Now if only they’d correct our false notions about socks with sandals…

Been to lds.org lately? The newsroom has added a highly amusing section, called “Mistakes in the News“, where the Church p.r. department provides rebuttals and corrections to news articles it considers erroneous. Some hot-button issues in there — MMM, Utah Theocracy, DNA evidence of the Book of Mormon… makes for a fun read! The level of aggressiveness in some of the replies is surprising to those who associate the public persona of the Church with a demure and passive quality. Check out this reply to an article in that anchor of newsmaking, The Scotsman: “Another religious leader was charged with sedition and blasphemy and portrayed as a drunkard and troublemaker. His name was Jesus Christ. These assertions were no better founded than your accusations against Joseph Smith.” Wowza.

Incidentally, does anybody know what the threshold popularity level is for generating this kind of response? I doubt they’d put up anything to correct the occasional heresy in the Bloggernacle.

Comments

  1. ” ANY danger of FARMS abandoning the Book of Mormon as a “historical document” (by which I assume you mean “not a 19th Century work”). “

    No, that’s not what I was meaning — I was talking about using the BoM as an accurate record of real Nephite history.

    The BoM as a 19th century work is pretty undeniable — though the subsequent editions may be an interesting thing to look at.

    Good point about things not necessarily being any messier or cleaner… I guess I’m experiencing a knee-jerk reaction to the thought of outsourcing doctrinal evolution. Perhaps I shouldn’t be so surprised at the concept.

  2. “hard core Iron Rodders like Steve E.”

    LOL!!! Man, you got me pegged.

  3. “hard core iron rodders like Steve E.”

    Wow, I better go back and read Poll’s “What the Church Means to People Like Me”

  4. “Would you like to clarify this? I’m not sure what you’re getting at. “

    I mean that while the BoM was originally translated in the 19th century, there have been numerous grammatical and other changes made since its initial production that have substantively affected its meaning.

    “Does anyone else see some irony in this statement coming from an editor of Sunstone?”

    No. I guess I don’t — what were you meaning?

  5. …cont.
    (I should preface the following by saying that I use my New Mormon Studies CD a good bit.)
    I think a good chunk of the reason why FARMS gets ANY respect from the powers that be is that they so clearly seem to be defending the church, whereas other publications have often seemed less well-intentioned towards the establishment. That may or may not be correct, but I think that is the widespread perception.

    Orson Card says it better than I (though it’s not all equally applicable) in his Sunstone essay “walking the tightrope” (April 1989, reprinted in “A Storyteller in Zion.”)

    -TRANSFORMING THE CHURCH
    OPEN, public criticism of a Church doctrine or policy, especially from within the Church, is the single least effective way to change that doctrine or policy. All that such critics succeed in doing is demonstrating that they do not believe that the Lord gives revelation to guide the prophets, and that fact declares these critics to be enemies of the fundamental point of LDS faith: that God speaks to living prophets.

    Please note: It is not necessarily their ideas that make these critics seem to be enemies of the faith, but rather the fact that they seem to believe that Church leaders can be negotiated with like politicians. It makes these critics at once infuriating to Church members and ineffective with Church leaders. It is exactly that attitude on the part of some Dialogue and SUNSTONE writers that has made these magazines seem like enemies of the faith to most Mormons who are aware that they exist-because so many writers for these publications are not members of the community of believers, and some are genuine enemies of the faith. They plainly don’t believe in revelation; and if they don’t believe in revelation, it is difficult to understand how they are Mormons in any sense but the cultural.

    Such critics sound to many Mormons the way Rushdie sounded to many Muslims; they strike at the heart of the Saints’ identity, their community, their worldview, and, as Elder Pace said, they are the most dangerous storytellers in the Church, because many nonmembers-and some members-will believe that it is possible to be a Latter-day Saint and have no belief in revelation or respect for prophets, seers, and revelators.

