Sunlight

A familiar face returns to BCC. Kaimi Wenger was around when we founded this scrapheap years ago, and remains one of the Bloggernacle’s most recognized names. He used to be a real lawyer, but now has left that noble profession to teach hapless 1Ls about res judicata and other worthless arcana. Welcome back to this errant knight, this prodigal blogger who now guests among us.

Justice Brandeis’s famous phrase “sunlight is the best disinfectant” set the tone for a century of securities regulation. The rule is this: To pass muster under securities laws, you must disclose. You must give accurate and complete material information to investors. And that’s about all. It’s fine if your business plan is “We will buy large quantities of lead and then hire a wizard to wave a magic wand over the lead, turning it into gold.” The SEC will not say, “That’s an idiotic business plan, buster.” What they will ask, is, “did you disclose?” And as long as you disclose, you’re generally okay (some exceptions below), no matter how ridiculous your business plan may be. This approach reflects a particular philosophy of law, a hands-off, laissez-faire approach to regulation. The SEC’s role is to make sure that the markets have accurate and complete material information — and after that, to get out of the way and let investors make their own choices. It assumes that investors, individually or collectively, are pretty good judges of information and are well-equipped to figure things out, themselves.

Or, to put it in Mormon terms, “I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.”

The sunlight approach is relatively unobtrusive (not to mention cheap!), and allows markets to sort things out themselves, mostly, with the government acting more as an impartial referee than a player. Brandeis was in favor of this approach more broadly. Among his other famous aphorisms is the free-speech line that “the remedy [for false or problematic statements] is more speech, not enforced silence” — often paraphrased as “the remedy for bad speech (or false speech) is more speech.”

Even the most zealous advocates of the sunlight approach tend to agree that there are limitations on disclosure. These are built into the system, too. Broadly speaking, there are times when companies cannot legally disclose new information, particularly during some time periods close to an initial public offering. That is, there are certain precarious time periods when disclosure would be bad, because it might improperly affect investors. (These rules are very complicated; see your attorney for details.) This reflects a different philosophical approach: Less-than-perfect information can be bad, and information is best meted out in correct doses. Or, in the words of Springsteen (most famously covered by Manfred Mann), it’s possible to be blinded by the light. (Revved up like a deuce, another runner in the night.)

Also, we’re seeing something of a sea change in recent years. In the wake of the Enron collapse, critics called for more substantive regulation, and those proposals eventually became the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. SOX is a shift away from the disclosure regime. It requires not only disclosure, but also adds a number of substantive rules about what companies can and cannot do. Gone is the trust in investors or the market to get it right; investors apparently can’t figure out how to deal with complex financial filings on their own, and the government needs to regulate corporate actions and disclosures more closely so that investors don’t blow it. This isn’t sunlight; this is lysol. (And of course, SOX has legions of critics itself.)

What’s the best amount of sunlight as we examine church history?

We can posit that there are a number of potentially troubling topics in church history. There are perennially tough topics like polygamy and Mountain Meadows; there are questions about Blacks and the priesthood, women’s roles, blood atonement, papyrus; there are little embarrassments like Zelph and Kinderhook. What approach is best for addressing these topics?

One approach, following Brandeis’ dictum, is to throw open the shutters and let in the sunlight. Let’s allow (even encourage) historians to address these topics; discussion can only help. Various prominent writers have taken this approach. For instance, Leonard Arrington wrote that honest biographies of church leaders “are not damaging to the prestige of our leaders, nor will they undermine the mystique that rightly surrounds the headquarters of a dynamic religious organization.” Honest biographies “describe both the positive and negative aspects of their subjects’ personality, and are biographies of real persons, not pastiche leaders. We may not be edified by every move they made, but we are warmed by their humanity.” We regularly hear similar messages from bloggers like Kevin Barney, Ardis Parshall, and Kristine Haglund. Church members are smart people; let’s put these topics in the sun, and trust the members to govern themselves.

Other voices are less sanguine about this approach. Most prominently, Elder Packer condemned historians for too-candid writing, and stated that “some things that are true are not very useful.” Along the same lines is Elder Oaks’ more recent statement that criticism of church leaders is wrong, even if true.

