Milk and Meat

Two articles in the latest, Winter 2006, Dialogue dovetail nicely. Writing of the Church in Japan today, Jiro Numano treats challenges of cultural paradox and of historical information on the internet. He argues that the fact that only 25,000 of 120,000 Japanese members are active can be traced in part to the dissonance resulting from comparisons of official and online Mormon histories. Numano’s article is posted on the Dialogue website, dialoguejournal.com.

Challenged for printing 2 historically groundbreaking Dialogue articles, David John Buerger’s on second anointings and D. Michael Quinn’s on post-manifesto polygamous marriages, Jack Newell’s Personal Voices essay, unfortunately not available on our website, sets forth the criteria he and Linda used for publication when they edited Dialogue. They were three: “(1) Is the evidence unimpeachable? (2) Is the interpretation responsible? and (3) Is the issue important to a rounded understanding of the Mormon experience?

Long a gospel doctrine teacher occasionally released for discussing honest history in Sunday School and today very aware the mantra in my stake is still “Nothing arguably negative,” I wonder if the internet has at last tipped the scales. Many have argued, often under the guise of “milk before meat,” that we must not disillusion the new or weak with all-too-human history or the questioning of the Lord’s anointed–questioning being by definition under this theory, criticism, even heresy. Better the lie. Although I have never bought this argument, both because lies seem usually to be inherently wrong and because that presupposes the meat-eaters are more righteously sacrificed than the milk-drinkers, it was possible to function under the argument as long as few learned the facts. But has the internet fundamentally changed the landscape? Are Numano’s observations in Japan universal? Do any valid arguments for so-called “faith promoting history” remain? Must we assume any member, any investigator is as likely to learn conflicting information as to see only the official version? Are we now losing more members and potential members without an endorsement of meat than we gain on milk alone? Are Newell’s criteria for Dialogue the proper criteria for our leaders, historians, missionaries, manuals and teachers?

Comments

  1. herodotus says:

    I’ve been gospel doctrine teacher in my last four wards (I guess something about me must suggest that, “This guy likes to talk!”) Years ago I received some special instruction from a bishopric member to teach only from the manual. (Does it suggest apostasy to confess that I find the manual to be boring?) Although I still enjoy teaching unconventional lessons when I can get away with it, my general perception is that there is an increasing emphasis on uniformity. I should however add that I’ve never needed to “lie” about our history in order to teach.

    Some of this may derive from my interpretation of a teacher’s calling. In brief, I suspect that most of us have a pretty good understanding of the doctrines required for salvation; our problem is that we don’t live it the way we should. As such I tend to focus on elements that might change our actions – not necessarily “faith promoting history,” but things that will inspire us to better live the gospel we know. My opinion is that if I can get people to live a bit more charitably that we’ll all be better off than if I’d spend the same time with a discussion of the Mountain Meadows massacre or polygamy.

    Newell’s criteria seem reasonable for a scholarly publication, but my opinion is that Sunday School serves a different purpose. I know that I personally would rather leave church “spiritually fed” than with a more “rounded understanding of the Mormon experience.” Perhaps these shouldn’t be mutually exclusive goals, but I think that sometimes they are.

    When difficult questions from our history come up (and believe me, they do come up) I do my best to answer them. Sometimes I can and sometimes I can’t. Judging from the discussion on related posts I suspect that I’m less bothered than some to admit that I can’t answer every question as satisfactorily as I might like. I have a healthy respect both for the limits of my knowledge and what is currently “knowable.”

    As a final thought, Ardis Parshall made an interesting post recently on dealing with difficult elements from church history.

    http://www.timesandseasons.org/?p=3587#more-3587

    (My apologies for presenting a dissenting view as the first response.)

  2. It is, perhaps, worth noting that the mixing milk and meat in the same meal is not kosher.

  3. I see nothing wrong with milk before meat (indeed, the concept and phrase are from Paul) as long as meat is actually forthcoming. The question is, where is the appropriate place to feed someone meat? For myself, I do it in Institute. I’m not sure the pulpit or Sunday School is the appropriate place for in-depth discussions of polygamy or other such historical potholes.

    I don’t think the principle of milk before meat, when applied sensitively and well, merits being called “the lie.”

    We had several good threads about where the right place is, but I’m unable to locate them at the moment.

