WWJB: What Would Jesus Blog?

Andrew curiosity, Mormon, questioning, thought 45 Comments

It’s been a few months since I first came out to my family and friends. I’d been living a secret double life for too long, and I couldn’t stand the duplicity any longer. As I’ve continued to come out to more friends, I’ve learned I have to be careful and selective about when and to whom I reveal my secret. It makes some people feel awkward and uncomfortable when I tell them about it; others don’t know what to say and simply stare at the ground or abruptly change the subject.

If you’ve ever “come out” to your LDS friends and family about frequenting the “Bloggernacle,” you know exactly what I’m talking about. The blank or quizzical stares. The awkward silence. You can see it in their eyes. Within milliseconds you’re internally labeled as a kook, a budding apostate, or both. Some apparently feel that as long as you’re living the Gospel, you shouldn’t feel the need to think and talk about it for longer than the allotted time on Sundays. It reminds me of that Simpson’s episode where Lisa’s school principal gets concerned by something Lisa says and presses the hidden “Independent Thought Alarm.”

But fortunately, I sometimes get more thoughtful, sincere, and well-intentioned responses. One recurring concern expressed by my friends is that Mormon-themed discussions that occur “off Church hours” and “off Church property” may tend to focus on the “fringes” of Mormonism; on the “mysteries” or “controversies” that “have nothing to do with our daily lives.” Ultimately, our conversations about the appropriateness of Mormon-themed public discussions come down to the question of what matters we believe the Lord does and does not want us to spend our time discussing. Or to phrase that question another way: “What would Jesus blog?”

For those who believe in the inspiration and authority of Church leaders, perhaps the best way to answer the question “What would Jesus blog?” is to examine Church leaders’ statements about this general topic. There have been numerous of statements by General Authorities advocating a broad, all-encompassing, open-minded search for truth. Take these quotes, for example:

As a means of coming to truth, people in the Church are encouraged by their leaders to think and find out for themselves. They are encouraged to ponder, to search, to evaluate, and thereby come to such knowledge of the truth as their own consciences, assisted by the Spirit of God, lead them to discover. (James E. Faust, Ensign, Sept. 1998.)

As a Church, we encourage gospel scholarship and the search to understand all truth. Fundamental to our theology is a belief in individual freedom of inquiry, thought, and expression. Constructive discussion is a privilege of every Latter-day Saint. (Gordon B. Hinckley, Ensign, Sept. 1985.)

All truth, whether it pertains to the universe, to this earth, or to the individual and his environment, is a part of the gospel of Jesus Christ. (Church News, Dec. 20, 1969.)

In all His promises and commandments about gaining knowledge, the Lord has never withheld from our quest any field of truth. Our knowledge is to be coterminous with the universe and is to reach out and to comprehend the laws and workings of the deeps of the eternities. All domains of knowledge belong to us. In no other way could the great law of eternal progression be satisfied. (First Presidency Message to Howard S. McDonald, Nov. 14, 1945.)

That the Church relies upon duplicity in the propagation of her doctrines, and shuns enlightened investigation, is contrary to reason and fact. Deceit and fraud in the perpetuation of any religion must end in failure. A system of religion, ethics, or philosophy, to attract and hold the attention of men, must be sincere in doctrine and honest in propaganda. (First Presidency Message, Improvement Era, May 1907.)

Although Church leaders advocate a broad search for truth, they distinguish between an individual’s private search for truth and his participation in public discussions. According to Church leaders, the appropriate topics for private, personal investigation are virtually limitless, while appropriate topics for public discussion have some limitations:

The Church warns its members against symposia, and similar gatherings, that include presentations that (1) disparage, ridicule, make like of, or are otherwise inappropriate in their treatment of sacred matters or (2) could injure the Church, detract from its mission, or jeopardize its members’ wellbeing. (Church Handbook, 1998.)

We appreciate the search for knowledge and the discussion of gospel subjects. However, we believe that Latter-day Saints who are committed to the mission of their church and the well-being of their fellow members will strive to be sensitive to those matters that are more appropriate for private conferring and correction than for public debate. (First Presidency Message, Ensign, Nov. 1991.)

There are sure to be many different opinions about which particular topics of public discussion Church leaders had in mind when they referred to those that “could injure the Church, detract from its mission, or jeopardize its members’ wellbeing.” As is usually the case, Church leaders have refrained from providing a specific list of topics they deem inappropriate for public discussion, relying instead on individual Church members to “recognize inappropriateness when they see it.” However, Church leaders’ past statements may give us some more clues about the types of topics they find inappropriate for public discussion:

We urge the Saints to refrain from the discussion of mysteries and to refrain from asking questions about matters and principles concerning which the Lord has made no definite statement. (“Dear Brethren” [letter from First Presidency to general, regional, and local church leaders] Dec. 19, 1951.)

There are questions relating to doctrine and principle that are proper subjects for class discussion, when that is conducted for the purpose of gaining information. There are topics, however, that are of no particular moment, or on which no definite conclusion can be authoritatively reached, and these ought to be avoided, as a waste of time and a cause of endless dispute. Let the light shine and be sought for in faith, but let contention have no place among the Latter-day Saints! (First Presidency Message, Improvement Era, Apr. 1912.)

Dogmatic assertions do not take the place of revelation, and we should be satisfied with that which is accepted as doctrine and not discuss matters that, after all disputes, are merely matters of theory. (First Presidency Message, Improvement Era, Mar. 1912.)

These statements seem to echo two of the Apostle Paul’s admonitions: “But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes” (2 Tim. 2:23), and “But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain” (Titus 3:9). It seems the overarching principle behind these statements is that some discussion topics are simply a waste of time, or worse, create contention and disunity within the Church.

