On the 2nd November 2007 a press release was issued from the Church, attributed to Pres. Hinckley, which said: “. . . the Church encourages a deeper and broader examination of its theology, history, and culture on an intellectual level . . . [and] open dialogue and conversation between the Latter-day Saints and various scholarly and religious communities . . . [in the belief that] Mormonism has a depth and breadth of substance that can hold up under academic scrutiny”.
To many who are aware of the Church’s difficult past with academia, particularly scholars from within the LDS community, this may seem like a surprising statement. Likewise to those who feel that the Church is not candid or open about its past (or present) this may also be a surprise. I do not intend this to be a rehash of the discussions around whether the Church is open or candid? However, for me at least, this raises a number of questions and issues that may be worth considering.
First, does President Hinckley’s comment contradict the previous denunciation of Symposia. Sunstone and those other forums like it, who the policy seems to have been directed toward, are certainly part of that community who examine the Church’s ‘theology, history and culture on an intellectual level’. Has this newer statement created a grey area about which scholarly communities or activities are acceptable, especially in light of the fact that the new handbook which was released in 2008 has not rescinded the previous statement against symposia?
Second, does this statement reflect a swing, or at leas the beginnings of one, toward greater intellectual freedom in the Church. Armand Mauss, in his book ‘The Angel and the Beehive’, argues that Churches, including this one, struggle with a balance between retrenchment and assimilation. Intellectual freedom is one of those sliding scales upon which the Church has moved in the past and perhaps might be again. Is there any evidence for this, or is there any evidence of a tension between those who want to encourage this freedom and those who do not?
An academic conference entitled The Worlds of Joseph Smith , held at the Library of Congress in the Bicentennial year following Joseph Smith’s death was an example of what President Hinckley seems to have been encouraging. In fact the article specifically mentions it. The conference included many scholars of Mormonism both from within and outside of the Church. However, two things come to mind in using this as an example of increased intellectual freedom and the tension which might be there. First, is the notable absence of some very important scholars of Mormonism, who (perhaps incidentally?) may also be those that are not in good favour with the Church. The second is a comment during the questions period of the final session by Douglas Davies who said, “What are we doing here? What kind of event is this? What kind of a symposium? Is it academic or evangelistic?… I am certainly not here to engage in religious apologetics?” Clearly, if there is a shift toward intellectual liberality then this is not without its pitfalls. Further it seems that such a shift does involve some tension within the Church’s attempts to get that balance. A tension which Professor Davies has clearly noted.
Although we could talk about the publication of Rough Stone Rolling (and its sales through Deseret Book) or the advent of Preach My Gospel as examples of this relaxing of intellectual rigidity, I will use another anecdote to illustrate. Reading Gary James Bergera’s history of the Elbert Peck Sunstone Years something surprisingly was recurrent. Elbert was often called into disciplinary counsels, through the late-90’s, by different Stake Presidents only to be counselled by leaders more senior in the hierarchy that they should cancel the disciplinary session. Is this a sign that the Church leaders have recoiled from the events of the early 90’s? Being from England my finger is certainly not on the pulse of the battles between the academy and the Church, but in doing some brief research it seems that there has not been the same number of Church disciplinary councils for Apostasy among LDS academics that there were. It should be noted that there are exceptions of which I am aware, but is this true as a general rule? Further it seems unlikely that, the Church being the institution that it is, it will ever move away from apostasy type excommunications as a whole. So it seems unrealistic to expect that. Perhaps the most someone could realistically hope for is an increased acceptance of diverging views.
So, is the Church more accepting of Symposia, or is this only because Sunstone, for example, has become more moderate (see Bergera article)?
Is the Church moving toward more tolerance of its academics and is there any evidence for this or is it just less willing to punish, for fear of bad PR?
Has this statement been followed through, since President Hinckley died shortly thereafter? What evidence is there to suggest that it has or it has not?
The September Six were six Mormons who were excommunicated or disfellowshipped by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as the LDS Church, or Mormons) in September 1993 for speaking against Church doctrine and leadership.
IMO we are still feeling its effect but hopefully less!! New Order Mormon and others have grown from this period. Members who have concerns and want to discuss how they feel about our history or any other topic slightly edgy are driven underground and have to use fake names/ pseudonyms to discuss what they can’t openly feel free to talk about in a church setting.
Many seasoned veteran members in the church who learn New Mormon History start to become disillusioned and feel the members are Naive and the class’s just feed milk and no meat.
To express opinions in a church setting slightly different to Mainstream Members you have to have the credibility of Richard Bushman and be very articulate eloquent. You will also have to have the skill to frame you statement in a way that won’t disillusion very fragile testimony’s “that can be blown away like soap bubbles on the palm of your hand.”
So, is the Church more accepting of Symposia, or is this only because Sunstone, for example, has become more moderate (see Bergera article)? MORMON MATTERS IS A FORM OF SYMPOSIA WHICH HAS BEEN MORE LIBERAL AND OPEN IN THE PAST BUT IS MUCH MORE CONSERVATIVE OR MODERATE NOW.
Is the Church moving toward more tolerance of its academics and is there any evidence for this or is it just less willing to punish, for fear of bad PR? IF YOUR IN THE GOOD BOOKS OF THE CHURCH LIKE RICHARD BUSHMAN YES. OR IF YOUR REASONING IS ALMOST BEYOND QUESTIONING LIKE ARMAND MAUSS THAN YES AGAIN. BUT ON THE WHOLE NO IMO.
Has this statement been followed through, since President Hinckley died shortly thereafter? What evidence is there to suggest that it has or it has not? I DON’T THINK MANY ARE AWARE OF IT!!
“Is the Church moving toward more tolerance of its academics and is there any evidence for this or is it just less willing to punish, for fear of bad PR?”
Both, in my opinion.
I think the Church has become more tolerant toward academia during President Hinckley’s years as Prophet. I don’t have any hard evidence except a lot less noise than there was in the early 90s. I haven’t heard about the same type of excommunications, though I’m sure they still exist.
I attribute this to President Hinckley being the most tolerant Prophet since David O. McKay in all things, not just academia. But I also attribute it to the Church becoming more aware of it’s National spotlight – which can also be attributed to President Hinckley. I don’t think another September Six could be handled as quietly outside of Utah like it was in 1993.
I still think we have a long way to go in the Church being tolerant toward academia but I am glad we are getting better.
Now I am sad. I miss President Hinckley.
James–“Although we could talk about the publication of Rough Stone Rolling (and its sales through Deseret Book) or the advent of Preach My Gospel as examples of this relaxing of intellectual rigidity”
I have spent no time in Preach My Gospel. I was wondering what you meant by the above at it relates to Preach My Gospel.
I have a friend who knows President Monson personally. My friend indicates that Monson and Hinckley have very similar views on most subjects. The new Church History Library opened this past weekend, and the Church Historian position has been renewed under Elder Jenson.
I am really curious to see if Elder Packer outlives Elder Monson, because I think some of the more open changes under Hinckley/Monson could be undone by Packer. Packer is about 2 years older than Monson, but I have heard some rumors that Monson isn’t as healthy as he used to be. Remember, these are rumors, and I don’t know how true they are.
You have just ruined my day. The thought…
The link on the Preach my Gospel comment is to an article that discusses how Preach my Gospel is a move toward a less restricted (or less correlated) method for presenting the message of the Church.
“The new Church History Library opened this past weekend, and the Church Historian position has been renewed under Elder Jenson.” (MH)
I think these are both interesting indications of increased openness, but is there a chance that the Leaders will ever move toward having a ‘Historian’ as Church Historian again? Or do you think they will be too worried about this.
DrewE: Now I am sad. I miss President Hinckley.
Do you think Monson is different Hinckley in this regard?
I think Pres. Monson is open to the idea of more open history, though he will never be as open publicly as Pres Hinckley. I don’t discount the idea that there will never be a historian as Church Historian, but I think it will probably take decades for this to happen. I am encouraged that one of the Assistant Church Historians is Richard Turley from BYU, and there have been Assistant Historians that moved up the ladder, such as President Joseph Fielding Smith (who even became prophet). But I believe that the brethren want more openness, but also a little more control.
I view the Church Historian as similar to the BYU president. Lately, the BYU president is a General Authority, instead of simply a university president. I think similarly, the Church Historian will be a GA (like Elder Jensen), with real historians under him (like Brother Turley). Then the church has a little more control over the movement of unsavory facts. I think Leonard Arrington just moved a little too fast for the brethren’s tastes, which is why the position was abolished for so long.
I think President Monson doesn’t want to move too quickly as happened in the 70’s, and so he is putting a “spoiler” at the top by naming a Seventy. I have met Elder Jensen at a church history conference, and he seems quite open to many aspects of church history, and seems like a wonderful person to be our Church Historian. I’m grateful for the new openness, and hope it continues for the foreseeable future.
From BYU’s Daily Universe: http://newsnet.byu.edu/story.cfm/72572
Wow Steve! Very interesting link indeed!
I love President Monson. Honestly, I don’t know what his feelings are toward academics.
I just miss President Hinckley.
I’ve never felt that being open about our history was the problem.
My opinion is we spend too much time referring to Church history in all Church meetings, including General Conference. I would like to see the Church focus more on its teachings, and let historians (not on the Church’s payroll) sort out the details. Church history can’t redeem us.