  4. I haven’t read Numano-kyodai’s article, but it seems a stretch to say that the low activity rates for Japanese converts has anything to do with their being exposed only to a sanitized history of the church.

    I think it much more likely that cultural pressures to conform to Japanese society (where Christianity of any stripe is well out of the mainstream) are much more likely a cause of inactivity than post-baptism discoveries of oddities in Mormon history. The inactivity rates were high in the 70’s and 80’s, long before any Mormon history materials were generally available to Japanese church members.

  5. “[H]ow to address this [Lorezno Snow Couplet theology] with nonmembers[?]. My advice: don’t. This is difficult doctrine. Remember, milk before meat.”

    http://theboard.byu.edu/index.php?area=viewall&id=20391

  6. Milk before meat is important. I agree with Ben. I think there is another concept beyond the milk meat issue, which is equally valid and found through out D&C, I will focus on the most lenient version I can find.

    D&C 63:64 Remember that that which cometh from above is sacred, and must be spoken with care, and by constraint of the Spirit; and in this there is no condemnation, and ye receive the Spirit through prayer; wherefore, without this there remaineth condemnation.

    Of course, the challenge becoems to decide what does and does not come from above. I think we as LDS in general tend to err on the conservative side of this idea.

  7. Kevin Barney says:

    I agree that the internet has changed the landscape. It used to be that someone would only find out about some historical oddity or whatever if her crazy Aunt Sally sent her a pamphlet. Now investigators and less-informed members googling to prepare talks and lessons almost inevitably will run into at least some of this sort of thing on their own, while sitting in their own bedrooms at home. That is a big difference.

    If I were teaching a lesson and someone raised a question about post-Manifesto polygamy or Second Anointings, and the question came up naturally in the course of the lesson and wasn’t totally out of left field, I would respond to the question and devote some class time to such a topic.

    (Those were both great articles, BTW, and I’m glad Dialogue published them.)

  8. David Brosnahan says:

    Just think about what a new convert learns in a very short period of time. He/She learns about the nature of the God Head, that Jesus Christ is the very Son of God, that man has divine parentage and potential, about the plan of salvation and a pre-mortal existence and the great pre-mortal council. He/she learns about God’s pattern of revelation, about new scripture including the Book of Mormon, D&C, and Pearl of Great Price. He/She learns about continuing revelation, the apostasy and restoration living prophet. Then the convert learns about what God expects of him/her including the law of chastity, word of wisdom, tithing,etc. And then he/she learns about the temple, work for the dead, the eternal marriage and families. And on top it all off, he/she learns a whole new culture; sometimes in a matter of a couple months. This is the meat of the Gospel.

    No disrespect, but I don’t consider the content of my blog and that fo the bloggernacle to be either milk nor meat. Rather, I think the spirtual nutritive value to me more on the order of twinkies or cheetos.

    I wonder if bloggers are a bit biased against the milk and meat or “basic beliefs.” We like the Athenians spend our “time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing” (Acts 17: 21). Also, do we build up blogs “to become popular in the eyes of the world?” (1 Ne. 22: 23) Or at least the bloggernacle?

    Don’t get me wrong, I love blogging and reading blogs but I don’t expect to that this hobby will get me into heaven any sooner and I have yet to have anyone read my blog and join the church.

  9. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if an edict comes down from on high that surfing non-approved internet sites is officially frowned upon. IMHO, the recent increase in the mention of avoiding “pr0n” on the internet is actually a code word for avoiding “non-correlated websites”. The retrenchment Armand Mauss foresaw in “Angel and the Beehive” is in full force, and will only get worse from here.

  10. Do you really think the Church is lying? That’s a very substantial claim.

  11. Thomas Parkin says:

    David, Matt and Ben,

    *cough*

    Me, too.

    T

    ~

  12. 10. John,

    I guess it depends upon what constitutes a lie. If a lie can be defined as purposefully omitting facts that greatly change the color of what is being discussed, then I’d say the Church is guilty. The Church’s approach to the martyrdom is an interesting example…they frame it in a very different way than the historical record justifies. The ‘transfiguration’ of Brigham Young is also an interesting example (although this example might be more of an outright lie.)

