Mormons as monsters?

This past month my students were assigned to do a group project on the role of monsters in our society.  As part of this project, they needed to pick a central exhibit to study.  Imagine my horror when they decided they wanted to write on Mormons as examples of contemporary monsters.

This experience obviously made me pause.  They did not know that I was Mormon, so I decided that the best approach was to have a conversation about why they thought Mormons were an appropriate example.  Perhaps not surprisingly, the issues that they raised were polygamy and discrimination against blacks and women.

 When my smart, educated, and generous students perceive Mormons as monsters, then it indicates to me that as a church we are still failing to win the PR battle and to portray ourselves as people with something to contribute to society at large.  Although I think there are many things we could do to improve our standing with others, such as speaking in terms that non-Mormons can understand, my students comments helped me realize that our church needs to do a much better job acknowledging our history with polygamy and discrimination.

 For my students, who knew a surprising amount about our church history, they hear our church saying that it no longer practices polygamy and discrimination against blacks.  But, my students still insist, and I think rightly so, that, while the church no longer engages in these practices, it certainly historically allowed them and has not adequately explained them.  In other words, they view these practices as still very much central to the inherent doctrine and origins of the church, even if they are no longer in practice.

Recently, our church did an excellent job examining Mountain Meadows in a fair light.  I think that if we want to improve our relationships with the larger community, then it is also time that we examine other aspects of our history, especially polygamy and discrimination, in an equally fair light, attempting to understand their place in our culture rather than dismissing them as no longer extant.  As far as I know, there is no official revelation repudiating the inherent principle of polygamy, which is not necessarily a problem, except, and here is the problem, when we like to say that it is outside of our culture.  My students, at least, don’t seem to buy it.   And, I’m a bit inclined to label our current approach to the issue as denial.  Certainly, it is easier to tell our friends that those who practice polygamy have nothing to do with us.  But, I think we would be able to talk much more effectively with those outside of our faith if we embraced, and learned, our history in its entire complexity.

Comments

  1. Heck, we’ve just begun to tackle the race issue. While President Hinckley denounced racism in all its forms in one of his most recent talks in Conference, he left untouched the fact that Brigham Young and other church leaders used religion, and their mantle as prophets, to repress blacks.

    How does this church then go about condemning polygamy without condemning Joseph Smith, founder?

  2. cj douglass says:

    Natalie,
    I also appreciated the way MMM was recently handled. That kind of frankness is absolutely necessary for us to move on from the other biggies. I wonder though, if that will really do anything to effect the millions in the world who get their information about the church through the grape vine. Frankly, I think one of the biggest reasons people have misconceptions/fears/scepticism is because good, intelligent, rational, tolerant and Christ-like members of the church fail to let others know of their association. Until we as members do a better job of that, expect the “monster” tag to stick.

  3. Why should we refute polygamy? Your students are being the intolerant ones there.

  4. Amen, Natalie. For me, it comes down to a kind of dissonance between personal responsibility and institutional responsibility. If individuals are obliged to recognize and confess their wrongs, and suffer mental anguish until they do so, do institutions likewise suffer from collective internal strife until they also recognize past wrongs? Until that happens, I think we may come across as changing our ways because we had to (the Manifesto, 1978, etc,), not because it was right.

  5. Natalie: Did you reveal that you were Mormon? Did you do anything to dispel the misbegotten myth that Mormons are monsters? Or is it all the responsibility of the LDS Church PR department? It seems to me, based on what you have written here, that you agree with your students — Mormons themselves are at fault for being labeled and judged and branded and tarred and feathered as monsters.

    Here is what I take from your stance vis a vis your students. Polygamy was indeed morally unacceptable and sinful and not revealed by God. Mormons are the ones who have the burden to prove that they now see that polygamy was all a big mistake, that they have now seen the error of their ways and reformed. Throw in that Mormons even believe in marital fidelity! However, don’t get too quick about any moral virtue of Mormons, because they believe marriage is between one man and one women — so they still discriminate against gays because they don’t believe that gay marriage ought to be permissible. So they’ll just have to agree that gay marriage is OK, but polygamy between consenting adults is not.

    Mormons ought to admit that they are wrong and still wrong about refusing blacks the priesthood. Even though blacks now hold the priesthood, Mormons ought to admit that they are monsters because they are still more prejudiced and hateful toward blacks than others and so remain the contemporary monsters that they are.

    Mormons are also morally wrong and guilty of not giving women the priesthood. So to solve the perception that they are monsters, Mormons must admit that such a view is wrong and against God’s will.

    As I read you, any other approach is denial. The real solution? Become Episcopalians. Don’t speak like Mormons. Speak the lingo of your enlightened students. Speak like good democrats and Episcopalians. Throw in for good measure that viewing homosexual acts as sin is a hold-over from a judgmental and tribal god that was just wrong. With such generous and smart attitudes as your students as examples, perhaps it would be wise for Mormons to dismantle their temples that have secret ceremonies that cannot be openly discussed by a PR department in a profane and secular society. If that is the answer, then Mormonism may as well fold up the tent and return all the tithing money as ill gotten gains.

    I would be interested to hear what you did, if anything, to dispel this myth that Mormons are modern day monsters rather than latter-day saints.

  6. Bro. Jones says:

    #5 To be fair, when we do attempt to defend ourselves, what are we supposed to say? “Well, we did discriminate against blacks once–we don’t know why–but the Lord revealed to his chosen prophet that we should stop–we don’t know why–and now we don’t.” “We are all about ‘traditional’ marriage between one man and one woman. Yes, we did once support a family structure that is very different than this, and yes our founder said that it was revealed from God but then practiced it in secret, creating so much schism that it indirectly lead to his assassination. And yes, our leaders then took the Church outside of United States territory to continue this practice unmolested. Well, we don’t know why we used to practice this, but the Lord revealed to his chosen prophet that we should stop–we don’t know why–and now we don’t.”

    I think what the OP is referring to in saying “speaking in terms that non-Mormons can understand,” I think she just means that saying “the Lord told the Prophet, that’s why” is not really an acceptable answer to outsiders. Whether they need an additional or different answer is up for debate–#5 perhaps suggests that that answer is sufficient, while the OP believes it isn’t.

  7. I wonder what they think of Evangelical Christians (Baptists especially)? That should at least answer the question of what kind of bigotry they are coming from. And I concur, what did YOU do to change the perception? If nothing than you become part of the problem.

    If I have to repudiate my belief in the divinity of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or relinquish the answer, “The Lord told the Prophet, thats why” then let me be a monster to the world. I believe that polygamy is of G-d, I believe He allowed if not commanded the racial policies, and I believe women do hold particular roles of mother and men as household priesthood leadership if worthy. Persecution is the heritage of the Saints. Perhaps that is what we should accept rather than pulling PR stunts that devalue G-d and His Church and Servants to the level of the whore of Babylon.

  8. Larry the cable guy says:

    While MMM is at the top of our list as “monster” qualities, it is much easier to be open, frank and candid about a localized and discrete event than the more institutional issues of polygamy and racism. The fact that polygamy and racism are still prevalent in society today also contributes to the festering IMO.

    Am I being overly simplistic to think that more minds are set at ease by thoughtful conversations with reasonable people (a la Natalie) than by churchwide “clarifications/denouncements”? There’s something to be said for a PR battle, but I think that on a worldwide level you get diminishing returns in short order.

  9. Antonio Parr says:

    This post just reinforces my growing conviction that the best missionary effort that the Church can undertake at this time is a cessation of traditional missionary work, replaced with an army of missionaries dedicated primarily to acts of Christian charity and service and kindness. People will see this light, and then inquire, and at that point the missionaries can preach the Gospel with words.

    When we have firmly established with our neighbors and friends and enemies our deepest conviction in the 13th Article of Faith, we will at that point be in a position to use traditional missionary work to actually make a difference. Until then, the troubling aspects of our otherwise glorious past reduces traditional missionary work to tinkling brass and sounding cymbals to the ears of strangers.

  10. Sterling says:

    When people discuss MMM, I haven’t heard them say what the Lord’s role was in the event. To what extent do we need to explain what the Lord was thinking when Mormons instituted polygamous and racial policies?

  11. Amen, YO(Ubet)
    Some people are so self-righteous they feel they have the right to judge the past by todays standards.
    That is certainly one philosophy of life. But if it’s going to be employed, it ought to be fairly employed, and that means pointing out every church that EVER practiced segregation (which ours didn’t), label them as Bigot’s and damn them to hell, as well. It would also mean damning Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob for having polygamous families, as well as the many Christians in Africa who do NOW practice polygamy. But when the “educated, tolerant” students of Natalie forget that it was European Protestants and other Christains that invented slavery, we forget that and instead point out that the LDS church denied the priesthood to black people. The church has never said it was wrong, nor does it need to. Just like Christians don’t have to apologize for Peter withholding proselytizing until after his vision at Joppa. Sorry, Natalie, I’m actually faithful to the church. I won’t apologize for inspired leadership, even if the choices they made I completely disagree with (today).

