Committing Spiritual Murder: Analysing Alma 39

Michael Ash in a Sunstone article entitled ‘The Sin “Next to Murder”’ has argued that Alma’s exhortation to his son Corianton (who had ran off with an woman of ill-repute), that ‘these things are an abomination in the sight of the Lord; yea most abominable above all sins save it be the shedding of innocent blood or denying the Holy Ghost’ (see Al 39:5), is not speaking about breaking the law of Chastity.  Ash argues that Corianton’s sin is ‘causing the spiritual death of others’[1].  Aside from this being an interesting article, it raises the question of what is spiritual murder?

Ash argues that we commit spiritual murder when we destroy the testimony of another person.  He argues that our sins can do this and thus he believes Alma’s counsel to his son is to help him see the damage that he has caused, ‘for when [the Zoramites] saw your conduct they would not believe in my [Alma’s] words’ (see Al 39:11).

Ash argues that there two things people need to wary of, if they are to avoid committing this sin.  First, our actions, like Corianton, can destroy the testimony of another.  Second, is sharing information with people that might damage their faith, like ‘the stickier parts of early LDS Church history or scriptural difficulties’ [1].  Now Ash also notes that the intent’s of our hearts are what is important when it comes to deciding who is guilty.  So Richard Bushman is not guilty of spiritual murder, but presumably Fawn Brodie might be and the Tanners are certainly in trouble.

Yet, although I accept his interpretation of this passage of scripture I am not sure I can fully accept how he then goes on to define spiritual murder.  For example, when are our motives ever directed by one factor?  We are often influenced by a multiplicity of ideas whenever we do something.  So I am not convinced that we ever wholly desire to do right or wrong.

Further, if the information shared is the same and true regardless of with what intention it is shared, why does this issue of sincerity become a factor at all.  Maffly-Kipp, in another Sunstone article, has argued that issues around sincerity are part of a Protestant theological tradition that seeks to categorise people into the righteous and the unrighteous.  This assumes that only the good or sincere can do Gods work, but the scriptures have examples of people who may not have been ‘righteous’ or ‘sincere’ but who nevertheless were used by God.

Is it possible that Fawn Brodie was directed by God to do what she did?

This question of spiritual murder also raises important questions about how this issue is dealt with within the Church, in relation to Church discipline.  I recall Paul Toscano, when speaking to John Dehlin, asking at his Disciplinary Council that someone ‘show [him] the body count?’  He argues that he was excommunicated on the possibility that what he had written might damage people’s faith.  Now although I would argue that it is difficult to prove that one person has destroyed the faith of another; it seems that the Church would never excommunicate someone because they could have killed someone in doing something dangerous.  Then why are comfortable in excommunicating someone that might damage someone’s faith.

It seems to me we need to careful about how we use this concept, if it is to become something that is used in the Church (again).

Questions:

How would you define spiritual murder?

Should it be necessary to prove spiritual murder before someone is excommunicated?

Notes:

1. Michael R. Ash, The Sin “Next to Murder” in Sunstone, 2006, p. 34, 40.

Comments

comments

44 comments for “Committing Spiritual Murder: Analysing Alma 39

  1. January 26, 2010 at 8:38 am

    Great Post, I have often thought that it seems a little naive to categorise breaking the law of chastity as being second only to murder, IMO there are worse things that some are guilty of.

    Jeffrey R. Holland in his talks Personal Purity & Of Souls, Symbols, and Sacraments attempts to address why breaking the law of chastity is so severe and offensive to God, he does this by highlighting how it abuses the the central purpose and processes of life, he emphasises the damage that can be caused to the soul, he uses words such as abuse, destroy, wound, “in sexual transgression the soul is at stake, the body and the spirit”.

    Whilst JRH teaches that it is the spiritual damage caused by breaking the law of chastity that offends God, Michael Ash highlights that causing spiritual damage is offensive in the sight of God, so I see no real contradiction.

    Q:1 I would see spiritual murder as prematurely stopping someone’s spiritual progression, certain child abuse and teaching secret combinations to underdeveloped minds are the only ones that I can think of.

    Causing spiritual endangerment is something that is a lot more common, bad examples (which is what Corianton was guilty of) , teaching church history, and withholding information, are all forms of spiritual endangerment, those who are affected can suffer for long periods of time but they are not necessarily tempted above that which they can bear, they can still progress spiritually to some degree.

    Q:2 I believe it is the malicious intention behind someone’s actions that should be proven prior to excommunication, In most cases those who are teaching church history or criticising leadership are warned, I guess if they continue in that same vein then that is malicious and is cause for excommunication.