The scriptures make it abundantly clear that contention and disunity are greatly displeasing to God. “If ye are not one ye are not mine.” (D&C 38:27.) When Christ visited the Americas in the Book of Mormon, one of his first pleas was for the contention among those peoples to stop. (3 Ne. 13.) And Christ’s great Intercessory Prayer was ultimately a plea for unity–that we would all become one. (John 17.)

As a parent, I understand that sentiment completely. I absolutely hate it when my children fight. And I have to admit that when they’re fighting, I often don’t even care who is right and who is wrong–I just don’t want them to fight anymore. In my desire for family unity, justice can sometimes be a secondary consideration.

I’ve wondered whether God feels the same way. Could “unity” be God’s highest value? Does He ask each of us to patiently endure some degree of injustice–whether small or large–simply for the sake of unity? For that reason, does God ask us to speak with Church leaders privately about perceived injustices within the Church, rather than making public outcries, simply for the sake of unity? Is God trying to tell us that our patient endurance of injustice–turning the other cheek, loving those who hate us, blessing those who curse us–is paradoxically the most effective way to change hearts and rectify the injustices we suffer (perhaps over the long term) without creating further contention and disunity?

I do not have the answers to these questions, so I’m very interested to hear your thoughts about the following:

1. Do you see a rationale for making a distinction between appropriate topics for private inquiry and appropriate topics for public discussion about Church-related topics? If so, what is that rationale?

2. If you answer question #1 in the affirmative, what criteria do you use to determine when a public discussion about Church-related topics “goes too far”?

Or in other words, how do you respond to the question: “What would Jesus blog?”

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Comments

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Comments 45

  1. Ha ha. I love your clever Sunstone reference above.

    I have never seen much of a difference between the bloggernacle and chatting with some friends after church about what the #$%^ so and so just said about topics X, Y, and Z.

    I know what you’re talking about in terms of some people’s terrified-for-your-soul reactions. I just shut them up with the Deseret News’ implicit endorsement of the Bloggernacle by their weekly column on it. Seriously, though, I think most people afraid of unauthorized thinking and conversing would find their own niche in the ‘Nacle anyway if they gave it a try.

    The line between public and private is fuzzy in our modern world. Are text messages as private as phone conversations, e-mails, where do you draw the line? I think that certain aspects of the temple ceremonies would be the only details not discussable by members of the Church wishing to remain members for long.

    It all depends on tone, not content. We could discuss how we all hate Jell-O with such venom that I’m sure some of us would receive talking-tos from ecclesiastical leaders. On the other hand, we could talk about polyandry, the Mountain Meadows Massacre, racism in the contemporary Church, etc. in such an honest, inquiring spirit that no one could fault us.

    My post tomorrow on Mormonism as family implicitly recognizes this. Every family has skeletons, dysfunction, black sheep, the whole nine yards. Every family has an atmosphere for how much discussion is tolerated as well. By blogging, we participate in changing that atmosphere. What the long-term effects will be on the Church, I don’t know.

    What Would Jesus Blog? Probably what we see in the LDS.org PR newsroom 😉

  2. Andrew, great post.

    “On the other hand, we could talk about polyandry, the Mountain Meadows Massacre, racism in the contemporary Church, etc. in such an honest, inquiring spirit that no one could fault us.”

    You really think so? If were to say something in a church meeting like:

    Did you know that Joseph Smith spiritually married women who were already married to other faithful LDS men? In at least one case, the marriage took place while the original husband was on a mission. I can’t imagine how that would feel. Considering our teachings about eternal families, and how eternal marriage is pretty much the paramount goal in this life, having the prophet come and take your eternal marriage from you would be shattering.

    Do you think people would just roll with that? I think even with the mildest tone possible I would still be treated at best as someone who is being attacked by Satan with anti-Mormon material (because no one would believe it was true), or at worst as someone who is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I’d get pity or fear, and either way I’d be dropped a notch or two in cultural status.

  3. Andrew, I think you hit the nail on the head that the “prime directive,” so to speak, is love and unity. The questions of the gospel are important in that they provide you with a FUNCTIONING belief system and world view that increase love and unity. Whenever I have a disagreement with my wife I try to ask myself, “What do I really want most, to be Right or to solve the issue in a way that makes both of us happy?” So often my pride plays such an important role in creating contention, when releasing the blame and frustration creates the safety needed for good discussions. Those individuals who enjoy shocking and debating others usually shut off their personal influence with them.

    Clay, I have been able to discuss difficult issues with many members and they never look at me strangely; but I only do it when it makes sense and serves a purpose that the individual can see it benefiting them personally. In other words, you not only have to present information but also explain why it is important to them and how it will benefit them, then have them agree to discussing it with them. Discussing difficult topics is something you can only do once you build enough safety and love; it must be done within that “unity” that Andrew is speaking of.

    There are certain topics that are not effectively discussed in a group setting because it is so difficult to build sufficient safety or to spend sufficient time answering individual concerns and questions. My influence increases with others if they have seen by my life that my loyalty to God, our community, ecclesiastical leadership, and the principles of love and sacrifice lead me to be trustworthy. In my experience I will not trust others if I have not seen evidence that they know how to love and build unity with others, and that is how I answer your question “what criteria do you use to determine when a public discussion about Church-related topics ‘goes too far’?”

    How else could Hugh Nibley have gotten away with writing what he wrote without having first demonstrated his commitment to living the gospel?