And, while those arguments are often mocked in the bloggernacle, they do make sense. Church leaders are clearly worried that members will be driven from the church by troubling aspects of church history. In one sense, one might compare these to the sensitive time periods in securities law — sometimes we’re really worried about being blinded by the light.

What’s the best mix of sunlight and shade? I’m really not sure that there’s an optimal level of sunlight, across-the-board.

I’m not really a medical professional, but I have my doubts as to whether sunlight is actually a good disinfectant. (Iodine tends to work better, in my experience.) I do know that sunlight is great for gardens, and for relaxing. And small children like it, but that you need to make sure the kids are wearing sunblock, or you’ll be sorry. And when there’s not enough sunlight, people end up with seasonal affective disorder; and plants don’t grow very well; and the kids get grumpy from playing inside.

Comments

  1. Wow. Did they stop letting you post stuff at the other place Kaimi?

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    It’s true that I’m a fan of the aphorism and an advocate of more disclosure about difficult church issues. But I acknowledge there are limits.

    Part of my enthusiasm for such disclosure is my personal experience as a teacher. I’ve done a lot of such disclosure in church classrooms, and I’ve been very pleased by the results. But then, if it’s not too immodest to say it, I think maybe I have a talent for gently introducing challenging issues in a way that is not too troubling to those with traditional sensibilities. I can well imagine that in the wrong hands, an attempt at letting the sunshine in could well be disastrous.

    And even I would be nervous about teaching the black members of my ward about the priesthood ban, not because I don’t think they don’t need to know about it (I absolutely do), but because I don’t know what they’ve been told about it, and I suspect some or perhaps all have no idea that such a ban once existed. So the failure to be forthcoming in the past can complicate attempts to be so now. (Although I’d be nervous about it, I would still do it were I in a position to do so.)

    Having said all that, I think we as a church err on the side of too little disclosure.

  3. Brad Kramer says:

    Good questions, Kaimi.

    All this talk of sunlight and disclosure and candor never is never purpose-neutral. And, certainly, no act of disclosure or non-disclosure or regulation ever takes place in a vacuum. Presumably, existing contract law governing (non-)disclosure is ultimately underpinned by a desire to produce certain results — i.e. increased investment, higher profits, predictability and stability across the marketplace, an optimized balance between inflation, unemployment, and GDP growth, etc.

    My sense is that the same can be said for the other side of the analogy, i.e. President Packer’s penchant for non-disclosure or Elder Oak’s assertion that full disclosure is wrong if it hurts the company or any of its officers. As tortured intellectuals, we tend to value disclosure — telling the fullest, sunshiniest version of Church history, for example — as a desirable end in itself. We’re predisposed to think that the Church and the gospel exist to (perhaps among other things) provide us with fodder for stimulating intellectual debate in our own personal quest for light and knowledge.

    I suspect that, for someone like Elder Oaks or Packer, whether our sensibilities as trained academics is offended by forms of non-disclosure that will protect the ability of the Church to more completely fulfill its mission, the choice between the two is a pretty obvious one. If someone in the Q12 wants some juicy, controversial bit of information glossed over or ignored in a history written by a member in good standing for a large audience, I doubt that decision is made in a knee jerk fashion and I suspect that the cost-benefit calculation for such a choice takes the potential impact on Church growth in parts of the world where the Church’s legal status is vulnerable into infinitely greater account than what a bunch of whiny intellectuals like myself think about it.

  4. Sunlight isn’t really a disinfectant, though the UV component of it, in the right doses, is. That and I guess if you have a lot of automobile pollution, then sunlight, by token of generating higher levels of ozone, could be secondarily.

    as for the sunlight principal and the Church, I favor strongly emphasizing relationships and then providing relevant information for people as they need it. That seems to be part of Elder Oaks’s point–making the church run (and saving the scrubby lot of us) depends to a great deal on our relationships.

  5. My vote is for sunlight but not for a spotlight. Sunlight is a natural, accepted part of life. The truths about our leaders should be a natural, accepted part of our religion. We don’t claim that our leaders are gods, just that they can become so. Spotlighting those frailties would be wrong, however, because that would make them appear more important than anything else about the person.