  2. Henry
    January 26, 2010 at 8:46 am

    One way I think of it is engaging in activities that cause the Spirit to withdraw from you. A friend was having a hard time keeping away from the SSA lifestyle. I told him that if when you bring another person into that activity, especially a non-member, you take them further and further away from the road to repentance where they may never discover the gospel. The gospel of repentance. Is this not a form of spiritual muder?

  3. January 26, 2010 at 9:39 am

    Henry #2 I think Rico’s post has more to offer than a criticism of SSA.

  4. Henry
    January 26, 2010 at 9:59 am

    He seemed to be asking what we thought spiritual murder was and I said engaging in activities that cause the withdrawal of the Spirit and possibly causing problems for others. I tend not to be overboard intellectual so maybe I am missing the point.

  5. Henry
    January 26, 2010 at 10:01 am

    Correction:
    I try not to be overly-intellectual so maybe I am missing the point.

  6. January 26, 2010 at 10:03 am

    #1 – How would you define malicious? I ask because some might argue that sharing any information that is negative is intended to destroy faith. They might argue that it is impossible to not be malicious.

    For example, I know that John Dehlin’s motives have been questioned by some. Similarly, there has been a number of heated discussions regarding whether people in the bloggernacle are really ‘believers’ or not. Some criticised Richard Bushman. My use of these examples is intended to defining these people as malicious is possible. Evidence of their malicious intent is that they might not believe like some other people do and their position may be seen to direct people away from the ‘truth’.

    If you think causing spiritual endangerment was Corianton’s sin then do you think more of us are guilty of that?

    What is SSA? Sorry I am ignorant.

  7. January 26, 2010 at 10:05 am

    Henry – Your point about causing the spirit to leave is fine. I suspect however that is a bit loose if you are going to connect it with the idea of spiritual murder, not just spiritual harm. Spiritual harm is part of all our lives every day. I think MrQandA’s point was that your suggestion perhaps does not do justice to the idea of murder.

  8. January 26, 2010 at 10:48 am

    Rico #6 SSA is Same Sex Attraction.

    RE: sharing information: I would define malicious as intentionally seeking to cause shock or offence, with no thought to help or support the “did you know” kind of approach. IMO: John Dehlin does not fit this mould, malicious is knocking down a supporting wall with no thought of rebuilding one, We can be guilty of the type of maliciousness within our own faith and to other faith’s (showing faults within the bible with no other thought but to cause mayhem). John Dehlin whilst knocking down walls seems to seek to build stronger ones in there place.

    “If you think causing spiritual endangerment was Corianton’s sin then do you think more of us are guilty of that?” Yes

    I think spiritual endangerment can be caused through negligence, whilst no malicious intent was present no real thought was taken to prevent spiritual endangerment, talking at random about sticky church history with no thought of who may hear, poor examples from one in a position of authority etc. Most of us may be guilty of negligence at some point, this reckless spiritual endangerment could lead to spiritual murder which is what Alma was warning of, again not Corianton’s actual action.

  9. Martin
    January 26, 2010 at 10:55 am

    Is spiritual murder really possible? I mean spiritual assault and battery, I can see, but spiritual murder?

  10. Hawkgrrrl
    January 26, 2010 at 11:05 am

    I think there is a big difference between spiritual “murder” and “manslaughter.” I’m not sure I agree with Ash’s interpretation 100% either. The issue in Alma 39, IMO, is not related to belief (loss of testimony), but actions. In committing adultery / fornication, one is acting in a way that is spiritually damaging to self but also ensnares others in addictive behaviors that are anti-spiritual. In addition to the people directly involved, sexual sin also ensnares others who view this as a “new norm” and therefore acceptable. Obviously, sex is an easy sell, too. So, gratifying your own lusts might be spiritual “murder” if you seduce someone (of the person you seduce), but “manslaughter” to those who feel that the new norm is sexual sin.

    Even so, I’m still in the camp that believes that men will be punished for their own sins. You can’t pin it on “bad influence.” But we should have good intentions toward others. The issue is that people can’t really know what’s in your heart, but “the Lord looketh on the heart.”

  11. January 26, 2010 at 11:08 am

    Martin #9

    A loose MrQandA definition of physical murder within Mormonism, because we believe in life after death, is anyone really murdered sure there physical body is gone but they are still alive, in actual fact physical death is to prematurely stop the mortal journey or progression, and so spiritual murder would be to stop the spiritual progression as I mentioned I feel that cases of spiritual murder are few and far between but I do think it exist.

    Some forms of abuse that leave the victims soul so blackened and tarnished, that they resort to committing unspeakable crimes, Christ has the power to heal all, but for some until that moment of spiritual resurrection they are completely cut off from all good, and they only desire evil.