  13. It sounds to me more like what you’re really saying, Molly, is that you personally find the critics’ conclusions/interpretations of their inferences from whatever exists of the historical record to be more valid or persuasive than the Church’s conclusions/inferences from the historical record. That’s a lot different than “better the lie,” which is a phrase almost too arrogant to give any notice to. Is there really any reason we should give more credence to Vogel’s speculations and inferences than to e.g. B.H. Roberts? Are you so confident that the Church is wrong in — lying about — its interpretation and/or presentation of its own history? That is a huge measure of confidence in being able to know what has transpired in the past.

  14. Jared E., I simply disagree on your point about the martyrdom. You take an interesting approach in blaming the victim, if you are implying that the historical record “justifies” a reading of the murder of Joseph Smith as that he deserved it. Or are you making a veiled reference to “brandy and a pistol” and the fact that those are not commonly depicted in insipid artists’ depictions of the event, although they are not actually ommitted in historical works about the martydom?

  15. Molly Bennion says:

    Mark B, You’ll be pleased to see Numano develops an argument for 2 major causes of Japanese inactivity. Americanization versus Japanese cultural identity is the important second factor. As a practicing LDS in Japan today, he sees the internet’s introduction of conflicting history as a substantial cause as well.

    Herodotus, no apology necessary. Of course, gospel teaching is primarily to bring us to Christ and inspire us to live Christlike lives. Numano writes that his central concern is bringing people to what he calls “secondary faith,” a deeper and abiding faith that can weather the dissonance. He wants to reduce the chance of learning a disappointing fact in an unsupporting context. Better to learn it at Church and in the context of the really important principles you note. His concern is for the many members he has seen leave the Church when they learn conflicting information, think the Church has lied to them and no longer trust the Church to tell them the truth. I have seen this too, most recently over the Book of Abraham. In that case we lost a RM, member of my bishopric and husband and father of 5. Many people tried to help to no avail. By telling more of the real stories, (not every sensational detail, of which there are actually very few, but enough to establish imperfection) could we better innoculate members from the shock of discovering an untruth and give them the tools to put the problem in a proper context? You wisely address the concerns when they arise in class but how many never get to class?

  16. Do any valid arguments for so-called “faith promoting history” remain?

    Absolutely. There is no good reason that a potential convert should be required to read Rough Stone Rolling before he or she is baptized. The current and standard narrative is important and the crux of the restoration. That said, a healthy dose of humility is imperative (i.e., a realization that the faithful narrative is a simplified gloss).

    I think more and more, average saints are aware of Smith’s polyandry and post-manifesto polygamy, etc. I think that not dwelling on those items is perfectly fine, but the church should not deny them. I don’t really see the denial-type history anymore (i.e., Brigham Young didn’t believe in Adam-God, Joseph Smith didn’t use seer stones, etc.). If there are folks that repeat such falsehoods, I believe it is due to simple naivety (Ask Gramps not withstanding). Consequently, I don’t think there are lies propagated.

    Phouchg, your apocalypse is simple never going to be realized. The church is responding to the promulgation of information by opening up, not shutting down.

  17. “IMHO, the recent increase in the mention of avoiding “pr0n” on the internet is actually a code word for avoiding ‘non-correlated websites’.”

    Wow. I guess if you are starting with “code words” then it is fairly easy to project your pathologies onto the church or into the ether. From what I’ve observed in my personal life, my family and my friends the problem is not uncommon.

  18. Molly: could we better inoculate members from the shock of discovering an untruth and give them the tools to put the problem in a proper context?

    I think this will just take time. The church is maturing and coming to grips with its history. I think it will be more and more common to have individuals that understand our history and participate in the building of communal wisdom.

  19. I located a previous post on where this kind of discussion could/should be held.

  20. Yeah, rereading, calling the Church lairs is a gross mischaracterization.

  21. Molly,
    To be clear, are you saying that MMM and JS’s polyandry are the “meat” of the gospel? I mean, when discussing the gospel with someone and that phrase (milk/meat) comes up does your mind automatically think, “issues surrounding the Book of Abraham”?

  22. J wrote in # 16: That said, a healthy dose of humility is imperative (i.e., a realization that the faithful narrative is a simplified gloss).