  4. Clay,

    Point taken. I meant to indicate that in the Bloggernacle one can say these kinds of things, be accepted, and have no harm done to one’s membership status. To say what you wrote above in church would be a stretch but I think some folks would think, “It’s about time!” Judging from how many people I know have read Rough Stone Rolling in my ward alone , I’m sure there are many in whose eyes your esteem would increase and are just waiting for the first “pioneer” to stick his or her neck out.

    That being said, I’m sure most of us who use our real names when posting have, by our participation in the Bloggernacle, put ourselves beyond the pale and dropped our cultural capital with some members, rendering us ineligible for the “higher levels” of Church calling. And no, I don’t mean nursery leader 🙂

  5. It might depend on whether one believes the bloggernacle is public or private. I would argue that although it is accessible to all, the bloggernacle is a private discussion among those who seek such discussions.

  6. 1. Do you see a rationale for making a distinction between appropriate topics for private inquiry and appropriate topics for public discussion about Church-related topics? If so, what is that rationale?

    I think this question goes back to Joseph Smith’s time. Joseph apparently thought that people could receive more revelation on topics that God had not revealed to the general church membership. However, a person who did gain this ‘further light and knowledge’ was generally constrained to keep it to herself/himself. Doctrine and Covenants 28 seems to echo this idea.

    As far as debating issues relating to church history or doctrine, I do not believe that church meetings are the appropriate place for such discussions. Sunday services are for worship, not debate and lecture. How many wives Joseph Smith had, how many of them were already married, how many he actually slept with and what their age and favorite color was are not at all relevant to learning how to cultivate one’s spirituality and learn how to be more Christ-like.

    However, I think that the Church members could be a little bit more understanding if someone approached them in private with their doubts and misgivings.

  7. Hmmm….”What would Jesus blog?”

    “So what’s up with those darn Sadducees and Pharisees? I think they’re all hypocrites! Then we’ve got all those money-changers in the temple! They make me so mad, I just want to braid a whip and drive them all out!”

    “So what’s all this about good Jewish men not being able to shave their beards off? I don’t see how that has anything to do with righteousness. Someday, just out of spite, I’m going to invent a religion where all the men are expected to be clean shaven! I’ll make their leaders think only budding apostates allow facial hair. In fact, I’ll make all their men wear white shirts too. That’ll teach them what it’s like to get stuck with silly rules!”

  8. dpc,

    with all due respect, Sunday School, by it’s very name, is not a venue for worship, other than the opening and closing prayers. It is by its very nature a discussion between teacher and students, although we tend to call them class members. In Gospel Doctrine one may properly bring up subjects like Church history and doctrine, indeed that is the entire point. The worldwide leadership training broadcasts model this discussion format using a mix of relevant General Authorities, church employees, and rank-and-file members. They’re not bringing up controversial topics, but controversy is in the eye of the beholder most of the time, and varies from ward to ward.

  9. I agree with SingleSpeed. This is a private conversation, because most members have never even heard of the Bloggernacle. (Case in point, I just asked my wife, and she had never heard of it.) However, it is public enough that I am using a pseudonym, because I don’t want to be “outed” just yet. I’m a newbie, and don’t yet know who I can trust. Hopefully I can meet some of you in person some day.

    I’m trying to figure out a way to go to Sunstone, without my wife getting upset. I know my parents are looking at me as if I might be the “apostate-in-waiting”. So, I’m learning to be quieter in public. It sure is nice to find safe places like this. I also was able to help my wife with RS lesson #3 because I found something on the bloggernacle that was helpful to her lesson. I know I shouldn’t substitute the Bloggernacle for Sunday School, but I get so much more out of this….

    “The Mormons” re-aired on Channel 7 last night, so I watched it with my wife. We tuned in at the point where they talked about Joseph marrying women who had living husbands. My wife said, “is that true?” I responded that yes, and told her I read it in ”Rough Stone Rolling.” She was pretty disturbed by it. I must admit I am too, but at least it wasn’t a surprise to me, and it seemed like I was able to calm her a little bit on it. But frankly, it’s not something she wants to learn. I’m just glad I can hang out with people who aren’t hiding from the truth, but still have testimonies.

  10. “But frankly, it’s not something she wants to learn.”

    I would say that most people want to know the truth, but they are not confident that the source they read or person they are talking to really knows the truth or what the implications of specific ideas may be. If you are able to find individuals who have testimonies of the Restoration and show you how they process challenging information and how it leads them to live better lives, you will be able to provide a better framework for others. I recommend BlakeOstler.com for someone that fits that profile. Good to meet you Mormon Heretic.

  11. I agree with Nick… Jesus would say something along the lines of…

    “Ye Mormons! Ye Hypocrites! You judge people who smoke, yet in your hearts you would like to smoke! You judge people who drink alcohol and consume caffeine, yet you eat more chocolate in one day than the the enire state of Florida does in an entire year!”

    Seriously though… I do think He would think we as a church are a lot like the Pharisees of old. Too many Mormons think they are better than every other church because we are “more righteous” and “have the fullness of the Gospel”.

    Darrell

  12. Ooops!! Meant to add to the above that we (as a Church) are Pharisitical also because we have too much focus on the “Law” and not near enough on “Faith”. Much like the Pharisees of old.

    Darrell

  13. I think Jesus would focus on asking us how we are doing with loving God and loving our neighbors.

    If our discussions led to one of these then I think Jesus would be happy. If our discussions led one away from the love of God then I think he’d tell us to steer clear from these conversations.

    http://www.graceforgrace.com

  14. When I heard about Joseph Smith spiritually marring women who were already married, it was quite surprising. At first I did look at it as Clay put it, “having the prophet come and take your eternal marriage from you”. But I’ve never heard of their sealings getting removed before the prophet was sealed to them. So I started to think of it as “having the prophet come and join your eternal marriage with you”. But I don’t know all of the details. However, I do tell people that when they come to me to ask questions about it.