  12. January 26, 2010 at 11:59 am

    A couple thoughts…

    1)–If “teaching church history” can be seen as spiritual murder or endangerment (comment #1), we’ve got a problem. Not saying I necessarily disagree — I’ve seen plenty of people damaged by “teaching church history” — but I think that speaks to a real challenge we have in today’s church when talking about things that actually happened puts people’s spirituality at risk.

    2)–If we’re gonna rank, I’d put hatred and lust for power as the “sins next to murder,” simply because they are the sins that lead to violence on all levels.

  13. Holden Caulfield
    January 26, 2010 at 2:23 pm

    Rico–“Now although I would argue that it is difficult to prove that one person has destroyed the faith of another; it seems that the Church would never excommunicate someone because they could have killed someone in doing something dangerous. Then why are comfortable in excommunicating someone that might damage someone’s faith.”

    I remember years ago, my favorite talk-radio host in LA was vehemently anti-death penalty. He often talked about how the penalties are different for attempted murder and murder. He talked about failed murderers being rewarded for being a bad shots.

    I think God, whoever he is, would look at the intent of the actions, not how successful those actions were. To me, same crime. The heart of an attempted murderer is as black as the heart of a murderer.

    When it comes to influencing the feelings of someone about a religion if we are convinced someone is wrong, it seems like it is simply “missionary work” to breaking their erroneous conviction, Mormon or not. Where the Tanners end up will be very interesting.

  14. geb
    January 26, 2010 at 3:25 pm

    I agree that Alma probably meant causing the Zoramites not to believe him and not breaking the law of chastity. This would be the attitude a missionary is likely to adopt.

    I don’t think I agree with the concept of spiritual murder, though. A testimony that is killed by actions of others isn’t much of a testimony anyhow, and is sure to be “murdered” sooner or later. Do we have to continually walk on eggs for fear some poor soul will be offended at something we do or say and fall away, thus making us guilty of “spiritual murder?” I can’t hold with that. This is the attitude that leads to buying up Mark Hoffmann forgeries and hiding them in the archives lest some testimony be ruined by them.

  15. Thomas
    January 26, 2010 at 4:07 pm

    If it is “spiritual murder” to cause a person to learn of “the stickier parts of early LDS Church history,” who is more guilty: the person who documents the stickiness, or the person who created it?

    Ash needs to be careful that the dragnet of his logic doesn’t sweep up Joseph and Brigham themselves along with Paul Toscano, et al.

  16. January 26, 2010 at 4:18 pm

    #15 – If it is “spiritual murder” to cause a person to learn of “the stickier parts of early LDS Church history,” who is more guilty: the person who documents the stickiness, or the person who created it?

    Ash needs to be careful that the dragnet of his logic doesn’t sweep up Joseph and Brigham themselves along with Paul Toscano, et al.

    Often, the fact that the Church history has been carefully hidden and white-washed is more damaging to a person’s testimony than the history itself. In other words, it is the hiding and untruthfulness that causes many to lose their testimonies – not the actual history. So, do Church leadership who insist on correlated histories and who perpetuate historical inaccuracies for the sake of piety – are they to blame for the spiritual deaths that white-washing has cost?

    Its a tricky situation, when you take it on yourself to tell someone they are guilty of spiritual murder.

  17. Thomas
    January 26, 2010 at 4:28 pm

    Also, if it turns out that it’s the Lutherans that had the true faith, I’m going up the river. Assuming they ever find the spiritual bodies of those I converted on my mission, which they may not. Lots of empty space in that neighborhood, and I was careful to wear spiritual gloves while doing the deed.

    Likewise, if the Catholics were right, you Latin American missionaries are in trouble. Just one more thing to have religious anxiety about, I guess.

    Ash’s theory, while interesting, is ultimately rooted in the same obsession with sectarian doctrinal purity that led Aquinas to conclude that it was righteous to burn heretics: Since getting your doctrine right is crucial to the salvation of your eternal soul, then if we execute people who murder the physical body, then we should doubly punish those responsible for the much greater loss of a soul’s destruction.

    Now I do believe it’s possible for a person to do another person spiritual harm. But I would say those cases are limited to those where a person leads another into actual nihilism — that is, destroys the entire inclination to seek God and righteousness, or anything like unto them — not mere allegiance to a particular sectarian faith, about which reasonable, honest people can clearly disagree.

  18. Thomas
    January 26, 2010 at 5:22 pm

    Finally, I don’t buy Ash’s basic argument that Alma 39 can reasonably be interpreted as identifying “the sin next to murder” as anything but S-E-X. In verse 3, Alma identifies Corianton’s fling with The Harlot Isabel (one of only four women mentioned in the Book of Mormon, btw), then two verses later, drops the “most abominable above all sins except murder/denying the Holy Ghost” bomb. Nothing in the interval about the incidental effect on the Zoramites, which doesn’t get mentioned until way down in verse 11.