I long for the day when we will no longer have to testify that Joseph Smith was a Prophet, because it won’t matter.
Just my opinion.
“I long for the day when we will no longer have to testify that Joseph Smith was a Prophet, because it won’t matter.”
Let me clarify this statement because it appears inflammatory to me.
I was trying to say that I long for the day when we don’t hear testimonies on Joseph Smith anymore, because we are more focused on Jesus Christ and the teachings of the Church. I hope that makes my comment a little less offensive. I was not saying that we reject the idea that he was a Prophet.
Speaking to the conference, Quinn was suppose to speak but the church threatened to pull the plug. Am I up in the night about this? How in the world can you have an academic Mormon conference and leave out Quinn?!?
the September six argument as it pertains to Church History is a red herring. The two are not related. the issue with the six was promotion of their interpretation of key Church doctrines and the preaching of such after being asked/told to stop.
I am not sure about the issue of more “openness” just a relaxation of the “closeness.” What is interesting to me is that while many have complained about the Church aversion to its history, the materials were still available and the book/articles were still written. maybe, the Church didn’t “like” it, but it happened in spite of statements to the contrary. I’ve used the Church History library and never had a problem accessing any materials I wanted.
I think that the folks at Sunstone worked hard at moderating the hostile tone which built up over the years and prompted the Church’s rebuke of Symposia. it seems much more balanced and hence it appears on the BYU news site.
15. Jeff Spector
“the September six argument as it pertains to Church History is a red herring”
Could you explain this more for my simple mind?
the issue with the six was promotion of their interpretation of key Church doctrines and the preaching of such after being asked/told to stop.
How can this be considered open? It sounds quite a bit like censorship to me.
See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/September_Six. for details. I think you will understand what I was trying to say. if not, let me know.
Advanced students going to graduate school (no matter the field) are taught (over and over) that NOTHING is above critical analysis. Most LDS scholars cannot turn off this trained skill concerning Church related issues, nor should they. However, I believe such scholars have a responsibility to be constructive rather than destructive. To me, Bushman’s “Rough Stone Rolling” is a good example of a constructive analysis that is honest with the issues.
At the same time Church leaders (unelected as they are) have a high responsibility to keep D&C 121: 39-46 foremost in their leadership philosophy. Loyal Latter-day Saints must be allowed to be “thinkers. They should NOT be threatened with excommunication for erring in doctrine, especially if it is clear they are expressing personal opinions, NOT official doctrine.
Church unity and harmony does NOT come by coercion, “in parentis loco” statements on obedience, social pressure, or by “pulling rank.” It comes by acknowledging personal freedom and agency, loving individuals and individuality, humility, meekness, and love unfeigned. Hmmm, this reminds of some plan presented by someone in the pre-mortal existence.
“How can this be considered open? It sounds quite a bit like censorship to me.”
Not exactly, 5 were ex’d from the Church, one was disfellowshiped but it didn’t stop them from talking, did it. They were just not part of the church anymore. So it wasn’t censorship in the real sense. They just paid a high price for speaking on topics they were asked not to promote to the church itself. Besides, It seemed like at least some of them enjoyed the role of sacrificial lamb. It boosted their credibility and popularity among some.
17. Jeff Spector
I have learned a lot about the September Six over the past couple months.
I’m confused because, IMO, the story of the September Six is a great example of the Church trying to censor academic members, even outside of Church callings. I think that falls right in line with this topic. But I am not quite sure what your comment means.
Jeff, this type of high price is not in a spirit of openness–it is exactly opposite. It is very easy for the church to say, “they’re just apostates, so you can disregard everything they say”, instead of looking to see if there is any legitimacy.
Are you saying that open communication involves the church dictating to a scholar what parts of church history they can/cannot talk about? Was Galileo’s treatment open by the Catholic church when they forced him to recant? I suspect that if these 6 people wanted full fellowship back, they would have to endure the same treatment as Galileo, don’t you think?
19. Jeff Spector
“Besides, It seemed like at least some of them enjoyed the role of sacrificial lamb. It boosted their credibility and popularity among some.”
I have spoken to a few of the September Six and I find this statement insulting. They were standing up for what they felt was right which will naturally embolden someone. But to say they enjoyed being the sacrifical lamb. That is just rude.
These are real people, man.
Keep in mind they have lost sealings to their wives and children, the promises given in the temple, their baptismal covenants, and respect from many members. That is a very serious price to pay for expressing personal differences in doctrine.
An Interesting thought – if we have gone to more openness again under Pres Hinckley is if the church would take the same action now on Michael Quinn or maybe even praise him now like we have Richard Bushman
1/ D.Michael Quinn –
Historian, and Former B.Y.U. Professor. He has written at least six articles for the “Ensign”, and many for the Church owned journal – “B.Y.U. Studies”. He is most well known for his extremely competent articles on Church sanctioned plural marriages after the manifesto of 1890.
One area that Quinn attempts to “correct” is the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood. The traditional history holds rigidly to the claim that the restoration took place before the church was formed in April of 1830. Official histories assert that the Biblical characters Peter, James, and John of the New Testament appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in 1829 and gave them the ‘keys’ of the Melchizedek Priesthood which they supposedly received from Jesus. Quinn clearly demonstrates that there is no evidence for such a claim. Instead, he shows some rather sketchy evidence which he promotes as supporting a date of this ‘restoration’ as occurring in 1830–months after the church was officially organized. This poses a problem for the current church since the church now asserts that Elders can only exist in the Melchizedek Priesthood and the Holy Ghost can only be given through holders of the Melchizedek Priesthood yet Elders existed and the Holy Ghost was given before the Melchizedek Priesthood was supposedly restored.
“Are you saying that open communication involves the church dictating to a scholar what parts of church history they can/cannot talk about?
With the possible exception of Quinn, the rest were NOT talking about Church History but doctrinal issues which were contrary to the teachings of the Church. But you know that. They were warned to discontinue their teachings in public and did not. The Church has the right to set the rules. People can choose to abide by them or not.
“That is a very serious price to pay for expressing personal differences in doctrine.” I agree with you there. But their disciplinary actions did not come as a surprise. For the most part, they were warned again and again to stop teaching in their doctrinal ideas in public. They made the choice to continue to do that. And they paid a very high price for it.
Sorry, you found my opinion insulting. but I am entitled to it. Hopefully, the ones who wanted to be back in the church have been able to do so. I know some are not that interested.
If Symposia is becoming more moderate, is it because those that would like to be involved and discuss the tougher issues are afraid of church action against them?
Do you know what specific false teachings Paul Toscano was accused of teaching?
Paul Toscano is a Salt Lake City attorney who co-authored with Margaret Merrill Toscano a controversial book, Strangers in Paradox: Explorations in Mormon Theology (1990), and, in 1992, co-founded The Mormon Alliance; he later wrote the book The Sanctity of Dissent (1994) and its sequel The Sacrament of Doubt (2007).
He was excommunicated from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on September 19, 1993; the reason for his excommunication as given by church leaders was his apostasy and false teaching. According to Toscano, the actual reason was insubordination in refusing to curb his sharp criticism of LDS Church leaders’ preference for legalism, ecclesiastical tyranny, white-washed Mormon history, and hierarchical authoritarianism that privilege the image of the corporate LDS Church above its commitment to its members, to the teachings and revelations of Joseph Smith its founding Prophet, and to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In 2007, Toscano wrote that he lost his faith “like losing your eyesight after an accident” and that he regrets that LDS Church leaders have disregarded his criticisms of the Church’s growing anti-intellectualism, homophobia, misogyny, and elitism.
His wife Margaret faced her own ecclesiastical tribunal for her doctrinal and feminist views and was excommunicated on the 30th of November
Hopefully, the ones who wanted to be back in the church have been able to do so. I know some are not that interested
Avraham Gileadi is a Hebrew scholar and literary analyst who is considered theologically conservative.
He authored two books, one about Isaiah and one about the last days, which were published by LDS-owned Deseret Book.
The second book, after rising to the top of the LDS market, was later pulled from the shelves through LDS Apostle Boyd K. Packer’s intervention.
The reasons for why he was excommunicated on September 15 are uncertain. According to Margaret Toscano, whose husband was among the September Six and who would also later be excommunicated, Gileadi’s “books interpreting Mormon scripture challenged the exclusive right of leaders to define doctrine.”
 Gileadi has been re-baptized and is an active member of the church. He has since written works on Isaiah, including The Literary Message of Isaiah (2002) and Isaiah Decoded: Ascending the Ladder to Heaven (2002).
25. Jeff Spector
You are entitled to your opinion, and I apologize for going a little overboard in my comment.
I am just very bothered by the Church trying to censor its members outside of official Church meetings. It seems like a clear abuse of ecclesiastical power to me.
I have mixed feelings on this issue. While I dislike the environment of censorship or the idea that in some way we are not all entitled to our opinions through personal revelation or that we have to only eat the doctrine served by the brethren without using our brains, I also found many of the September Six to be arrogant and prideful when confronted with correction.
Doubtless, it would have required extraordinary humility to be able to take a set-down by individuals who were correcting them based on hearsay or a misunderstanding of their writing (in some cases), but there are two rules for getting through a church disciplinary action: humility and loyalty. Yes, that’s a bit like saying “Thank you sir, may I have another?” but that’s what is required. Humility and loyalty will get you through many situations that being right and being smart and better educated will not.