  12. Kevin Christensen says:

    I’d suggest having the students read a few things like Terryl Givens’ Viper on the Hearth, or Austin’s lengthy Sunstone study of Mormons in Mystery Fiction, or even Hugh Nibley’s “How to Write and Anti-Mormon Book: A Handbook for Beginners,” or Haynes’ “Noah’s Curse: The Bible Justification of Slavery.” As far as taking Mormon behavior towards blacks as monstrous, have them read the Standing on the Promise Trilogy and Armand Mauss in comparison to a book like The Lynching of Black America, or one of the accounts of the Tulsa Massacre. See if they can identify the actual monsters.

    Ask them whether they still feel justified, or whether they feel like they themselves have been taken in.

    Kevin Christensen
    Pittsburgh, PA

  13. Nick Literski says:

    Natalie: Did you reveal that you were Mormon? Did you do anything to dispel the misbegotten myth that Mormons are monsters?

    Maybe she had the good sense to know that her job as a professor wasn’t to proselytize.

  14. This suprises me not a whit. Secular types essentially believe that religious people are nuts to start with. More conservative the religion the more nuts it is. To bash polygamy as immoral with the hookup culture on college campuses is to be frank really funny.

  15. Jennifer says:

    I too am interested in whether or not you told them about your personal beliefs. It is interesting to me that Mormons always feel the need to explain ourselves and go on the defensive. In that conversation I see the burden of proof resting squarely on their shoulders-not those of the “labeled.”

    If “smart, generous and educated” people feel that they are willing to define a whole group of people as “monsters” (that is really a HORRIBLE term!) then as their teacher I would make darn sure that they could prove that. I would have asked them some pretty rigorous questions: “Do you personally know any Mormons?”, “Have you heard them make racist comments?”, “Where have you obtained your information that qualifies these people as monsters?”, “Was that information unbiased?”, “Did you seek out opinions and information from the people you are dismissing?”, “As a society, are we ever justified in labeling a whole group of people as monsters?” “Can you think of other subsets of humanity that have been so labeled; did that ever end well?” “If these people are monsters, what do you do about them, and are you comfortable with that, and the potential for someone else doing it to you?”

    Then I would have most definitely told them that I was a Mormon and I would have pointed out that they had just labeled me, and my parents and my siblings, and my spouse and most frighteningly, my children and I would have left them to stew.

    Mormons are not angels, but nor are we monsters. It should never be the burden of any minority to justify to the majority their right to exist. Period.

  16. There are certain things we are not supposed to do in the classroom, and declaring our religious beliefs is one of them. I could get in serious trouble for doing that, which is why I decided it was better to explore and discuss why they felt that way so that a variety of perspectives could come to bear.

    In this post, I am only suggesting that we start having a more open conversation about our history. We need to acknowledge and discuss all aspects of our history, not act as if certain parts of it don’t exist. I did not suggest that we need to change our church doctrine, just that we need to encounter it in a fuller way.

  17. Jennifer, what Natalie is expressly stating is Mormons do not have the right to express what religion they are in the classroom, and yes the burden of proof rests on them as to whether or not they should have the right to exist.

    Funny, considering how many Gay, or pot-smoking, or atheistic teachers I’ve had in the past, who not only let everyone know what they were, but made fun of believers for believing. Liberal double standards defended today by Natalie.

  18. Why do we feel we need to speak only about the past? The Church will also be judged on how it is behaves today. It seems to me, it has turned it’s back on talking at all about Polygamy today. It was asked for help, and offered a stone.

  19. It’s time that the LDS Church used its fortune to educate Americans. They need to run a massive TV ad campaign completely devoted to eliminating misconceptions about Mormons.

    It’s not fair that members of the Church are left with the entire burden of a polygamous past that hardly anyone remembers (except for older folks like President Eyring–I’m sure he remembers his polygamist grandpa). It’s also not fair that our incredibly wealthy Church handles all its PR issues with puny press releases and the occasional BORING youtube clip.

    Also, missionaries need to stop knocking on doors. It’s proven to be the least effective method of missionary work. It’s an invasion of people’s space, a royal waste of time, and all it does is alienate people.

  20. Natalie, If you can’t share your own religion, at least use an analogy or two. For example:

    One of Truman Madsen’s daughters worked at the Harvard Freshman Dean’s Office for years. One day, a co-worker made the comment that Mormon women are oppressed. Mindy’s response was, “How many Mormon women do you know?” The answer, “Just you.” “Am I oppressed?” “No.” “Then your empirical evidence says Mormon women are NOT oppressed; why do you accept someone else’s belief that they are?” “Well, you are the exception.” “No, I’m not; I’m the rule. If you knew more Mormon women, you would realize that.”

    Next, as a teacher, it is your responsibility to make sure you are teaching your students to think and discern – and you can’t do that without challenging them. Take a Socratic approach and start hitting them with difficult questions. Use the “by extension” rule – or the “consistent condemnation” rule – or anything else that shows them how dangerous such generalizations are.

    For example:

    “You say Mormons are monsters for supporting racism in the past. What about Catholics and Baptists and other Christians who supported slavery? Are all current Christians monsters due to the practices of those in the past? You say polygamy is monstrous. Is it polygamy or abuse and oppression that is monstrous? If there is no abuse or oppression, which is worse – open and honest relationships with multiple women, or hooking up with multiple women simply for sex? If polygamists are monsters, are you willing to call your classmates monsters if they aren’t monogamous in their sexual relationships?”

    etc., etc., etc.

    You also can comment that you have known LOTS of Mormons in your lifetime, and (I’m willing to bet) there were few if any “monsters” among them.

    As a former social studies teacher **in th Deep South**, I understand the difficulty, but if you don’t aggressively challenge their assumptions, I believe you are doing them a grave disservice.

  21. I’m thinking about what has gone well with regards to the recent efforts to gain closure on Mountain Meadows. Certainly, the work that the First Presidency and Twelve have done to reach out to the descendants of victims, work to make it a national monument, and opening up the vaults for extensive scholarly research has been very helpful. To be honest, I think that one of the results of this “opening up”, Walker, Turley, and Leonard’s Massacre at Mountain Meadows (Oxford University Press, 2008 – to be released in August), will do a lot to put some authoratative understanding out there of what we know concerning what actually happened. If nothing else, I hope it will shed light on the plausibility of views put forth by the Sally Dentons, Will Bagleys, and Jon Voights of the world.

    For issues of race and polygamy, perhaps a call to publish similar works that can be considered milestones in the subject, in the same fashion as Bushman’s RSR and Walker et al.’s Massacre, would be helpful. While T Compton, SB Gordon, A Mauss, M Martins and others have put forth a lot of research on the table, many of them had particular purposes in their research (look into the lives of JS’s plural wives, discuss constitutionality of anti-polygamy laws, etc). I think there is a lot more that can be done to put out some more “milestones” on the subjects. Continued publications on the subject from reputable academic presses will do a lot.

    On the other hand, most people don’t read books published by OUP; instead, they read Krakauer. In fact, Natalie, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that much of your students’ understanding came from reading Under the Banner of Heaven, the one and only book about Mormonism that every college student seems to have read. While I was in law school, most of the students who I talked to about the church based most of their understanding on that book. In Family Law, during our discussion of polygamy, both the casebook and the professor recommended Krakauer for further information on Mormons and polygamy. When I tried to share my views on the quality of Krakauer’s historical analysis, I think many looked at me as some kind of censorship freak. How does one deal with these issues when some of the brightest among us are content with getting their info from pop literature? Maybe we need some pop lit writers too.

  22. Jennifer says:

    Natalie,

    I mis-spoke in my post. I agree that it would have been wrong and irresponsible for you to tell them about your personal beliefs. Which is why I don’t think that you should have “defended Mormonism”. But I don’t think that it would have been wrong for you to tell them that you were Mormon, particularly after you had asked them to justify defining anyone as a monster.

    I still have vivid memories of an elementary school teacher (in Utah) who talked about the Holocaust and its effects on his family tree (he was obviously Jewish), and here in the public schools in Massachusetts my children go through some pretty eye-opening “segregation” activities every year around MLK day. A good public education exposes you to ways of life outside of your own, and teaches to you to treat people as individuals.

    I actually think that as Mormons we do a pretty good job of acknowledging our history, and fear that all those efforts will be for naught if the people that we seek to explain ourselves to are not willing to look at their own assumptions and prejudices. If your students left the classroom a little frightened by their eagerness to label a group as “monsters” (as they should be) they would probably have been better people for it.

  23. The United States once banned women and blacks from voting.

    Are all American’s Monsters?

    My ancestors were slave owners-

    Am I then a Monster?

    It sounds like you missed a valuable opportunity to teach these kids on how to judge people by who they ARE, not by who their parents were. An opportunity to show them the whole story-

    The LDS church teaches love, acceptance, kindness and donates millions of dollars in charitable aid world wide.