  6. Mark IV says:

    Kaimi,

    This model is problematic because it assumes that the church is the sole source of information.

    Would it not be more productive to assume that much knowledge is not under church control? It really is not up to the church to decide what is disclosed. The story will be told, including the parts we find uncomfortable. It is only a question of who tells it.

  7. Mark, I think for the most part that is now the case, though it hasn’t always been that way. I don’t think there are any skeletons waiting in the closet, if you will, but the Church has tremendous influence over the accesibility of information to the Church members.

    I’m with sam, re: relationships.

  8. the Church has tremendous influence over the accesibility of information to the Church members.

    Jonathan, some of us happen to be grateful for the privacy.

  9. That’s a good point, Kevin.

    To synthesize Kevin’s and sam’s points, sunlight can indeed be a disinfectant. Without proper filtering (atmosphere, ozone layer), it would burn away all life. Not bad, huh?

    BK,

    It’s interesting that you point to purposes. In general, corporate execs want to minimize or downplay bad information, and to focus on good information.

    You’re right, that church leaders are in a sense less worried about “the market” as a whole. It’s more like IBM execs, who are most concerned about the performance of IBM stock.

    Is disclosure always good for IBM stock? Not necessarily. Sometimes it helps; sometimes it hurts.

    Overall, though, a set of rules that creates an efficient market with investor confidence — that’s a good thing, in general.

    But yeah, from the perspective of the IBM exec, it’s not always the best thing.

  10. Your parallel to prohibited disclosure in the case of publicly held companies is interesting. Like a broken record….I advocate full disclosure.

    In the scenarios I’m aware where disclosure is not permitted under SEC rules, the generally accepted end goal seems to be the protection of the shareholders and the integrity of the market – which is based on the principle of equal access to information.

    Kaimi, let me see if I can spice this discussion up by saying that it seems to me that the church, as is evidenced through statements by Elder Packer & Oaks, has either collectively chosen a pattern of selective disclosure, claimed a religious version of the (LDS)public-interest privilege, or flat out pled the fifth relative to communicating tough historical matters to the average member of the church. For some, Elder Packer’s and Elder Oaks’ quotes have been in the past (and in some cases still are) codespeak for gospel leaders, teachers and members alike….”don’t you dare talk about these things either!”

    Your assertion that a hypothetical religious enforcement agency comparable to the SEC would prohibit disclosure of the type of historical data around which bloggernacle so often has this discussion is not realistic. The historical info you throw out (polygamy, priesthood ban, etc), is the exact type of data stakeholders need to see before making an investment such as the one required when one joins the church.

    Finally, full disclosure is in the best interest of the church. Action beats reaction. Folks are going to find this information anyway…just like average investors. Why don’t we present this stuff first – in context, so that our members develop a realistic, accurate perception of our history and heritage and so they develop complete trust that their leaders are going to always shoot straight….even when it’s hard to do so? At the very least, if we provide this tough info through one of Kevin Barney’s seminary lessons, folks can’t claim deception or dissimulation when the whole story is eventually put together.

  11. Mark IV says:

    J.,

    I agree with you, I would be very surprised if there are skeletons in the closet. We know at least the broad outlines of just about everything.

    Mostly I just don’t want us to always have to play catch-up to the Krakauers of the world. If we start the conversation we stand a better chance of steering it, too.

  12. I agree with Kevin that as a Church we probably err on the side of too little disclosure. However, that being said, for most wards I’ve been in, there is a certain institutional inertia that discourages more open and honest discussion of Church history. In fact, teachers that lead interesting and thought provoking lessons at the expense of venturing away from safe and vetted teaching manuals, are often perceived by conservative forces as “dangerous” or not faith promoting.

    I’ve sat in a bishopric meeting where some potential members were denied teaching callings because their comments or lessons were not considered faith promoting and/or did not steer clear from controversial topics.

    How to balance the needs of an interesting and informative discussion with the needs of providing a faith promoting atmosphere (that doesn’t bore all participants)…You can tell where we usually land on this continuam (it certainly is not balanced)….