I’m not trying to blame the victim. The alternative is to wear one’s excommunication like a badge of honor and reduce your influence to the ranks of the disaffected. Academics are prone to pride and questioning authority, of course. That’s a bad combination for a church that has a strong authoritative stance.
I’m not as learned on the specifics of the S6, but I’m familiar with the Toscanos’ work, which was exceedingly critical of the church leadership, essentially accusing them of promoting heresy in the church. His view of the Godhead was unusual, to say the least, and rejected a separate father and son. If I remember right, he wrote that the Holy Ghost was the spirit of our Heavenly Mother (??). He published papers and a book on the subject, and publicly accused the church leadership of heresy.
Now, I don’t have a problem with this at all, Mr. Toscano is welcome to his ideas on the nature of God, but when he is openly accusing the church of spreading heretical teachings, you can hardly call excommunication an act of censorship. As Jeff S. points out, nothing has stopped Toscano from further writings about his journey of faith, and in fact published again in 2007.
I am not trying to single out Toscano, I’m just most familiar with his work, and am able to draw better conclusions about whether or not the church was engaged in censorship in his excommunication.
Jeff, I’d like to know your opinion of how the church leaders treated Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery after they wrote Mormon Enigma. In my mind a more scandalous affair, and much more quiet, than the September six.
Hawkgrrrl and Jana,
I think you both make great points. I guess it’s the authoritarian aspect of the Church that makes me feel uneasy. I think, that alone, stifles academia.
You make some excellent points regarding doctrine vs history. I’m not very aware of the other people in the September Six category. But there are plenty of historical authors such as Quinn, Brodie, and Juanita Brooks, that all had trouble with the church censoring their more accurate writing (though Brodie may be considered quite biased, more than inaccurate.)
I can see the church has a responsibility to keep the doctrine pure, and if the Toscanos, and other 5 were talking about Heavenly Mother in church, then that is one thing for the church to try to limit their talking at church. However, it seems to me that they were publishing articles outside of church where they got into trouble. From an academic perspective, this certainly shows a lack of openness, and attempted censorship by the church. I guess I’m more sympathetic to the church on these 5 than on Quinn and group. Even still, if someone speculates about a Heavenly Mother, of which there has been no definitive church position, what’s the real harm to the church? Why can’t the church put out a letter saying, “We don’t believe it is appropriate to speculate on Heavenly Mother” and leave the Toscanos membership alone? I didn’t ever hear the Toscanos claiming a revelation from God, or trying to start a breakaway LDS group.
In my opinion, I think that part of the “arrogance and pride” came from the fact that they were censored.
Excommunication – i.e., being kicked out of God’s presence for all eternity – is a pretty harsh punishment and not something to be done lightly. It seems like a much huger penalty than the act involved, IMHO. I can’t really see God kicking these guys out of heaven.
John Dehlin’s interview with Paul Toscano was fascinating. Paul Toscano relays an interview he had with E. Oaks in which he told E. Oaks that the current 12 apostles were the worst we had ever had since the beginning of the church (a hyperbolic claim if ever I heard one – seriously, look at the majority of apostles before 1900 if you doubt me). I did a spit take when I heard him say that. Now, obviously, I don’t know whether that really took place as he said it did or not, but it certainly explained to my mind how a disciplinary court might not have had a favorable outcome. He also recounted the experience of his excommunication in the interview. It does make me sad somewhat, but a smidge more tact would not have gone amiss. I’m sure it’s tough to be the smartest person in the room, but if you’re not willing to suffer fools, why bother to show up at your church court? (I mean “suffer fools” in the sense of being arrogant, not to imply that church courts are actually run by fools).
Kate – I do agree with you to some extent that arrogance and pride are exacerbated by the circumstances, especially if you feel your integrity is at stake. Academics’ integrity relies greatly on their belief in their ideas and words. Censorship of those ideas is a direct affront to an academic’s sense of integrity. However, they are just ideas and words in the marketplace of ideas and words. From the church’s stance, excommunicating the academic with those ideas and words places those ideas and words outside of the acceptable doctrines, effectively marginalizing their influence. While many of the Toscano’s ideas and words are compelling and interesting, I don’t agree they are all correct.
But there are at times some things that are said at church that are not correct either, yet I don’t see people getting ex’d over them. Probably because the people who are propounding folklore and uber-conservative thought are either mainstream for their wards or would bear correction if confronted since the ideas didn’t originate with them; they are just regurgitating what they’ve heard from others.
“Advanced students going to graduate school (no matter the field) are taught (over and over) that NOTHING is above critical analysis. Most LDS scholars cannot turn off this trained skill concerning Church related issues, nor should they. ”
Being a convert to the church with an academic background my perspective is that LDS scholars do a very good job of turning off the training that says nothing is above critical analysis. I am frequently taken by the intellectual gymnastics that folks who grew up in the church perform to keep obvious yet challenging issues on the margins, and the way they pull punches. Since people are discussing the S6 I could not help noting at the time that M. Toscanos’ critique of patriarchy closely followed along standard post structural lines except for her stopping point. She stopped far short of applying the full post structural critique to the structure of the Church. I always figured that the reason for this was that to execute the full discourse would have been too dangerous. Well I guess she was right, but even her significantly truncated analysis proved too much for the church.
Hawkgrrrl, your response made me realize that I just don’t know the motives of the S6. Saying things like that noted in #35 – about the “current 12 apostles were the worst we had ever had since the beginning of the church” – thems fightin’ words. Statements like these seem to indicate a possible agenda entirely separate from the uncovering of truth. But – BUT! – not being them, its hard to know what their purpose was – to uncover facts, or to convince others of JS’s fraud/dealings in magic/their own doctrines.
Still, as an academic and convert Mormon myself, its… really scary to know that things like the S6 happen. Really scary. It makes me wary of continuing my own blog, or posting on sites like these.
On another note entirely, I think that we haven’t really defined what the proper definition between inappropriate and appropriate “censorship” of restriction of academic freedom by the church IS. In my opinion, there is a wide difference between: 1) firing someone from BYU, restricting their ability to speak at the church building about their books, restricting them from speaking at LDS-approved events, or not selling the books through Desert Book AND 2) restricting them from speaking ANYWHERE, including non-LDS – approved events (ie, Symposia), with the threat of the loss of eternal blessings. One (to me) appears to be within the bounds of church domain (church-sponsored bookstores, school, etc) while the other seems like using power to restrict individuals from pursuing their academic research.
Kate – “On another note entirely, I think that we haven’t really defined what the proper definition between inappropriate and appropriate “censorship” of restriction of academic freedom by the church IS.” On this point, I believe Jeff is correct that there’s always a ‘warning shot’ fired across the offender’s bow. You don’t get ex’d on first warning, and how you respond to the warning matters. You have to be able to take correction. At least I am not aware of any situation in the present day church where someone was ex’d without a prior warning.
Participating in online church discussions was actually encouraged in April’s GC. If you’re going to encourage honest participation, you can’t expect that participation to follow a script. But there’s a difference between online participation and the view of a true academic who is invested in their ideas as intellectual property. IMO, the stakes are higher for an academic.
I was also intrigued in the interviews John did with a few others who had been excommunicated that several had very lofty ambitions that had been fed by a variety of people through their lives – people had told them they were destined for greatness in the church or were likely to become apostles or high level leaders. It’s heartbreaking how those stories have ended, but one gets a sense that those ambitions played a role as well in the evolution of the story.
“But there are plenty of historical authors such as Quinn, Brodie, and Juanita Brooks, that all had trouble with the church censoring their more accurate writing (though Brodie may be considered quite biased, more than inaccurate.)”
I agree there and Juanita Brooks was especially poorly treated. I believe President McKay personally stopped her DC. However, I think you will find that the others, did more than talk about a Heavenly Mother in Church. In some cases, they were in full on warfare against the Church Leadership in a very public way. Paul Toscano has to be one of the most arrogant people I have ever seen. John’s interviews show it and the exchanges I had with him on Mormon Stories were also evidence to me.
Remember, we are talking about 6 people out of millions and plenty of so-called scholars that say all kinds of things but are never called in and discipled. I thought Pride had a huge factor in the whole episode.
Yes, Jeff, you’re right. Now that I think about it, Paul Toscano was extremely arrogant, and his lack of humility was probably a big reason for his church discipline. While we are talking about these well-known cases, I’m sure there are quite a few unknown cases of censorship. I know that I self-censor at church, for fear of being on the outs with the ward/stake leadership. My bishop is a great guy, but he does seem to be less open to unorthodox views than other wards I have attended. I even remember a recent passing remark of him denigrating Sunstone within the last few months. He doesn’t know that I attended last year, and I’m sure he doesn’t know that BYU is advertising a call for letters.
I just want to publicly state that I love Paul Toscano. I don’t discredit him because he wouldn’t allow himself to be bullied by the Church. That is all 🙂
“Paul Toscano has to be one of the most arrogant people I have ever seen. John’s interviews show it and the exchanges I had with him on Mormon Stories were also evidence to me.”
You and Paul have a lot in common. I am surprised you didn’t hit it off better.