    See, I tend to think the humility problem runs the other way (although I think everyone needs to follow Christ’s injunction to be humble). That is, when critics think that their inferences from the scant historical record trump the church’s, then that raises a humility issue, doesn’t it?There is actually no good reason to believe that their inferences are more valid or correct than the Church’s. But I realize that those who have made up their minds that the Church is lying about stuff will find lies wherever they want to see them, whether it’s Will Bagley assuring Doug Fabrizio’s audience that there is fraud going on in the Church Office Building with Tithing Funds, Dan Vogel speculating that the boy Joseph Smith ran a tin smeltering operation in order to pull off his elaborate fraud of the Golden Plates, or whatever else is suggested that supposedly goes against “the lie”, i.e. the Church’s “sanitized” or supposedly “white-washed” version of its own history.

  23. john f.: “You take an interesting approach in blaming the victim, if you are implying that the historical record “justifies” a reading of the murder of Joseph Smith as that he deserved it.”

    In no way to I mean to imply that Joseph Smith ‘deserved’ to be murdered, I don’t think that anyone ‘deserves’ to be gunned down. But the Church does omit much from the story, giving the story a much different flavor. William Law’s motivations are never mentioned.

    And funny you didn’t mention the Brigham Young example I gave. What are your conclusions on that front?

  24. [Jiro Numano] argues that the fact that only 25,000 of 120,000 Japanese members are active can be traced in part to the dissonance resulting from comparisons of official and online Mormon histories.

    I would have to strongly disagree with this idea. When I was serving as a missionary in Japan, my impression was that there were so many inactive members was due to the very nature of the Japanese culture. Various asian cultures, including the Japanese, strongly emphasize homogony. At the time when I was there, anyone that was percieved as different was often viewed as bad or dangerous. I repeatedly saw many different examples of this. This is very different then various Western cultures that often celebrate and value diversity.

    The church members who are active in Japan have to break a lot of the stereotypical cultural behavior and be “peculiar”. For example, there is very intense peer pressure for working men (salary men) to go drinking with their co-workers after work. Anyone that doesn’t go drinking, runs the very real risk of being ostracized and seen as not being a team player, potentially even losing their job over it.

    The active Japanese members really have my respect, since there are very real sacrifices they make by being active.

    Pres. Grant once prophesied that there would be a day that the Japanese would join the church in mass, which really made sense to me, since it would be the “thing” everyone/group was doing.

  25. Jared E., I didn’t mention the BY thing because your statement pissed me off more than can be politely expressed. The “transfiguration” is a fact, as far as I am concerned and the Church’s version is correct. This is based on family journals, my own blood and the blood of my wife who were there at the event and who testified of it with all the conviction of their hearts. My wife’s great great great grandfather even swore an affidavit to it and that it really happened. There is no way that I am going to go with your inferences regarding that event over the sworn court testimony of my wife’s great great great grandfather.

  26. I agree, John that there is a healthy does that needs to go both ways. As we have discussed elsewhere, Elder Nelson preached the stone in the Hat during general conference…if the antagonists want to make a fuss over the “lie” of translation, they are simply deceiving themselves.

  27. john f.
    I am not trying to offend you, and I’m not trying to say the Church is of the devil or anything of the sort. Why do we have to get into some visceral argument, instead of just rationally discussing our differing points of view?

  28. The reason, Jared E., is that you said pretty much point blank that the “transfiguration” event of BY by which the membership of the Church knew that he was the rightful successor of Joseph Smith was a lie.

  29. john f.,
    In my opinion, it does seem to be myth. But you because you and I differ on this point, does not mean that this has to turn into some hate match. It is possible for rational people to disagree without getting personally offended.

  30. I meant to say :

    But just because you and I differ on this point, does not mean that this has to turn into some hate match. It is possible for rational people to disagree without getting personally offended.

  31. Jared E.,
    What do you base your feelings that it is myth on? Because, like john f., I have ancestors who recorded it in their journals and personal histories. That fact (unless you espouse some massive conspiracy whereby the Church ordered people to write it in their journals) may not conclusively prove that it happened, but it lends enough credence to the event that saying the Church is lying (more specifically, that the Church’s version is an “outright lie”) seems both untenable and intellectually dishonest.

  32. In response to #21, I don’t mean to speak for Molly, but to me the terms milk and meat as used here are best understood in terms of ability to digest. Seen this way, the fundamental principles of the gospel are virtually all milk. (Though to be sure these matters are taught line upon line.) Similarly, viewed in this way, I suspect most people would classify MMM and JS’s polyandry as meat in the sense that they can be more difficult to understand and place in their proper context. This should not be understood, of course, as placing a higher value or importance on these issues — MMM and polyandry most certainly are not the “meat” of the gospel if by that you mean the heart, focus, or central teaching of the gospel. The trouble, of course, is that if people don’t have a method for dealing with these types of issues, they are more likely to give up on the project altogether.