    THE POSSIBILITY OF INFLUENCE
    DOES this mean that there is no way for members to influence the Church? Does this mean that ideas can only flow from the top down? Of course not. Anyone who knows anything about Church government knows that the flow of ideas on doctrine and policy is omnidirectional. As often as not, revelation at the highest levels consists of getting ratification from the Lord for ideas first proposed and tried out in stakes, in wards, or in the minds and hearts of humble Saints. Most of the Brethren, far from being aloof declarers of the word, are passionate, involved listeners, eventually aware of every voice that is raised. And anyone who wants to be part of this vast network of teaching

  6. Aaron Brown says:

    A very early post at T&S by Kaimi (which turned into an argument with Nate Oman) discussed the FARMS view of Book of Mormon geography vs. the hemispheric model. I still think it was one of the most interesting exchanges that’s taken place over there. (I don’t recall the DNA issue coming up though).

    Aaron B

  7. Aaron, you’ve articulated what makes me nervous: “we take it as a given that modern leaders function more as administrators than theologians”

    I’m not disagreeing with your assessment, but I don’t particularly like it that way. I don’t like the idea that our doctrine is being shaped by forces other than those installed by revelation. It makes for messy doctrine and for theological complications down the road. You think it’s hard explaining that Brigham Young was a bit racist? Try in a few generations when we attempt to account for why we don’t take the BoM as a historical document anymore.

  8. and discovery and transformation can be.

    How is it done? It’s so simple. No power or influence can or should be maintained in the Kingdom of God except by:
    Persuasion. No public ultimatums or threats, no “negotiations,” but rather privately offering a new idea with a desire that the other person receive it.

    Long-suffering. Not giving up because our idea seems to be rejected at first. People change, and the idea that astonished them when they first heard it becomes sweeter to them over time.

    Gentleness. Never using stridency, anger, or ridicule toward those we hope to influence.
    Meekness. Always being willing to obey, even when your ideas aren’t accepted.

    Love unfeigned. Not merely pretending to support and sustain fellow Saints, but actually loving them, desiring their happiness, trusting their good will.

    Kindness. Never using our words to injure another, or even to return an injury we have received.
    Pure knowledge. Seeking our own confirmation from the Holy Ghost before we presume to teach others, instead of immediately trusting in our own “neat ideas” or the teachings of the world.

    Few of us have a calling that allows us to reprove anybody –and even fewer of us are ever moved upon by the Holy Ghost to do so. However, sometimes our ideas will seem to others to be a rebuke, and therefore we must be sure that we show them an increase in love, lest they esteem us to be their enemy.

    The Saints will not listen to an enemy. Why should they? But they will listen to people who are demonstrably loyal, believing Saints. You can have far more influence in the Church if you never utter a word of criticism, but instead teach your values positively, in circumstances that affirm faith in the gospel and commitment to the Church. If the Saints-particularly the Church leaders-know that “your faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death,” they will learn to trust that your stories are told out of ” charity toward the household of faith.” Then their confidence in you will strengthen, and your righteous influence in the Church will increase.

    Sorry for the long citation…

  9. But if you don’t wear socks with your sandals, your toes will get cold!

    :)

  10. But will the doctrine be any “messier” or the theology any more “complicated” than it already is? We’ve been moving along without professional theologians for 100+ years, and look at all the historical and doctrinal parsing and line-drawing we have to do! Also, suppose 19th Century racism could be attributed to Mormon members or scholars, rather than the Mormon leadership. It seems to me that some of the sticky 19th Century issues would be “easier” and not “harder” to deal with, in this scenario. We LDS have a much easier time dismissing “folklore” that comes from the general membership than we do “folklore” that comes from the “Prophet.” Outsourcing certain truth claims to non-General Authorities could serve as a kind of insurance policy. If years down the road, interpretations start to turn south, we can always blame Dan Peterson or Louis Midgley, rather than President Hinkley!

    Incidently, whatever other risks there might be in the writings of FARMS, I certainly don’t get the sense there is ANY danger of FARMS abandoning the Book of Mormon as a “historical document” (by which I assume you mean “not a 19th Century work”). Defending the traditional interpretation of the Book of Mormon seems to be its raison d’etre. Now, the precise content of what it “means” for the Book of Mormon to be “what it claims to be” may evolve somewhat — but I am in favor of our being open to more sophisticated understandings. The alternative doesn’t strike me as desirable.