  13. Elder Oaks has provided some further explanation of what he meant by his statement. See here.

  14. Sunlight but not spotlight. (#4) I really like that wording.

    I am not in favor of digging around looking for stuff in the shadows. To me, it’s a waste of time and effort. I agree that there simply aren’t any skeletons lying around under or above ground. However, if I ever teach seminary again, and if we cover Church History, you better believe I am going to make sure my students know that I know about the “interesting issues” and have no problem being a temple-endowed, believing member anyway.

  15. Each of our perspectives on this or any other subject is formed by our experiences. We’re dual beings; we’re a blend of the spiritual and the intellectual. When in balance these two parts form a more perfect individual. Christ is our example of a perfect spirit, housed in a perfect body; a perfected soul.

    The problem we non-perfected souls have is that we’re out of balance, we’re conflicted. Experience will bring us into balance, but it takes time, and is not to be done all in this life.

    Note: I’ve tried to say in as short as space as I can my perspective on immortal spirits having a mortal experience.

    With that said, now to my point: those who have had significant spiritual experiences, a gift from God, will usually allow their spiritual nature to trump their intellectual nature. Those who have had significant intellectual experience, a gift from God, will usually allow their intellectual nature to trump their spiritual nature.

    Elder Oaks, in my opinion, is an example of a man who is a fine example of balance. That is why is able to say, “criticism of church leaders is wrong, even if true”.

    As followers of Christ we have received baptism and been commanded to receive the Holy Ghost. This is the most important task that lies before each of us in this live.

  16. Sterling says:

    Maybe the better analogy would have been between policies at the National Archives and the Church Archives. Records at the National Archives are supposed to be available 25 years after they were produced. At some Presidential libraries, the waiting period is even shorter. I wonder if the same sort of privacy expiration date would ever work with records at the Church Archives.

  17. StillConfused says:

    (Revved up like a deuce, another runner in the night.) Oh THAT’s what that said. Thank you for clearing that up. I always thought it said “wrapped up like a douche” — not sure why a man would sing about that. Thank you for clearing that one up for me!!

  18. Steve Evans says:

    I continue to be reminded why you call yourself StillConfused.

  19. Kaimi-

    The Elder Oaks comment you are referring to that was part of the Helen Whitney’s production is out of context. If you read the entire interview, it does not come out so cut and dry.

    I’m not sure if the reasoning behind not criticizing is because church members will fall away. It’s pretty mean to criticize people for their human failings. If they need criticism, isn’t it best done in private? Is there a difference between criticizing past leaders publicly for their failings and criticizing things taught in the past?
    That asked, in church history understanding the nuances of character in a person certainly does warm us to their humanness. Recognizing that church leaders are/were as stupid as myself (ok –not that stupid) strengthens my testimony, seeing the small and simple things God uses to do his work. It also reminds me poignantly of the nothingness of man.

    I’m not sure what you mean by full disclosure. (I am imagining handing each member a handful of pamphlets in uber-tiny writing after baptism and confirmation, kind a like you get in the mail from the credit card company whenever they change their rules.).

    I’m also in the camp of why bring up Helen Mar Kimball in RS for the sake of openness. It certainly would not add to the lesson. That kind of thing does falls under what Elder Packer said in a church setting. It might be useful information, but not useful for a RS lesson (or at least not one I can think of –I am now hoping you won’t fail us all and do come up with a witty lesson title?)

  20. Josh Smith says:

    My experience is that only a small percentage of the church cares about all of the history. As a practical matter, most people are consumed by the cares of living and go to church to receive the balm the Gospel offers. I really can’t think of too many church settings where the majority of an audience would choose polyandry over healing provided through the HG.

    Now those who have time and energy to devote to sticky-history issues, I include myself, have plenty of resources available to them–not “official” resources, but plenty of reliable resources.

    Can anyone think of a church setting where more sunlight would be appropriate? Where would you like to hear more sunlight? What would you drop and replace with more sunlight?

  21. Josh Smith says:

    In answer to my own question …

    I would drop any discussion of caffeinated beverages. Any speaker inclined to discuss Pepsi should go ahead and break out the polyandry notes.

