apologist

Thoughts On Daniel Peterson

Recently there has been a bit of a kerfuffle regarding the abrupt dismissal of Daniel Peterson as editor of the Mormon Studies Review (formerly FARMS Review).  This event, and some of the responses I’ve heard since, have gotten under my skin.  Its an itch I haven’t been able to scratch, so I decided to write this blog post.  Normally I keep my distance from apologetic discussion boards and the bloggernacle, preferring to do things to improve my life for real, rather than debate someone on the internet.  But like I said, the majority of the responses to Daniel Peterson’s dismissal have been unsatisfying to me.  

One of the responses I’ve heard can be summed up with this handy visual:  Image

What’s Wrong With The Mormon Church?

Martin Luther hanging the Ninety-Five Theses

Martin Luther hanging the Ninety-Five Theses

Introduction:
Today is October 31st, “Reformation Day”.  It was on this day 494 years ago that Martin Luther nailed “The Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences” (commonly known as “The Ninety-Five Theses”) unto the door of The Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. “The Ninety-Five Theses” is widely regarded as the primary catalyst for the Protestant Reformation.

And while readily acknowledging that I’m no Martin Luther, it is with a hopeful spirit for reformation in our lifetime that I offer these Ninety-Five Theses to a modern church that, in my opinion (as well as in the opinion of many others) is badly in need of it. More

If I were “Mope” (Mormon Pope) Revisited

If I were “Mope” (Mormon Pope) Revisited

You know . . . “It’s good to be the Mope!”

Near the end of my last blog I made some pretty bold statements:

“…I see some good things in the LdS Church and I see even more in Mormon Culture. There’s also much – particularly in the former – that, in my opinion, is really, really bad and needs to change. Never-the-less I’m just crazy enough to believe that there must be a way to keep the good and jettison the bad…

However, to get there from here the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, from my perspective, must reform. And THAT, at least for me, is still a work in progress. That’s to say, it’s a work in progress for me because while I think I have an idea as to what end state might look like, I know that I’m not alone in this vision and I find the ideas and thoughts of others often more interesting than my own – hence the need for ongoing dialog.”

At this point you’re probably wondering, “Sounds interesting but exactly what kind of  ‘reform’ are we talking about? And what kind of ‘end state’ do you have in mind Mr. Smarty Pants?”

Fair enough. More

Lying for the Lord: A Grassroots Tale

"If someone claims to have the truth . . . " It’s been said that, “Sex and crime seem to be the perfect recipe for broadcast success in the 21st century!” So it’s no wonder that a recent Mormon Expression podcast appears to be so popular. It features a “Top 10 Count Down” of famous Mormon criminals and sure enough, despite the occassional “downer” moment (some of the criminal behavior is truly apalling) it’s fascinating, thought provoking stuff!

On several occassions the panel tangents from the central topic into the meta-question of “Why?” as in, “Why does there seem to be something in Mormonism that disportionally contributes to these behaviors?”; and as in, “Why do Mormons – including some ‘golden’ Mormons – demonstrate a propensity toward these extreme behaviors?”, etc. And while I thought that several good theories are offered in the podcast, an analysis on the discussion board is, to my way of thinking, particularly insightful:

“Mormonism has a very real problem in this regard: its central book of scripture opens with a story of justification of murder [that is, a divine directive to Nephi commanding him to behead Laban] and the rest of the book is so bland that it doesn’t overcome that message or it reinforces that message with the continual battles between the Nephites and Lamanites. The problem is that if God can justify murder he can justify any lesser sin as well. And that’s where Mormonism fundamentally departs from traditional Protestantism (and perhaps Catholicism as well) where God must be a moral God.

In Protestantism … God must conform to all the standards of morality that we hold or else He/She is not God.”[1]

That said, in addition to the Book of Mormon example, I would propose that the following passage from The Pearl of Great Price be considered in regard to the “lesser sin” of lying:

Book of Abraham 2:22-25
“And it came to pass when I was come near to enter into Egypt, the Lord said unto me: Behold, Sarai, thy wife, is a very fair woman to look upon;

Therefore it shall come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see her, they will say — She is his wife; and they will kill you, but they will save her alive; therefore see that ye do on this wise:

Let her say unto the Egyptians, she is thy sister, and thy soul shall live.