    Aaron B

  11. I don’t see FARMS as redefining Church doctrine unless you are using “what lots of members believe” as your definition of doctrine. That is, the church has no official take on BoM geography, and I haven’t heard anything from General Conference about it. What’s being refined is general perception of the scriptures. At least on the issue of geography, they aren’t doing anything new, per se. (Someone in the recent JBMS collected GA statements going back to JS day that a) there were groups besides those in the BoM b) they were not spread all over N and S America or c) based in Central AMerica somewhere. That idea has been around for a while.)

    I, for one, see the FARMS people (speaking as if they were some kind of monolith, which they aren’t) falling in line behind the GA’s, not the other way around. If something important were to happen, it’d come from the COB, not the little FARMS house.

  12. I note that there has been only one post to the Mistakes feature in 2004–so either journalists have stopped making mistakes or someone decided this was not a productive use of tithing dollars.

    Or that this feature was setting the wrong tone. I don’t like the anonymous “we” pose of the responses–who exactly is supposed to be speaking? And there is a hint of that snide FARMS tone to some of the responses.

  13. I think you are all arguing around the corners of a broader issue — how do rank-and-file members put input into the Church system? And by input I mean sincere constructive information from the front lines, not doubts or bitter negativity. I don’t think that anyone would argue that getting info to the decision-makers in any way reduces the concept of a revelation led church. We’re supposed “study it out in our minds” “seek learning out of the best books, etc.” That the GAs get input from knowlegdeable people at a place like FARMS is an entirely good and proper thing. Otherwise what are all those reports for? l think even hard core Iron Rodders like Steve E. will acknowledge the usefulness of input from the field.

    Scott Card’s article presumes the possiblility of interpersonal input. This was quite possible up until a couple of decades ago when the Church was small and geographcally compact. Most Church members were at most only two degrees of separation by family or friendship connections to a high level GA. However, in the modern Church these informal channels of communication do not exist for the large majority of Church members.

    Another disadvantage of relying on private informal lines of communication is that it eliminates the interchange and development of ideas between people on the same low level of the organization.

    I think FARMS provides a model about how this could be accomplished. Remember FARMS started as an independent entirely private group of Nibley acolytes trying to carry on his work. And even if you disagree with some of their specific views, they have accomplished a significant good in guiding the Church to accept a more open and sophisticated view of the Book of Mormon. I think that the Church can tolerate independent voices as long as they are loyal, which FARMS always was. Sunstone and Dialogue were at least tolerated for many years until it began to appear that they were becoming primarily platforms for dissidents (which neither one intended — as Peggy Fletcher always complained it is easier to get angry people with an agenda to meet writing deadlines than happy people with a helpful suggestion).

    The issue is can the Church cope with a public forum where faithful constructive discussion occurs that impacts on Church policy? To be influential it would need to be more formal and available than the bloggernacle although the Internet is a good medium because it can incorporate international participation.

  14. It makes me extremely nervous to see the Church punt questions over to FARMS and to BYU historians. There’s no doubt that our perspectives on the scriptures are being shifted by the influence of people other than the Brethren, and I don’t particularly like it.

    On the other hand, the DNA response was a pretty good one, and it was the first time I’d ever seen the Church officially say that the Book of Mormon was not the history of all the people in the Americas.

  15. Maybe this is pointing out the obvious, but for a really good example of what Tom is talking about re: “The Possibility of Influence,” see Armand Mauss’ answer to Question #8 at T&S.

    Aaron B

  16. p.s. MMM = Mountain Meadows Massacre, just in case my post mystifies anybody.

  17. p.s. Tom wins the record for longest post EVER. Next time, just the small plates please!

    Aaron, we were talking past each other… again… hilarious! But I didn’t mean to prefer the “former” stance like you say. I just like to begin with a more orthodox view for purposes of discussion.

  18. Steve E. said: I mean that while the BoM was originally translated in the 19th century, there have been numerous grammatical and other changes made since its initial production that have substantively affected its meaning.

    I’m aware of about 4400+ changes, but I was under the impression that only about 4 of those change the meaning- namely, the shifts in the 1840 from “God” to “son of God” in Nephi’s dream, and the insertion of the phrase “waters of baptism” as a gloss on “waters of judah.” I’m interested in what passages you’d consider substantively affect meaning.

    “Does anyone else see some irony in this statement coming from an editor of Sunstone?”