    If showed the level and extent that the church gives charitable service and focused on some of it’s basic teachings it would be easy to change these kids mis-informed opinions in addition to teach them not to judge that which they do not fully understand.

  24. Kevin Barney says:

    Interesting situation, Natalie. I think Ray hit it on the head, that this is a situation ideally suited for the socratic method (using some of the resources identified by Kevin C.). In this context it’s actually good that the students don’t know that you’re Mormon; you want them to challenge their own preconceptions, not suck up to you as their grade-giving teacher. But you’re also in a position to know when someone is making sweeping and unjustified generalizations.

    (And I liked Bro. Jones’ right-on characterization of how our “explanations” must sound to outsiders.)

  25. It’s funny, Natalie, that you say that a teacher cannot express what religion they are.

    Yet, I remember many teachers who expressed their political party, and for whom they were voting. (Incidentally, it was my 6th grade teacher voting for Bill Clinton bcz she thought his wife was soo trendy).

    I don’t know any women who wouldn’t get offended if her class decided to do a project entitled, “Woman: Emotional Monster through the centuries.”

    I don’t know any person who wouldn’t get offended if their class decided to do a project entitled, “The Beastly black man”

    I don’t know any person who wouldn’t get offended if their class decided to do a class entitled, “Why Catholics are monsters.”

    I, of course, consider all of these as abominable as “Mormons as Monsters.”

    And yet, because you’re Mormon, you think it would be inappropriate to let these students know that they are unfairly labeling you and everyone they don’t know as a monster. No one said you had to proselytize, but Jennifer made some awesome points that you have completely ignored.

    As Jennifer stated, there’s no need to inform them that you’re Mormon before you ask some rigorous questions.
    “Do you personally know any Mormons?”,
    “Have you heard them make racist comments?”,
    “Where have you obtained your information that qualifies these people as monsters?”,
    “Was that information unbiased?”,
    “Did you seek out opinions and information from the people you are dismissing?”,
    “As a society, are we ever justified in labeling a whole group of people as monsters?”
    “Can you think of other subsets of humanity that have been so labeled; did that ever end well?”
    “If these people are monsters, what do you do about them, and are you comfortable with that, and the potential for someone else doing it to you?”

    To ignore some of her truly insightful questions, continues to promogulate the liberal-double standard I have come to expect from many of my own teachers.

  26. Tough situation, but I agree with Ray- the onus is on you to challenge their assumptions- even if you weren’t a member. Sometimes, I think we would jump quicker to the defense (or at least less discriminatory view) of other social groups, simply because we are not vested in the discussion.

  27. As for an institutional response, I’m not sure what should be said, especially given that the church believes that polygamy was given as a revelation from God for a particular period of time. It seems that the best thing might be to give particular reasons for polygamy or the priesthood policy. However, this may also prove difficult, especially given statements, with which I agree, by Elders Oaks and Holland.

    Elder Oaks:

    …It’s not the pattern of the Lord to give reasons. We can put reasons to commandments. When we do we’re on our own. Some people put reasons to [the ban] and they turned out to be spectacularly wrong. There is a lesson in that…. The lesson I’ve drawn from that, I decided a long time ago that I had faith in the command and I had no faith in the reasons that had been suggested for it.
    …I’m referring to reasons given by general authorities and reasons elaborated upon [those reasons] by others. The whole set of reasons seemed to me to be unnecessary risk taking.
    …Let’s [not] make the mistake that’s been made in the past, here and in other areas, trying to put reasons to revelation. The reasons turn out to be man-made to a great extent. The revelations are what we sustain as the will of the Lord and that’s where safety lies. (Interview with Associated Press, in Daily Herald, June 5, 1988.)

    Elder Holland:

    One clear-cut position is that the folklore must never be perpetuated. … I have to concede to my earlier colleagues. … They, I’m sure, in their own way, were doing the best they knew to give shape to [the policy], to give context for it, to give even history to it. All I can say is however well intended the explanations were, I think almost all of them were inadequate and/or wrong. …

    It probably would have been advantageous to say nothing, to say we just don’t know, and, [as] with many religious matters, whatever was being done was done on the basis of faith at that time. But some explanations were given and had been given for a lot of years. … At the very least, there should be no effort to perpetuate those efforts to explain why that doctrine existed. I think, to the extent that I know anything about it, as one of the newer and younger ones to come along, … we simply do not know why that practice, that policy, that doctrine was in place. (Interview with Helen Whitney, at http://www.pbs.org/mormons/interviews/holland.html)

    While well-meaning and plausible explanations may be given, it may be unwise to give reasons for things that we frankly don’t know. However, I suppose one could confront the previous thinking of church leaders and state why church leaders no longer voice those views and no longer feel that way. To some extent, I believe the church has already begun to do this. Perhaps continued efforts on this front will bring a better understanding.

  28. Andrew H. says:

    I teach history at a public Texas university, and there is nothing in our guidelines that says I can not say what religion I belong to. I often use my own experiences in Japan as a way of illustrating a point about the culture, sometimes bringing up the fact that I am Mormon. I do not plan to do it, but it sometimes happens. Just as I do not try to hide my historical baises, I do not try to hide who I am. I am a character in their learning process, a conduit through which information flows, and it is actually useful for students to understand the nature of the conduit, my experiences and opinions, and let them decide how that might impact the messages they receive from me. Of course I do not bare my testimony or try to convert. But I do not see any reason to try to hide who I am.

    Now, in this case I probably would have let the discussion move as it did, while bringing up some of the counter-arguments that have been mentioned. But by the end I would inform the class, if they did not already know, that I was Mormon. In a way it would be an interesting kicker to the discussion. Also, I am afraid some would have found out later, and been scared that their comments might impact their grade. So I would tell them up front by the end of the class that I am Mormon, that I am not at all offended by their opinions (although I may have criticisms for the logic by which they reached or defended said opinions), and assured them that I had no hard feelings.

  29. Yet Another John says:

    Re: #13

    Maybe her job description as a professor doesn’t include proseltyzing, but surely it includes education.

  30. Andrew H. says:

    From Natalie’s post it does appear that the class was not about “What are mosters like”, as some of the respondants seem to have assumed. Rather, it was about how/why some people/groups are seen as monsters, how societies create those labels, and then how do they treat those so labeled. So the nature of the study itself was intended to question attempts to catagorize any group, including the Mormons, as “monsters”. Therefore by letting the discussio move forward, Natalie was critiquing an attempt to label Mormons as monsters. Is that right Natalie? Please tell us more about what you were doing.

  31. Natalie, you make a great point. We have discontinued some practices, but we have never drawn a line under them. With slavery or other such practices, we have culturally identified the fault of those who made the error, or those who made the error admitted it and even apologized. We haven’t, and we haven’t even clarified the doctines involved. Do we believe in polygamy but just don’t currently practice, like the law of consecration?

    If showed the level and extent that the church gives charitable service and focused on some of it’s basic teachings it would be easy to change these kids mis-informed opinions in addition to teach them not to judge that which they do not fully understand.

    I will suggest that there are elements of these practices and doctrines that we do not properly understand. (In fact, that is the church’s official position on the blacks and the priesthood.)

  32. We actually do know why, and we’re just being dishonest. But we’ve successfuly convinced the members to join in on the denail “we don’t know why”. And this is why we’er in the position we’re in today. This is why Natalit’s students see us this way.

    An impressive new film that is positive on the church actually goes through our scripture and history and shows what was commanded and what the Lord intended and is by two black mormons. (Blacks in the Scriptures) Again, it’s positive, but it in the process exposes all that we got wrong including direct revelation that we ignored. We have to first learn as Natalie indicated, and then open our mouths. And it’s hard to teach repentance if we won’t do it ourselves.

    Joe

  33. Joe (32) – So you don’t believe Elders Oaks and Holland when they say that they don’t know the particular reasons behind the priesthood policy?

  34. Natalie mentions that it may be time to “examine our history” on polygamy and race issues, in the same light as is being done on MMM. However, am I the only who fears what might actually come down from some official interpretation of our history? Like Kevin Barney said, our “explanations” fall so short sometimes as to be laughable to nonbelievers. I think President Hinckley’s apparent policy of “glossing over” controversial aspects of our history might actually be best. I say, leave it alone. Let it die. And after a while (a long, long while!), we may arrive at a point where we can say there has been “repudiation by silence.”

    And I do recognize that this might mean that in the here and now, part of our generation’s burden is to be perceived as monsters. /sigh/

  35. Per (21) regarding good academic works on the subjects, I was really impressed with Greg Prince’s contribution on the priesthood policy in David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism. I would love to see a work that goes into the kind of detail that he did that spans the entire history of the church, not just the formative McKay period.

  36. JT,

    I watched over 3 hours over scriptural and historical evidence that clearly indicate that all of the brethren are aware of the truth and they’re not telling it. I still support all of the leaders, but they are not being honest when they say that. I was both in awe and in shock. You’ll undestand only after you see it.

