#1, Ichiban, Numero Uno

As part of our doctrine of restored priesthood keys and ordinances, a prophet who communes with God for the whole world, we believe that we are the one true and living Church, that Jesus Christ stands at the head and actively leads us, as the true Church.

You’d think that that would be enough but it seems that we have to use the Other to establish our place as number one.

In a recent tithing-themed sacrament meeting, a brother explained that we pay 10 percent of our income anonymously to the Church and then quoted Robert Hales, who said,

“Some years ago I visited a meetinghouse from another denomination. Etched in the beautiful stained glass windows which had been brought from Europe was the name of their donor; carved into the majestic pulpit made from the cedars of Lebanon were the initials of a wealthy benefactor; the most desirable pews were named after prominent families who donated the most to the chapel building fund. By contrast, in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, all who pay a full tithe are equally acknowledged and blessed by the Lordwithout special public honors and rewards.” Ensign Nov 2002

The speaker in my ward went on to discuss how he knew that our way of giving the tithe was the right way because it was not like this church that Hales names or other churches that he’s seen with plaques and recognitions of people in those church communities. In fact, the remainder of his talk established our right way because of others’ wrong ways.

I think that’s weird, and it makes me wonder if I am being stupid and idealistic. I want to believe that somehow we can establish our truthfulness based on our own accord, merit, revelation and not on what we see as the faulty revelation of other churches, but maybe we can only be number one if there is a second, a tenth and a great and abominable whore of all the earth.

It seems all a bit imperialistic. I am defined by the Other because I am not the Other. Colonizers of the Americas and Africa etc established their right to colonize because the Other was savage, unsophisticated, un nino con barba, reinforcing that they, the colonizers, were refined, sophisticated, civilized adults and rulers. Ethnic literature is jam-packed with the others, the liminalized, struggling to work out their own identities which are created mostly because people (usually white people) made their white identities out of what they were not. They were not the Other. Which leaves those who occupy liminal spaces very confused.

This also leads to extreme misunderstandings of the other. The Catholic church is not great and abominable. Acknowledged donations of expensive gifts is not really evil. Having a band and praise and worship team can lend to the Spirit. Big beautiful churches does not indicate corruption. The Others’ different way of doing things extrapolates to them being bad, unhappy or lacking. People of other faiths (or the irreligious folk too) can still be good people, with strong loving families, with inspiration, communion with God. They can be happy.

Maybe it is human nature to compare ourselves to others. To love what we are because we are not what they are. Maybe it is impossible to be number one without a number two. Maybe to be the Truth we have to have the Fiction.

But that bugs me.

And it bugs God too, IMHO.

Comments

  1. I wonder if occurred to the speaker in your meeting that Elder Hales may have given that talk in the Marriott center…

  2. Yes, yes. Jesus’s revolutionary teaching should lead us to treat people as neighbors, not others. Wish I could find the quote by Orson Whitney–it’s something like this: God’s work is too big to be carried out by one group alone.

  3. Also, I love Mark 9:38-40 “Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followesth not us: and we forbade him…But Jesus said, Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is on our part.”

  4. Is this post meant to be an ironic demonstration of the issue of concern?

  5. I have long lamented our glee comparisons to other religious groups, our odd focus on statistics (I know–“we don’t care about the percentages, we care about the people”), and our need to pat ourselves on the back constantly.

    It is as if we must convince ourselves that our course is correct by using the metaphor of the harvest as our one true guide. We make note of all of the fruits of our efforts to help us feel good about doing what the Lord has asked us to do. I am not criticizing the need to measure performance, but am simply noting that sometimes our efforts produce very little discernable, tangible results. That seems to drive us crazy. Our performance-driven, Puritan ethics-based, Western civilization cannot easily deal with these ethereal, Eastern-based concepts.

    The Beatitudes should be our guide as we try to live the Christian life. I am grateful beyond measure for all of my brothers and sisters of any religious persuasion who are trying to live lives of goodness and virtue. I am not, frankly, very good at trying to divine others’ motives. I am not very often in a position to do that, nor will I ever be.

  6. There seems to be no shortage of passages in the scriptures where a similar teaching technique is used. One example:

    Matt 6:1-4

    1 Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.
    2 Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
    3 But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:
    4 That thine aalms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.