    When Alma calls Corianton to repentance, what is he supposed to repent of? See verse 9: “Now my son, I would that ye should repent and forsake your sins, and go no more after the lusts of your eyes.” Verse 11: “Suffer not the devil to lead away your heart again after those wicked harlots.” It’s clearly all about the harlots. Not sure I agree that two teenagers getting out of hand is worse than, say, robbing widows and orphans or pulling a Bernie Madoff, but that’s what the book says.

    What if I’m right and Ash is wrong? Well, then, he’s spreading false doctrine about the identity of the Sin Next to Murder. He’s potentially inclining people to view unauthorized whoopie-making as less deadly serious than they should view it. He’s potentially committing spiritual murder, or at least negligent spiritual homicide.

    Or, alternatively, we’re both trying in good faith to interpret an ambiguous text.

  19. CarlosJC
    January 26, 2010 at 5:32 pm

    I would reject Ash’s arguments outright. Alma states that “this is what I have against thee” and then points out his pride and that action with Isabel, as explained in #10. Its a long stretch to claim that its ‘spiritual murder’ the problem here.

    In excommunication though they may judge it necessary to label someone as an apostate to protect the innocent members (people who may believe in this flawed new doctrine Paul Toscano taught regarding Jesus). I’m guessing that Toscano would have been excommunicated specifically to avoid the “possibility that what he had written might damage people’s faith” , that is, to protect the innocent church member. Then a body count is irrelevant since it has not yet occurred simply because he was excommunicated to prevent that.

    Note then that term protect the innocent isn’t then only in cases of physical violence or abuse but spiritual matters too. The other 2 reasons for discipline are to help the person repent (main reason) and to protect the good name of the church.

  20. Mary B
    January 26, 2010 at 6:06 pm

    I have always thought that when Christ said “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea,” he was talking about awful it was in his sight to subject children to experiences or teaching or behavior that made it harder for them to recognize God’s love for them or to recognize truth. (What Mr.Q&A might be refering to as prematurely stopping someone’s spiritual progress.) It’s a drastic “it were better for him” statement. It outlines how serious such actions, which we may brush off as minor, are in God’s sight.

    I think we tend to minimize the damage we do, consciously or unconsciously, when we do such things. I suspect that Corianton was minimizing it in his mind.

    I think Ash’s idea is worth consideration, though it’s clear from this discussion that his decision to label it as “spiritual murder” in his essay, though an interesting literary coinage, probably bears some implications to the minds of his readers that he may not have intended.

  21. Doug G.
    January 26, 2010 at 7:31 pm

    What I find disturbing about the whole premise of Mr. Ash’s article is the fear mongering it creates. To me, fear should never be a motivator in studying religion. You see if you take this to its extreme, then reading anything outside of approved sources may lead you to stop believing and therefore you’ve committed spiritual suicide. Suicide is murder right? So you should never explore your faith and weigh the evidence for “fear” of discovering the Emperor really is naked. Although I have found that most LDS folks don’t want to be bothered with the details so I guess their pretty safe. 🙂

    If God was so worried about the example Corianton was setting to the Zoramites perhaps He shouldn’t have sent an angel with a sword to tell Joseph to take other men’s wives. I’m mean really; would anyone like to speculate on the body count from that particular supernatural event? People like Paul Toscanos or Fawn Brodie can’t even begin to hope they had that kind of influence.

    Michael Ash is guilty of distorting a simple teaching in the BoM into something ridiculous. Truth can never be a bad thing no-matter what the consequence of that knowledge brings. Having said that, you can’t murder something that was dead to begin with. If your spirituality is rooted in a “church“ than you really are in trouble anyway…

  22. Jen
    January 26, 2010 at 8:17 pm

    I have been thinking lately about how interesting it is that we are taught in Primary about Nephi and how he was constrained by the Spirit to chop off a man’s head, take his clothes and sword, pretend to be someone else so he could get the plates, then change a man’s life completely by bringing him out into the wilderness with him and how that’s all ok to teach to children, but all the more “recent” stuff involving JS is off limits? How is Nephi’s story faith-promoting and Joseph Smith’s not? If they were both commanded by God to do the things they did, what is the difference in what it was? Kill a man, steal his property, take another wife or two….don’t they all kind of rate up there with not such a great idea? How does the church choose what is faith promoting and what is not? It is interesting to think about. Is that fact that we are just used to hearing about Nephi the reason so many church members just accept the story? I wonder if we had heard about JS from the get go if we would be a lot more complacent about his life as well.