  15. RE: #11

    “I would say that most people want to know the truth, but they are not confident that the source they read or person they are talking to really knows the truth or what the implications of specific ideas may be.”

    I can’t honestly agree with this statement. I think that when a person is pretty comfortable in their worldview, they aren’t likely to change it even if the truth is completely available. I’m not just talking about members of the church either because this goes with any sort of belief system (i.e. alternative medicine, UFOs, evolution v. creationism, etc.). It is appropriate to question sources and find the best available, but that’s a lot of work that too many don’t want to do. Furthermore, I still think that if the truth is painful or could potentially shatter a worldview, people will consciously or subconsciously avoid the topic and go with what is comfortable. I’ve seen it hundreds of times in my profession.

    So, how does this relate to the bloggernacle? I think that this is a good place to challenge our viewpoints. It is vitally important to know what the opposition has to say because they may have just as valid things to write. It allows us all to reevaluate, reform, and rework our thoughts, which is healthy intellectual stimulation.

    Personally, I think that Jesus would be a blogging maniac. This is a great way to get your ideas out if your a good networker. But like Mormon Heretic stated, most of us use pseudonyms, so who know if Jesus would ever use is real name. He may use Gee Yo Va or El Ohim because those look cooler than just J.C. We would probably all be arguing about his ideas also. I mean, hey, we are already, right?

  16. I have not worn a white shirt in a while. I started taking a different version of the Bible to Church. I also am fascinated by Huston Smith’s book “The World’s Religions”. What do I make of myself?

  17. Chris,

    “What do I make of myself?”

    That you’re pretty darn cool.

    I am so out there in some of my opinions that I conform in other ways just to have a socially acceptable balance for folks that get to know me through the ward.

    Mormon Heretic,

    If you want to go to Sunstone, I can help you out. I’ve been a couple of times. It’s not as scary as you might think and you have the opportunity to meet famous people in the Mormon Studies area of the world in a relaxed setting.

  18. Chris, if I were you I’d steer clear of sunstone. The problem is is that its a mixed bag of apostates and true blue intellectuals. So if you affilate or go there, how can you say that you do not support or affilate with apostate groups?

    To me, I have had a hard time staying away from Sunstone stuff because its so compelling, but I could never join sunstone, nor can I find myself subscribing to it, lest I affilate with apostates. So for me, its been a tough balancing act.

  19. John Nilsson:

    To my mind, Sunday School is a place where gospel discussions can take place and where every one leaves feeling the Spirit and edified. I’m not sure how speculative and controversial topics would accomplish that. History and theology are not science, and bringing up tough issues without your rank and file member having the proper tools to analyze the issues would be problematic. Without a solid foundation of epistemology, metaphysics, logic and ethics, history can easily be misunderstood with negative consequences. You have to learn how to use the power saw and drill press before you can build a cabinet. If someone just hands you the tools and tells you to build the cabinet, you’re not going to have much success.

    I’m not trying to be elitist or claim that people can’t handle the truth. It’s just been my observation that absent a pretty decent background in philosophy, most people make snap decisions without fully understanding the issues.

  20. Clay’s proposed comment (elder’s quorum, Gospel Doctrine, I don’t know where exactly he had in mind for this to be raised) was:

    Did you know that Joseph Smith spiritually married women who were already married to other faithful LDS men? In at least one case, the marriage took place while the original husband was on a mission. I can’t imagine how that would feel. Considering our teachings about eternal families, and how eternal marriage is pretty much the paramount goal in this life, having the prophet come and take your eternal marriage from you would be shattering.

    Clay’s hypothetical is the kind of comment which I have heard from time to time in church by members who have experienced pain as they have discovered disturbing facts in the history of the Church. I consider it sad that members feel social pressure not to bring up topics like the above in the context of a lesson on marriage or something else relevant to what Clay is saying above.

    One mark of the strength and success of our Church is how often people bring up uncomfortable subjects and are respectfully listened to and assisted in feeling comfortable as active Mormons. Painful doctrinal issues have been raised in my ward and many participants walked away invigorated by the discussion and comforted that they were not alone in taking their faith seriously enough to be concerned that there is more to our theology and history than pat answers in a 40 minute format. This can be done where ward members love and trust each other. Where there is an absence of love and trust, and we are all strangers to one another, then yes, comments like the above can seem more threatening. Aren’t ward members our friends and family?

  21. How does what Clay brought up require any kind of background in philosophy to answer? Just empathy and understanding for his shock and some thoughtful attempts at reconciliation. He’s talking about historical facts, not the reconciliation of God’s foreknowledge with human freedom.

  22. Bob, or should I say Moey, or are you Dude this morning?:

    Sunstone is not a rival church or organization that one joins. It’s a foundation that publishes a monthly magazine and sponsors annual conferences (the dreaded symposia) where people are doing the same kinds of things we’re doing right now on the Bloggernacle. One can subscribe to the magazine, or pay a fee to attend the symposium. Sunstone does not have “members” the same way the LDS Church does. I have attended two symposia and read many articles from the magazine, but am not a member of Sunstone. So the word “affiliate” you use never comes into play.

    It’s interesting that you find Sunstone compelling, as do I. It’s probably because there is something there for everyone. Sunstone has no agenda, other than an open forum to discuss topics relevant to Mormonism. Hmmm, sounds just like this website.