  33. We can either have an academic discussion about it, or I can just tell you that there’s no question about it for me since I have read the affidavit and sense — even know — that my wife’s ancestor (and my own ancestors) is not lying about it. If it makes you more comfortable to think it’s just a myth — an “outright lie”, as you put it in # 12 — then by all means, believe that. Nothing prevents you from choosing to believe that over the Church’s conclusions about it; similarly nothing prevents me from taking stark exception to your inferences.

  34. Molly Bennion says:

    Sure wish I had never called on the old milk and meat cliche! Sloppy choice. Of course neither our errors or even our history are the meat of the gospel. I seem to be using the concept most personally and consequently not communicating well at all; to me it has more to do with refusing to try the more complicated, be it doctrinal concepts or history.
    John f, I definitely did not communicate clearly to you. You made quite a leap. I said nothing about putting more faith in the claims of detractors. My own approach is to consider the source and then prove or disprove as objectively as possible.
    We’re detouring to the very difficult question of what is a lie. Which requires a treatise I am not prepared to offer. Dialogue did publish a fine article on the subject within the last 10 years. Anyway, my use of the word was not sloppy. I personally find very little justification for falsehoods of commission or omission. Perhaps I am too sensitive on the subject but I find even a manual on the writings of a prophet which refers only to one wife and one marriage when there were many a form of lie. To you who are offended by my use of the word, I can add only the comfort that I do know religious fervor leads honest and honorable people to believe what later is proved not to be true. I also understand honorable motivation inspires some to lie in defense of faith, a practice I could rarely endorse.
    With Numano, I remain concerned about the loss of members and prospective members who are sidetracked from the importance of the gospel by both fact and fiction on the internet.

  35. John F.

    I want to back up your account of the events of the “transfiguration” Both my family and my wifes family were there that day. We have family records from my wifes side that indicate that our ancestors witnessed the transfiguration.

  36. john f and Sam B,
    Quite a bit has been written on the subject. I’m surprised that you have not heard this claim of mythology before.

    Molly sums up how I see things fairly well.

  37. Jared E.,
    Neither of us is objecting to your belief that it didn’t happen, although neither of us agree with you. What we object to is your characterization of it as an “outright lie.” While I believe that it happened, honest people can interpret history and witness statements differently. However, in light of the support that is in the historical record supporting the idea of BY’s transfiguration, accusing the Church of lying when it teaches that is untenable. You can argue that the Church materials are wrong, you can argue that the witnesses misremembered or mistook what they saw, but a claim that it did not happen and a claim that the propogation of the story is a lie are two seperate claims. On the first I’ll respectfully disagree with you; on the second, I’ll still disagree, but I can’t respect such a strained interpretation.

  38. I’ll continue the thread-jack and throw in one of my ancestors as a witness as well. In a biography of him written while he was still alive, he is quoted as saying it was one of his most dramatic spiritual experiences.

  39. (I should note that I don’t know john f, and probably shouldn’t speak for him. Still, I don’t think I’ve mischaracterized his views.)

  40. Sam B,
    My statement that “this example might be more of an outright lie” is perhaps too strongly worded. But I do see the story as being one which Brigham Young and other leaders of the Church used to bolster their legitimacy.

    Yes, many who were there wrote of this experience as being one in which a ‘transfiguration’ took place, but many others who were there never mention such a thing. Also, many Church leaders testify that they saw it happen, when in fact they weren’t and couldn’t have been present.

  41. Lets just agree to disagree, I think we’ve threadjacked long enough.

  42. The BY transfiguration is now officially closed.

  43. Jared E.,
    And I’m fine with that. I’m perfectly willing to accept that, based on your reading of history, you don’t think it happened. Many people share your opinion, just like many share mine. Like I said, I can respect that viewpoint, even while I disagree with it. I do, however, think your “outright lie” comment was too strongly worded.

  44. (sorry–I posted before I saw 41 and 42. I’m happy to agree to disagree.)

  45. Molly,
    Past the threadjack—I think we have to look to genre in the Church’s use of history. I remember, when I saw the current Joseph Smith film in Legacy theater (I think?), being bothered that he was too beatific, to perfect and stylized.