  22. That’s a good question, Josh Smith.

    The obvious answer, I think, is seminary/institute. Hell, it’s actually called “seminary” and “institute”, not Sunday School. It’s an environment where participants don’t just go for weekly spiritual balm; there is a lot of historical discussion, dates, names, facts, and the like, all discussed.

    You’re right, I think, that it’s unlikely that polyandry would really make much of a Sunday School lesson.

    Another point is that, even if not actively scattering sunshine during Sunday School, the church and/or leaders could stop suppressing sunshine that happens in non-official settings. The “true, not useful” talk by Elder Packer is clearly directed against an academic historian (not explicitly named in the talk) and is responding to academic, historical publications that were published in professional settings. (It is generally accepted that the talk was a criticism of Mike Quinn’s historical research and writing.)

  23. John Mansfield says:

    My father worked in the sunlight all his life, and now has skin cancer removed from his body every year. Any metaphoric significance?

  24. Kevin Barney says:

    Another aspect to this is responding to questions. You may not want to explain seer stones or polyandry in Gospel Doctrine class. Fine. But when someone stumbles on such things (say, on the internet) and starts asking questions about them, we shouldn’t shut them down with an arm on the shoulder and a “just pray about it, brother.” At that point the person needs actual I-N-F-O-R-M-A-T-I-O-N, and all the platitudes and spiritual puffery in the world aren’t going to help him.

    If someone responds quickly and puts the new information in context, the questioner can absorb this rather easily, as it is all still in a context of faith. But if everyone dawdles and no one steps up to the plate to help and so the questioer turns more and more to the internet or antagonistic literature to try to come up with background information on his own, the chances of losing this brother go up dramatically.

    Didn’t the Savior say something about leaving the 99 and going after the 1?

  25. David Clark says:

    Kaimi,

    The obvious answer, I think, is seminary/institute. Hell, it’s actually called “seminary” and “institute”, not Sunday School. It’s an environment where participants don’t just go for weekly spiritual balm; there is a lot of historical discussion, dates, names, facts, and the like, all discussed.

    Having just spent a year teaching seminary I can assure that CES really does want seminary to be “weekly spiritual balm.” Well, at least in my area, maybe other areas are more open about this sort of stuff.

    I think the problem is the blame culture. If CES were to encourage honest and open discussion in seminary classes of difficult issues related to all four years of seminary stuff (it’s not just the D&C/Church History year that has difficult issues) there would be at least one kid who would go inactive or leave the church and would cite information learned in seminary as the reason. It doesn’t matter how good the teachers were or how intelligently they presented the information, someone would leave. This would be blown all out of proportion and there would be hell to pay at CES that the curriculum caused some kid to leave the church.

    So, the rational reaction is just what CES does, teach pure pap. Nobody leaves the church over pap. Then when that same kid reads stuff on the internet in his twenties and leaves the church anyway nobody has to take the blame because “he didn’t learn it on my watch,” and everyone’s job is safe.

  26. rondell says:

    All this sunlight talk has me wanting to ask a question I’ve had for a while.

    I remember hearing or reading somewhere that the Church refuses to allow an outside audit of its finances. Is this true and if so, why?

    By no means do I think that the Church is misusing tithing money or anything. It just makes me curious. If their doing nothing wrong, what’s so bad about an outside audit?

  27. Kevin Barney says:

    rondell, the Church has its financials audited, but the reports are not published.

    From 1915 through April 1959 the Church gave summary financial reports at General Conference. But 1959 saw a surge of deficit spending; that year the Church spent $8 million more than it received in revenues, and soon the deficit spending climbed to $32 MM per annum. This was caused by an aggressive building program on the Field of Dreams theory that “if we build it, they will come,” and the increased membership would lead to more tithing to cover the expenditures. But it didn’t work out that way, and the Church financial reserves were ravaged to the point of concern over covering payroll and almost to the point of bankruptcy. In order to conceal the embarrassing deficits, the Church stopped publishing financial reports.

    Then in 1963 N. Eldon Tanner was brought into the 1P and in essence saved the Church from the worst financial crisis of its history. He put a moratorium on the building program and instituted modern corporate financial safeguards. Even at that it would take a number of years for the Church to recover and get safely into the black again. Once that had occurred, there was no incentive to resume publishing financial reports, and so the Church never has.