    Well forgive me, let me clarify, when they say that they don’t know, they could be saying in essence they weren’t there when it started and don’t know the particulars of how the ban was initially instituted. But they know that the Lord commanded them to do the opposite of what was done, that they were wrong about all they taught about blacks, that they realized this wrong decades before 1978, and that there were many GA’s who stood in the way of the correcting the wrong.

    Joe

  37. My wife, who teaches junior high, has run up against this on rare occasions where a student will make a comment. It seems that the LDS students (there are always a few each year) seem to figure out pretty quick that she is LDS as well. The others are mostly clueless. She has tried to do what Ray suggested when a statement is made publicly in class, and with that age, it seems to work well, as most are really pretty misinformed. When it is made privately by a student, then she will generally respond with something more personal, and acknowledge that she is LDS. It comes up less now that she only teaches math.

    I think the responsibility is on us not only to live by example as compassionate, caring, and non-prejudiced individuals, but to be more proactive in responding to others when they make these kinds of half-informed statements. I was impressed to see so many names from the ‘nacle responding to Tim Egan’s egregious editorial in the NY times yesterday. We need to be thoughtful, informed respondents in an increasingly public world where we are discussed daily. That Joseph Smith’s name would be had for good or ill certainly has turned out to be an accurate prophecy, even more so since his martyrdom.

  38. Excellent post, Natalie.

    It is true that we have not yet developed the ability to speak about ourselves in a manner that is not defensive. As this thread already demonstrates, we haven’t yet learned how to talk about these things among ourselves in a detached manner.

    W ought to take your students as honest feedback. I see no evidence that they are motivated by any particular animus, they are simply stating what they think. Just because we think we are wonderful doesn’t mean everybody else has to agree with us. When we work so hard to draw lines and become peculiar people, we have no business taking offense when people tell us: Yes, Mormons are peculiar.

  39. Natalie, your “smart, educated” students are bigots. I cannot believe you would excuse their demonization of LDS people.

  40. I only had time to scan the comments. Is there somewhere where the basic details about these “smart, educated, and generous students”? Is this a 7th grade class in Alabama or a graduate class at a major university or what?

  41. “There are certain things we are not supposed to do in the classroom, and declaring our religious beliefs is one of them.”

    Why not?

  42. Well, I think your students hit the nail right on the head, Mormons are the monsters of contemporary society. We’re right up there with the rapists, serial killers, and oppressive, genocide supporting governments of the world.

    Exercises like this really let young minds shine, huh?

  43. i believe the biggest problem (as others have stated) is that other churches/groups/etc. have owned up to their past and have apologized

    the lds church has yet to do such a thing with regards to ANY part of their ugly past – INCLUDING MMM, where there was never an apology extended, but a mere acknowledgement of the event (of course, an apology depends upon whether you believe the “policies” or revelations of the past really were coming from god or not – and i think that makes the whole situation all the more difficult)

    And with regards to post #22 that asserts the church has done a pretty good job with acknowledging their history…i think this is far from the truth as im sure many of us have known or at least know of plenty of people that have left over historical issues – mainly when the come in contact with history they are completely unaware of and that is in fact quite different from the stories they heard in church/seminary/institute

    plenty of people have been censored/sanctioned due to their writing of what they feel is truthful and balanced lds history…i strongly feel that we have a long we to go (as an institution) regarding the truthful dissemination of lds history – in fact i see it as one of the biggest problems facing the modern-day lds church

  44. Lulubelle says:

    First: We, the Church, still believes in polygamy and men are allowed to marry multiple women in the temple. So to completely shy away from polygamy is dishonest. Second, the Church is really trying to have it both ways. They say that polygamy was commanded by God, but then try to distance itself from it as much as possible. But if it truly was of God, why bother explaining it away? Why not proudly state (shout) to the world: Polygamy is an eternal concept. We don’t know why, but it is. And we’ll all be practicing it again some day? They don’t because it’s a PR nightmare. But the Church and its members can’t have it both ways.

    Either way, the Church needs to discuss polygamy openly and honestly rather than trying (repeatedly) to ignore the elephant in the room. Try as it may, all the ignoring of it or trying to sweep it under the rug isn’t making the issue go away. It’s still probably the number one thing people think of when they think about Mormons.

    I agree on questioning the students and making them explore other ways of looking at things and possibly then drawing them to other conclusions. To accept their conclusion without pushing them further, is a disservice.

  45. I think the interesting thing is that Mormons, even most of fundamentalist polygamists, are not particularly monstrous. The polygamous clans are sexist, separatist, and dysfunctional; but monstrous really takes things to another level. What makes people have these strong connections that don’t really comport that well with Mormons that these others interact with in their daily life?

  46. Natalie,
    I think you are right about our need to openly discuss issues of our past as well as similar issue of the present. There does seem to be a tendency to just push things aside that don’t seem to make complete sense or cannot seem to be rationally explained. I know that we need to have faith in a loving Heavenly Father who has a purpose, and we may not always understand that purpose. But. . . the attitude that we so often take that we may not understand in this life but will later when everything is before us almost makes questioning seem inappropriate or unacceptable. That does us, Mormon and nonMormon, all a diservice, because it makes it difficult for us to come to really understand who we are as a people and as individuals.

    Re the comments suggesting that Natalie should have told her students that she is Mormon: I teach at a community college and have been in similar situations. Sometimes I felt it was appropriate to tell my students that I am Mormon, other times I have felt the opposite. Not out of fear or shame, but because it would either detract from the discussion or might marginalize or embarrass some students. It seems unfair and inappropriate for someone who was not there or has not been in the same situation to suggest s/he knows better what Natalie should have done.

  47. Wow Kevin, Ray, and others. Would you be open to this same kind of ‘Socratic method’ to be used in a GD class?

    Ray, how does “but if you don’t aggressively challenge their assumptions, I believe you are doing them a grave disservice” square with “Biting One’s Tongue at Church
    Kevin Barney – January 06, 2008?

  48. Kevin,

    I appreciated your post. I’ll add one thing. We have to know our own scriptures and history.

    Those who want to understand polygamy better, I’d suggest reading “Rough Stone Rolling” by Bushman and then study all the scriptures on the issue.

    Those who want to understand the issues surrounding the priesthood ban see the “Blacks in the Scriptures DVDs by Darius Gray and Marvin Perkins” http://www.blacksinthescriptures.com then read chapter 4 in “David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism by Greg Prince and Robert Wright.

    All of these works will huble you and prepare you to speak to these issues in a way that I believe the Lord would want us to.

    Joe

  49. Bob, since Kevin seems to agree with Ray, I would think it squares well. Fact is, some assumptions and prejudices aren’t to be smiled at politely, but broken down and rejected.

  50. Joe,

    Thank you for the information about the DVD. I am always interested in any of Darius Gray’s projects and I had not heard about this one previously.

    As far as Natalie’s class, I concur with Jennifer’s proposed follow-up questions. In my opinion, the role of a teacher should not be to defend the LDS church or people, or any other group, but to cultivate independent thought and critical thinking skills among her students.

    During the height of the Catholic priest scandal, I often heard people attempt comedy by casting gross aspersions about Catholics. My general reply was along the lines of “Really, I have not encountered that among my Catholic neighbors and friends. What specific experiences have you had that have led you to believe that?” The usual response was an immediate attempt to retract the statement.

  51. Who says that we need to be able to not be defensive? Who says we have to talk about ourselves in a detached manner? Why not teach others to not attack?

    “W ought to take your students as honest feedback.” Right, just like we take the bigotted man’s “insight” as honest feedback? Uninformed bigotry is still uninformed bigotry even if someone, somewhere in the world fits the bill. If I find an arrogant white man, or an idiot white man, I’m still a bigot if I say all white men are arrogant or stupid. Bigotry is Bigotry, even if it is a 2nd grader or a grad student.

    “are simply stating what they think.” Just because people think things, doesn’t mean they should state it (or that they should think it). Sometimes people think wrong. E.i., Protestants who allowed slavery.

    “Yes, Mormons are peculiar.” There’s a difference between saying: You’re different, and You’re a monster. Silly me, I know how to use a dictionary.

    BTW. Polygamy is defined as “marriage in which a spouse of either sex may have more than one mate at the same time.” Since the second manifesto, no LDS person has been married to multiple people without being excommunicated. It’s kind of weird to express humanly laws and definitions after this life is over. Actually, it’s very dishonest and kind of ironic that you accuse the church of dishonsty when you (LuluBelle) are the one being dishonest.

  52. Rondell, When Natalie posted her personal story on a blog asking people’s opinions, it suddenly became every human being’s right to tell her what she should have done.