    Then I saw the George Washington film at Mt. Vernon. Other than the fact that it is gorier, it essentially presents a beatific George Washington. It turns out (based on my statistically sound sampling of two visitor centers films) that that is what these films are supposed to do.

    Likewise, the Church uses history in a salvific way, rather than an academic digging way. I’m fine with that, as many seem to be. I (in all of my English-speaking glory) can buy books from the University of Illinois Press to fuel my further interests (I realize that non-English speakers are at a disadvantage here); if I weren’t interested, I could buy books on jazz instead.

    I admit that I’m bothered when manuals exclude the 2nd through 7th wives of a prophet (or don’t include women prominently, or whatever), but I find that that is almost an aesthetic issue.

    Basically, the Church doesn’t control my (or anyone else’s) access to information. You or I may disagree with where the Church chooses to put curriculum’s emphasis, but I’m not convinced that its choice leads to a massive outflow of members.

  46. but I’m not convinced that its choice leads to a massive outflow of members.

    It is however demonstrable that many have left because the history was too much for them. I’m fairly certain that the degree to which the history was challenging was not unrelated to historical church pedagogy.

  47. Pyotr Veliki says:

    john f,

    maybe you missed what molly wrote in her original post:

    Many have argued, often under the guise of “milk before meat,” that we must not disillusion the new or weak with all-too-human history or the questioning of the Lord’s anointed–questioning being by definition under this theory, criticism, even heresy. Better the lie. Although I have never bought this argument

    Understanding her argument could have made the polemics that follow more or less unnecessary:

    Do you really think the Church is lying?

    That’s a lot different than “better the lie,” which is a phrase almost too arrogant to give any notice to.

    those who have made up their minds that the Church is lying about stuff will find lies wherever they want to see them

    Who’s making the “substantial claims” now? The gloves are off!

    And regarding the admittedly sensitive issue of ancestors and the veracity of their sworn statements, I’m a descendent of John D. Lee. What do you want to know about Mountain Meadows?

  48. “I’m fairly certain that the degree to which the history was challenging was not unrelated to historical church pedagogy.”
    J: But do you think that what the Church chooses not to teach, can exacerbate the problems people go through when they discover this history?

  49. PV, I think you might be the one misreading her. She is saying that some say “better the lie” and then says she has never bought this reasoning, i.e., she is not one of those who goes along with the Church’s lie.

  50. I think john f is reading her correctly, what did you mean Molly?

  51. Kevin Barney says:

    On the Brigham Young threadjack, let me just mention that anyone interested in this topic should read Lynne Watkins Jorensen, “The Mantle of the Prophet Joseph Passes to Brother Brigham: One Hundred Twenty-one Testimonies of a Collective Spiritual Witness,” which originally appeared in BYU Studies (and therefore may be found on-line at the Harold B. Lee Library on-line collection of BYU Studies) and has been reprinted in John W. Welch and Erick B. Carlson, eds., Opening the Heavens: Accounts of Divine Manifestations, 1820-1844 (Provo: BYU Press and SLC: Deseret Book, 2005), 373-480.

    My review of this volume will appear in the next issue of the FARMS Review. The following sentence indicates my views on this matter:

    “I myself traveled over time from the naive, simplistic position, to the more cynical, nihilistic position, finally to a more balanced understanding of this event thanks to Jorensen’s research.”

    Sorry to continue the threadjack, but any discussion of the BY transformation these days simply requires a mention of this article.

  52. Kevin Barney says:

    Since I misspelled her name both times I typed it, in different ways, let me just correct that; it is Jorgensen.

  53. I think the post and saying imply that only providing milk without meat is “lying.” I don’t like the characterization, but understand the underlying point. Given that, however, is it not hypocritical of most of our detractors to present the meat without the milk, and then tell converts that they are presenting the “true” Mormon history? Perhaps the point here is that if we don’t eventually present the meat and the milk, our membership will get the meat–eventually–from those who have no use for the milk.

  54. Kevin Christensen says:

    Regarding Milk and Meat, I remember sitting in a Gospel Doctrine class in Sunnyvale Ward, listening in amazed frustration to a teacher who struck me as devout, and sincere, but poorly informed. Then one of the two sweet elderly ladies sitting in front of me turned to the other and said, “I always enjoy his lessons. I always come away having learned something new.”