  23. #9, #12, #13, etc.:
    Okay, apparently I conveyed something entirely different than I intended. Kent, I was not being uncharitable toward anyone. I was poking a little fun at the thread title, first by mirroring what Jesus actually said about pharisees, saducees and money-changers, and second by (I thought) good-naturedly imagining him grousing about facial hair rules of his time, which were every bit as culturally-based as modern LDS expectations. It was only meant to elicit a chuckle, and it absolutely was not meant to imply that modern LDS were pharisees. The latter actually never entered my mind, until I saw Darrel draw that conclusion from my post.

    To any who were offended by my silly attempt at humor, please accept my apologies.

  24. Nick,

    You’re too witty by half for some of us. I thought your comment was a pleasant detour from where this thread was going, and has since gone.

  25. John Nilsson:

    I think you make a valid point and I am sympathetic to what you say. However, I think it raises a question of the inquirer’s intent. I know people who sincerely seek answers to uncomfortable questions. I also know people that bring up controversial topics in an effort to cause contention and acrimony. How do you encourage the former while discouraging the latter?

    I submit that answering hypothetical questions like the one above works better in small groups, rather than a large group. It’s not an easy question to answer, especially with its conclusory language, not because it is difficult and we would like to ignore it, but because there are a lot of others things going on around such issues. It raises the issue of dynastic sealings. It raises issues of revelation versus theology. I don’t think that a forty-minute meeting with a large group of people can adequately explain the issues and resolve concerns. Feel free to disagree. I could very well be wrong.

    They have Institute for young adults. Perhaps they should have a separate one for those over thirty, with the same choice of classes. The average institute class runs for an hour and a half which gives ample opportunity to explore issues on a deeper level.

    Additionally, time devoted to ‘fringe’ topics takes time away from the fundamentals of the gospel. The fact that Joseph Smith had more wives than I do says very little about how to improve the marriage I already have. What random remark Brigham Young said in a general conference one hundred fifty years ago and how Orson Pratt disagreed with it are less useful to me than how to help me overcome pride and better forgive those who have ‘done me wrong’. What archaeological evidence there is for metal working in pre-Columbian times in Mesoamerica is not going to help much with my eternal salvation, but learning what it means to abandon the natural man and become more Christ-like probably will. Fringe topics may be more exciting and intellectually-stimulating, but if I come out of Sunday School having felt the Spirit, I feel that it’s been a good day.

  26. How does what Clay brought up require any kind of background in philosophy to answer? Just empathy and understanding for his shock and some thoughtful attempts at reconciliation. He’s talking about historical facts, not the reconciliation of God’s foreknowledge with human freedom.

    Anyone who has studied philosophy ultimately comes to the conclusion that we A) can’t know anything and B) life is too short to waste time worrying about it. When you get into that mindset, it takes more than a few little historical minutiae to make you want to change the trajectory of your life.

    Metaphysical questions:
    What does it mean to spiritually marry another? How is it distinct from legal marriage? Is it the same thing as ‘eternal marriage’? If it is not, what are the differences?

    Ethical questions:
    Is it wrong for someone who claims to be inspired by God to spiritually marry another woman who is legally married to another? Do we answer the question by resorting to the deontological argument or utilitarian argument? Can we impose our early 21st century biases on mid-19th century practices and have a coherent result?

    Epistemological questions:
    How do we know the difference between revelation from God and our man-made theology? Can theology change without affecting the underlying revelation, i.e. what is the relationship between the two?

    Logical questions:
    Does the question ‘poison the well’ by injecting personal emotionality into the discussion?

    If the questioner is seeking empathy and comfort, we need to make it so that such a person can go to someone who offers it. Again intent is the key. Is the questioner worried that the historical information means the Joseph Smith is not a prophet and that the Church is not ‘true’? In those cases, it is better to discuss what the person’s expectations were and what disturbs them about information. Instead of the knee-jerk, this person is losing the faith, what do we do, we should find out why they are upset at what they read.

  27. “Additionally, time devoted to ‘fringe’ topics takes time away from the fundamentals of the gospel. The fact that Joseph Smith had more wives than I do says very little about how to improve the marriage I already have.”

    This is true, although I think it simplifies a more complex problem for people like me. To be totally honest, I would not bring up heavy topics thinking I was going to get answers from my ward members, but rather that I would want them to think about the issues and maybe have a better understanding of the complexity of all this. I realize that hitting the complexity often hurts a lot and some people’s faith can’t survive it. That is why certain leaders have hunted scholars. “Some things that are true are not very useful”.

    But for someone like me, understanding the bigger picture of complexity, which is only truly exposed when things like polyandry and blood atonement are considered, has huge effects on my perspective and activity in the church. Think of how hard Mormons try to do so much, to follow every admonishment of the prophets, and I think a lot of that pressure stands on a foundation of feeling that generally the leaders are giving us God’s word unfiltered. In the bloggernacle we can all agree that is an unrealistic view, but average Mormons are still killing themselves to live up to the standard. For me, coming to see that perhaps not every word from Joseph, Brigham, or even modern leaders is necessarily inspired means I have to do a lot more figuring out of things myself than I previously thought. And if I have to do this much figuring, and God is merciful, then He will let me be me and reject ideas which seem bad to me and do my best to seek for love and joy.

    Before I knew that Mormonism’s history included some crazy stuff that I can’t justify, I thought everything had to be justified and every standard had to be met, and that absolutely has an effect on people’s lives and relationships. I have a friend whose marriage was failing, until they let go of their obligations to the church. They stopped trying to meet every expectation, and they even attend a local grace-centered church for the occasional change of pace. FYI, they have not changed their lifestyles to include drinking or anything like that. They just don’t stress about doing everything perfectly. This has rescued their marriage.

    Just for the record, I don’t actually say things like that in church. I’ve stuck my toe in that water a couple times, just to get the temperature, and it hasn’t been very warm.