    I found it ironic that someone who edits a periodical noted for frequently criticizing the establishment and offering suggestions as to what the establishment should be doing pointed out that the GA’s seem to have “listened” to FARM’s non-suggestions and virtually ignored Sunstone’s (by comparison) demands.
    Tail wagging the dog, as he put it.

  19. Steve E. writeth: “It makes me extremely nervous to see the Church punt questions over to FARMS and to BYU historians. There’s no doubt that our perspectives on the Scriptures are being shifted by the influence of people other than the Brethren and I don’t particularly like it.”

    Protest as Steve E. might, that sounds like a true Iron Rod sentiment to me.

    JWL

  20. Steve said: I was talking about using the BoM as an accurate record of real Nephite history.
    The BoM as a 19th century work is pretty undeniable — though the subsequent editions may be an interesting thing to look at.”

    Would you like to clarify this? I’m not sure what you’re getting at.

    John H. said: “The DNA and the Book of Mormon thing in particular represented a dramatic shift in thinking – I think it’s a sign of the tail wagging the dog. Those at FARMS and BYU are determining and changing the doctrine of the Church in regards to the Book of Mormon, and for the first time the Church seemed to officially defer to them.”

    Does anyone else see some irony in this statement coming from an editor of Sunstone?

    cont…

  21. Steve,

    I think we’re talking past each other with our definitions.

    THE most important debate in Book of Mormon studies is whether the Book of Mormon is what it claims to be (i.e. an ancient history), or rather, a “19th Century production” (i.e. a piece of fiction produced by Joseph Smith or someone else). There are ways of straddling the fence on this question and trying to have it both ways (Ostler), but the mere term “historical document” doesn’t clearly identify which side of the debate you were aligning yourself. I assume, from context, you favor the former.

    Aaron B

  22. Steve,

    What is it that makes you “extremely nervous” precisely?

    On the one hand, I understand the gripe that some people have about the absence of theological innovation and charismatic doctrinal exposition that characterized many leaders of the early Church. On the other hand, once we take it as a given that modern leaders function more as administrators than theologians, I’m at least glad that the Church is willing to listen to those who study this stuff full-time, rather than just presuming (as I believe Bruce R. McConkie would have done) that no one outside the hallowed halls of the COB would have anything of value to contribute.

    I don’t mean this as an unconditional endorsement of everything at FARMS, nor do I have a firm “position” on the hemispheric vs. local models. There are few things in this world as dry and BORING as FARMS articles on Book of Mormon geography.

    Aaron B

  23. This actually is a fairly old policy. My Mom was called to the PR for the stake and was in constant contact with the church office. They always sent here stuff on various news items and appropriate responses. She was supposed to send in any news items in our area (Nova Scotia). This was back in the 80’s. Bringing it up the way they have makes a lot of sense. Many news services doing fact checking have an easy place to go to. Of course journalistic fact checking has become worse, not better, the past few years.

    As to the stuff on the Book of Mormon, I note that they are very conservative and avoid FARMS more speculative or polemic issues. I think their response is quite apt.

  24. Tom, I just don’t buy this point you’re pushing about Sunstone or its editors somehow being jealous that GAs might consult FARMS people now and then.

    FARMS people are on the BYU/Church payroll, so GAs don’t hesitate to direct inquiries to them if there’s info they think they need. They’re like in-house consultants, and they know who writes their checks. They do have the expertise to give informed answers to the questions GAs direct to them (not that I would agree with all or even many of those answers).

    I don’t think Sunstone types (none of whom I know personally) seriously expect LDS leaders to acknowledge or respond to their articles, comments, or criticisms (especially if they are on point!) any more than the US President would feel a need or desire to respond officially to a Time or Newsweek article.

    Is there some specific statement you’re aware of that gives rise to your comments?

  25. Yea, I’ve been following the mistakes in the news section for a while now. It’s quite a remarkable thing for the Church to do, actually. The DNA and the Book of Mormon thing in particular represented a dramatic shift in thinking – I think it’s a sign of the tail wagging the dog. Those at FARMS and BYU are determining and changing the doctrine of the Church in regards to the Book of Mormon, and for the first time the Church seemed to officially defer to them.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 8,865 other followers