    I think it is difficult to know what will promote one person’s faith and destroy another’s and I do think intent is very important. If my intent is to destroy it is almost guaranteed that I will be successful. Likewise, if my intent is to protect and care for another, it is highly probable I will succeed, even if something affects another in a way I didn’t expect or hope for. I think the desires and intents of the heart matter a lot to God. I do think God uses people who don’t care about Him to do His work though. Because there is opposition in all things, I think He uses people to their level of willingness or unwillingness to accomplish His purposes and they end up helping him out even if they don’t know it.

    Doug G.-

    I don’t agree that truth can never be a bad thing-no matter what the consequence of that knowledge brings. Sometimes the truth is just too painful to tell. For example, if a married woman is raped by a violent man and she gets pregnant, keeps the child and her husband and her raise it together, is it best to tell the child that their true father is a rapist? I don’t think it is. Sometimes the truth is better left unsaid.

  23. January 26, 2010 at 8:17 pm

    Yes, if I accidentally shoot someone, s/he is as dead as s/he would be if the bullet was intentionally aimed and fired.

    I don’t like to speculate on motivations too much, because like you said, it’s hard to know our own motives, let alone someone else’s.

    But yes, I think that Paul talked about Milk vs. Meat intentionally. There are some things you’d be better off not knowing. But if you do the dirty work and dig them out anyway, you’ll likely be able to deal with it.

    On the other and, I’ve raised my kids (let’s face it, I’ve been away so much that my wife’s done the majority of what’s been done at home, but still) with the assumption that pure knowledge is the best inoculation against sin or anything like “shaken faith”. I mean, if our kids think everything is sunshine and roses, and then find out it’s not, their opinion of the Church goes south fast. If they know that we know the bad stuff as well as the good, and that we love the Gospel because the good stuff is more good than the bad stuff is bad, so the good kicks the bad’s ass and they’ll know it’s not really so bad.

    So there! I managed to make it sound like a Hollywood movie complete with a climactic action in the end where the good guy kicks the bad guys’ asses and goes home with the wife/wives.

  24. Jen
    January 26, 2010 at 8:32 pm

    Velska-

    “I don’t like to speculate on motivations too much, because like you said, it’s hard to know our own motives, let alone someone else’s.”

    Maybe in some things it is harder to tell what our motives are, but I don’t think it is that hard to know what our motives are in most cases.

  25. January 26, 2010 at 9:41 pm

    Rico asked: How would you define spiritual murder?

    It’s easy to look beyond the mark and get confused; even with the most basic question.

    Here are a few ideas I’d like to add to this discussion to keep it simple.

    Alma is teaching is son about sin. The definition of sin is: Willful disobedience to God’s commandments.

    Was Corianton’s sin willful? I think the answer is yes. He was supposed to be doing missionary work (in other words, he had been taught the gospel, so he knew what he did was sinful).

    Alma taught is son that some sin is worse than others, and therefore has a greater penalty.

    What is the penalty for sin? Answering this question is where it can get complicated if we’re not careful–stick to the basics.

    The greatest consequence of sin is the loss of the Spirit (light of Christ, Holy Ghost, gift of the Holy Ghost), for the one who sins, as well as for others who are directly or indirectly involved.

    There are other consequences of sin, but from the Lord’s perspective is appears to be the greatest.

    Paul Toscano asked to see the body count. One doesn’t get to see the body count until the war is over. Until the war is over those who oppose the Lord’s work (enemies) should be x’d. They can always come back if they want, the door isn’t closed, unless they close it. The Lord will be the one to show the body count—at the judgment bar.

  26. Hawkgrrrl
    January 26, 2010 at 10:34 pm

    Jared – IIRC, Paul Toscano asked to see the body count, and then followed it up by pointing out that he knew of many who had fallen away because of the Q12 (later in the interview I believe he said that this was the worst Q12 in history). Of course people claim to have left due to other people, usually whichever people did something they didn’t like. The only way to have no impact others is to do and say nothing. But I still maintain that while we shouldn’t intentionally give offense, people must bear the consequences of their own actions. We are each responsible for ourselves and our own intentions.

  27. brjones
    January 26, 2010 at 10:54 pm

    If the intent of one’s heart is the critical factor, then I would argue that, assuming her beliefs about the church and JS were sincere, Brodie is potentially better off than Bushman. At least she was being proactive in spreading what she believed to be true information. If intent matters, then the only people guilty of spiritual murder are those who specifically desire to harm and/or deceive others. As long as you truly believe what you’re preaching then you’re basically ok. If intent is not important, then what kind of god are we really talking about?