And it came to pass that I, Abraham, told Sarai, my wife, all that the Lord had said unto me — Therefore say unto them, I pray thee, thou art my sister, that it may be well with me for thy sake, and my soul shall live because of thee.”

That passage is troubling because it portrays the Mormon God giving a divine directive to Abraham that he lie to Pharoah in a manner that’s quite similar to the way he instructed Nephi to murder Laban.[2] This is in direct violation of the moral criteria that the Jewish God established in the Bible via the 10 Commandments[3] and the Mormon God reinforced via The Book of Mormon.[4] Further, and as a practical matter, it’s vexing because I’ve found that some Mormons use it as a divine justification for lying. In other words, Book of Mormon “Blood Atonement” meet Book of Abraham “Lying for the Lord”.[5]

On the Delicate Matter of “Lying for the Lord”
A Mormon Wiki describes the Mormon practice of “Lying for the Lord” as follows:

“Lying for the Lord refers to the practice of lying to protect the image of and belief in the Mormon religion, a practice which Mormonism itself fosters in various ways. From Joseph Smith’s denial of having more than one wife, to polygamous Mormon missionaries telling European investigators that reports about polygamy in Utah were lies put out by “anti-Mormons” and disgruntled ex-members, to Gordon B. Hinckley’s dishonest equivocation on national television over Mormon doctrine, Mormonism’s history seems replete with examples of lying. Common members see such examples as situations where lying is justified. For the Mormon, loyalty and the welfare of the church are more important than the principle of honesty, and plausible denials and deception by omission are warranted by an opportunity to have the Mormon organization seen in the best possible light.
(Link to Source; bolding and underlining added for emphasis)

Now I’m not here to rehash the aforementioned historical record of Mormon Leaders engaging in “Lying for the Lord” – that’s been done well enough by others and I have no interest in reinventing the wheel.[6] My interest is far more immediate, practical, and close to home – more “grass roots” if you will.

And I know that modern Mormons typically bristle when critics accuse the members of the LdS Church of “Lying for the Lord”. The typical response involves citing The Articles of Faith of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Article Thirteen which states:

“We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men…”
(Link to Source; bolding added for emphasis)

And I will readily admit that most of the members I know personally would consider deviating from the Article Thirteen standard unthinkably unethical and integrity compromising. Never-the-less just as soon as the “Enemy of the eternal gospel and only true Church” label is slapped on someone or something, somewhere out there from the deep, dark lunatic fringes of the Mormon Church a “Liar for the Lord” will quickly emerge.

A recent firsthand experience served as a painful reminder.

The Blue Devil and Dr. Jones: A Grassroots Tale
For some reason the Internet tends to bring out the worst in people. As a result of that sad fact one of the Mormon-centric websites that I frequent eventually tired of the constant, seemingly endless, often childish bickering that goes on between Mormon Defenders and Mormon Critics. So, being predisposed to the critical stance (which is in fact implied by the site’s purpose statement), the web site owner decided to bring peace to the proceedings by making the discussion board exclusive to critics. The announcement was made, the user accounts of the Mormon defenders were revoked, a banner explaining the new policy was posted on the main page of the website and life went on for all. We remaining members were then left to continue in our misguided efforts to critique and discuss the history, doctrine, and practices of the only “perfect” church on earth in peace and harmony.[7]

But apparently, the stress and anxiety of seeing the LdS Church publicly analyzed, criticized, deconstructed, reconstructed – and in some cases even denounced – without challenge was just too much for some members so a solution had to be found – and that fix was (of course) “Lying for the Lord”.

In the latest such case a new board member “BlueDevil” (from the great state of North Carolina of course) registered and posted on the board. He came roaring in with both guns blazing – clearly a “Porter Rockwell” Mormon who was “ready to rumble” with these despicable eternal darkness bound “Children of the Devil” and “Enemies of the only true Church!” In his wake, a “DrJones0” (from the great state of Texas) arrived with a quieter, gentler, more tempered and reasoned approach with the members.

