Recent articles got me thinking about the practice of Prooftexting, which Wikipedia defines as follows:
Prooftexting is the practice of using decontextualised quotations from a document (often, but not always, a book of the Bible) to establish a proposition rhetorically through an appeal to authority. Critics of the technique note that often the document, when read as a whole, may not in fact support the proposition.
Examples of classic prooftexts from the Bible are:
John 4:24 – “aGod is a bSpirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in ctruth.” This is often used to describe God as without a body of flesh and bone, but a spirit being only.
Ephesians 2:8-9 – “For by agrace are ye bsaved through cfaith; and that not of yourselves: it is the dgift of God: Not of works, lest any man should aboast.” This is used to support and define the protestant doctrine of sola fide – salvation by faith alone.
1 Corinthians 15:29 – “Else what shall they do which are abaptized bfor the dead, if the dead crise not at all? why are they then baptized for the ddead?” This is used to support the LDS doctrine of Baptism and Temple work for the Dead outside of modern revelation.
I noticed a new trend (or a different one) of quoting General Authorities as a way of establishing proof that a doctrine, policy or practice of the church exists. More than likely this involves a prohibition of some sort. And typically involves a quote from some time ago, not unnecessarily representing modern day thinking.
I cite a few recent examples:
Discouragement of Interracial Marriage – “We recommend that people marry those who are of the same racial background generally, and of somewhat the same economic and social and educational background (some of those are not an absolute necessity, but preferred), and above all, the same religious background, without question” (“Marriage and Divorce,” in 1976 Devotional Speeches of the Year [Provo: Brigham Young University Press, 1977], p. 144).
The quote cited is, contained in the currently used Aaronic Priesthood Manual 3, lesson #31, p127. But it does not say, “don’t marry someone of another race”, but uses the terms “recommend” and “generally.” It means there are reasons to consider prior to marrying which should be thought out. In fact, the main emphasis of the quote is about marrying in the faith. If one were to assume that this quote is really discouraging interracial marriage, then one should also assume it is discouraging a young lady, whose parents can afford to pay for her education at BYU from marrying a young man, whose ward had to support him on his mission and is using grant money and scholarships to attend BYU. This is because they are of different “economic and social and educational backgrounds.”
Blacks and the Priesthood – “Cain slew his brother. Cain might have been killed, and that would have put a termination to that line of human beings. This was not to be, and the Lord put a mark upon him, which is the flat nose and black skin. Trace mankind down to after the flood, and then another curse is pronounced upon the same race-that they should be the “servant of servants;” and they will be, until that curse is removed;” President Brigham young, Journal of Discourses, vol. 7, Page 291.
This quote (one of the least offensive by today’s standards), among many others, is used by some to demonstrate an on-going prejudice against black people by the Church to this day because the Church has never officially disavowed any comments made by leaders about why blacks could not hold the Priesthood prior to the 1978 revelation. However, many modern church leaders have related their joyous experience that day in the Salt Lake Temple when President Spencer W. Kimball received the revelation giving the Priesthood to all worthy male members. To address the issue of past statements of church leaders, Elder Bruce R. McConkie, himself someone who thought blacks would not receive the Priesthood in his life time, said:
“There are statements in our literature by the early brethren that we have interpreted to mean that the Negroes would not receive the priesthood in mortality. I have said the same things, and people write me letters and say, “You said such and such, and how is it now that we do such and such?” And all I can say to that is that it is time disbelieving people repented and got in line and believed in a living, modern prophet. Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whosoever has said in days past, that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world.” Bruce R. McConkie, “All Are Alike Unto God,” CES Religious Educators Symposium, 18 August 1978.
Not all Truth is Useful – “There is a temptation for the writer or the teacher of Church history to want to tell everything, whether it is worthy or faith promoting or not. Some things that are true are not very useful. Historians seem to take great pride in publishing something new, particularly if it illustrates a weakness or mistake of a prominent historical figure. For some reason, historians and novelists seem to savor such things. If it related to a living person it would come under the heading of gossip. History can be as misleading as gossip and much more difficult–often impossible–to verify. “Elder Boyd K. Packer,”The Mantle Is Far, Far Greater Than the Intellect,” Fifth Annual Church Educational System Religious Educators’ Symposium, 22 August, 1981, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.
This particular quote, often misquoted as in the first line, is used by critics to demonstrate that the church and its leaders think withholding truthful information is acceptable. While the church does promote the idea of using positive material in the official teachings of the church, the main point of the talk (http://www.mormonismi.net/kirjoitukset/bkp_mantteli.shtml) is to consider the Spirit and the role of spiritual guidance in the history of the church and its presentation.
By the way, “not all truth is useful” is an idea within the philosophical community and did not originate with Elder Packer. Here is one reference: http://books.google.com/books?id=HKLLcv-nKWUC&pg=PA43&dq=%22not+all+truth+is+useful&ei=b5J3SPq_A5jSigGT7ZSHDA&sig=ACfU3U0X0B9ta9tCd8TLxiU8xvO5WuWoYw
We all use specific “evidence” to try and prove our points. We need to be careful that we are not just prooftexting to do so.