    She didn’t just say, I felt it was inappropriate, but rather, she isn’t allowed to. While I give her the right to decide what she’s going to do based on what she feels is approriate, I don’t think marginalizing or embarrassing some students is a good excuse not to. Sometimes people deserve to be marginalized and embarrassed. For example, if I was at a dinner, with people I didn’t know, and said, “I dislike Catholics because they all smell.” And someone asked, “I know Catholics and they don’t all smell.” Or, “I’m Catholic and I don’t smell.” And someone was embarressed or marginalized, OH well, La di freakin da. They said something they shouldn’t have. Sometimes shame is a good teacher. I bet the person would think twice (or even once if they were a blogger) about the things they were going to say.

    “It seems unfair and inappropriate for someone who was not there or has not been in the same situation to suggest s/he knows better what Natalie should have done.” Then Natalie should not blog her personal life. If she does, it is COMPLETELY FAIR AND APPROPRIATE for others to give their input.

  53. Joe, I’ve seen what you are talking about and your conclusion is . . . debatable, to say the least. I won’t say any more on that.

    Natalie, there is another element of the discussion that needs to be made, imo – namely that there is not unanimous understanding and belief regarding these things within Mormonism. Many feel that polygamy was inspired and revealed and practiced perfectly before it was terminated; others agree with the first two statements but not the last; others defend polygamy but not the priesthood ban; others defend neither. It is interesting that such a division existed even in the Q12 and FP.

    As to polygamy, it would be instructive to point out that the most fundamental Mormon text by outsiders’ standards (the Book of Mormon) actually establishes monogamy as the standard default arrangement, with polygamy allowed ONLY “if I will” – specifically because unauthorized polygamy is described as leading to abuse. Even too many members don’t realize this, and it gets in the way of their own understanding of the conflict with the FLDS now.

  54. NoS — I believe you’ll find that the rules for comporting oneself amongst a group of friends are quite different than the rules for public debates. BCC is a site that hopes to foster friendly and helpful discussion. While you’re right according to Robert’s Rules that Natalie has somehow opened the door to personal criticism, you’ve forgotten one crucial element: around here, we ban people for acting like jerks.

  55. Nick Literski says:

    Natalie, I’m so sorry that your observations here are being met with nasty, condemnatory messages, chastizing you for not touting the LDS church to your students in a secular setting. I’m just amazed at the “holier-than-thou” types here, who seem to be more upset with you, than with your students. It’s almost (but not quite) amusing to realize that the same people who think you should have turned your class into an LDS public relations seminar, would have a fit over a professor urging so-called “liberal” views on her students.

    Please know that many appreciate your willingness to respect proper boundaries. Please know that many appreciate your willingness to take the proper role of an instructor by encouraging exploration, rather than imposing your own views on students. Your willingness to allow students (however misguided they may be) to think for themselves says more good about the LDS church than any effort to “set them straight” could.

  56. Lulubelle says:

    NoS: How am I being dishonest?

  57. Ray,

    If you’re saying that you’ve seen the Blacks in the Scriptures DVDs, then I’d welcome a friendly productive debate. Because after all of that evidence, I didn’t and don’t see any room for debate. But always willing to learn.

    Joe

  58. The idea that Mormons are monsters because the institution to which they belong, in the past, did some things that most Americans believe are bad is absurd to me. But I do think there’s some reason that people continue to view Mormonism in general with more suspicion than other institutions that have had bad practices in the past.

    When other institutions stop questionable practices (America and slavery, the Catholic Church and covering for pedophiles), outsiders generally understand why. They say, “I’m sorry, we screwed up, we were wrong, we’ve learned, our values have evolved, we share your values, and we won’t do that again.” That creates a certain level of understanding and trust that the institution believes what it did was wrong and knows why, and that it won’t re-institute the practice.

    From an outsider’s perspective (correct me if I’m wrong), it appears that the reason the LDS church changed its practices was that God told them to. That’s a great reason, of course. But if you’re not LDS, it’s sort of hard to understand–if the LDS church makes decisions about things like this based on what God tells it to do, what happens if God tells it something different tomorrow? It’s harder to trust a system you don’t understand and can’t predict.

  59. Joe, you won’t get it from me on this thread. Bring it up on a different one where it would be appropriate.

  60. Someone who knows nothing about us can, this very day, walk into a Deseret Bookstore and buy a book witten by an apostle that purports to define Mormon doctrine.

    In that book, we can read racial reasons for the priesthood ban, and we can also see a certain Christian denomination described as the whore of the earth.

    Let’s give as much of the benefit of the doubt to Natalie’s students as we are happy to give ourselves. Chips on shoulders are unbecoming.

  61. Hmmm,
    I don’t think I was advocating fostering adversarial situations, but being “informed respondents”. I viewed Ray’s Socratic discussion idea could be fruitful and without even disclosing that you are LDS. My wife doesn’t make that disclosure publicly, unless the situation demands it, as in a direct question. It comes up much less since she no longer teaches socials studies and English, though.

    It’s a lot easier said than done, and I have a hard time myself. being quiet about it often lets bigoted or misinformed ideas go unchallenged.

    Kevin Barney, # 47. Yeah, well, there is that problem. We had an incident recently in our HP quorum that involved an unsolicited comment that was blatantly political and unintentionally funny, in a sad way. To have responded in a Socratic method to this well-meaning but clueless individual would have been a problem, but we often see thoughts or ideas laid out on the table in Sunday lessons that everyone shies seems to want to avoid, and should be addressed. But that also implies an informed and confident teacher, which is sometimes not the case. In a perfect world…..

  62. Bro. Jones says:

    #58 You said what I was trying to say, but much better. As I’ve told my younger sister (who is not a member) when giving her “the talk,” I said: “Look: I believe in abstinence until marriage because a nice, old, friendly white guy in Salt Lake City says that God told him to tell me that. I believe that man is a prophet, so that’s good enough for me. Since you don’t share that belief, let me educate you about some other information you need to know about that will inform your decision whether or not and when to have sex.”

    Just because we believe that some people are called of God doesn’t mean that other people do. And if all we can say about a particular issue is, “Because Pres. Soandso said so,” that may be sufficient for us Mormons, but not for non-members.

  63. cj douglass says:

    Nick,
    Maybe its because I attend a University where my gay professors openly talk about their partners, my Jewish professors openly talk about Passover, Yom Yippur etc., and I openly talk about what I did last weekend (go to church) that it surprises me to hear that a mere mention of someones personal background would equal an LDS public relations seminar. It seems to me that saying two words “I’m Mormon” can go many, many mile in changing peoples notions about what a “monster” is (because they know how smart, educated, and generous you are).

    Overall though, Natalie’s observation that we would be able to talk much more effectively with those outside of our faith if we embraced, and learned, our history in its entire complexity is much appreciated and will continue to be one of my greatest challenges.

  64. “But, I think we would be able to talk much more effectively with those outside of our faith if we embraced, and learned, our history in its entire complexity.”

    I agree with this fully, Natalie, but I see too many members who gravitate to either extreme in their conclusions. It tends to be either: 1) polygamy and the priesthood ban (and sometimes women and the priesthood) are all ordained of God and practiced as He commanded, or 2) each of them was not God’s will and we need to apologize for them.

    Personally, I think that the more we “embrace and learn our history” the more we realize it isn’t either extreme – that it a combination of divine instruction and human application that gets messy just like our own lives – that is consistent with the overall view we have of God’s interactions with His children throughout history. It’s never been clean and pristine; it’s always been messy. (as evidenced by the other thread being discussed right now on this blog)

    I can’t “apologize” for what others did; I can, however, explain honestly and openly that I think they were wrong – and why. In the case of polygamy, I have no general problems with the practice as a whole in that time, as I see it as a temporary exception as allowed in Jacob 2; for the priesthood ban, I have no justification, as I think it was based on the racism of the time and was allowed only because God honors agency even as He weeps over its exercise.

  65. Thanks Ray (53) – I hadn’t seen the DVD Joe mentioned in (32) and (36) (though I would like to), but I had read what’s on the DVD’s website, seen a couple of clips, and read a review, and thought that Joe’s conclusions from it seemed a bit fishy.

    Nick (55) – you beat me to it. Natalie, thank you for the very interesting post. I am guessing you weren’t hoping to open up a discussion about what you should have done, and how what you did was wrong. On the other hand, I do think the subject of what is appropriate to say in a classroom context is interesting. I just hope that it is done by others in a non-condemnatory way.

  66. Ray,

    I’m sorry, I don’t know which places are most appropriate for sharing truth. Please be careful in making comments that you can’t support.

    Joe

  67. Latter-day Guy says:

    Anna G., you make an excellent point. That is, I think, the doctrine in Mormonism that seems most… erm… dangerous. (Not exactly the right word.) If the law is “whatever God says is right” it does make for a less predictable, and certainly less comfortable system. I think that that is one of the underlying reasons for early (and modern) LDS persecution. I seem to remember Bushman saying something about this in RSR… anyone remember the pertinent quote? (Mine’s packed away right now.)