    As a teacher myself, I always bring in everything I know. I’ve been released as Elder’s Quorum teacher in a ward in California, only to be called as EQ instructor within a few weeks of moving into my next Ward in Kansas specifically because I made things interesting by bringing in outside materials. Ironincally, I actually loved using the Brigham Young manual. I even talked about what the lack of mention of polygamy and Adam God in class, to no one’s surprise or objection. It was the first priesthood manual in years that was chock full of interesting quotations, rich in personality, and surprisingly fresh and iconoclastic. I could quite cheerfully acknowledge it’s flaws and appreciate it for its virtues.

    In an article I had in Dialogue in 1991, I mentioned a phenomena that I dubbed “spiritual masochism” which manifests itself as a reaction against naive instruction as a determination to demonstrate one’s integrity by publically facing problems. However, when one defines their integrity in relation to the size of the problems one can publically face, then facing solutions becomes counter productive. Those who do that become mere “apologists.”

    Kevin Christensen
    Pittsburgh, PA

  55. I think a big problem with the “democratization” effected by the internet is that the idea of context is exploded, but without context, very little of what we believe or preach that we know has much meaning. I believe that scholarship ought to continue to try to sort out finer points of the documentary record, and I think both of the papers described added substantially to a scholarly understanding of 19th century Mormonism.

    I think about health, an area where I have expertise, and repeatedly I see the dangers of rapid and unthinking application of scholarship to every day life. Health supplements that waste money or shorten life, misuse or overuse of medications that ought to be restricted in their scope. There is a natural analogy with Mormonism here, I believe. The scholarship needs to be done, but we have got to be meticulous about applications of that scholarship, and I do not see the information explosion as particularly conducive to that aim.

    So, the scholarship says that Joseph Smith was a complex polygamist. What to do with the scholarship is not entirely clear, and I believe the idea of whitewashing (as little as it serves my own faith walk) is a strawman, and we ought to move beyond these old arguments about milk and meat, sparkle and grit, within our broader faith community.

  56. Two thoughts:

    1) Milk and Meat: According to Wikipedia and its sources, 70% of adults worldwide can no longer digest the lactose found in milk, and the age of lactose intolerance onset tends to fall roughly between 5 and 15. I only mention this because it struck me as I read this post and comments that most people consume only “milk” for a small fraction of their lives, and the remainder of a lifetime is sustained by “meat”. Did Paul have this in mind when he wrote about milk and meat? Did the Lord (D&C 19:22)? Beats me, but I accounted it an interesting potential symbol of how much time should be spent feeding milk to the ‘young’ ones.

    2) Maybe it’s strange, but I found myself comparing the question of “How much to tell and when?” regarding doctrine and history to the same question regarding human anatomy, reproduction, and sexuality. That is, a partial answer to both questions is “If I don’t teach these things to the new members (my children) in supportive context and in faith- (age-) appropriate stages, they’ll learn it elsewhere in contexts I cannot control.”

    PS Molly I must disclose that I’ve been in your ward for 2 .5 years, and although I don’t think we’ve ever spoken, I’m sure enjoying getting to know you through your writing. My wife is the RS secretary.

  57. I think a big problem with the “democratization” effected by the internet is that the idea of context is exploded, but without context, very little of what we believe or preach that we know has much meaning.

    Agreed. Multiple apostles both today and in the past have said something along those lines.

    “I do not fear truth. I welcome it. But I wish all of my facts in their proper context, with emphasis on those elements which explain the great growth and power of this organization.” President (then Elder) Hinckley, “Be Not Deceived,” Ensign, November 1983, p. 46.

    The church approaches its telling of history largely in the way the Old Testament does, editing, reinterpreting, and updating. “It must never be forgotten that the Biblical stories are not ‘historiography’ as we understand the term, but rather ‘historiosophy’ ie the didactic use of historical material.” Nahum Sarna (who actually had an article published in the Ensign) “Queries and Comments,” Biblical Archaeology Review, 4:01 (1978).

  58. The “inoculation” approach probably works if the problem is the shock of suddenly hearing something that doesn’t seem to jive with what you’ve heard before. But I’m not so sure that in all cases of history bugging people that the problem is *only* that the bugged person feels deceived. If that were the problem, then in many cases a calm explanation about different interpretations, reasonable disagreement, there was no intent to deceive, here’s a possible way the puzzle pieces could fit, etc., would effectively soothe the shock even after the fact.

