418–419: Exploring the Messages in and Responses to Elder Dallin H. Oaks’s Recent General Conference Talk

During the recent October 2017 General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Council of Twelve Apostles gave a talk titled, “The Plan and the Proclamation.” In it, he framed some of the current trends and laws of today’s society as coming from “the world,” while Latter-day Saints who are truly converted and actively seeking eternal life and exaltation are those who reject the world in favor of God’s plans for us. Key among the things that “the world” is embracing more and more and that Latter-day Saints should reject are “cohabitation without marriage, same-sex marriage, and the raising of children in such relationships.” In this battle with “the world,” Elder Oaks makes reference to the fact that throughout history many family members have understood God’s eternal plan differently, causing conflict. “Such conflict is always so. . . . But whatever the cause of conflict with those who do not understand or believe God’s plan, those who do understand are always commanded to choose the Lord’s way instead of the world’s way.” In short, if Latter-day Saints support same-sex marriage or in any way condone cohabitation outside marriage and raising children in such homes, it is God’s call to them to stand up for eternal values about family and marriage and God’s plan rather than acquiesce to individual or societal pressures.

In the second half of the talk, Elder Oaks shares background and assures Latter-day Saints of the “inspiration” and “revelatory process” at work throughout the writing and revising and releasing in 1995 of “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.” He then lifts its teachings up as having been “the basis of Church teaching and practice for the last 22 years and will continue so for the future.” He then urges all to “consider it such, teach it, live by it, and you will be blessed as you press forward toward eternal life.”

Elder Oaks’s talk and its clear stance pitting “converted” Latter-day Saints and those seeking eternal life against “the world” and those church members who have come to believe that the church should change its teachings and stance on same-sex marriage (including rejecting the November 2015 “Policy” that doesn’t allow children from same-sex parented homes access to ordinances until after they reach age 18 and speak out against their parents’ relationship) has caused quite a bit of consternation among many Mormons. Some have found the message of this talk “the final straw” in their ability to stay engaged with Mormonism in a meaningful way, while many others have felt depressed and deflated, recognizing that because of this talk it will be harder for them among family members who aren’t at the same place they are with regard to LGBTQIA issues or to sit in their wards as allies and those who are convinced that these marriages and families should be fully supported within the Church. They hope they might find peace in this time of turmoil, this “new normal” in the church that has and will for some time to come be affected by the stances and tone Elder Oaks took in this talk.

In this two-part episode, Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon is joined by three wonderful and insightful active church members — Laura Root, John Gustav-Wrathall, and Richard Ostler — to discuss this talk and its messages and ramifications. How have they been personally affected by its contents and the interactions they’ve had with other Latter-day Saints since its delivery? How are they finding the strength and courage to remain firm in their personal convictions about these issues that differ from that of Elder Oaks and many in their close circles? What perspectives do they draw on that give them comfort and hope for eventual change within Mormonism on various issues related to same-sex relationships and gender identity? And much more!

Please listen and then share your experiences, questions, and comments in the designated section of the Mormon Matters podcast blog!
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Links: 

Elder Dallin H. Oaks, “The Plan and the Proclamation,” October 2017 LDS General Conference address

Mormon and Gay, LDS Church’s official website sharing its teachings about lesbian, gay, and bi-sexuality, as well as featuring stories of gay Latter-day Saints

Family Acceptance Project, a website featuring the results of various studies and presentations of stories of family dynamics and how they affect the health and well-being of gay children

One result from the ongoing work of the Family Acceptance Project is a booklet created specifically for LDS families.
To order this booklet, click here

Laura Compton, “From Amici to ‘Ohana’: The Hawaiian Roots of the Family Proclamation,” 15 October 2015, article posted on Rational Faiths blog

Peggy Fletcher Stack, “Packer Talk Jibes with LDS Stance after Tweak,” Salt Lake Tribune, 25 October 2010 (shares details of the editing to Elder Packer’s talk between conference delivery and its publication several days later)

 