    This is a place where I think the sunshine idea should be applicable. I favor making at least summary financial reports public. But no one has asked me.

  28. No one mentioned this yet, but I think it bears into the discussion. It is difficult enough to get members of the Church to read the scriptures and the regular correlated Church manuals, let alone complex historical explanations on the Council of Fifty or the Kirtland Anti-Banking Society. (Granted that part of this difficulty stems from some members being bored with the “basics.”)

    Still, in the end, I have found in my Church participation that many members are more interested in talking about their recent golf game of American Idol than they are in discussing the nuances of textual criticism, the notion of historical objectivity, etc. When someone sees me reading a book, almost invariably the question isn’t “what are you reading,” it is “are you reading something for school?” It’s odd to read for any other reason, I presume.

    Any way, the recent Joseph Smith manual, and publishing the article on Mountain Meadows in the Ensign are positive steps forward, I believe. Things are bound to fluctuate. This isn’t merely because the Church wishes to cover up the past, or emphasize the faith-promoting only, but also because the interest of members needs to be maintained generally. Now the manuals won’t always be created to effectively fulfill that end, but they’ll probably try to be so.

  29. Josh Smith asks what context and/or setting would benefit from more sunlight? (By the way, maybe we could call it “sunshine” in the same vein as the common nickname for government disclosure laws known as “Sunshine Laws.”).

    Here’s an example: After having attended last week’s showing of “Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons,” I can tell you that several attendees expressed to me their dismay and discomfort about never having heard in seminary, sunday school, or institute about the how the first black man ordained to the priesthood occured during Joseph Smith’s time. This particular lack of I-N-F-O-R-M-A-T-I-O-N led them to quietly question WHY the Church wasn’t telling this part of the story. So, instead of focusing on the larger message of the film, that of healing, and being more affirmative about accepting our black brothers and sisters into the Church, these folks left *fixated on the nondisclosure*. To use Elder Packer’s word, I don’t think this scenario is very “useful” to the Church and its mission.

    And true enough, when I got home, I double checked the Church’s college text “Church History in the Fulness of Times,” and there are a few paragraphs on the priesthood revelation, but nothing I could find about the actual institution of the ban. So, I heartily agree with the commentor above that, if WE tell the story, we can help frame the issue to avoid the stumbling block of wondering why information is not being disclosed. To quote a phrase, the morning breaks, the shadows [should] flee!

  30. Josh Smith says:

    Kaimi,

    Seminary and institute.

    Maybe they’re appropriate forums. Again, I think the vast majority of your teenage and early 20s students have weightier issues to deal with. I think the curriculum I was taught in seminary went something like this: don’t have sex, don’t pet, don’t do drugs, don’t pet, don’t have sex. If you’ve already done one of the above, repentance will bring healing. It is certainly possible that my memory is selective.

    Elder Packer.

    I think you’re being a bit tough on Elder Packer. An image I will always remember is the interview he did on the recent PBS documentary. The interviewer asked him about some of his bad-intellectuals comments. His response was priceless to me. Before he said anything he chuckled. If you watch that segment of the interview, the chuckle says it all. It says: “I wish I hadn’t said that; doesn’t every author publish too early?” He obviously doesn’t stand by those convictions with the same zeal as when he first made them. That chuckle confirmed a new climate for intellectuals in the church–for me.

  31. rondell says:

    Thanks Kevin.

  32. This particular lack of I-N-F-O-R-M-A-T-I-O-N led them to quietly question WHY the Church wasn’t telling this part of the story. So, instead of focusing on the larger message of the film, that of healing, and being more affirmative about accepting our black brothers and sisters into the Church, these folks left *fixated on the nondisclosure*.

    That’s one of the biggest problems with a less candid approach, I think.

    In a lot of ways, it’s once again like a business. If you find out that you’re going to have disappointing third-quarter sales results, and you report this — well, you get grumbles from shareholders, and your price drops a bit, and you get anxious analysts watching you like a hawk. Not comfortable.