The regular members first reminded BlueDevil that Mormons apologists weren’t allowed on this particular board and encouraged him to comply with the rules by not posting. These requests were met with number of angry and hostile posts calling down judgment on high on these blind deceivers. He then disappeared. Poof! Gone! Just like that!

Well, that was easy!

Oddly Dr. Jones’ posts then slowly began to drift into a more decidedly pro-Mormon, apologetic stance. He eventually began using stock and standard Latter-day clichés and language. He then was asked directly if he was a Mormon. At first he demurred and then flatly denied it – not once, not twice, but three times. Yet, at the same time, his posts were simultaneously becoming more and more fanatical. By the day three they had collapsed into a shard pile of stock word-for-word LdS Apologist pabulum. Finally, he simply spammed the discussion board with the same copy and paste “REPENT and be baptized ye apostates destined for outer darkness!” post (well over 100-times in fact) before the board SysAdmin could stop the bleeding via a well-deserved ban.

Given the gawd awful mess that he’d been left with the (solo) SysAdmin enlisted my help (I’m an IT guy in my day job) in scrubbing the site of the spam that Dr. Jones had left behind. The SysAdmin duly “Deputized” me and gave me full administrative privileges on the board. We then got to the hard work of purging the “faith promoting graffiti” off of the site one virtual urban scrawl at a time.

Now, I hope it doesn’t shock or surprise anyone that Internet discussion boards enable administrators to see the IP address of the computer that the users post from. So I did some quick forensics and discovered that not only were “BlueDevil” and “DrJones0” the same person [8], their posts were all generated through the same Internet Service Provider in (drum roll puh-lease) central Salt Lake City.

(Yes, yes, I’m sure that you’re as surprised as we were!)

This was a clear case of not just “Lying for the Lord” but blatantly, repeatedly, and overtly doing so.

“It’s Like Getting Married”
Now, all fairness, given the number of anonymous unregistered hits that this site and other such sites receive each day, this case – and the others like it – are the exception not the norm. Never-the-less this case study demonstrates one way that “Lying for the Lord” is practiced in modern Mormonism.

And, of course the whole issue of using deceit in the name of God, regardless your religious stance, is never a good idea because as one person put it:

“Joining a religious group is much like a marriage, often including a type of “falling in love”. When two people are seriously involved and contemplating marriage, is it really the ethical responsibility of each to, say, hire a private investigator to fully investigate the background of their loved one to make sure there are no ugly surprises after the wedding? Or is it the moral and ethical responsibility of each party to make that disclosure?” [9]

Or put another way, “If someone claims to have the truth you should probably first make sure that they’re not lying to you.”[10]

 

NOTES:
[1] Post by Mike Michaels dated June 23, 2011; retrieved 6/23/2011; the bracketed text summarizes the prior paragraph for clarity. Mr. Michael later explained in another post, “I was/am not responding as a believing Christian for I am not. I am merely trying to explain the difference in mindset that I held as a believing Christian before I converted to Mormonism (subsequently followed by 20 years of active participation).”

[2] It should be noted that it’s generally conceded in the Biblical narratives that parallel this Book of Abraham account the biblical characters took it upon themselves to lie since only did God not mandate the lies but went so far as to expose the attempt at deceit to the unsuspecting victim. (see Genesis 12:10-19, Genesis 20, and Gen 26:1-10) As a result, most expositors exegese these passages as morality plays regarding failures of faith on the part of the humans that did not please God. (see http://www.enduringword.com/commentaries/0120.htm ; http://www.easyenglish.info/bible-commentary/genesis-mwks3-lbw.htm )

[3] See Exodus 20:16 and Deuteronomy 5:20

[4] See Ether 3:12 and 2 Nephi 9:34

[5] One need go no further than Dallin H. Oaks’ September 12, 1993 BYU address, “Gospel Teachings About Lying” for an example how arguments for lying are exegesed from LdS Scripture. And though it may seem extreme to some “Blood Atonement” p. 93, by Independent Mormon Fundamentalist, Ogden Kraut provides us with an excellent example of how an argument for murder can be developed from the Laban narrative.