    If the Lord cited negative examples in his teaching, why can’t we? Or is it that only the Lord is permitted to make judgments that another way is not right?

  7. Couldn’t agree more — bugs me too. For every “neener neener neener, we’re better than you, we would never do that” statement/claim we make, there is almost always an ironic LDS equivalent of us having done exactly that.

  8. In addition to #6

    Please note this scripture as well: D&C 1: VS 30

    30 And also those to whom these commandments were given, might have power to lay the foundation of this church, and to bring it forth out of obscurity and out of cdarkness, the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased, speaking unto the church collectively and not individually—

    Lets not fall into a mushy post modern mentality about Mormonism now.

  9. Amri,

    The way in which you have written this post underscores for me the fact that this blog is bad, and my own blog is good.

    I must thank you for contributing to BCC, and thank Steve for continuing to operate this blog. It is just as you say — only through the reflection of lesser blogs can my own blog’s true greatness be established.

    (To your credit, you fellows seem to enjoy your savage and unsophisticated limina).

  10. While I don’t think that using an example of another church like Bro. Hale did is much of a problem, I think it is a problem when this approach becomes the focus of a talk. Rather than focusing on the negative aspects of others, we should really be focusing on the positive.

    This is the true and living church, there is no doubt about that. That doesn’t mean that other churches don’t have their good points. Other churches have truths, and bring others to Christ. There is no doubt about that. That of course shouldn’t stop us from wanting to bring them into the lords official church.

  11. Has anyone attended the Yale building in Salt Lake City? There is stained glass given in memory of someone back from 1910ish.

    Also, should we then consider the Nauvoo Temple less than holy because it was paid for by Sorenson dollars?

    The sacrifices of specific saints are now memorialized by name in Church movies. Are they now less sacrificial than if they were anonymous?

    On a separate note …

    Whilst growing up in the Great Lakes region, our meetinghouses were considered “drab”. Now I live in TGSOT where our meetinghouses are the standard bearer of religious gathering place fashion, in comparison.

    On a separate, separate note …

    I heard a mission president (just his opinion) say that “Just because the Catholic Church isn’t a kinder and gentler Church doesn’t mean that that they weren’t the abominable in history. At least we didn’t burn people at the stake.”

  12. I want to believe that somehow we can establish our truthfulness based on our own accord, merit, revelation and not on what we see as the faulty revelation of other churches . . .

    We can and do.

  13. #4 John, Stop the hate, just stop the hate.
    And yes, you are right.

    #6 Mark B. I’m not sure we can claim that other churches are the hypocrites Christ speaks of, purposefully donating money so they can be ‘seen of men’. Also those hypocrites were of the church he was coming into, the old law he came to fulfill.

    The only problem I have with Elder Hales comment is the logic strategy that establishes the rightness of our tithing. And it has to do with the topic. If an apostle were saying these people are involved in human sacrifice, or theft or heavy petting, we are not we think we are right, then I’m probably okay with it but an issue like this seems useless to me, except to put yourself over someone else.

    Kaimi: Imperialist!

    Tom, I believe you. Sometimes.

  14. Great Post. I haven’t ever thought about the truthfulness of the gospel being defined by saying that since we are right everyone else must be wrong. The truth of the mater is that the other denomination and religions of the world have a portion of the truth. The LDS faith does not have a monopoly on all of the truth, so that every other religion is completely flase.

  15. I cringe but stay mostly silent when I hear members of the Church bemoan the activities of anti’s with the disclaimer, “We don’t go around tearing down their churches. Why do they insist on doing that to us?” Please. What part of Joseph Smith 1: 19 did you miss? With no revelation that I’m aware of concerning any modern-day improvement here are a few things the Lord told the Prophet about other religions:

    “they were all wrong”
    “all their creeds were an abomination”
    “those professors were all corrupt”
    “teach for doctrines the commandments of men”
    “having a form of godliness, but they deny the power therof”

    It may be an immature statement, but we started it. Is it worth the fight? Yes because we do testify that we are the only true church. But we shouldn’t be surprised when we are attacked. Likewise, there will probably be very little faith strengthened or very few converts gained by demeaning or making disparaging comparisons to other churches.

    GBH seems to almost always herald the good in other religions. His example is always worth following.