    But if you find out, and you _don’t_ report it — well, then you get a securities class action lawsuit and a multi-million dollar settlement.

    Disclosure in seminary would lead to some uncomfortable discussions, and to some people leaving the church as youth. There’s no doubt about that.

    But disclosure as adults can lead to an acute sense of shock and betrayal, and the devastation of a lifetime of faith.

  33. Disclosure in seminary would lead to some uncomfortable discussions, and to some people leaving the church as youth. There’s no doubt about that.

    Sometimes disclosure leads to the dreaded “so?” or the much worse: “booooooriiing!”

  34. Josh Smith says:

    Hunter,

    Yes, yes, yes. But, what meeting would like to hear about Brother Abel? What lessons or meetings would you change to address the thorny issues. Seminary and institute have been proposed, and these look like good candidates for the lesson: “We’re Not Quite Sure How The Ban Started, But It Probably Wasn’t Joseph.” I think most teenagers would do well with this lesson.

  35. #23 Kevin said, when someone stumbles on such things (say, on the internet) and starts asking questions about them, we shouldn’t shut them down with an arm on the shoulder and a “just pray about it, brother.”… If someone responds quickly and puts the new information in context, the questioner can absorb this rather easily, as it is all still in a context of faith.

    I agree with this approach with one caveat–the person giving the information needs to be “balanced” in their attempt to help; that is, they need to explain as best they can, using the FAIR approach; appealing to the intellect, but also encourage, and testify, if they can, to the fact that the questioner has access to the Holy Ghost who is a revealer of truth.

    In some instances there just isn’t an adequate rational answer to some of our historical difficulties. In cases like these what do you do Kevin?

    Not long ago I had a man ask me a question about the Kinderhook plates. In my opinion there is no adequate explanation to this historical problem. I told him that I was puzzled by it. He said that it challenged his testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith. I asked him why? He asked me if I was troubled by it. I said that intellectually it was a challenging issue and troubled me, but I was not troubled by it spiritually because of the many manifestations of the Spirit I have received. I asked him if he could recall an answer to prayer in his life. He said that he could. I suggested that he should reflect on his experiences with answered prayers and not let this issue eclipse the manifestation of the spirit he had received. He agreed. I never had occasion to talk with him again.

    In my opinion, the greatest danger the church faces is not difficult historical issues. The greatest danger we face is found in members who have not paid the necessary price spiritually to fulfill their baptism covenant to receive the Holy Ghost.

  36. Kevin Barney says:

    Josh, I actually gave such a lesson to teenagers once. It wasn’t planned at all, which was probably a good thing. I’m sitting there in GD, when this woman comes in and just grabs me and pulls me out. She was the youth teacher and the kids had started asking questions about blacks and the priesthood, and she was completely out of her depth in that. But they were interested and engaged and involved and she didn’t want to just brush off the issue, so she left her kids in the classroom, came looking for me and then insisted that I teach a lesson on that subject right then, off the cuff. I was happy to do so (it would have been somewhat along the lines of the Armand Mauss Q&A presentation). It went very well and the kids absorbed it just fine and were happy to learn about it.

    But when SS was over and it was time for priesthood some of the young men were still talking about that lesson, and I remember the bishop being very uncomfortable with the idea that the ban was instituted without any revelation, so he gently gave a more conservative view. Which was fine; by that time the kids had been exposed and immunized, and they took it just fine.

  37. Kevin Barney says:

    Jared, if you don’t have a solid answer to a question, that’s fine. But acknowledge the issue and disclose what information you have about it. For instance, you could point the person to Stan Kimball’s excellent Ensign article on the Kinderhook Plates, demonstrating that they were a forgery (some Mormons irresponsibly try to deal with this by claiming the plates were genuine).

    In other words, I agree and am not suggesting a divorce of the spiritual, but putting the matter in as full an historical context as we can first.

  38. Having personal knowledge of the bill rates at the Big 4 firms, I can think of at least one reason not to have an outside audit.

  39. (the Big 4 are the world’s largest public accounting firms, and do the financial audits for most of the Fortune 500 companies)

  40. I’m not sure if the reasoning behind not criticizing is because church members will fall away. It’s pretty mean to criticize people for their human failings. If they need criticism, isn’t it best done in private? Is there a difference between criticizing past leaders publicly for their failings and criticizing things taught in the past?