416–417: Assessing the History and Value of Mormon Apologetics

Doing “apologetics,” which means to “speak in defense,” has been a longstanding tradition within Christianity, including Mormonism. Some forms of apologetics are often labeled “negative,” meaning the attempt by those writing is foremost to take on the arguments of critics. “Positive” apologetics, on the other hand, is characterized as efforts to shore up some aspect of the gospel or church by means of sharing different angles on that issue or practice, or new, possibly larger, perspectives that frame that problem in a way that makes it more understandable as an action or teaching that comes from human foibles rather than a knock-down criticism of the Mormon enterprise as a whole. In this latter emphasis, apologists are acknowledging that an issue exists or a problem is brewing while seeking to show that Mormonism has within it resources for addressing the issue, and that these need only to be brought forward to meet the challenge.

For many Latter-day Saints, apologetics has been a wonderful boon. They crave to know that scholars and others are actively working to provide framings for those things that have begun to trouble them. For many others, however, apologetics carries a negative connotation. Some say that truth “needs no defense,” or they point out that things of the Spirit are not going to yield well to questions and issues raised because of the findings of secular disciplines, hence on over emphasis on historical or rational inquiry is to make a category mistake. But more than anything else, the criticism labeled against apologetics focuses on the claim that an apologist works the question backwards: she or he knows the truth already, and then constructs arguments designed to shore that up; they are not conducting genuine inquiry.

In this episode, which is being co-released by both the Mormon Matters and Mormon Stories podcasts, Dan Wotherspoon and John Dehlin speak with Brian Birch and Patrick Mason about the history and development of Mormon Apologetics. Where has it been, and where is it headed now. In particular, John proposes a new term, “neo-apologist,” to describe a group of Latter-day Saint writers, including Mason, who, while not ignoring problems, seem to shift the meaning of various terms or truth claims, or in some other way change the definitions of Mormon doctrines. A vigorous discussion ensues!

415: “That We May Be One”: A Gay Mormon’s Perspective on Faith and Family

In his new book, That We May Be One: A Gay Mormon’s Perspective on Faith and Family (Published by Deseret Book), Tom Christofferson shares his story of coming to terms with being gay, leaving Mormonism for several decades, and then deciding to reunite with his beloved faith community. Along the way, it tells of his remarkable family and their reactions to his coming out and fully embracing as part of their family his longtime partner, a ward and stake in New Canaan, Connecticut, that welcomed him and his partner with open arms even though there was no sense, given their relationship, that they’d join the church, and a wrenching decision that followed when Tom felt called to seek baptism again and enter into full fellowship with the Saints. The book, and this interview, shares intimate peeks at Tom’s spiritual life, his hopes for what might open up within Mormonism as he shares his story so publicly. Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon also queries Tom about difficult doctrines in Mormonism that can and seem to present obstacles to the church’s fully embracing LGBTQIA members, as well as worries from people who know Tom’s basic story but fear it will be used by certain LDS parents as the new standard for their own gay children: “If Tom can return to stay Mormon and be celibate, so can you.”

Please listen and enjoy getting to know this wonderful, spiritual, open-hearted man.
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Links:

Tom Christofferson, That We May Be One: A Gay Mormon’s Perspective on Faith and Family (Deseret Book, 2017), paperback

Gregory Prince, “Science vs Dogma: Biology Challenges the LDS Paradigm of Homosexuality,” Tanner-McMurrin Lecture, delivered 27 October 2017, Salt Lake City Utah

Watch video here
Read manuscript here

414: (Encore) Engaging Constructively with General Conference

The October 2017 General Conference season is upon us. Having started last weekend with the Women’s session, it continues September 30th and October 1st with four general and one priesthood session. For many who have undergone (or are undergoing) a shift of faith, engaging with general conference can sometimes be a difficult experience. Because of new perspectives we’ve gained, it’s impossible to avoid certain changes in attitude toward conference talks and proceedings. For many of us, these are healthy shifts, emerging from spiritual growth and increasing confidence in what we believe God is calling us toward. Yet it takes quite a while to “normalize” in this new way of viewing conference and the role and abilities of prophets in guiding the church or serving as God’s mouthpieces. We can listen respectfully, yet with eyes wide open to the human beings called to these roles and the mixture that is their words and ideas in conjunction with what they sense God is leading them to speak about. But for others of us, especially those in the early years of a faith shift, or for whom some very large change has come into their life or who have become quite activated about certain topics, conference talks that don’t match what we’d ideally like to hear can be very upsetting. 