  28. Lame comment, Bob Whipple (#20). Such mischaracterization is mean-spirited.

    Sunstone symposia topics are no different than the topics discussed throughout the bloggernacle. Case in point, next month’s symposia in Southern California at Claremont features panels discussing the following topics:

    1.) Black experience in Mormonism (featuring Darius Gray)
    2.) Mormons and politics, Mitt Romney, etc.
    3.) President Hinckley’s legacy (featuring Richard Bushman, Armand Mauss, etc.)
    4.) Mormons and Christians, exploring comparative theology
    5.) The problem of evil
    6.) Faith journeys (three panels on this subject, running the gamut from “Why We Stay” to “Borderlander stories” to studying “Ex-Mormon narratives”)

    And many more. See: http://sunstoneblog.com/?p=286

    Mormon Matters covers this same ground every day, with people weighing in from multiple points of view.

    Mormon Heretic (#10), if you are in So Cal, I hope to see you at the Claremont symposium. If your wife knows about (and ostensibly approves of) Rough Stone Rolling, just tell her you are going to see Richard Bushman discuss his opinions and feelings for Gordon B. Hinckley, and Claudia Bushman bear her testimony re why she is a member of the church. How could anyone object to that? If you don’t go, and you live in So Cal, I’d still like to meet you. If interested, you can find my contact info at SunstoneBlog.

    Andrew, you raise questions, but provide no answers. What is your opinion? If SS/PH/RS is not the appropriate venue to discuss issues that range outside of the watered-down SS/PH/RS curriculum, where is that appropriate venue?

  29. Just for the record, I don’t actually say things like that in church. I’ve stuck my toe in that water a couple times, just to get the temperature, and it hasn’t been very warm.

    Just for the record, I never thought that you did. 😉

    In the bloggernacle we can all agree that is an unrealistic view, but average Mormons are still killing themselves to live up to the standard.

    I think some are, but relatively few. My own heretical belief is that the majority of Mormons could easily be classified as “Cafeteria Mormons”. We all have our pet commandments that we are good at following and rationalize and justify non-compliance with others. I don’t think that it’s something to get all worked up about, though.

    To be totally honest, I would not bring up heavy topics thinking I was going to get answers from my ward members, but rather that I would want them to think about the issues and maybe have a better understanding of the complexity of all this.

    It’s always better that people know more, but I think that a lot of folks just aren’t concerned about certain issues (I really could care less about polygamy or the Mountain Meadows Massacre) or it doesn’t factor into their daily lives. What I think is more problematic is that when confronted with these facts, some people jump to conclusions rather than try to get a better understanding of the complexity of the issues. How would you suggest approaching the issues?

  30. Folks, thanks for your thoughtful comments. As Matt Thurston (#31) accurately pointed out, I have presented questions, but no answers. The reason for that is that I honestly feel like I don’t know the answers to these questions. Rather, I have a random jumble of competing, inconsistent, and contradictory thoughts jumping around in my mind about this topic. I hoped this post would allow readers and I to benefit from each others’ perspectives to help sort out these tricky questions. Since Matt expressed an interest in my opinion on this topic (which changes by the minute), I’ll try to post a summary of my thinking on this topic later this evening. However, I’m concerned such a comment would be way too long for a comment, so perhaps I’ll have to do a follow-up post on this topic.

    Again, thank you all for your comments!

  31. Per Matt Thurston’s request (#31) to hear my opinions about this issue, I’ll do my best to summarize my present thoughts, which are a work in progress. The jury is still out for me on these questions.

    1. I love the quote above that “the Lord has never withheld from our quest any field of truth. Our knowledge is to be coterminous with the universe and is to reach out and to comprehend the laws and workings of the deeps of the eternities. All domains of knowledge belong to us. In no other way could the great law of eternal progression be satisfied.” When it comes to the scope of our search for truth as Church members, it really doesn’t get any broader than that, does it? I’ve never thought that narrowing our scope of inquiry in this life was a good way to prepare us to share God’s omniscience when we (hopefully) inherit all that he has in the next life.

    2. Because of point #1 above, I have a hard time understanding the idea that some questions or topics are a “waste of time.” For example, if things like Kolob or the Lost Tribes of Israel are just a waste of time, I cannot understand why God bothered to reveal them in the Latter-days, or to refer to the latter so heavily in prophesies about our day. There’s a presumption in advertising law that if an advertiser bothered to put a statement in writing, it intended that statement to be relied upon by the reader. By the same token, it seems if God went to the trouble of revealing Kolob to us (and to Abraham), there must have been a reason for it that we should try to understand.

    3. At the same time, I understand our inquiry into “everything” needs to be balanced, and should not focus exclusively or even predominately on the “fringes.” There are plenty of examples about Pharisees or others who got so hung up on minutiae that they lost sight of the forest while fixating on the trees. But I don’t think focusing on the “basics” or “essentials” on the one hand, and exploring the “mysteries” on the other hand, has to be an either-or, mutually-exclusive proposition. In my experience, I’ve found my exploration of the “mysteries” opens new insights into the “basics”–sort of the “shoot for the stars and you’ll hit the moon” concept. Also, if we’re not supposed to inquire about the mysteries, I have a hard time understanding why God tells us “And if thou wilt inquire, thou shalt know mysteries which are great and marvelous.” (D&C 6:11.)

