As a fan of Mormon Studies I value the opportunity to discuss and, sometimes, disagree. In this regard, I have been particularly inspired by the vision of J. Bonner Ritchie. He has repeatedly argued for openness and honesty regarding the Mormon Experience. However, I wonder whether Mormon thought really has space for this kind of openness when we retain the LDS version of the pre-mortal Grand Council as our archetypal council meeting?
Ritchie has said: ‘I want to be part of a culture that dares to asks questions and can live with uncomfortable or no answers’. Further, he has said ‘I appreciate Sunstone [or other open forums for discussion] not because I agree with everything that is said. I agree with precious little that is said, here or anywhere else. But I defend with passion the right to say it’ .
Kathleen Flake in a profound and challenging Sunstone presentation has said “First stories are very important. They are the ones we go back to again and again to understand the present and to envision our future possibilities… [Beginnings] are a function of making meaning out of the past to explain the present and construct the future” . The Grand Council is such a story. Therefore how we understand it has important implications for the Church’s future possibilities.
Moses 4 seems to indicate that there was some sort of discussion about the Plan. It is difficult to tell much from this but at the very least Lucifer’s views were heard. Further he had the chance, it seems, to be persuasive enough to have some agree with his point of view. So far this all seems quite friendly, almost like a Sunstone symposium session.
Then God ends the discussion with a definitive declaration of his plan. Although there is an idea that people could still choose which side to vote for; the implication was that either you follow God’s plan or you are banished. Thus if we accept the Grand Council as our archetypal council meeting what message does this present to us. The basic message seems to be: discussion is good until the answer is given. Yet, what inspires me about Bonner Ritchie’s ideas is that such open discussion and, more importantly for me, the raising of questions is a process that attempts to transcend the paradoxes of faith. He suggests that there are not always answers to the questions or issues that are raised but learning to deal with this tension is spiritually healthy. That resonates with me in a way that the Grand Council does not.
As a result, I believe, that unless this archetype can be re-interpreted, the vision that Ritchie has will never be realised, because there will always be a strong ‘doctrinal’ foundation for the view that: discussion is good until the answer is given.
Have I mis-interpreted the Grand Council?
How else can we interpret this narrative?
Can Bonner Ritchie’s vision be realised without a need to re-interpret these scriptural archetypes?
1. J. Bonner Ritchie, Pillars of my Faith delivered at Sunstone. Available Here.
2. Kathleen Flake, Evil’s Origin and Evil’s End in the Joseph Smith Translation of Genesis in Sunstone [Salt Lake City, UT.: Sunstone Education Foundation, 1998] p. 25.