  16. Steve Evans says:

    OK, so I guess your post has nothing to do with Sapporo Ichiban. Can we talk about ramen noodles anyways?

  17. It all reminds me of the FHE lesson I did for our YSA group where I essentially forced the participants to come up with a huge list (in poster format) of good things to say about other religions and religious groups.

    Of course, I’m now forced to be annoyed with myself, because the lesson has prompted two of the YSA, one of whom being my younger sister, to spend every weekend that they come back home from college… at someone else’s church. So far the pair have attended the RLDS group near us (we’re in Ohio, so it’s not hard to find one) and an Eastern Orthodox service. I hear that the Methodists are next on the list. You can imagine how I feel explaining their absence on Sundays to our YSA advisors. Makes me glad to have my Primary hideout to escape to.

  18. Nathan Oman says:

    “But that bugs me.

    IMHO, it bugs God to.”

    Is the second statement an inference from the first? A coincidence? Perhaps Aaron is referring to some identity?

  19. Nathan Oman says:

    Amiri, not Aaron.

    Oops…

  20. Mmmmm… Sapporo Ichiban Ramen Noodles…

    **slinks to pantry to get a packet and silently prays for a fresh egg to be in the fridge***

    Chad

  21. Yes, it is annoying (although whether it is a sort of imperialism, well, that may be politicising a bit too much).

    Having said that, I think it can occaisionally be useful to make some comparisons, but to do so with respect and dignity. It shows the differences the doctrine of inspiration and revelation makes. But I think this point always needs to be clear: everyone is doing the best they can with what they’ve got, including us.

    I recently heard a talk in which the speaker compared the feelings the builders of medieval cathedrals had with our feelings about a newly-built temple. It was touching and inspiring and showed the real commitment and love the medieval builders felt; it also contrasted the purposes of the buildings and the way a modern temple looks and feels compared to a cathedral, but it was done with caring respect for those being described. Of course, she had invited some non-member friends to hear the talk.

    And perhaps this is a good rule: anything said about another church in a church meeting should be said with the assumption that a good-willed member of that church might hear it.

  22. Having a band and praise and worship team can lend to the Spirit.

    I think it’s disgusting how rock has been co-opted by religion and its message distorted. Leave rock to the rockers and religion to the preachers, I say. Combining the two simply leads to an unnecessary hurling of epithets.

  23. Mark Butler says:

    As I have argued before, it is not what creeds contain so much that makes them an abomination, it is the fact that they are creeds, i.e. legislated and binding upon all members, whether greater right on a subject be available or not.

    Remember that the Gentiles (the nations of the world, the West in particular) were made mighty through their belief in Jesus Christ such that the Holy Ghost was poured upon them. See 3 Ne 20:27, D&C 1:24, 2 Ne 31:3.

    Now as to churches, of course there should be a balance in these things, but Mormon’s commentary is worth mentioning:

    And I know that ye do walk in the pride of your hearts; and there are none save a few only who do not lift themselves up in the pride of their hearts, unto the wearing of very fine apparel, unto envying, and strifes, and malice, and persecutions, and all manner of iniquities; and your churches, yea, even every one, have become polluted because of the pride of your hearts.

    For behold, ye do love money, and your substance, and your fine apparel, and the adorning of your churches, more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted.
    (Morm 8:36-37)

  24. Two thoughts:

    First, tithing talks are often misleading. Specifically, it seems like about 7 out of 10 approach it from the “pay it and you will get blessings in return” angle. I don’t think that should be the primary motivation. That’s almost Pavlovian. I think there’s more to learn from paying tithing.

    Second, I do think it is impossible to have a number one without having a number two. Ranking is ranking, and being “true” doesn’t need to have anything to do with ranking.

  25. I just noticed there’s already another Jared on here. I’ll be JaredO.

  26. Mark Butler says:

    From a divine perspective, I hope there is a net benefit to the practice of tithes and offerings tithing, or why have it at all? The useful property of a society of grace is that if everybody freely gives, everyone will freely receive as well.