    4. Taken collectively, I think points 1-3 lead me to conclude that no topic is absolutely “off limits” for private inquiry. However, I definitely think there are sound reasons to be more selective about our topics of public discussion. Those reasons are:

    a. Some Church members may not yet developed the spiritual maturity required to digest more difficult information, and it is uncharitable to disturb their development by prematurely putting difficult information before them; and

    b. Humility requires us to acknowledge our understanding of the “facts” behind a controversial issue may be incorrect (particularly when it comes to historical issues), and that spreading our misinformation (albeit unintentionally) to a public audience is a far more dangerous proposition than sharing that misinformation privately with a select few. Usually the reason an issue is controversial is that there is so much uncertainty surrounding our understanding of it. That uncertainty is the very reason why it is so easy to unintentionally spread misinformation about it, and when that is done publicly, the damage is more serious. For example, if we were to discover that information we shared with a public audience was incorrect, it would be extremely difficult if not impossible to correct. It is easier to correct misinformation we privately share because private discussions are likely to involve fewer people who are more well known to us, and are therefore capable of being contacted if we need to correct our previous misstatements of fact.

    5. Accordingly, I agree with one of the commenters that we should not go around trying to “shake things up” in public. It’s one thing to discuss a difficult issue in a setting where the participants are willing (e.g., a conference or symposium), but quite another to inject it into a Gospel Doctrine class discussion, for example. I think both teachers and class members in the Church need to respect Church leaders’ right to set limits to the scope of the discussion (as defined by the manuals), no matter how unsatisfying that may be to some.

    6. Although I don’t think we should go around injecting controversy or difficult information into settings where that has not been invited, I see no problem with people who feel they’ve developed sufficient spiritual or intellectual maturity to seek opportunities to discuss difficult topics in a variety of fora, e.g., college classrooms, Mormon studies conferences, etc.–NONE of which has been absolutely banned by the Church, as Elder Oaks pointed out in his Alternate Voices talk. Rather, the Church has simply urged Church members to use “caution” in those studies. I am not offended by such counsel; I am used to having to exercise such caution whenever I turn on the radio, television, pick up a magazine, or expose myself to ideas or information in any setting. We should always be on guard for misinformation, counter-productive contention, etc.

    7. In addition to being selective about the issues we discuss publicly, and the particular fora where we discuss them, I think the tone of our discussion is of supreme importance, as John Nilsson pointed out. We’re told repeatedly in scripture that contention and the Spirit of God are incompatible. It is lamentable there is so little true civil discourse these days, and particularly in the Bloggernacle. But I agree with John N. that provided the tone is appropriate and respectful, just about any topic can be addressed. For me, a speaker’s tone is a true indicator of that speaker’s reliability and quality of thought. If I find the tone abrasive, my personal sense of “caution” tells me to withdraw from that discussion.

    8. If a person disagrees with the Church’s position on something, my understanding is that the Brethren have asked we discuss or write to them about our disagreement privately, rather than voicing our disagreement with Church leaders publicly. As best I can tell, the rationale for that request is to avoid disunity in the Church, which I can understand. Accordingly, I am personally committed to observing that request.

    I hope that clarifies where I stand on these issues, for now anyways. Again, thanks for the good discussion all.

  32. Andrew (#34), I think this is a well-reasoned response. I’m glad you took the time to write this out as I think your conclusions are as valuable (or more so) than the questions you pose.

    I agree with all of your points, especially points #1, #3, and #7.

    If there is a point that I’m not as enthusiastic about it would be #4a and #4b.

    Regarding #4a and 4b, I agree as a general rule that we should try to be aware of others spiritual maturity. That said, determining another person’s spiritual maturity is difficult at best, and maybe impossible. It becomes even more complicated when a group or community is involved. To whose spiritual level/maturity should we frame questions or comments? To the weakest of the Saints? And if so, do we not sacrifice the spiritual sensibilities of the mature on the alters of the spiritually immature? How many become “lost” because they weren’t challenged enough vs those who were challenged too much?

    In the end, I just think dealing with difficult spiritual issues is part of life. And whether the realm is spiritual or temporal, we rarely learn new life lessons when we are “ready” or “properly prepared.” They come at us out of the blue on a random Tuesday afternoon.

    Furthermore, these life lessons don’t come carefully packaged with safe quotes, bullet points, and thought-provoking questions. In the marketplace of ideas we have to sift through a lot of crap. We carefully rehearse our “birds and bees” speech for our children, but their companions beat us to the punch with “misinformation” and their “incorrect… understanding of the ‘facts’”.

    So if we adhere to seven of your eight points above, I’m inclined to eliminate #4 and let the chips fall where they may.

    But that is just my desire or wish. I fully support an institution’s right to define for itself the boundaries of discussion. If the Church wants to limit discussion in SS/PH/RS to doctrinal basics and avoid any/all discussion of ambiguous or difficult issues, I will toe the line. But I become excitable and unhappy when this standard is expressed or enforced outside the boundaries of Church, whether the venue is private or public. Such investigation and discourse is the purpose of life.

  33. Matt, thanks for your thoughtful feedback (#35). If you’re not too jazzed about point #4, I think we get to the same result in #5 and #6, only by a different rationale. In summary, point #4 is to be careful about the topics we raise in public discussions (e.g., gospel doctrine class) out of a concern for others’ spiritual maturity. I think even if one were to eliminate that consideration, points #5 and #6 still provide a rationale for being selective about when and where we bring up controversial information. The main point behind #5 and #6 is to avoid forcing controversial information on others when it hasn’t been invited, and that it’s OK to engage in discussion of controversial information when it has been invited. Essentially, it’s an argument to respect the audience’s consent, or lack of consent, to bring up and discuss controversial information. So either way we get there, I think perhaps we have the same result, which is to be careful and selective about what we bring up and when.

    Thanks again for your feedback. BTW, I’m bummed I won’t be able to make it to upcoming MESG meetings; just started teaching ESL on Friday nights. I sure am sorry I’ll be missing Claudia Bushman!