[6] Former Church Educational System employee Ken Clark’s list of such case studies is an excellent overview as is the aforementioned MormonWiki.org article.

[7] This, as I’m sure anyone familiar with the Internet knows is not unusual as there are many Latter-day Saint discussion boards where the opposite has been the case. This is no big deal – it’s just life on a planet whose inhabitants would rather bicker than agree to disagree (or so it seems).

[8] Another charge that he had angrily denied.

[9] As cited from “Missionary Sophistry?” at http://www.mormonwiki.org/Lying_for_the_Lord from an original post now scrolled off discussion thread of a blog post at “Latter-day Saint Liberation Front”; Accessed 8/23/2006.

[10] Richard Packham, ExMormon Foundation Conference 2009. Mr. Packham’s full case against Mormonism’s use of lying can be found here.

Dissecting Joseph

Despite the fact that I consider myself quite unorthodox among LDS folk, for some reason I still find myself falling into a defensive stance when I hear too much criticism of the church.  And although I tell myself that I won’t put on my apologist hat in defense of certain things (Joseph Smith, Mountain Meadows, Prop. 8), I sometimes still want to at least cut the church some slack.  I suppose it is my way of trying to explore whether I can still find a niche among LDS believers.

At the same time, while I genuinely enjoy mingling with the masses of those who have left the church but still feel a mormon connection, I feel I run into the same problem that made me question my initial faith convictions in the first place – a few people who tend to demonstrate very little empathy toward those with different beliefs.  While I may not ever be able to go back to my affirmations about certain aspects of the church (and sometimes admittedly I still wish I could), I can still try to understand and be fascinated by what it is about people that makes them cling to one belief or another.

In that spirit, and at the risk of sounding like an all-out apologist, I want to explore a few reasons why Joseph Smith still appeals to me, and why I can (sort of) understand why Latter-Day Saints feel such loyalty toward their founding prophet.  Before I do, I want to assure you that even though I may not be as well-read as some out in cyberspace, I feel pretty comfortable saying I have basically covered my bases when it comes to Brother Joseph.  From polygamy, to narcissism, to accusations of homosexual behaviors, I think I have seen most of what is out there.  I am not really invested in trying to outweigh certain problematic issues with the positive to somehow prove that Joseph was a prophet.  The only issue I raise with some of the accusations is they tend to be rather one-sided, sometimes overly presumptuous and they only tell part of the story of a very complex individual.  I am aware that this could be controversial among this audience, but one of my interests in participating in this community is to see if we can somehow find common ground among those in and out of the church, whether we agree or disagree on particular issues. 

I started down this road of thought as I read Emma Smith’s affirmation in Mormon Enigma, where decades after the death of her husband she still said she believed that the work he did was inspired.  While I know this doesn’t prove anything, I am fascinated with thinking about what might motivate Emma to continue to validate Joseph’s prophetic calling.  Maybe it was important for her to do so because of her membership in the RLDS faith since that congregation still also believed in their Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling.  I am sure there is no real clear answer, but it is intriguing to consider that the person who was probably closest to Joseph, who knew all his flaws and shortcomings, who had to endure her husband’s polygamous relationships, still appeared to remain loyal to him many years after his death. 

It seems like when people lose their faith in the church, one of the first fundamental elements of testimony that crumbles is a belief in Joseph Smith as a prophet.  Once people learn about all of the tough issues, he gets pilloried with all sorts of criticism and anger.  Having said that, even if we find a way to discount someone like Emma, I think it is possible to at least admit that if she could remain loyal for whatever reason, then there are at least have to be some reasons out there that people find a connection with Joseph.  It seems since he has been dead for over 160 years, sometimes we want to over scrutinize and criticize every possible angle after the fact.  As he himself predicted, he was and still is a very controversial figure to consider.  Ironically enough, this is the first thing I appreciate about the man – that we can approach him as a three-dimensional person.  And I don’t even like 3D.  I think it is a rip off.  But in contrast to our prophets and apostles today, who publicly seem to be one-dimensional carbon copy duplicates of one another, I am thankful that over the course of time, we have been able to scrutinize Smith’s failings as well as his triumphs. 