  68. Ooops, too many kevins here, and Kevin Barney isn’t even one of them. I think I may have responded to a comment made to Kevin Christensen.

    But I still think we should be informed respondents, and not let ridiculous or wrong comments go unchallenged. And that would go for comments about JW’s, evangelicals, atheists, etc. I’m sometimes guilty of the gross generalization and stereotyping that Natalie’s student displayed, but I am trying to be better, and better informed.

  69. The class was supposed to pick some group to label as monsters; if not Mormons, then who? I give them credit for not lazily settling on pedophiles, that cliched group we all take comfort in feeling superior to.

  70. Steve Evans says:

    John, how about mimes?

  71. Latter-day Guy says:

    I’ve never heard of a pedophile mime, Steve. Suddenly I have all kinds of questions…

  72. Mark IV (60) – I’m assuming you are referring to McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine. I’d have to check my copy, but I had thought the assertions that you are referring to were taken out in the second edition that was printed in, I believe, 1966 or 1968 (and updated again after the 1978 declaration). I have never seen an LDS bookstore carry the first edition. Am I wrong on either of these points?

    Interesting sidenote 1 – My dad has a first edition copy of Mormon Doctrine signed by the author, as McConkie was a good friend of my grandparents. This makes for an interesting study to compare the two editions to see what has changed, but I always feel bad because I feel like I am holding some sort of relic.

    Interesting sidenote 2 – For our stake seminary graduation, the stake presidency gave each graduating seminary student a copy of Mormon Doctrine, signed by the entire stake presidency. Since I was 18 at the time, I didn’t realize the disdain that some people had for the book. Since then, I have thought it somewhat of a bold move. Nonetheless, I thought it was a very generous gift.

  73. Steve Evans says:

    L-d Guy, I’ve never heard of one that wasn’t.

    See my earlier comment on the zeitcast: pedophilia isn’t funny. A mime pedophile is like a man-eating lion strapped to a shark strapped to a terrorist.

  74. #66 – This thread is not the place to debate whether or not all Mormon leaders are intentional liars and deceivers, as your comment states very clearly. If there is another thread on this or another blog that asks that question, I will engage you. I won’t do it here in this thread.

  75. #66 – This thread is not the place to debate whether or not all Mormon leaders are intentional liars and deceivers, as your comment states very clearly. If there is another thread on this or another blog that asks that question, I will engage you. I won’t do it here in this thread.

  76. JT,

    Please explain to me how you arrive at “fishy” from what’s on the site and in the clips? Also, will you notice Ray’s silence when asked to support his claims. I’ve seen the DVDs, I’ve seen what the scriptures say that they’ve directed us to on the issue. Until you do, you will remain in ignorance as to what they contain and your opinions on them without merit. It’s troubling that these two brother could break the code on this long ignored issue, and you two arm chair quarterbacks attempt to diminish this with ignorance. You contribute to the original problem in Natalie’s post.

    Joe

  77. Obviously, that last comment was mine, not my wife’s. I didn’t check the Name area – didn’t realize she had commented.

  78. Steve Evans:
    “we ban people for acting like jerks.” [insert pointing out of Steve's jerky side here]

    Nick Literski
    Gee, Nick, [insert rant here]

    Lulubelle:
    [insert idiotic and incorrect doctrinal exposition here]

  79. Steve Evans says:

    Joe, quit it. Quit shilling for those lame DVDs as if they are the only key of knowledge to understand the issue. Quit pretending you are superior to the rest of us or that you know something we don’t. If there’s ignorance here, it’s on your part, presuming that somehow ray and others aren’t already fully cognizant of your pet topic. Move on.

  80. Steve Evans says:

    NoS, precisely so. It’s clear that you are unable to behave like a friendly person, so we bid you good-bye.

    Good-bye to Joe as well.

    Folks: getting moderated or banned is not a mystery. Act NICE! Imagine you are at a cocktail party, hosted by someone you don’t know (say, me or J. or Kristine). How would you behave? We’ll be more than happy to show you the door if you can’t act like a human being.

  81. Joe, my responses have been sincere and direct. I won’t turn this into a debate about the DVD – especially when I have said clearly that I don’t believe the ban was inspired. I am not going to respond further.

  82. NoS, having a different viewpoint is fine. Condemning those who disagree as liars, cheats, or imbeciles is being a jerk. It seems like you might have some trouble distinguishing, so I gave you that helpful guide :)

  83. Kevin Barney says:

    I’m unclear as to why some people object to Ray’s suggestion, with which I concur, of initiating a socratic dialogue with the class. This is a secular classroom, and the purpose of the dialogue would be both to impart information, but mostly to force the students to exercise critical thinking skills. That’s sort of what teachers do.

    I don’t advocate the socratic method at church. I’ve only seen it done by one teacher–by my friend, Blake Ostler, who was GD teacher in a student ward at BYU–and while he did a great job of it, it wouldn’t fly with a teacher of ordinary abilities among a non-university ward. But we’re talking about a secular classroom, are we not? To my eye, a socratic dialogue would be perfect in that setting. Pretend you’re in law school if you don’t otherwise know how to do one.

  84. Antonio Parr says:

    I am somewhat perplexed by the sense of outrage shown by some of you over the antipathy displayed by non-Mormons towards our pre-1978 policy regarding Blacks and the Priesthood. Lest we forget, the pre-1978 policy not only had the tragic consequence of depriving Mormons of the joyful full fellowship of their Black brothers and sisters, it also resulted in an appalling display by a significant part of the LDS population of outright bigotry and racial prejudice that grossly exceeded the limited segregation called for by the pre-1978 priesthood ban.

    Latter-Day Saints are called to be a light to the world, and we failed our Black brothers and sisters in ways that dwarf the impact of the Priesthood ban. Our need to repent in this regard did not end in 1978.

  85. StillConfused says:

    So how was the project? Was it thoughtful and well presented? Was it “A” work?

  86. Joe (75) – It looks like a very good DVD – one that I would like to see. It appears to be taken from a “faithful” perspective, and the presentations shown in the DVD were given in LDS chapels throughout the US. What seems fishy to me is that they would be continually granted this access to LDS chapels if they were preaching that LDS leaders (including current apostles, as you seem to be insinuating) are being dishonest.

    You’re right – as I mentioned earlier, I haven’t seen the DVD. I’d need to fork over 35 bucks and wait two weeks before I’d get a chance. So I can’t really debate the DVD with you. That’s why I thanked Ray for confirming my initial thoughts that your conclusion from the DVD sounded a bit fishy. Perhaps, instead of simply referring to the DVD, you could share with us substantive information or ideas from the DVD that support your conclusion – things most of us could actually speak to. However, like Ray, I’m not sure this is the appropriate forum anyway.

    (75):

    I’ve seen what the scriptures say that they’ve directed us to on the issue.

    I think most, if not all, of us have read all of the LDS scriptures many times, including the ones specifically related to the issue. I don’t think you have any special claim to knowledge on that.

    I probably said more than I should here. Sorry for the tangent.

  87. Oops – I was writing (85) before Steve’s posts in (78) and (79) popped up. Please forgive me. And please have mercy on my BCC soul, Steve.

  88. (waves hands majestically)

    Vade in pace, JT.

  89. If you still see Black Mormons and White Mormons, have you moved beyond race?

  90. hawkgrrrl says:

    Socratic method is great for turning up underlying assumptions, so in Natalie’s class it would be a classic response.

    Socratic method in church is not going to “move the ball forward” or cover your lesson topic. I like to use the “straw man” approach (set em up and knock em down). But, if someone comes up with some sort of weird comment, I usually just throw it out to the group: “What do the rest of you think? Anyone disagree?”

  91. All the posts saying this is a problem with liberal secular students,(starting with bbell in #14) because of course they hate all religion is really simplifying things. Do any of you honestly think if she was teaching this same class in an Evangelical Sunday School she wouldn’t get the same answers about Mormons?

    It’s not a problem with liberals, or universities, it’s our problem. We treated blacks as second-class citizens until 1978. We broke the law and kept giving more than one wife to people, even after saying we wouldn’t. We participated in a massacre.

    Shouldn’t we as a church try to address these things so we don’t look like a ‘monster’?

  92. I would assume that any project labeling any group as “monsters” would lead the participants to see that monsters don’t actually exist. People do. People who make bad choices and good choices. We’re all monsters; we’re all, um, non-monsters. I’d think they’d have an easier time choosing something like skinhead Nazis, but if they want to make it hard on themselves, go for it.

  93. Did anyone answer my question in #40 yet? I didn’t see a response.

  94. “Our need to repent in this regard did not end in 1978.”

    What are your implications with this statement? That the church should symbolically “repent” with some kind of official apology? Or are you saying that I, as a faithful LDS in 2008, should have to apologize or repent for racist polices of my church that were rescinded before I was born?