In this episode, we are treated to thoughts about conference from Carol Lynn Pearson, Patrick Mason, and Mark Crego, three wonderful, experienced church members and conference watchers whose experiences over the years have matched those of many listeners. At times each has felt in great harmony with what is shared in conference, at other times quite devastated by it. But by pushing through, they have gained good awareness of what conference is and is not, what we might reasonably expect from it, and how to celebrate the wonderful talks and not over-react to the ones that disappoint or can even feel to them spiritually dangerous. We hope through listening you can have an engaged and constructive conference weekend. 

413: The New Plan for Relief Society and Adult Priesthood Meetings

On 25 August, the Church announced a new plan for Relief Society and Priesthood meetings to begin January 2018. Instead of focusing two weeks each month on lessons drawn from a teachings of the prophets manual (this year studying President Gordon B. Hinckley), those two weeks will focus on recent conference addresses, but will allow each individual Relief Society or quorum to choose which ones to focus on. The first week of the month will now emphasize counseling together about local issues and needs. And the fourth week will take on a topic outlined by the general church leadership, with the November and May issues of the Liahona and Ensign alerting us to those topics and providing guides and ideas for studying them.

This episode gathers three wonderful church watchers to talk together about this new plan. Stephen Carter, Cynthia Winward, and Walt Wood join Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon to discuss how each of these elements of the new plan might unfold. What do they think are the best features? What are their hopes and dreams for those? What drawbacks do they foresee, and how might we mitigate against them?

In the second half, Stephen lays out two different models for church teaching–one that we usually default to in our gatherings together, which he calls the “hermetic” model; the other, which only occasionally rises up but which he hopes can become much more the norm, that he calls the “exploratory” model. The whole panel then reacts to this new ideal and shares ways they can see those of us in the internet Mormon world aiding in its coming into being.
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Links:
From lds.org:

“Church Announces ‘Come Follow Me’ for Melchizedek Priesthood and Relief Society”

“A New Sunday Experience,” FAQs about the new program

“379–380: Effective Teaching in the Church,” Mormon Matters, 6 April 2017 (featuring Stephen Carter and Kristine Haglund)

Dallin H. Oaks, “General Authorities Teach General Rules,” video clip of a section from, “The Dedication of a Lifetime,” delivereed May 1, 2005.

Stephen Carter, “How to Use the Total Perspective Vortex in Your Very Own Sunday School Class,” Sunstone, March 2005

412: Announcing the October 2017 Mormon Matters Retreat

This short episode, a conversation between Natasha Helfer Parker and Dan Wotherspoon, offers descriptions and registration details about the upcoming Mormon Matters Retreat, to be held in Salt Lake City October 13th–15th. You can also find more information here.

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Retreat basics:

Schedule:

Friday (13th): 6 to 10 pm

Saturday (14th): 9 am to 9 pm or later
(includes lunch and dinner, and entertainment afterward—much of it starring you!)

Sunday (15th): 9 am to 5 pm (lunch included)

Cost: $200 per person; $350 per couple (even two friends or family members deciding to register together). This is a significant registration fee reduction from previous Mormon Matters and other Open Stories Foundation retreats.
To register, click here. Thank you!

Scholarships: If you cannot afford to pay to attend, or can only swing some of the cost, please inquire abut partial or full scholarships and volunteering. We are working hard to encourage people to donate funds for others to attend, and we are happy to put you on a waiting list to see what might unfold.

If you would like to donate a scholarship (or two, three, etc!) or put any amount toward the scholarship fund, please click here.

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We look forward to seeing you at this event! We know it will be something everyone will really enjoy as well as receiving great perspectives, renewed energies, and making new friends!

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Listen here