry on.