  34. Matt,

    Thanks for the invite to Claremont, and helping me come up with better wording. My wife isn’t nearly as interested in these topics as I am, but I doubt she’d be opposed to me listening to Richard Bushman. However grad studies, and living in Utah will prevent me from attending this year. However, I do hope to attend a session or 2 here in SLC where/whenever they are.

    DPC #21. I agree in concept that Sunday School is a place where gospel discussions can take place and where every one leaves feeling the Spirit and edified. That is a nice ideal, but in my ward I have a hard time feeling the spirit when the teacher simply reads the lessons, and hopes someone will help him fill the time up. (Yes, he actually says that when he starts the lesson.)

    I probably did make a few tactical errors in selecting some of the topics I brought up when I taught the lessons in GD. My purpose in doing so, was to create some cognitive dissonance, so that hopefully the student would examine some of these topics and get a stronger testimony. I found however, that most people don’t like to expand their horizons. They like their nice, neat world, and have contempt for anyone that dares to try to teach something they consider unorthodox. I feel that Jesus taught this way–a way that made the listener uncomfortable, but ultimately led to a stronger testimony. In retrospect, the people of his day had the some of the same reactions as the people in my ward. At least I just was released, and not crucified….. 😉

    So at this time it seems easier to avoid GD altogether, and let the ward members have the Sunday School lessons that they are more comfortable with. And I come here to fill my cup…

  35. I think that there is a need to talk more about the temple. While there is a clear line that we do not cross in speaking of the sacred details of the temple, many members of the Church push that line to the point of not talking about it at all. Consider President Benson’s remarks:

    Because of [the Temple’s] sacredness we are sometimes reluctant to say anything about the Temple to our children and grandchildren. As a consequence, many do not develop a real desire to go to the Temple, or when they go there, they do so without much background to prepare them for the obligations and covenants they enter into. (President Benson, “What I Hope You Will Teach Your Children about the Temple,” Ensign, August (1985): 6-10, emphasis added)

    The temple is the center of our worship. It is the ultimate goal of progression in conversion. It espouses our highest ideals and visions of eternity. It is the stable, secure fortress of God in an erratically changing and slipshod world. The temple has been the envy of Christians since the beginning. It is the center of the universe, the gate between heaven and earth, the place where we experience the divine presence.

    Hugh Nibley had some thoughts on the silent treatment we’ve given the temple:

    What the Mormons like best about their temples is the obligation of secrecy that exonerates them from ever having to speak, and hence to think, about what they have learned by the ordinances and teachings. So strict are they in observing the confidential nature of those teachings that they, for the most part, scrupulously avoid dropping so much as a hint to outsiders by putting any of them into practice. (Petersen, Hugh Nibley: A Consecrated Life, 361)

    How are we preparing our young to attend the temple? How do we defend the tenets of our ritual worship? Where do we focus our searching for truth and expunging error? Are we learning more about the covenants that we enter into in the temple, and how we can live them better? Do we have a testimony of the temple and its practice? Do we take the temple seriously?

    These are some of the thoughts I had when I created my new blog, TempleStudy.com. I hope that it can be a place where we can respectfully and appropriately discuss the blessings of the temple, sustain and defend it against the wiles of the day, and at the same time increase our learning and knowledge of things eternal.

  36. I suspect that if the Lord were to start a blog, he probably wouldn’t reveal any new earth-shattering doctrines. It would probably be more along the lines of, “Remember when I said don’t covet, yeah, I was actually being serious when I said that.” “Remember when I said, ‘he that looketh upon a woman to lust after her hath already commited adultery with her?’ Yeah, that includes most of the movies and TV shows you’re watching at the moment.”

    I think that we can find a lot of what He would blog about in First Presidency messages and General Conference talks.

    He tends to save the deeper doctrines for personal revelation to scripture study. At least, that seems to be my experience.

  37. Mormon Heretic said:

    That is a nice ideal, but in my ward I have a hard time feeling the spirit when the teacher simply reads the lessons, and hopes someone will help him fill the time up. (Yes, he actually says that when he starts the lesson.)

    Nothing sucks the Spirit out of a lesson quicker than the teacher reading from the manual. The problem with reading is that it fails to engage the members. It’s antithetical to a gospel discussion. After a lesson like that, I think that all members have a moral right, if not a moral duty, to knee such a gospel doctrine teacher in the groin after the lesson. 😉

    I also don’t think that it’s bad to present the material in a different way (which appears to be what you were doing). Different perspectives on different gospel topics is one of the things that is best about having an engaged, interested class. Everyone contributes something and you hear viewpoints and ideas that you wouldn’t have heard otherwise.

  38. Truth be told, this particular teacher never wanted the calling in the first place, so kneeing him in the groin would only lead him into inactivity. Is it always a good thing to accept every calling?

    My wife says I should come and make comments to help out in class. Well, that’s nice, but I was released because of my “unorthodox” comments. I’ve got to agree with one thing that he does much better than I did. He is definitely following the lesson manual…. I asked if I could say “no” to getting released, but they said, “no”. (He did ask me to sub for him once, so I guess I’m not completely banished, but I prefer my self-imposed exile to attending his class.)

  39. This is all fine and good, except when your blog is slightly critical of something in the church, or your site simply has links to other sites that may or may not be considered apostate in subject matter. I personally know of several instances where this was the case and the bishop of the person’s ward was made privy to the site. They called them in for questioning or what we like to refer to as “a court of love”. So its ok to Blog, just as long as you don’t come under the scope of your local church authority ? I don’t think thats right.

  40. Pingback: My Nacle Notebook 2008: Funny comments | Zelophehad’s Daughters

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