Hawkgrrl I was also intrigued in the interviews John did with a few others who had been excommunicated that several had very lofty ambitions that had been fed by a variety of people through their lives – people had told them they were destined for greatness in the church or were likely to become apostles or high level leaders. It’s heartbreaking how those stories have ended, but one gets a sense that those ambitions played a role as well in the evolution of the story.
I was always impressed by Quinn’s willingness to state that he should have been called to the Quorum of the Twelve and that if the Church were in tune he would be the one in line to become the President. Nothing covert at all.
DrewE one of the most arrogant people and a lot in common — makes it appear that you are agreeing with Jeff on that point. Do you really feel that Paul is that arrogant and that the interview captured how he really feels and really presents himself?
31. Kari – I am unaware of this situation so please elaborate. However, was this prior to 1993? Does this indicate that there has been a shift away from this type of treatment?
39. Jeff and 40. MH – Even if Toscano is arrogant, is that really an offense worthy of excommunication? If Paul is right that he was excommunicated for insubordination then this could fit in with the ‘official’ reason of false doctrine, and if so what is the line that divides?
38. Hawkgrrl – Was this call to participate done with a specific goal? James earlier mentioned that MM has become more conservative/moderate, is this because of an influx of people following this counsel? Or is this call made with knowledge that people will probably change some their views by participating on discussion boards, and that this is ok? Is it another sign of more openness?
“restricting them from speaking ANYWHERE, including non-LDS – approved events (ie, Symposia), with the threat of the loss of eternal blessings.” (Kate)
Or even as was mentioned earlier abour Quinn at the Joseph Smith Symposium? The Church seems to be clearly trying to restrict what some people said, or might say. That this symposium is on the Church website is interesting? It would seem that the Church planned to do that and therefore may not have wanted to seem like it was validating Quinn by including his material on the official website. Perhaps if the Church is going to encourage or sponsor academic conferences and writings it will need to keep them separate from ‘official’ channels?
I agree that Paul comes across very bitter and arrogant in the interview. I initially had the same impression as Jeff. However, I read some of his essays and searched deeper into what happened when he was excommunicated. I also had email communication with him. And based on all of that, I have a lot of compassion and love for him.
I think that Paul is firm in his convictions, and has been severely mistreated. No one has mentioned Elder Packer’s involvment in his excommunication, or Elder Oak’s comments to Steve Benson that Packer broke Church guidelines in instructing Paul’s stake president to discipline him. No one has mentioned that Paul was initially standing up for his wife which put him in the hotseat.
What seemed arrogant to me during the interviews now comes across as someone recalling some of the most painful experiences of his life. I feel more people like Paul need to stand up against ecclesiastical abuse in the Church. I believe it takes a emboldened passionate person to do this – but not arrogant.
And as a side note, Paul’s view of the Godhead is in line with Brigham Young’s teaching of the Adam God doctrine. I think the reason the Church had such a problem with this is because it poured salt on unhealed wounds. And I find it interesting that we take so much pride in our mainstream view of the Godhead, criticizing the Trinity, when the truth is our explanation is just as irrational and illogical.
I am done venting. Thank you 🙂
“Remember, we are talking about 6 people out of millions and plenty of so-called scholars that say all kinds of things but are never called in and discipled.”
To say this over looks the bigger point which is that church officials at different levels are very much on the look out for people who hold views that they believe to be threatening. These supposedly threatening people are closely scrutinized and they are in fact often “called in,” it may or may not lead to disciplinary action but pressure is put on people, and sometimes action is threatened, that is for sure. This pressure creates an atmosphere of distrust and suspicion. Specifically because the pressure is often based on Mormon cultural, rather than theological issues. A previous poster mentioned the self-censorship of academics and writers, etc. You don’t have to look very far to see examples of that. Pretty much to be progressive or an intellectual is synonymous with self-censorship in Mormon culture. (the distinction between Mormon culture and the Mormon religious institution is meaningful.)
While I personally have reason to believe that the contemporary church is far, far, far less eager to crack down on academics, or individual views than it was 15 years ago, I don’t think the contemporary environment can really be described as healthy either. The type of thought you express in this thread contribute to that lack of health: Your condemnation of PT based on perceived arrogance, rather than providing a solid critical engagement with his work. (You do understand that you also come across as rather arrogant most of the time right?) Your cynical views concerning the motivations of the S6, and your endorsement of an authoritarian understanding of the role of ecclesiastical leadership strike me as examples of the kind of problems that persist in Mormon culture at the moment. This matters for a number of reasons, mostly because the extent to which Mormon culture seeks the “enemy within” and sees those defined as “other” as posing a serious threat is exactly the extent to which Mormon culture fails ethically and becomes “Canaanite” in its priorities and values. Keep in mind that I am making a distinction between culture and the institution, they aren’t the same thing but the relationship between them is fluid.
Aaron R.: “Was this call to participate done with a specific goal?” The only stated goal was that plenty of people are on line saying what Mormons think, and they wanted Mormons to be on line to represent ourselves in those conversations. Of course, that may not always yield the desired result, but I still feel that if people speak from the heart, that’s a positive, even if they are saying things that the church might not sanction. I’d still prefer that to people theorizing what those crazy Mormons think. We have had several non-LDS on MM who’ve said they were pleased to see that there’s so much diversity of thought in the church, far more than they had believed was the case. IMO, that’s a positive view of the church.
“James earlier mentioned that MM has become more conservative/moderate, is this because of an influx of people following this counsel?” First of all, I disagree with James’s assessment on the grounds that it implies far more oversight than we actually provide. We very rarely moderate comments, and we never moderate posts. The bloggers blog about what they want to blog about from their own perspectives. There’s never been a call to a conservative blogger to be more questioning or for a questioning blogger to be more conservative. Bloggers come and go. People say what they want to say and move on. The site doesn’t intend to be either conservative or liberal, but friendly to all perspectives with respectful discussion.
“Or is this call made with knowledge that people will probably change some their views by participating on discussion boards, and that this is ok? Is it another sign of more openness?” I don’t know that it’s a sign of more openness. I kind of doubt that it is, but I do find it encouraging what wasn’t said. He didn’t say to only say what’s faithful. He didn’t hand a script or give an example of what would be appropriate. He said to represent our beliefs for ourselves rather than letting others speak for us online. Period. In which case, I guess you get what you get.
I agree with DrewE that while I find Paul arrogant (he also accosted a mother at Sunstone for being “a slave” when she defended Julie Beck’s unpopular talk), but I understand his reasons and that he was defending his wife. Was he insubordinate? Yes. Was he out of line? IMO, yes. Did he ultimately care more about his ideas than his membership? Yes. And yet many of his ideas are wonderful and enrich the Mormon discussion. Many of his ideas shed light on subjects that are complex and difficult to understand. So, I am saddened by the current state of things.
Yet, there are some church leaders who really find the academics impossible to work with, for good reason in some cases. Academics by their nature question authority and feel strongly about their ideas (which are their only work product). To create an environment in which those traits carry the highest penalty leads to a lack of diversity in the Mormon discussion that is a loss indeed. I can see both sides of it, and I wish it weren’t so. But I’m neither a church leader nor an academic.
I only mention Newell and Avery, because often we get so caught up with the September six that we forget that the church has often resorted to the same use of ecclesiastical authority to prevent certain “messages” (and I use that term loosely) from becoming public. For a good summary (centering around Linda Newell) see Anderson, Devery S. (Summer 2002), “A History of Dialogue, Part Three: The Utah Experience, 1982-1989”, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 35 (2): 1-71, specifically pages 40-48. The church essentially ruined the reputations of these fine women.
It is my opinion that the leaders of the church have become more accepting of academia, and symposia, in general. But that they also know that previous statements against academia, and BKP’s general and continual anti-intellectual stance, will prevent the large majority of members of the church from investigating/reading anything that is not church “approved.” Do we really think that RRR would have been so widely read if it had been written by a non-member? I don’t. But knowing that it was written by a “believer” allowed many to feel comfortable reading it.
And so, while they may be more accepting of academia, it’s my impression that they would prefer to keep the “messages” within academia and not more available to the membership of a whole. In that way they can cherry-pick what comes out of academia, but for the rest of it they can say to the membership “That’s just those so-called intellectuals.”
I haven’t read all of the comments, but I do believe we are in an interesting transition, moving towards more openness to intellectual inquiry. The publication and support of _RSR_ and the MMM book, as well as the article in the _Ensign_ on the MMM, obviously suggest that we are at a different place than we were a decade ago. Given the not-goin’-away presence of the internet, it would seem very silly to take an anti-intellectual stance or to close off research avenues. I’d say the genie is out of the bottle. Many genies are out of many bottles. My own very scant interaction with general authorities (in connection with the documentary Darius Gray and I have made about Blacks in the LDS Church) has been only positive.
I am still hoping you will address my question. Since you think discussion of the September six is a “red herring” with regards to church history. Were the actions of church leaders correct with regards to Linda Newell and Valeen Avery? These sisters had their reputations ruined and, despite no formal disciplinary action, resulted in Valeen Avery leaving the church?
I agree with you that the Church has never, that I am aware, actually prevented a book from being published once it was written, or a lecture from being given, but they have gone out of their way to punish those inside the church for taking a position that would cast the church and previous leaders in poor light — even when that position is historically accurate. And I am certain that in so doing preventing other faithful LDS from pursuing specific topics in their writings or lectures. Look how successful they were in keeping BYU professors from participating at Sunstone.