  28. January 26, 2010 at 11:01 pm

    Hawkgrrrl–

    I think you make a good point. It will be interesting to see how the Lord deals with those who have a sincere reasons for leaving the church. In other words, not everybody who can’t deal with issues of the kingdom are insincere. I believe the Lord will make things right for those who follow into that group. The word “sincere” isn’t used a lot in the scriptures, but when it is it conveys great meaning.

    The Lord doesn’t protect everyone from accidents, some He does, and others not. Why? I used to get upset with this seemly callous approach until I realized He is perfect. The same thing applies to those who are x’d, not all of them really deserved it, like an accident. The Lord will make it right, and I believe some church leaders will be required to repent of some of the things that have happened on their watch.

  29. Doug G.
    January 26, 2010 at 11:06 pm

    “I don’t agree that truth can never be a bad thing-no matter what the consequence of that knowledge brings.”

    I don’t know Jen; I guess there could be situations were not divulging the whole truth could be considered a virtue. But then again, there are BIG differences between what we tell children and what we would tell adults. For example, my disaffection from the church is common knowledge to my returned missionary sons, but my youngest boy just thinks I’m just too lazy to go to church anymore. I believe that most religions provide more good than harm, so trying to make my son not believe in Mormonism is not something I’m willing to do right now. The day will come though, when we’ll have to talk about why I don’t believe.

    Let’s take your example of the raped women who chooses not to tell her child the truth of his paternity. Just for the sake of argument, say the child is born to white parents and the woman was raped by a black man. Let’s also say that the child is born in 1960 and his parents are a very active LDS family. How will they deal with his friends getting the Aaronic Priesthood while he is told he’s not worthy of it? Should the parents create a “correlated” story of half truths to hide what really happened? And what does he think about his parents once he does discover the truth?

    The story is relevant to the church as we’ve all been victims of leaders deciding what we should know and what would be better spun to present a more acceptable history. Wouldn’t we all have been better off learning our history without the spin? I’m not saying the church needs to air its dirty laundry, but they shouldn’t be guilty of deliberately altering it to make it more palatable. Now I suspect there will be those here who will say that the church hasn’t been guilty of that. Why then did Richard Bushman say he wrote “Rough Stone Rolling”? Wasn’t it to clear-up some of the misinformation that has been taught by the church for over hundred years? And in his interview with John Dehlin, didn’t he say that the church needs to be much more honest about its history to its members? So Jen, I think that at least for adults, truth is more important than the well meaning deception, even if that truth produces a lot of pain and heartache at first.

  30. January 27, 2010 at 12:07 am

    Doesn’t the Book of Mormon repeatedly talking about having the blood washed off of us so that our garments are white?

    I think the fact of the atonement is required because even the best of us always have a price we realize we were not willing to pay to save another. We may not have been guilty of spiritual murder, but we were certainly guilty of spiritual manslaughter.

    As a minister of my church wrote recently, Christ made an end of the law because we were all found guilty. And it is only when we acknowledge in our hearts that our actions can’t ever restore our innocence that the Spirit can mold us into what we are supposed to be — not innocent, but forgiven.

  31. MH
    January 27, 2010 at 12:22 am

    Rico, fascinating post. I must say that while I think Ash’s idea is interesting, his interpretation of Alma 39 is definitely out of context. Still, it is interesting. I do remember hearing a Jewish rabbi say to me once (and the line was repeated in The Kite Runner), there is only 1 sin: stealing. If you kill a man, you steal his life. The rabbi went on to say that all the 10 commandments relate to stealing. When you lie, you steal a man’s right to the truth. I can’t remember them all, but it’s an interesting line of thought. Ash’s idea are worthy of thought, but I think he is stretching a bit much here. The metaphor can teach us some things, but it breaks down after a while.

    If we look at Alma in the context of a pre-Christian view against adultery, the Mosaic law made adultery a capital offense (as well as dishonoring parents and breaking the sabbath.) So, in this context, I don’t view Alma’s views on sexual sin “an abomination in the sight of the Lord” as materially different than a Pharisaic definition. In light of Alma living prior to Christ, this logic seems to line up very well with Jewish thought, and seems quite consistent. In our day, we don’t view adultery, sabbath breaking, and dishonoring parents as capital offenses, but these more primitive people did.

    This is a bit off topic, but I do remember hearing someone say that there are situations where we would all find lying morally acceptable. If you lived in Germany in 1942, would it be morally acceptable to lie to Hitler and save a Jew’s life? Yes. Then he asked another question. Would it be morally acceptable to lie to save a man’s job? Perhaps. Would you lie to provide for your family? Well, that gets a bit dicey now, doesn’t it? Obviously, Bernie Madoff lied way too much, but if you lived in Haiti now, would you lie to provide food and medicine for your needy family? That certainly doesn’t fit the model of Bernie, now does it? Intent (greed vs survival) makes a big difference in how lying is perceived. Ok, I’m off topic now, so back to your originally scheduled topic….