  27. I just stumbled across this forum and read your comments with interest. I think that you are perhaps missing the larger picture Amri. There are two issues of paramount importance in this discussion: do you believe the principle of tithing to be true, and do you believe that we should love our neighbors and forgive them their shortcomings. People, being human, are always going to make statements, use quotes, etc in ways that we may disagree with, at times violently. By constantly looking for fault and points of contention, we set ourselves up for a life of negativity and bitterness. I would never suggest that we stop internally evaluating what people say in church, we need to be sure of what we believe and sometimes people do make statements that are not doctrinally sound, but I do think that being hypercritical leads us far afield from our primary goal of perfecting ourselves and loving others.

  28. Amri: always glad to see your posts. sometimes we talk about the other because we are trying to understand the significance of our choices. I choose X. What does that choice mean? Are there other competing choices? What do they look like in actual practice? We seem to be hopelessly grounded in reality, so when we try to carry out this kind of thinking we often associate it with other people–they are the anecdotes through which we understand our own choices.
    I’m not bothered that people would understand anonymous giving as distinct from named giving and try to conjure up the competing view by reference to the practices of others. That may be an important way to reflect on an aspect of the Mormon practice of tithing that often escapes detection. The problem generally comes, I think, when this view is aggressively extended in the pursuit of condemnation of other people rather than understanding our own view better, or, as I think you mention, in a triumphalist vein.
    One does wonder why, if tithing is the great beacon of anonymous (therefore pure in a Kantian and Halesian sense) giving, we don’t see fewer surnames of rich Mormons adorning various structures in our lives.
    I would recommend enclosing the wet baby in a hooded towel rather than dropping it with its bathwater down the drain.

  29. Thomas Parkin says:

    There is MUCH less of this in the church now than we saw 20-25 years ago. When I was a teenager, we were taught to “Bible Bash” – a good deal of the scripture learning I did in the New Testament, for instance, was in order to counter, we presumed effectively, typical Protestant interpretations. Lessons and talks were frequently laced with just the kind of thing you describe. While I do still hear some of that, it is almost always qualified, and so much rarer. There is MUCH more – I want to type infinitely more – coucil concerning the goodness and correctness in other, especially Christian, religions, than I recall. (Go to LDS.org and in the Recent Addresses section (in the Gospel Library), read Elder Packer’s excellent comments on the Light of Christ, for a good one of many examples.)

    All that said, there are times to call a spade a spade. There is a time for everything, eh? Takes more wisdom to know when than most of us are capable of. I try more and more to keep quiet at times I may have spoken out before – mostly because, left to myself, I’m never sure that I might not do more harm than good. One comment made by inspiration of the Spirit is worth a month of meetings without it where we give out reflexively the usual fare. (I’m aquainted enough with the Spirit to realize that I’m speaking without it in this post. It’s just me, it’s just what I think – that has value but not so much in a Sacrament Meeting talk.)

    Re: tithing. I prefer to say, the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. There are certainly temporal blessings associated with tithing. I have my stories like many LDS. But, I prefer to think of it mostly in other terms. I confess that I pay it at least in part out of fear that my business will fail if I don’t. That is low, immature, motivation, but one that is there for me. I would keep paying it even if my business did fail, however.

    Re: the scripture in Mormon 8. I prefer taking that as instruction to Latter-Day Saints than to churches in general(not that it doesn’t have more unviersal application). One verse later than what is quoted Mormon says, “why have ye polluted the holy church of God? Why are ye ashamed to take upon you the name of Christ? …” I find this pointedly directed at Latter-Day Saints, the holy church of God, rather than at the Christian or religious world in general. I think when he makes these criticisms he is looking primarily at us. It is, naturally, possible to build beautiful churches and still take care of people’s needs, physical and spiritual. I even think of being surrounded by beauty as a human need. And, the poor you have always with you. But, it is a matter of priorities and where, as always, one’s heart really is.

    My 2 cents.

    ~

  30. Peter (#22) seems about to rock, and for that, I salute him.

  31. Hey Dudes,

    As a convert I find it quite offensive when members of our church go “neener we are better than you are” in discussing other churches. I grew up catholic and went to 12 years of catholic school. Even though my spiritual journey brought me to the LDS church, a great deal of my culture is from the catholic tradition. When people say derogatory things in sunday school, RS or the other, I have to say something – a) cuz it just ain’t nice and most people who are true to their faiths are pretty nice themselves b) who does the disser think s/he is c) I bet the church they are putting down has qualities that we would perhaps enjoy (better music, exchanging signs of peace etc.)

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