    I don’t see why my membership in the Mormon church makes me a racist (or a women-oppressing, horny polygamist, for that matter) in the eyes of these students or certain vocal media members. In 1980, I was born into a church that allowed people of all races all the priesthood blessings of the gospel. I don’t hold those racist beliefs. Should I be pulling my hair out trying to justify and explain the historical misdeeds committed by all the groups I belong to – Idahoans, Mormons, white people, Americans, fathers, computer engineers, people who like baseball, homo-sapiens? Can a reasonable person associate with an organization that isn’t perfect, but is still inherently good, and hope to get a little respect?

    Personally, I am tired of being vilified as a “monster”, and etc., because of things I do not practice, not believe in, and do not condone. I’m tired of people using my church’s history to condemn me. Our afterlife doctrines (or speculations) of equality, gender, and families might not be easy to swallow for many following this era’s moral compass, but for goodness sake, before you go and label a huge group of people, it might be a good idea to actually find out how they live their lives and how they treat other people.

  95. #90: Mormons should not have to carry more than their share of these misunderstandings. But I have found, that if you can find a someway to make part of the issue your problem, then you have power over it, then there is hope for some better understanding.

  96. I am pretty ignorant about the DVD, but I have been of the opinion that (and maybe I am wrong)…but could the whole bit about not giving Blacks the Priesthood have had to do with the fact that they were still being lynched for just being black as late as the 1960’s in this Country? We ourselves were targets even into the 20th Century. Could it have been the fact that they would have been a double target as a “Mormon Preacher?”

    All I know is that Blacks didn’t even begin to get their rights until after 1968. And one decade later, the Priesthood ban was lifted. I am neither agreeing or disagreeing with the Church’s behaviour, only mentioning what I have both heard and assumed. Thoughts?

    I also think it is interesting that Mormons a racist reputation…when being anything BUT racist in the 19th Century was considered wierd. Abolitionists were not a popular group north or south of the Mason-Dixon Line. And, as I understand it, Mormons were indeed abolitionists.

  97. If we’re monsters, I get to be one of the creatures from Where the Wild Things Are. Or Cookie Monster. Either one is cool with me.

  98. Where the Wild Things Are — Man, that brings back memories. Great monsters!

  99. Ray,

    We’ll eat you up! We love you so.
    But Max said, “No”.

    Cole Porter, 1929

  100. Are you sure that’s not Dr. Seuss, kevinf?

  101. Irving Berlin? Only Steve knows for sure.

  102. Peter LLC says:

    could the whole bit about not giving Blacks the Priesthood have had to do with the fact that they were still being lynched for just being black as late as the 1960’s in this Country? We ourselves were targets even into the 20th Century. Could it have been the fact that they would have been a double target as a “Mormon Preacher?”

    Ah, that’s one I hadn’t thought of-the ban was protecting them from themselves.

  103. I don’t agree.

    This church is directed by God, and does not have an obligation to give any explanation to anyone.

    If people have a problem with that, let them take it up with God.

  104. Steve Evans says:

    LOL, Cicero — the Pope should have said that to those who complained of priest abuses.

  105. As to Mormons being abolitionists, Utah came into the union as a slave territory; so I think, no.

  106. At first, I didn’t want to take it up with God as a faithful church-going boy in Southeastern Idaho. God showed me through His holy law that I indeed had a monstrous heart. Ouch.

    Hey, that Idahoan in comment #7 sounds like a mainline Mormon fundamentalist (distinct from FLDS). The problem is that we don’t agree on the gospel fundamentals that save us from our sinful actions. We even disagree on what the Bible relates as sinful, polygamy being one of those heart issues.

    But Jettboy is always upfront. Idahoans tend to do that. And that is refreshing.

  107. Utah came in as a slave territory to stay under the radar of the entire thing. Like there were all sorts of slaves in Salt-Lake City? Please.
    Was the Church supposed to take on all of the nation’s ills single handedly from the very beginning?

    It sounds like some of you are TRYING to find reasons to make the Church guilty of the sins of a nation it was not even a part of until after the Civil War.

    LLC- If the Church WERE doing it to, as you say “protect the Blacks from themselves,” would you be satisfied, or are really only looking to corner the Church as a racist organization? The fact is, is that it happened. It was either for no good reason, or it was guided by God for a legitimate reason. That’s really all there is to say about it. Am I wrong?

  108. JZ, Peter’s comment was facetious. Re-read Elder Holland’s quote in #27.

  109. JZ, Mormons, during the Pioneer era at least, were not abolitionist, that’s the only point. There were three slaves in the first pioneer company of 1847; other pioneers also brought slaves with them west, though the practice never really caught on.

  110. djinn: Utah didn’t come in as a slave territory. Utah came into the Union as a territory in the Compromise of 1850. It was admitted under rules of popular sovereignty. Utah had no official stand on slavery. The LDS Church leadership was split on it. However, in 1851 Brigham Young refused to recognize the legitimacy of licenses to trade slaves issued by other states and refused to recognize slaves among native Americans (which had been a widespread practice before the Mormons arrived). New trading or enslavement of Black slaves was never accepted as a practice; but Brigham Young refused at that time to separate existing slaves from their masters.

  111. We do not have a monopoly on inspiration even though we might like to think so. I believe there was more to the ban on certain minorities holding the priesthood than we now understand and hopefully some day we as a people will be ready to understand the logic behind it and then it will be revealed. Meanwhile, America was flooded with what I believe to be divinely inspired movements for equal rights during the 1970s. Certainly we should expect that the church would receive their share of that revelation and would act upon it. That does not mean some individuals at very high levels might not have had personal prejudices. We are all human after all and products of our earthly environment as well as our heavenly aspirations.

    Regarding polygamy, when I am asked about it by women I tell them that the church outlawed it back in the late 1800 but as a working wife and mother sometimes I wouldn’t mind having an extra wife at home to help with dinner and housecleaning. So far most of them seem to agree!

  112. Natalie, I very much agree with you.

    While it is certainly not appropriate for others to label us as “monsters,” we do legitimately run the risk of seeming shifty, hypocritical, and secretive.

    The church may not need to “repent” of its wrongdoings, but it definitely needs to explain them more adequately. I couldn’t help but notice the interesting irony that while the church has been at its wits end trying to keep the media from associating the FLDS with the LDS, the bloggernacle is having a near polygamy love fest. Most commenters and bloggers, some of whom have polygamous ancestors, seem eager to defend “the principle.” I am not saying that they are wrong in doing so, but is it no wonder that people are confused when we are so eager to defend the thing we officially disassociate ourselves from?

    The church either needs to distance itself further from polygamy and stop allowing men to be sealed to more than one woman, or they need to embrace it and say, “we don’t practice it here on earth, but we still believe it’s an eternal principle. Deal with it.” All this wishy washiness leaves us looking very suspicious and untrustworthy.

  113. Sigh. “Popular Sovereignty.” Utahns chose. Utahns (the legislature) chose slavery in 1852.

  114. Mormonism is one of the religions easier to disprove with modern science. Especially the Native American lost tribe of Israel theory.

  115. Peter LLC says:

    when you censor my comments (without warrant, mind you), put FALSE words in my mouth, and attempt to “Ban” me from sharing my opinions, I start to wonder why.

    Steve’s got a Master Plan that won’t make a lot of sense to the uninitiated until the hereafter. But I’ve caught a glimpse and it’s pretty sweet, kind of like a virtual Zion.

  116. Peter LLC says:

    #106:

    If the Church WERE doing it to, as you say “protect the Blacks from themselves,” would you be satisfied, or are really only looking to corner the Church as a racist organization?

    Whoa. You speculated that a certain group of people might have been better off not being Mormon given the discrimination they already faced on account of their skin color:

    “Could it have been the fact that they would have been a double target as a “Mormon Preacher?”

    Perhaps my disagreement with this notion was expressed too obliquely, but I see no justification for impugning my stance vis-a-vis the Church as an organization.

  117. Latter-day Guy says:

    Has NoS returned from beyond the veil of banning? A zombie commenter! (Speaking of mormon monsters…)

  118. A fine post, Natalie, and a reminder that the public image of LDS is still problematic. No doubt the students are merely reflecting opinions they have picked up from their parents or seen in media discussions/caricatures. Education and PR might change some minds, but bigotry is so ingrained and natural to most people that it will still take generations for the “Mormon as monster” meme to disappear.

  119. I don’t mind the fact that Natalie wanted to be careful about abusing her position of authority.

    But he post reminds me of a lot of other comments I’ve heard over the years on the naccle. You’ve probably heard something similar. Someone mentions how they heard someone at the water cooler say something derogatory about Mormons, totally unaware that there was a Mormon standing right there. And how they just kept their mouths shut, a bit hurt by the ignorance, etc., etc.

    Hello?

    Why didn’t you freaking say something?

    What the hell is wrong with us?

    Every time someone insults us and our faith, why is it we all have this knee-jerk urge to go into the fetal position?

    Then we go and whine to our friends about how no one would ever say stuff like that about a Jew.