Some would argue, and I’ll make the argument, that the church’s response to RRR and MMM, and even Nobody Knows was because they were all positive interpretations that didn’t cast the church in a negative light. Do you think, given your interactions with church leaders, that the church would have a positive reaction to Early Mormonism and the Magic World View if it was published today?
Do you think the reaction to Nobody Knows would have been the same if your and Darius’ position was that the Church was an racist and man-made institution, even if you had made that point respectfully and without inflammatory rhetoric?
Just out of curiosity, how do you make the statement that the Church (any church) is racist without being inflammatory?
It’s a blatant accusation. The truth is, pretty much all Churches have a lousy history regarding diversity. We certainly don’t skirt that reality, nor the uniquely Mormon take on race issues (such speculations on the pre-existence). But in answer to your question, Darius and I are believers, as is Richard Bushman and as are the authors of MMM. Bushman wondered if his status as a believer would cause his book to be dismissed by non-believers. He decided, ultimately, that his belief was in fact an asset. (We all know that there is no such thing as “objective” history–you just choose your bias–whose stories you privelege.) Surprisingly, for Bushman, the most hostile critics were those who hadn’t bothered to read the book. Otherwise, he found friendly audiences and readers ready for good conversation.
I haven’t read _Early Mormonism and the Magic World_, though I personally regret the loss of Michael Quinn to our membership. I like and respect him. I also feel the loss of Valery Avery and of Linda King Newell (though Linda is still a member of record). Remarkable women, both of them.
I genuinely believe that we are becoming a more open belief system, however. We started out as utterly revolutionary. I’m guessing someone has already quoted Joseph Smith in this conversation, but here’s a good quote anyway: “I want the liberty of thinking and believing as I please. It feels so good not to be trammeled. It does not prove that a man is not a good man because he errs in doctrine.”
Aaron in 44, I had tried to post the same question you posed, but there were server problems. Pointed more at Jeff, “So, is it Paul’s arrogance that got him excommunicated more than his actual views?”
I have to agree with Douglas Hunter. “While I personally have reason to believe that the contemporary church is far, far, far less eager to crack down on academics, or individual views than it was 15 years ago, I don’t think the contemporary environment can really be described as healthy either.”
I would like to feel comfortable enough to write my personal thoughts in my real name, rather than the moniker, Mormon Heretic, but I just don’t feel safe doing so. While many here consider me a TBM, which is a title I welcome, there are many other conservative types here who view my views as quite liberal and heretical. I feel I would be marginalized greatly if my views were brought to the attention of my ward and stake leaders, who are much more conservative in their thinking. I love the church, but I wish that there was a great deal more academic freedom within the church. I see pockets of freedom, but there are also pockets of censorship.
Margaret, I think your perspective is interesting here because of your appointment. As I acknowledged in the post I am not in the loop of the happenings in Utah, so your comments regarding greater openness are interesting. So assuming that their has been a move to openness has this come of necessity (this would imply a fear of bad PR, IMO) or is it that lessons have been learned from previously negative situations.
I think the idea of pockets of freedom and censorship is interesting. I find that these are more like overlapping fields. Some topics are always fair game, some are not (these tend to shift between wards/stakes). Also, unfortunately I think that this is localised in the individual; a person who is perceived as ‘suspect’ will not get away with very much, while someone else like an Armand Mauss, Nibley or Bushman would not have their allegiances questioned. I think this is destructive and probably something that is difficult to root out of the Church.
What could the Church do to become healthier, in a realistic view? I think it is unlikely that there will never be future excommunications? Is there any acceptable reason for excommunicating someone for apostasy?
When it comes to a project such as Nobody Knows part of what makes it a smart bit of filmmaking is that it focuses on individual experiences, its a collection of stories about the experiences of individual members. While there is an implied institutional critique, but the real emphasis is on the faith and experiences of individual members. That is a way of addressing an issue that is going to be more acceptable to most than say doing a critical reading and analysis of the white supremacist ideology found in the writings of Church leaders during the civil rights era. From where I stand both projects have a great deal of merit, in terms of historical descriptive power, but one builds sympathy and understanding, while the other just gets the author of such work in a heap of trouble.
“And yet many of his ideas are wonderful and enrich the Mormon discussion. Many of his ideas shed light on subjects that are complex and difficult to understand. So, I am saddened by the current state of things.”
I agree. I don’t agree with his view of the Godhead, however there is something about the way he presents the Atonement that is very refreshing. I think it is how he de-emphasizes works and focuses on grace.
Aaron Reeves–I’m really curious about what you mean when you say “[my] appointment”. I am in an interesting position, I agree. I’ve published with Signature and with Deseret Book; in _The New Era_ and in _Sunstone_ and _Dialogue_. So I sort of leap all over the place–except that my loyalty to my faith has never been questioned–at least not to my knowledge. I have never been “called in.” I suspect this suggests that nobody has read everything I’ve written. (Some of my fiction, for example, gets iffy.) But if you were to weigh all of my writing–controversial vs. non-controversial, I’m pretty faith-promoting. Even when I meander into controversial issues, I am a faithful meanderer. I wonder if things would be different if I were a man being considered for a high leadership position. Would somebody be assigned to read EVERYTHING I’ve written? I rather doubt it. I think I sort of stand on my own, at this point.
As for your question of what the Church could do to be healthier with respect to academic freedom–well, you know I’m not going to write a prescription. However, I think the idea of not proceeding on an issue without unanimous consent among the Brethren can be stifling. I like the idea of a loving, respectful, and public debate. But that’s just me. And I think the Correlation Committee can be a bit heavy-handed. The biggie? Fear. “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”
Sorry, I just meant your position at BYU puts your into a network that I am not in touch with. I guess I just thought your view was important because of those connections which I do not have. Your comment on Fear links very well MH’s comment 54, it is a shame when someone who is clearly committed to the Church does not feel free to express their views, eventhough they may differ.
56. Douglas Hunter – What you say at the end of your comment reminds me something Eugene England said in a Sunstone presentation about Lowell Bennion. That he was able to translate ideas so that they did not cause hurt, but created understanding and empathy. Perhaps that is something Margaret and Darius are also blessed with.
Fwiw, I post under my real name, link to a personal blog that has numerous heterodox and orthodox posts, include an email address on it that gives my real, complete name, and in no way have tried to hide my identity. I know some at high levels have read some of my comments, but I have no idea whatsoever if I am “known” to anyone, per se. I really don’t care. I write what I believe, and I, like Margaret, am a believing member (dspite my many heterodox views) – and everyone knows it.
Honestly, I think that’s the key – the overall perception of motive and desire and faithfulness. Nobody (except Carlos, perhaps) thinks I’m a radically liberal apostate who freely disagrees with and censors orthodox and/or conservative views. Paul Toscano, like him (and/or his beliefs) or not, was literally fighting the Church – gloves off, fists swinging haymakers, determined he was intelligent and correct and the apostles were imbeciles and incorrect. That’s not me in any way, shape or form – so I write using my real name and links that make it easy to know exactly who I am.
Again, IMO, it’s NOT the fact that I write heterodox things quite often (which I actually do); rather, it’s that I’m not out there actively challenging the Brethren in ANY way and trying to “convert” members to my personal beliefs over standard, current beliefs. I’m not picking a fight in ANY way. I simply wouldn’t do that – ever. If I did, I would expect official action – and I would have a hard time crying about it if it happened.
What seemed arrogant to me during the interviews now comes across as someone recalling some of the most painful experiences of his life. Drew, thanks for restating that. I don’t know if it is correct or not, but it is how I would prefer to think of him.
“56. Douglas Hunter – What you say at the end of your comment reminds me something Eugene England said in a Sunstone presentation about Lowell Bennion. That he was able to translate ideas so that they did not cause hurt, but created understanding and empathy. Perhaps that is something Margaret and Darius are also blessed with”
Having seen the film and seen Margaret in action I would say that your statement is accurate. There is a lot more work to do on issues of inclusion in the Church but they have brought some important ideas and experiences to the white Mormon community in a way that even conservatives in the Church should be able to respond to in positive ways.
Ray #60- ” I write what I believe, and I, like Margaret, am a believing member (dspite my many heterodox views) – and everyone knows it.
Honestly, I think that’s the key – the overall perception of motive and desire and faithfulness. Nobody (except Carlos, perhaps) thinks I’m a radically liberal apostate who freely disagrees with and censors orthodox and/or conservative views.”
This is great. It is important for heterodox, or progressive, or socially liberal, or intellectual, or poetic, or what every you want to call ’em Mormons to be out in the view and be part of the community. To much self censorship and hiding under rocks (or books perhaps) keeps the rest of the community from benefiting from the ideas, creativity and gifts that are there for the benefit of others. I know I tend to get pretty cranky when ever I respond to folks like JS, but by and large I try to live up to a similar kind of positive engagement as you do, and I also try to bring that kind of engagement to interfaith dialogue.
You and Paul have a lot in common.”
I didn’t realize you were as quick with the compliments as you are with the criticism. Paul is obviously a very gifted and smart man. I told him I enjoyed his and Margaret’s book very much. I just didn’t happen to agree with some of his views or his methodology.