  32. CarlosJC
    January 27, 2010 at 12:55 am

    Jen,

    ..about Nephi and how he was constrained by the Spirit to chop off a man’s head…. how that’s all ok to teach to children, but all the more “recent” stuff involving JS is off limits? How is Nephi’s story faith-promoting and Joseph Smith’s not? If they were both commanded by God to do the things they did, what is the difference in what it was? Kill a man, steal his property…

    Point is that the killing committed by Nephi was still murder within the Israelite jurisdiction but was not considered murder by God so Nephi could go on to heaven and so forth but face the death penalty back in Jerusalem.

    However, today the issue is what the enemies of the church will use to ‘prove’ the church false. I met people on my mission who were critical of the Nephi story and the fact that the BofM talks about wars, but the biggest group of critics and criticism has always targeted Joseph Smith and his character since if he was a fraud then the entire church is false, as president Hinkley once noted.

    I’d say that this is why we see this PR battle over Joseph Smith’s character with the church covering up any flaws while the church’s enemies emphasizing and even exaggerating at times his problems. And many of the choices made by the church in deciding what is faith promoting takes into consideration what the enemies of the church will say and do. If church opponents could accepted that Joseph could have been a prophet who had mortal shortcomings (as Nephi would have had too) and lived like Abraham, or had enemies like William McLellin who could exaggerate their stories or simply lie about him, then I think the more “recent stuff” involving JS would not be off limits. But today even active members loose their testimony after finding out about Josephs’ problems so I doubt the church will open up more in the near future.

  33. January 27, 2010 at 3:56 am

    Jared “I believe some church leaders will be required to repent of some of the things that have happened on their watch.” wow I would like to be a fly on the wall, if that was ever said in Sunday School.

  34. January 27, 2010 at 5:43 am

    @ #33

    All Church leaders must repent. I don’t know for what particular causes, but one of them may be, that they’ve been too much “organization men” over seeing individuals behind the numbers &c.

  35. January 27, 2010 at 8:38 am

    Thank you for the wide range of thoughtful responses and the careful discussion that has followed.

    I guess I want to make a few comments first before I respond to specifics.

    Some seem to make assumptions about the article I did not get from the article itself. If you have not read I think it is worthwhile. For example, although the argument is completely water-tight it is very strong and Ash deals with a number of the issues people raise in te preceding comments. For those that thought the argument weak, it is worth noting that Alma belives he murdered many of God’s children (see Al 36) although this is in reference to the way he tries to destroy the Church. I should also note that Ash is not saying that chastity is not a sin, nor that it is not serious, only that it is serious because of the impact it can have on others (i.e. its potential to cause spiritual harm/murder).

    #10 – Hawk, I agree. I think that Ash was perhaps trying to convey that and I did a bad job prsenting his ideas.

    #13 – Holden thanks for the comment. Although I agree, I thik that it is even more difficult to judge accurate motives, because of thes issues i raise in the OP.

    #14 – I think care is needed because people are not atomistic in their approach to life. We need other people and are invaribaly tied to them and their actions. This means our testimonies as well. Thus people need a ‘friend’ to help them stay active, a testimony is not enough for many people.

    #15-6 – You both raise excellent points. Kierkegaard once said it is better to think our leaders monsters than to lose faith, however he seems to miss the fact that (for Mormons at least) thinking our leaders are monster often implies the loss of faith.

  36. January 27, 2010 at 8:39 am

    #20 – Thanks Mary B. I think your right, the label is a little provocative. He does use Murder because it is the idea that Alma uses in the scriptures cited in and in Al 36.

    #21 – I am not sure he is fear-mongering. In fact there is a huge section in it about the value of ‘innoculation’ regadring these issues. He is asking for caution.

    #25 – Is it possible then that people unfairly x’d will turn in be irreparably damaged by those actions? I agree that true enemies should be excommunicated, but I just think there are less of those than are generally supposed and that P. leaders should be very careful in using these types of measures.

    #27 – Why would Bushman be in more danger? I did not follow your point sorry?

    #30 – Thanks firetag, you add a nice insight into the discussion. I wonder however whether it is in the same category. I know that generally murder is considered to be outside the remit of the atonement and thus placing this sin next to the son against the HG.

    #31 – You make a good point. My only issue is that seeing that Al refers to this form of action as ‘murder’ himself, perhaps his own life experiences led him to see this particular issue in a light which reflected his own life. moreover, it definately seems that they did live the mosaic law of executing children for not honoring parents in the BoM e.g. Laman, Leuel, Alma the Younger etc. so maybe they did have a slightly different religious context, even if it was rooted in the same history.