No doubt Joseph said some very grandiose things, and he had a vision that was so expansive that it really could amount to a big mess if you actually wanted try to put it all together.  But I think in spite of his sweeping language he still took time to make it fairly clear that he was still just a man doing the work of God.  I am not going to say he was full of humility, but in comparison with our current leadership, at least we can see some of his “humanness.” 

Next, I believe that for many people the idea that angels and visions can come to someone in the present day is a very validating belief.  In this regard, Joseph obviously did not disappoint.  The idea that Moroni appeared to him or that he got the priesthood from Peter, James, and John may seem ridiculous to many.  But for those who actually have faith in literal bibilical stories and events, they give at least a glint of hope that maybe those things can happen today.  With the PR-conscious nature of the church today, the best we can get is the idea that “I’m not saying I haven’t seen Jesus, but if I have, it is too sacred for me to share anyway.”  I doubt Joseph Smith would have discouraged anyone from trying to participate in the same revelatory experiences that he claimed to experience.  As I’ve said, though this may seem problematic for some, for those who still want to hold to the faith that the supernatural can comingle with us, someone who openly shares such experience helps affirm that faith. 

In addition, regardless of the historicity or authorship problems with relation to the Book of Mormon, Joseph was still instrumental in bringing forth a very important book of scripture to what has become presently a  fairly vast audience.  This is significant just because it is a very unique accomplishment.  Maybe some feel there is nothing of value in the book and that it is just another book made up by a devious individual or group of people.  But there just aren’t many books out there that claim to be on the level of the bible that I am aware of that have become as notable as the Book of Mormon.  Maybe the Book of Mormon is not “the most correct book” like Joseph claimed, who knows?  Maybe the Christ that the LDS church teaches today is very distinct from the mainstream Christian conception of Jesus.  But the Book of Mormon itself has many valuable teachings of Christ that many times are  in line with the bible.  For those who still maintain a faith in the authenticity of the story of Jesus, I still think the Book of Mormon can be a valuable resource. 

Finally, I am personally interested in Joseph’s ideas and attempts at creating a communal society on earth that he wanted to call ‘Zion.’  I recognize that the saints never really came close to meeting whatever may have been Joseph’s ideal, but it is still a concept that captivates me.  Is the world just a mess and that is just the way it is, or is there a system out there that could vastly improve the human condition?  Would Joseph be in agreement with the pro-capitalism church today?  Would his ideas if correctly implemented ever really work?  I guess we’ll find out in the Millennium, right? 

I realize that this submission seems to be a terribly weak take on obvious points related to Joseph Smith.  I am sure there are about 25 holes in each of the arguments I’ve put forth (besides the ones I’ve already admitted).  Maybe I am just throwing this out there in contrast to our prophets today, who compared to Joseph Smith don’t seem very prophetic at all.  But I hope you will be forgiving of my attempt to explore some of the possible ways that true believers  can somehow reconcile their faith with their knowledge that Joseph Smith was far from perfect.  I  suppose I am just trying to be a voice for the believing side, even if I don’t evenfeel like I am on their side.  I admit I am definitely not a scholar like Bushman.  I am not a zealot like Mike (Tannehill), and I am definitely not as funny as Glenn.  I am just curious if any of these points or others that I have ignored are worthwhile at all, even to someone who is out of the church.  Is this even worth trying to discuss, or is this argument lost in oblivion?  Is there anything redeeming in the Joseph Smith story, or in the man’s characteristics and history?  Can we allow that many still genuinely believe these ideas, and that the result of such belief can have a positive outcome, depending on how that belief is approached?  I  say “yes,” regardless of whether he was a ‘true’ prophet or not.  But that may just be me being the contrarian that I often like to be.