“I am still hoping you will address my question. Since you think discussion of the September six is a “red herring” with regards to church history. Were the actions of church leaders correct with regards to Linda Newell and Valeen Avery?”
I am sorry to say that I am not as familiar with their stories. I will say that I enjoyed their book quite a bit. Could it be that they did not publicize their situation with the Church like the S6 did? Where can I find out more about what happened?
#47, Douglas Hunter
“To say this over looks the bigger point which is that church officials at different levels are very much on the look out for people who hold views that they believe to be threatening. These supposedly threatening people are closely scrutinized and they are in fact often “called in,”
This sounds a bit paranoid to me. I’ve never see it in the positions I have held in the Church. Never heard a Ward or Stake Leader ever say anything about “being on the lookout” for anyone. I did know someone who I thought wanted to be a “martyr for the cause” but couldn’t get called in.
Seems like the leadership have many other issues to address other than this.
Jeff, check out the link in #49. The episode is detailed on pages 40-48.
#62 Douglas Hunter:
“I know I tend to get pretty cranky when ever I respond to folks like JS,”
I am curious what you think “folks like JS” are? I am certain you didn’t mean Joseph Smith.
Thanks for pointing out the link. As I read that story, I couldn’t help but think that the reaction of the Church leaders was very extreme, uncalled for and over the top. Ultimately, what was the point? And while we have only one side of the story, it just seemed to be a sign of those times, I guess. Hopefully, those type of things are well behind us. Some will say they are not, but I think, for the most part, they are.
“This sounds a bit paranoid to me. I’ve never see it in the positions I have held in the Church. Never heard a Ward or Stake Leader ever say anything about “being on the lookout” for anyone.”
Perhaps you misunderstand my comment or I should have been more exacting in my statement. I don’t think that leaders actively trying to smoke out dissenters, I have not come into contact with that situation. Let me put it this way, once someone is revealed to be different through conversations or publication etc. then there is close scrutiny. What happens next depends on the local leaders, some times its nothing, and some times actions are quite severe. From my experience its obvious that anyone who is understood to be heterodox, or different can count on scrutiny from local or regional leaders, if said difference makes its way into the public sphere.
Douglas is right, based on my experience. Leadership is not “on the lookout” per se, but I know of several bloggers who had fellow ward members go to local leadership to complain/inquire/tattle about what was on a blog written by Sister or Brother so-and-so, and at that point, leadership can determine what to do about it. Result vary greatly, depending on what the blog actually says, what the concern was, and what the local leader feels best to do. Some leaders feel compelled to “address” any complaint in some way, just because it came to their attention. Others are prone to tell the complainant to mind their own beeswax.
Margaret, I just want to follow up on your statement, “how do you make the statement that the Church (any church) is racist without being inflammatory? It’s a blatant accusation.”
Frankly, I am greatly impressed with your candor and freedom, and I note you are much more diplomatic than I am. I know you have in the past referred to “ugly, ugly statements” by past prophets. Is that as negative as one should be? Is it appropriate (or counterproductive) to label these as racist statements, while still maintaining that the church is not racist?
I realize that this is a bit of a threadjack, so just keep it in your “gee whiz” collection.
We talk a lot about leaders like BY being byproducts of their time (and many are seriously disappointed by their lack of empathy and foresight), but we are so far removed from those days of racism that we can’t stomach or even comprehend a world in which the harsh rhetoric of the past was commonplace. Yet those who took those first steps to reduce inequalities did it while being racists by our current standards:
“I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in anyway the social and political equality of the white and black races – that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race. I say upon this occasion I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the superior position the negro should be denied everything.”
–Abraham Lincoln (in his 4th debate with Stephen Douglas)
The term “racist” (as a noun) doesn’t even appear in English until 1932 (not until 1938 as an adjective) and was applied toward Nazi Germany. There were two preceding terms: racialist (1917) and racialism (1907) that preceded it. The original word was “racisme” in French, which appeared (in French only) in 1865. It is hard to fathom a world with no self-concept for racism and no self-awareness of it.
Hawkgrrrl, thanks for that quote! I think it even reinforces my question to Margaret. Is it ok to call Abraham Lincoln a racist, in spite of the fact that he liberated the slaves?
Great quote Hawk. Gosh, the dissonance with Lincoln is so great now, I don’t know what to do. 😉
One of my oldest son’s favorite songs is by Avenue Q – “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist”. He uses it to point to the naturalness of racism – and the need to understand about motes and beams as you work to eliminate other natural but bad characteristics.
The video is well worth watching, even though it’s a bit “bouncy” and there is some language that might offend some people:
You make a very good point. But you also point out why I think those who say BY was just a man of his time have it wrong. Abraham Lincoln’s statement, that you have shared, seems to me to be from a man of his time. BY’s statements show actual hatred toward blacks, and he justifies it continuously in the name of the Lord as Prophet.
“Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so.” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 10:110)
“You see some classes of the human family that are black, uncouth, uncomely, disagreeable and low in their habits, wild, and seemingly deprived of nearly all the blessings of the intelligence that is generally bestowed upon mankind.” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 7, p. 290, 1859)
“If the Affricans cannot bear rule in the Church of God, what buisness have they to bear rule in the State and Government afairs of this Territory or any others?” (Brigham Young, Joint Session of the Legislature, February, 5 1852)
These quotes make some of the same points that Abraham Lincoln makes. But there is hatred behind them and the first statement is apparently the Law of God.
So, in my opinion, comparing Abraham Lincoln’s statements with BY’s shows the clear distinction between a man of his times, and a bona fide racist. I feel dirty even posting BY’s statements.
DrewE – I agree BY’s language is always stronger than pretty much every other human being, his time or ours. He could damn a man to hell for eating the wrong breakfast cereal.
MH–I don’t have time to write a lengthy reply. Also, just so you’re reassured, I have moments of being utterly UNdiplomatic, but only a few people know about those. I once wrote a book–I think it was _Salvador_–in which a character says, “Can any good come from a sinful man?” The reply was, “Oh of course it can. Otherwise, there’d be no hope for any of us.” I have so much more to say about LIncoln, but no time for it now.
“You make a very good point. But you also point out why I think those who say BY was just a man of his time have it wrong. Abraham Lincoln’s statement, that you have shared, seems to me to be from a man of his time. BY’s statements show actual hatred toward blacks, and he justifies it continuously in the name of the Lord as Prophet.”
I am a little perplexed by this. I don’t see how BY’s apparent hatred makes him any less a man of his times than Lincoln. The second half of the 19th century was a time when overt race based hate and violence were common. The same is true for most of 20th century America as well. Obviously such violence and hate persist today depending on what region of the world one examines.
One problem is that if we don’t say they are men of their times, then other possibilities arise. Asking why inspired men of God, were such strong advocates of man made prejudice and sought theological justification for their prejudice is the type of questioning that we Mormons don’t have good ways of dealing with. To say they are men of their times, strikes me as positive because its a reminder of our leader’s humanity, and asks us to not ask them to be perfect reflections of God’s will. This lack of perfection also means that we, those who follow them, can’t turn over our moral agency even in the presence of powerful directives from leadership. It is still up to us to do ethical thinking, make ethical decisions and take ethical action.
(Common expressions along the line of “we have to follow the prophet” are often used to suggest that we are spiritually if not institutionally compelled, or that the truest use of agency is found specifically in obedience to church leaders. Such obedience does require the subversion of individual will, which is of great importance, but it can’t really be called an expression of moral agency since mere obedience, in and of itself, is amoral.)
I saw the same Toscano interviews. I love them and admire Toscano. At the same time, I am not at all surprised that he got excommunicated. Still, I think it is regrettable, and I don’t think the blame or responsibility is all to be shouldered by him alone. It is like Elder Bednar said about being offended. If the leaders of the Church were offended by Toscano, that may say more about them than it does about Paul. If you want a case of someone who was really cruising for excommunication, look at Annalee Skarin. Toscano was no Skarin.
79. Douglas Hunter
My main point is writing off Brigham Young’s statements as him being a man of his time is inaccurate (to me). When I compare them to other derogatory statements, such as the Abraham Lincoln quote shared, I see a clear contrast between the cultural norm, and Young’s over-the-top racial views. Sure, I will concede that his racial views were influenced by his culture but even comparing them to Joseph Smith’s statements I see Young having a personal disdain for African-Americans.
My fear is that we write off Young’s statements as being the cultural norm and leave it there. This downplaying allows the Cain doctrine to perpetuate in the Church (my opinion).
“One problem is that if we don’t say they are men of their times, then other possibilities arise. Asking why inspired men of God, were such strong advocates of man made prejudice and sought theological justification for their prejudice is the type of questioning that we Mormons don’t have good ways of dealing with.”
I think that has more to do with members not understanding the Church’s recognition that we have fallible leaders. This can mean more than a Prophet saying a curse word or yelling at someone in his lifetime. Willing to consider that Brigham Young was a strong racist, even in his day, may cause cognitive dissonance if you have an inaccurate view of Prophets.
My feeling is that members play down Brigham Young’s statements to avoid that cognitive dissonance, and in effect they don’t truly understand “our leader’s humanity” I see this in so many areas of Church history. And I think one day it will have to be reconciled.
I understand these our my personal views, and I have tried to be respectful.