    #33 – I will try and say it this week and see what happens. i firmly believe that is right. I have repeted for things that have happened.

  37. Holden Caulfield
    January 27, 2010 at 9:29 am

    I had never heard the Toscano “body count” quote. Googling it, he apparently said that he would put his body count of destroyed testimonies against Boyd Packer’s any day.

  38. January 27, 2010 at 9:50 am

    Holden. Yeah he said something like that in his interview with John Dehlin. Again, I think his argument there is a difficult seeing as he is applying the same judgement to E. Packer that E. Packer apparently applies to him.

  39. Jen
    January 27, 2010 at 9:56 am

    Doug G.-

    “But then again, there are BIG differences between what we tell children and what we would tell adults.”

    I agree completely. And maybe that is part of the thinking of church leaders as well in relation to church history.

    MH-

    “Intent (greed vs survival) makes a big difference in how lying is perceived.”

    That’s true. I heard some radio hosts discussing this issue the other day. They were asking if people would loot in order to feed their starving kids in Haiti. I think the answer is an easy yes. I know I wouldn’t even think twice about it and I would expect that others would expect me to get food if I had it available to me rather than watch my children starve to death.

    CarlosJC-

    “And many of the choices made by the church in deciding what is faith promoting takes into consideration what the enemies of the church will say and do.”

    That’s a good point. I guess they figure the church would attract and retain less people if they told the truth straight up about JS.

  40. Hawkgrrrl
    January 27, 2010 at 11:14 am

    Doug G: “Wouldn’t we all have been better off learning our history without the spin?” There’s no such thing as history without spin, even VERY recent events which is why corroborating witnesses are required in court cases.

    “I’m not saying the church needs to air its dirty laundry, but they shouldn’t be guilty of deliberately altering it to make it more palatable.” I totally agree with you, and I agree with Richard Bushman’s assessment. We don’t do people any favors when we promote the ignorance of historical facts that they later find disturbing.

  41. Thomas
    January 27, 2010 at 12:18 pm

    #31: If we look at Alma in the context of a pre-Christian view against adultery, the Mosaic law made adultery a capital offense (as well as dishonoring parents and breaking the sabbath.) So, in this context, I don’t view Alma’s views on sexual sin “an abomination in the sight of the Lord” as materially different than a Pharisaic definition.

    Two quibbles:

    1. The Mosaic law mandated the death penalty for one heck of a lot of things. Measuring something’s relative wickedness simply by the fact that back in the day, doing it would have gotten Hebrews throwing big rocks at your head may not be the best yardstick. Too many competitors for “the sin next to murder.”

    2. The Mosaic law’s view of sexuality was less strict than Alma’s across-the-board “all sexual sin is next to murder.” The Law was very strict about adultery (STONE THEM!!), but as regards other heterosexual sex, it was basically the Pottery Barn Rule: You broke her, you bought her. (See Deuteronomy 22: 28-29.) It was a little stricter for women (no surprise there; men wrote the rules); an allegedly virginal wife was supposed to be killed if her husband noticed the “tokens of her virginity” were missing. (Needless to say, with anatomically-illiterate desert tribesmen writing the rules, Hebrew maidens were probably careful to ride sidesaddle and avoid pre-marital athletic activity.)

  42. Thomas
    January 27, 2010 at 12:27 pm

    #35:

    Kierkegaard once said it is better to think our leaders monsters than to lose faith, however he seems to miss the fact that (for Mormons at least) thinking our leaders are monster often implies the loss of faith.

    Which implies that many Mormons believe it is “our leaders” that we are supposed to have “faith” in.

  43. Rico
    January 28, 2010 at 3:46 am

    #39 – Your comment about elling children I have always felt uncomfortable with. I prefer to see it as teaching Uni students. You try to help them think for themselves and to study it out, but you don’t ahve the time to explore all the details and nuances of a particular issue. You present the broad or main point, which for our Church leaders is that JS is a prophet etc…

    #42 – I am not implying that we should have faith in our leaders but that it seems a common sentiment within the Church. I rather believe we should sustain them. Which is a different dynamic.

  44. January 28, 2010 at 4:45 am

    #42 – I am not implying that we should have faith in our leaders but that it seems a common sentiment within the Church. I rather believe we should sustain them. Which is a different dynamic.

    I like this different approach to our leadership. changing our attitude to leadership is key to avoiding spiritual injury, I also think if we focused on Sustaining rather than blind faith in our leadership they would achieve more and “””fail””” us less.

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