    You wanna know why they don’t say it about Jews?

    Because if you said the kind of stuff to a Jew that people say about Mormons, he’d punch you in the face. Either that, or he’d file a workplace complaint on you.

    Some public figure insults Jews, and the Anti-Defamation League is all over them like a bad sweater. Same guy insults Mormons, and we just fidget uncomfortably and mumble something incoherent.

    Time to start owning our own identity people. We’ve been so obsessed with fitting-in with mainstream American culture for the last 50 years that somewhere we seem to have misplaced our spine.

    We are what we are, and Americans are just going to have to move over and make room for us. If they don’t like it, tough. It isn’t just their country.

  120. Peter, my point was not to impune anyone. Rather, I just sometimes feel that no matter what the reason was for some of the Church’s strange history, some of us might not be satisfied with the answer.
    We do know this: there was a reason for it. We can guess at what it was, argue about it, get offended, or just be merely interested. That’s all well and good. But sooner or later, we as a Church have to move on. That appears to have been President Hinkley’s stance.

    Sometimes I think that is the reason we don’t get an official answer from Church leadership on things. Granted, it is not so much the members of the Church who would be offended/offensive and never satisfied, but nonmembers and the press would have a heyday. It’s the “don’t wrestle with a pig thing…”

  121. L-d Guy, don’t worry. NoS (and his variant nicknames) just got staked. Peter (#114) — this is truer than you realize.

  122. I have to confess, Natalie, that I share the concern that this was a miss opportunity. You didn’t (at least in this post) state where you were located or even the age of the students. I am guessing that you must be talking about high school students or you wouldn’t have been concerned with stating your religion. (Not that I’ve ever seen a high school students afraid to state their religion before. Mr Cope, in my high school, was pretty open about trying to convert kids to atheism, for instance.)

    Let’s, just for a moment, assume that you were teaching in a large Evangelical Christian community or a large liberal/atheist community. It would not be hard to venture a guess that the LDS church — no matter how open with their history — could do nothing to convince either of those two communities that they should treat their religious or political adversaries (as they might perceive Mormons) fairly or tolerantly.

    So your advocating a more open history does not help in such a situation. Though still a good suggestion, it’s not one likely to make any difference at all under such circumstances.

    Indeed, I fear that is the real underlying issue in both of my hypothetical cases. I am quite convinced that people that view Mormons as Monsters have no intentions of ever letting Mormons be human except on the condition that we renounce our truth claims by declaring we have never had any prophets sent from God amongst us (as seems to be the case with your students.) So in other words they are setting up a dichotomy that Mormons can only not be monsters if we give up being Mormon.

    Somehow this just seems wrong to me. In fact, it seems deeply intolerant to me. And unlike an intolerant past, it’s an intolerant now.

  123. In defense of Natalie, and as an educator myself, the public school system is a world of its own. And scary. As a teacher, you don’t have one boss, or two bosses, you have the vice principal, the principal, and the parents of every kid you teach.

    Also, with regard to everything that comes out of your mouth, there is the constant risk that it will be misunderstood by any member of your class, who then tells other students in the school. Then, if whatever you said is morphed into something perceptively offensive (and any adult gets wind of it), guess who has to expain themselves to their boss, parents, or the kids in school?

    Maybe Natalie will have the opportunity to share her beliefs when she feels it is the right time. But in my opinion, she should only do it when she is in control of the situation. She probably felt vulnerable, and chose to place the moment in her “to deal with later” file, and continued with her workday.

    For those of you who really think she should have opened her mouth, just ask yourself if you would ever bring up the Gospel to a crowd of fifty people at a business convention (some of whom in the the audience are your boss, the president of the company, and all of your cohonrts…some who you get along with and others who you don’t.

    In my opinion, missionary work at any level should be done one on one, in a trusting atmosphere. Anyone who trusts teenagers unconditionally has never taught in middle school or high school.
    I wish that teaching was not such a tedious atmosphere for educators. Maybe there would be less turnover. Until then, teachers still have this addition to having a meal and a roof over their head in a cumbersome atmosphere at best. Any of us sidliners who have not yet talked to our next-door neighbors about our beliefs should think twice before judging someone who has much more at stake than whether or not our friends think we are wierd.

  124. Oops. It was supposed to read: Until then teachers have this addiction to having a meal and a roof over their head….

  125. I had a (sort of) similar experience a few weeks ago. I teach a class on rhetoric and the news media. Now, I’ve never said “I’m a Mormon” in class, but most of the students have figured out I’m one (for one reason or another).

    Anyway, one of the students brought up coverage of religion, and another student mentioned Mitt Romney. I was about to move the discussion along, when one of the students loudly said “Mormons just creep me out.”

    Awkward silence in the class. He stopped, looked around, and then looked at me. “You’re Mormon aren’t you?” I replied yes, but I understood, and not to worry about it. He replied, “well, I don’t actually know any Mormons, so I suppose that’s why.” We moved on to something else.

    He did, later and outside of class, ask me about polygamy, and I had to clear that up. As Dave said in #117, it’s going to take a few generations to clear up these conceptions.

  126. Antonio Parr says:

    Ivan:

    We may be able to make substantial progress in a single generation if we transform our astonishing missionary force from 2 years of proselytizing to 2 years of unconditional service ot others. (I am willing to bet that the number of convert baptisms would, if anything, increase with such an approach.)

  127. Antonio:

    suffice to say, I do not agree. If you want to know why I think that your proposal would actually be detrimental to the health of the church, read “The Churching of America: 1776 – 2005″ by Roger Finke and Rodney Stark.

  128. Ivan, #126. Your comment interests me. I also agree that our missionary program is pretty good the way it is. I have 2 kids out on missions right now and they are baptizing quite a few people. However, realistically, I am not going to get and read the book you refer to. Would you be willing to give a 2 or 3 paragraph summary?

  129. As Dave said in #117, it’s going to take a few generations to clear up these conceptions.

    Ivan, trouble is, we’ve already been trying to clear up these perceptions for a few generations already. Something ain’t working. And if you have this problem in the Mormon homeland, what chance does the rest of the world have?

  130. My take, fwiw. (Not meant to address Natalie’s situation, since I understand completely the limitations on a school teacher, but to address “sharing the Gospel” in general.)

    http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com/2008/04/righteousness-being-good-example-is-not.html

  131. Ronan, I think the problem is that we’ve been so focused on getting rich and fitting-in.

    That’s no way to win a place for your distinctive voice in society.

  132. Antonio Parr says:

    Our missionary program is an extension of our PR program. Since a significant number of people of good will and character view us in such a negative light, it appears that our current approach is failing. Not to mention the fact that there are precious few convert baptisms, at least east of the Mississippi. (Contrast our limited success with the growth of many Evangelical communities — they seem to be growing in leaps and bounds, and are doing so without the well-organized army of missionaries found in our much beloved Church.)

    We are not trusted as a people, and this will not change over night. Why not shift our emphasis on straight proselytizing to an emphasis on our magnificent vision of service of our fellow men/women as being service of God, and go out and try to make the world a better, safer place. I am absolutely convinced that we will have more genuine teaching opportunities about distinctive doctrines with this approach then we will ever find with our current hardcore proselytizing model.

    I support the Church’s efforts either way, but would love to see a time when we are able to move past the public mistrust that is clouding the otherwise glorious aspects of the Restoration.

  133. Antonio, I respect what you are saying and agree with much of it, but we already do amazing humanitarian work with senior missionaries. Our younger full-time missionaries do more service than ever before. We still are the largest group actively involved in the clean-up of Katrina – that is still happening on a weekly basis. We do MUCH that is not widely publicized – and much that is.

    I suggest we quit putting the responsibility on the missionaries and start taking charge of sharing the Gospel ourselves – letting the missionaries focus on teaching. If the membership were more open and inviting – even if it was just invitations to attend church with us, I think much of what you address would happen naturally. Imho, our biggest problem is not the structure of our full-time missionary program but the apathy of our general membership in regard to sharing the Gospel and opening up our worship services to anyone – as Elder Withlin encouraged us to do.

    How many people see out lives of quiet Christian discipleship and assume we aren’t Mormon – because of their negative perceptions of Mormonism? I know in this area, nobody is going to think more highly of the Church no matter what I do as long as they don’t know I am a member. If they don’t know we are Mormon, our good examples actually can damage the Church by reinforcing negative stereotypes that Mormons only take care of their own. They will see my example, assume correctly I am Christian and think, “See, Christians are good people.” Then when they hear us called secretive cultists, they will think, “That’s right. You never see Mormons doing things like that.”

  134. Antonio, I agree with you completely. I also think that until we fix the reasons for the retention problem with the converts we get, it doesn’t matter how much missionary work we do. We have a “hole in the bucket,” as it were. Any ideas as to why?

  135. Require people to worship with us for at least two months prior to baptism. That would fix most retention problems.

  136. Does that mean that they would be more likely to join or less?

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