While I understand and appreciate your point of view on BY, let’s also consider some of the other things he said to get a fuller picture of him. In my studies, it does seem there was an evolution of his views. Initially, he probably baptized black church member Joseph T Ball in 1832, who went on to become branch pres in Boston. (See Early Black Mormons)
On Mar 26,1847, Brigham Young made a statement that he was aware of Walker Lewis, and aware that Walker held the priesthood. Young claimed on this date that there is no race-based ban. The statement is “its nothing to do with the blood, for of one blood has God made all flesh. We have to repent [and] regain what we [h]av[e] lost. We [h]av[e] one of the best Elders–an African in Lowell [i.e. Walker Lewis].”
See my post on the priesthood ban. Clearly Brigham said some positive things too, and we need to consider these along with the negative things he said to fully understand him and this complex issue.
I don’t think Brigham Young probably baptizing an African American or having someone record a positive comment softens the blow of the overwhelming amount of derogatory statements. But again, that is my opinion.
The body of evidence suggests to me exactly what I have said – Brigham Young had a personal disdain for African-Americans, especially in comparison to Abraham Lincoln. I think the evolution you see is the transition from Joseph Smith to Brigham Young. Once Brigham Young was Prophet he was able to freely expound upon his racial views.
I really don’t think it is a complex issue. I think the complexity is trying to understand how someone with his views could still be a Prophet.
But I agree with you to this extent – if someone were writing an essay or book on Brigham Young’s racial views it would only be fair that the positive was also included.
I found Brigham Young’s statements on race deplorable when I first heard them, of course, but not nearly so troubling as those made by men I had personal memories of. I find it fairly easy to dismiss a generation of folks who were acting like others of their generation, and I wish them well in eternity. (Glad I believe in eternal progression.) One of my real concerns in all of the work Darius and I have done is that we might distract someone from the real issues of faith–charity, etc. We can get hung up on the knotty words of the past. Remember, we are people of faith. We believe in redemption, repentence, and forgiveness. There is no one issue which will ever hold my testimony hostage–including the one I happen to have studied at length. Fallible leaders? You betcha. But don’t expect a conference talk delineating every stupid thing said by a GA. We have only ten hours of conference, after all.
Margaret, can you tackle my questions in 71 and 73?
I just want to add that Abe Lincoln was the great emancipator and was leading a nation divided over the very serious issue of slavery and the deep-seated hatred and guilt and economic complexity associated with it. His task was such that it was constantly on his mind. BY, on the other hand, led an obscure religious sect isolated in the Rocky Mountains with relatively little racial diversity. BY was a convert from Protestantism, where the Cain doctrine originated (read Barbara Kingsolver’s book The Poisonwood Bible for an interesting insight into Protestant correlations to things we imagine were unique flaws of Mormonism, including drastic corner-cutting tactics to achieve baptisms).
mh, hawkgrrrl and Margaret,
Stop making good points, forcing me to reevaluate my opinion! Seriously, all three of you have made valid points and have given me a lot to think about.
“Abe Lincoln was the great emancipator”
Now I want to listen to Sufjan Steven’s “Decatur”
In case you didn’t get my above reference –
1:18 into the song
Don’t you think that the statement of Lincoln might be more vote pandering that actual personal opinion? It was said in a political debate while he was trying to get himself elected. Are there other similar statements from him, particular after he was elected, that would support the view that he truly believed in inequality? When I read Team of Rivals I came away with the impression (possibly Doris Kearns Goodwin’s bias) that Lincoln did not necessarily believe in such inequality.
I’m with DrewE on this. In my opinion, the political statement of Lincoln is a far cry from the statements of BY, who for all intents and purposes, was acting and speaking as a prophet of god. The totality of BY’s statements really does paint him as a man who believed in the complete inequality of the races, the superiority and “electedness” of caucasians, and would have not been unhappy to see slavery continue.
“My main point is writing off Brigham Young’s statements as him being a man of his time is inaccurate (to me). When I compare them to other derogatory statements, such as the Abraham Lincoln quote shared, I see a clear contrast between the cultural norm, and Young’s over-the-top racial views. Sure, I will concede that his racial views were influenced by his culture but even comparing them to Joseph Smith’s statements I see Young having a personal disdain for African-Americans.”
I think you are misconstruing the cultural “norm” of the time. Why are you so sure that Lincoln’s views were reflective of any kind of broad norm? If they did then the civil war and its aftermath would be more difficult explain. I suggest that at that time there was no broad cultural agreement. Views were widely divergent and appear to include many examples of thought far more hostile and violent than Lincoln’s. Be that as it may, I agree with MY in that statements from Church leaders made less than 50 years ago are far more troubling.
Be that as it may, I agree with MY in that statements from Church leaders made less than 50 years ago are far more troubling.
I have to admit, I don’t really understand this. One of the things I frequently heard with regards to the priesthood ban specifically, and racial inequality in general, was that these things were ordained of god and would only be changed when god decided it was time to change them, not when society wanted them changed. I’ve also heard the same arguments with regards to the ERA and SSM.
So if the leaders of the church really did believe that the races were not equal, and that god didn’t want blacks to hold the priesthood, where did they get such ideas? Do we really think that if BY hadn’t been so adamant about it there would have been a precedent that church leaders felt they needed to follow until changed by revelation? So, if we believe that our prophets are led and directed by god why are statements made since the 1950s more troubling than those made by BY, when those statements are consistent over time and god didn’t make a change until 1978? It seems to me we should only be troubled by statements made after 1978.
Margaret: “But don’t expect a conference talk delineating every stupid thing said by a GA. We have only ten hours of conference, after all.” Well said!
Kari, I have no doubt Lincoln was pandering, but that doesn’t mean BY wasn’t also pandering – to his own and others’ basest instincts.
Frankly, I agree with Margaret and MH that if you want to find alarming racist rhetoric, look to statements made by some of the most conservative church leaders in the 1950s.
“One of the things I frequently heard with regards to the priesthood ban specifically, and racial inequality in general, was that these things were ordained of god and would only be changed when god decided it was time to change them, not when society wanted them changed.”
It would seem to me that God would want equality and justice before society wants it, not after, which seems to be the case with societal issues since the Restoration.
Also, “the people aren’t ready for it” argument re: blacks & the priesthood is so lame. We aren’t ready to keep all the commandments either, but that doesn’t stop the admonition.
“Frankly, I agree with Margaret and MH that if you want to find alarming racist rhetoric, look to statements made by some of the most conservative church leaders in the 1950s.’
I think a more remarkable thing was the progressive Church Leaders that fought against this sort of thing, David O. McKay, Hugh B. Brown and, ultimately Spencer W. Kimball. I am sure there are some others I might not realized. Margaret probably knows that much better.
91. Douglas Hunter
You are right – if I compared the statements to those of Southern religious leaders they would probably be very similar. I guess I expect more from Brigham Young because he was a Prophet. But that could be where I ere.
I think you ask good questions. If we say that Brigham Young was a man of his times, does that not suggest the priesthood ban was also a product of its time? And if so, was it from God or from society?
It is my understanding that Lincoln actually supported segregation. He really wanted to ship all the slaves to Liberia, and rid the United States of them. This doesn’t sound so enlightened, does it?
Margaret makes the case that if Joseph had lived longer, then perhaps there would have been no priesthood ban. I tend to agree. Even if Joseph hadn’t been killed, there would still have been a backlash. Remember that part of the Mormons persecution in Missouri was due to the fact that Mormons were viewed as abolitionist in a slave state. As a result the Mormons were forced to say they weren’t abolitionist, just to try to maintain peace in Missouri. Allowing blacks the priesthood would have been seen as problematic by the slave states, so the Mormons were forced to walk an impossible tightrope on this issue. I suspect part of Brigham’s reasoning for allowing slavery in Utah was to appease Southern feelings. The Union hadn’t treated the Mormons with kindness, and I suspect he was hedging his bets. If the Confederacy won the Civil War, and treated Mormon better, I can see Brigham wanting to join with the South. I don’t condone Brigham’s actions, but I think it does explain some of the reasons for his actions.
Let’s not forget that Abraham Lincoln, Joseph Smith, and Brigham Young all agreed that it wasn’t right for the Northern States to dictate slavery laws to the Southern States. All would have kept slavery in order to keep the Union in tact (though Joseph had a plan for selling public lands to free the slaves in his presidential platform.) Once the Civil War started, Lincoln was able to act more in line with his conscience, because the Union was no longer in tact, but he was very much in favor of the slavery status quo prior to the Civil War.
Holden in 94–I agree.
Jeff in 95–there is a few speeches from Pres Kimball from the 1950’s addressing racism that were very progressive in the special features of Margaret’s DVD. Not only are they the sort of things we would hope and expect to hear from our leaders, but it was interesting to listen to Pres Kimball’s voice when it wasn’t so raspy from the throat surgery. I think Pres Kimball’s feelings from the 1950’s often get overlooked by people looking for inflammatory comments from church leaders, rather than positive comments on race. Pres Kimball’s comments on race are very much in line with our modern sensibilities on the issue of race.
I think you ask good questions. If we say that Brigham Young was a man of his times, does that not suggest the priesthood ban was also a product of its time? And if so, was it from God or from society?”
Many members think this had to happen so the church would grow and it was inspired!!
But it throws out the following questions:
So God had to become a bigoted for awhile for the Church to grow and our undeveloped minds are not privy to or capable of understanding the complexities of this. But it will all be revealed later on just put it on the shelf.