    Imagine a fairly spiritual person who has come to a few basic conclusions about God. He meets the missionaries, understands and accepts everything in the discussions, and joins the church. Not long after, he hears “…as God is, man may become” from a trusted Institute teacher who breaks the news as gently possible, including rational explanations for why this is a perfectly legitimate belief and all appropriate caveats about possible non-doctrinalness. But the idea of man becoming God goes against his earliest and deepest spiritual witness of God. He does not believe this idea, cannot accept it, and feels it is such serious blasphemy that he cannot in good conscience be a member of a church that can tolerate such an idea anywhere within its range of acceptable beliefs.

    Is he mad at the missionaries for “lying” to him or withholding information? Maybe. But that’s not the root of the problem. There’s lots of stuff the missionaries didn’t tell him that he has really enjoyed learning about in SS and Institute. The root of the problem is that he doesn’t agree with this particular later-taught idea.

    The same can be true for history. Some people can accept that there was polygamy, but not that it continued post-Manifesto. Some people can accept that Joseph Smith saw a vision, but not that certain details are different in his retellings of it. Some people can believe in a prophet who’s fallible, but not *that* fallible (wherever they happen to draw the line). It won’t matter how or when you tell them. If a person’s moral compass (however skewed it may be) points away from a church that has any X in its history, and the LDS have X in their history, there’s nothing you can do.

  59. Molly Bennion says:

    Glad I can get back online. I apologize for long delays; Now I am out-of-town helping my parents deal with my father’s strokes. I also am unable to make out some of your names as the print is so small on my mom’s ancient computer.
    Smb, Your note about context is so important. Whether difficult new information is true or false, the context in which it is discovered and processed makes a huge difference. Hence my argument for innoculation. That doesn’t mean I would introduce difficult information as investigators walk through the door. It does mean I would love to see missionaries and leaders much better informed and prepared. It also means I would never allow a historical figure, living or dead, to be portrayed perfectly and I would judiciously and in a very supportive context introduce difficult information to the general membership.
    PV and Jared, Yes, I believe leaders have lied and allowed false impressions to go forward without correction. RARELY. “Better the lie” is indeed sarcastic and critical. Sorry you found it arrogant, PV; I would not wish it to be. To claim that by identifying a relative few, but sometimes important, lies necessarily indicates I will find lies whereever I want to see them impugns my character. What person of goodwill wants to find lies, especially in her religion? I do not want to find lies–anywhere from anyone. I want to find truth. Surely we share this belief. And I yearn for a world in which we are all agreed that truth can always withstand the light of day. The gospel can withstand the light of day. I would argue we have nothing to fear in an open and honest dialogue, in good context and with goodwill. We can fear the effects of difficult information absent wise and informed counsel. Now we leave that largely to luck.

  60. I’m in my seventh year living in Japan. The problems of the church in Japan are (in my opinion) a shallow approach to faith and obedience generally, an already rigid and rule-based society’s extreme interpretation of church policy and doctrine and the lack of access to materials and people that can be used for meaningful study.

    If you go in the basement of a long term member of the church in the US you will often find all kinds of religious books. Even if many of these are (again, my opinion) crap, they represent resources for people to read and think and develop. The High Priests may sit and talk about Kolob or who knows what but they are at least trying to expand the discussion and their knowledge. I find most discussions in Japanese church (consistent with the education program, due diligence in securities offerings etc.) to be very scripted and narrow without room for meaningful questions or thought (even more so than the US wards I have been in).

    Now for a few fun anecdotes: I was asked in a temple recommend interview by a Japanese stake president once whether I was holding hands with girls (even at BYU they permit this although they get concerned about french kissing). I spent a week convincing a Japanese friend in college that it may not be a great idea to have his first kiss accross the altar in the temple. And more seriously, I have seen a few Bishops go inactive immediately after their release because they have neglected their family and jobs for 5 years and can’t go on–is this common anywhere else?

    No quick fixes come to mind but more information, more plain speaking and ditching the home teaching program in places where absolutely no one does it are all ideas I have for improving our wonderful church. Oh yeah, and can we please just let the Japanese members drink green tea. This just isn’t fair.

  61. Great article. Thanks.

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