Is God progressing and finding his way like we are?
Wouldn’t God be telling Brigham in no uncertain terms – this is wrong , stop it at once- you silly man , how do you expect to get further light and knowledge when your being mean to my children?
If it is wrong and the Prophets are fallible on sometimes big issues – what makes the church different to any other- why follow it?
If they can’t discern what’s right and wrong what hope do we have?
“If we say that Brigham Young was a man of his times, does that not suggest the priesthood ban was also a product of its time? And if so, was it from God or from society?” The church has no official stance. My opinion is that different leaders are divided on it, and that’s why no official stance. There’s a strong argument to be made for the sociological ramifications of a more progressive racial equality than the rest of society had at the time (all of which have been made above, so I won’t repeat them). By the same token, I’m convinced that some of the highest level contemporary church leaders do feel it was completely of man and not inspired. Where there is disagreement, the stance is “we don’t know.”
Per your request, MH: You said IN #71:
Is that as negative as one should be? Is it appropriate (or counterproductive) to label these as racist statements, while still maintaining that the church is not racist?
I’m having a problem with your use of the present tense here, and also with semantics. The church is an institution and so would not have an attitude itself. Its leaders, however, have (by standards we would use today) taught racist ideas, and the policies they enacted in the ideas, and the policies they enacted in the 1850s and again in 1908 were racialist. To the extend that we still preach anything like the concept that God has a caste system (See “Mormon Doctrine”, then we are still supporting racism. Keeping books on the shelves like Mo Doc and Joseph F Smith’s “Answers to Gospel Questions” which still include appalling ideas about race would indicate that we are permitting racism to continue.
In #73: Is it okay to call Lincoln a racist?
Nope. His actions changed the world. In the same way that the woman in the NT who “loved much” was forgiven of her sins–which were “many”, so Lincoln has earned a place outside the black hole of racism. Give that man a planet.
As to the bigger question of “Why follow a fallible prophet?”, consider that each prophet had particular gifts. Will we refuse to honor Brigham Young, who was a remarkable colonizer at precisely the time when the talents of leadership and even stubbornness were required, because he hadn’t transcended the “wicked traditions” of his time? Should I be allowed to teach English at a university if I can’t do algebra? Shouldn’t educated people all be able to do algebra?
Thanks Margaret. Well spoken!
I was so excited to see a Margaret Young comment on MM
and then I saw all the capital letters and I got confused. 🙁
My guess is that she doesn’t know how to bold or italicize to separate her comments. Perhaps I’ll edit them so people don’t think she’s angry. I think she was just trying to make her answers stand out from my questions.
100 Margaret Young
AS TO THE BIGGER QUESTION OF “WHY FOLLOW A FALLIBLE PROPHET?”, CONSIDER THAT EACH PROPHET HAD PARTICULAR GIFTS. WILL WE REFUSE TO HONOR BRIGHAM YOUNG, WHO WAS A REMARKABLE COLONIZER AT PRECISELY THE TIME WHEN THE TALENTS OF LEADERSHIP AND EVEN STUBBORNNESS WERE REQUIRED, BECAUSE HE HADN’T TRANSCENDED THE “WICKED TRADITIONS” OF HIS TIME? SHOULD I BE ALLOWED TO TEACH ENGLISH AT A UNIVERSITY IF I CAN’T DO ALGEBRA? SHOULDN’T EDUCATED PEOPLE ALL BE ABLE TO DO ALGEBRA?
I hear what your saying hear in that we can’t be masters in all that we do and we can still be competent in a number of important things.
And I can see prophets can be fallible and are just humans. But this isn’t a light issue where many would say if this is Gods True Church he can certainly make it clear to his prophet that what you are doing is equivalent to Genocide to all the souls of a different race for well over a 100 years. I think we all feel comfortable with prophets being fallible and over looking petty issues but this is a biggy.
I also see and understand the ramifications of what could happen to the church if it was addressed in a general conference.
James, since you mentioned genocide, you might want to read my post on Joshua’s Unholy War. I think it illustrates that prophets can be way off base some times.
Well surmised, MH. I am at war with technology. I am a flawed commenter because, as MH guessed, I don’t know how to do anything fancy on a blog. So the big question is, should you ignore me just because I haven’t learned how to work the web? At your peril, friends–at your peril.
I can’t really work my cell phone either. And I need lots of help to show a Power Point at school. I am a product of my generation, behind the times and occasionally interpreted as angry rather than merely incompetant.
I will say that the suggestion that the Church committed something like genocide for 100 years while the priesthood restriction was in place is hyperbolic. I like my co-author’s ideas on why the policy was allowed, but I never state those ideas on my own. They’re his. He joined in 1965 on the strength of a powerful spiritual experience. He bears the same testimony today that he received that: “This is the restored gospel and you are to join.”
At some point, we need to come back to home base and decide which of the many issues we could focus on are essential and which are merely commentary.
Margaret, here is a little HTML help. If you put “i” (for italicize) in between <>, then it will italicize everything after. When you want to end the italicize, add “/i” between <>. Same goes for bold–just add “b” or “/b” in between <>. (Of course, you don’t need to add the quote “” marks.)
“I have to admit, I don’t really understand this. One of the things I frequently heard with regards to the priesthood ban specifically, and racial inequality in general, was that these things were ordained of god and would only be changed when god decided it was time to change them, not when society wanted them changed. I’ve also heard the same arguments with regards to the ERA and SSM.”
It true we do frequently hear ideas suggesting that racial inequality in the church was ordained of God. I guess the question is, what do we make of such explanations? There are a number of ways to approach such a question. For me I tend to look at the issue by examining the distinction between theology and ideology. To what extent is political or other ideology present in the explanations, descriptions and beliefs of church leaders and members when it comes to the issue of racial inequality? When reading available materials from the civil rights era we do see that statements supporting the priesthood ban, or that advocate against intermarriage, etc. often rely on white supremacist ideas to make their case. So if something like the priesthood ban was ordained of God, and church leaders had a direct understanding of this, why did they rely so heavily upon white supremacist ideas to justify their thinking and make their arguments? Why was there not a better theological case to be made independent of such a specific ideological construction? One can answer this question in different ways requiring varying degrees of complexity.
A more contemporary example: What do we make of language in current church materials that discourages marriages between people of different races?
It may be important to point out that many churches found theological justification of racists views, policies and actions. But over time the majority of them have stated that their previous views did indeed represent the desire to find a theology that endorsed the widely held prejudices of the day. Obviously, what is unique in the Mormon context is the continued assertion that racial bias was not ideological at all. But I have to ask what is more ideological than using difference for the sake of degradation? In some ways this is a defining move of ideological thinking. Its also an aspect of pharaiseeism that Christ continually challenged.
#73: Is it okay to call Lincoln a racist?
One of the things that this thread has pointed out is that when it concerns 19th century attitudes towards race it can be challenging to make distinctions based on how we think of these issues today. Another way to consider Lincoln might be to say that he was indeed a racist, but saying so is not an act of condemnation. Rather it acknowledges a certain structure of thought while also acknowledging that he couldn’t be defined by his racism, and further, he had a vision, the potential of which, far exceeded whatever his limitations may have been. It seems to me that white folks insisting on seeing our heroes only as heroes is a source of continued frustration for black historians, activists and teachers. As I understand their view, it is that we can and should celebrate the achievements of Lincoln and Jefferson, etc, but we should also acknowledge understand the fullness of their thought and actions which were not exclusively heroic or easily understood by todays conceptual framework.
Douglas, that last sentence is important, imo, when looking at anyone. I hope those who read my words over the last few years in the Bloggernacle temper their humorous responses with a desgree of compassion and charity. I certainly believe I’ve written enough to be fodder for some hysterical laughter at some point in history; I only hope it doesn’t lead to scorn.
I love Ray’s comments all the time.
Now, Drew E–THANK YOU FOR MENTIONING SUFJAN STEVENS!! i love his music. (Those capital letters are for emphasis; no anger implied.) I thought I was pretty much the only one who got into Brother Sufjan. One of my missionaries introduced me to his music, and I now have at least one of his songs (“The Dress Looks Nice on You”) on my MP3 player. Maybe for the rest of this conversaton, we can talk about the Christian themes in Sufjan’s songs–like “To be Alone with You.” But the real question is, WHERE IS HE?? Has he become a recluse? Before we return to race issues, I want to know where Sufjan is.
Margaret, using the html prompts is too much work for my tired old brain. When I want to highlight or emphasize something, I do the following:
There are some things that simply **must be emphasized**. See, the lazy person’s bold print.
(Of course, as an admin here, I then take the other easy way out and edit it from within the system – where I have the classic highlighting options available to me. Neener, neener, neener!) 🙂
The comments about Lincoln being a racist are similar to a question an Indian colleague of mine shared. He said that a frequent dinner-table discussion question in India is: “Was Ghandi a good man?” Despite the great good he did for the Indian people, Ghandi also had serious flaws as a family man. He is generally considered a bad husband and father. While he was college educated, his children were illiterate as a result of his neglect. So, for Indians, the merit of the question is akin to the Mormon question: “Can any success outside the home match up to failure inside the home?”
For the dead, both their words and acts live on, and in all cases, their words and acts were a mix of good and bad.
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