    That’s a good question, mmiles. For me, one important and relevant difference is between public and private figures.

    It’s absolutely correct that it’s mean to criticize people for their human failings. I have my own faults and failings, and I don’t particularly like being criticized for them.

    But then, I’m just a ward member and blogger. The calculus changes when I ask you to view my life story as evidence that I am the mouthpiece of God.

    It’s a lot like politics, really. If my boss, or neighbor, or whoever else, is lying on their taxes, or hiring illegal immigrants for their yard work, it’s their business. I shouldn’t announce it to the world. But if a political candidate is doing the same, it becomes a public issue.

    And similarly, if I lie about my past to friends and neighbors (“I used to play baseball for the Dodgers”), that’s generally my own business. It’s not noteworthy to expose those lies. But if I write a book about my experiences playing baseball for the Dodgers, I invite scrutiny of my account.

    Joseph Smith claimed the title of prophet, based on his account of events in his own life. Given that backdrop, ‘events in Joseph’s life’ becomes fair game for discussion.

  41. Researcher says:

    In other words, I agree and am not suggesting a divorce of the spiritual, but putting the matter in as full an historical context as we can first. (K.B., 36)

    I learned way back in my teenage years that most people’s tolerance for explanation is very low. They may have concerns, but they don’t really want an answer in most cases. (The “no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public” thing.) It’s always a surprise when that needle in a haystack really wants to know.

    To add to your sun metaphor, you can dry washed linens in the sun to bleach them out and get rid of discoloration (sun and light = good).

    But you can also get skin cancer and wrinkles (sun and light = bad).

    if we provide this tough info . . . folks can’t claim deception or dissimulation when the whole story is eventually put together (adcama, 9)

    I’m one of those who think that there are few if any skeletons left in the closet and it’s not all some great conspiracy.

    But what do I know; maybe I haven’t “put the whole story together.” Maybe when I sit down and sketch out “polygamy and Mountain Meadows…Blacks and the priesthood, women’s roles, blood atonement, papyrus” etc. and connect the dots, the whole house of cards will come crashing down. It does for some people. I think what they’re missing is context. They live entirely in the here and now and when faced with something that doesn’t fit into their CTR-ring-wearing, SUV-driving, Costco-shopping, Mormon-popular-music-listening brand of Mormonism they can’t handle it.

    For me, it boils down to: how do you teach the principle of context? Is there any substitute for context? Ray suggested the “trust me” approach:

    if I ever teach seminary again, and if we cover Church History, you better believe I am going to make sure my students know that I know about the “interesting issues” and have no problem being a temple-endowed, believing member anyway. (13)

  42. Do very many non-publicly traded businesses and/or non-profit organizations and churches (i.e., those organizations not required by the SEC to be externally audited by a certified public accounting firm) have external audits? And publish them? I can see why this would be advantageous for some organizations, like the United Way, whose viability depends on the generous donations of individuals who probably want to know what that money is going to. However, I’m not sure that the church has this same kind of interest to disclose, given that tithing is a commandment.

  43. So, I heard over the weekend that CES no longer exists as an entity, that there will be more priesthood oversight to be sure none of the ideas the Church once taught and has since abandoned are perpetuated in “CES” manuals. The source was a good one. I haven’t read all of the comments, so this might have been addressed already. Has anyone else heard of this?

  44. Josh Smith asks what meeting we could hear about Elijah Abel’s ordination to the priesthood? And what lessons or meetings we should change to address the so-called thorny issues?

    Well, for one, as I mentioned, the Church’s college text on the Church History is a starting point – but it mentions nothink, nothink (sounding like Colonel Klink of Hogan’s Heroes fame)! But of course, college-age is too late. To answer the question a little more definitively, I suppose I would say that discussion of thorny issues should be starting in nursery. Yes, nursery.

    Going out on a limb a bit, but I think discussion of thorny issues may be somewhat analogous to talking about human reproduction and sexuality: when the subject comes up in our youth/children, we answer the question asked (not more!), and we do it with appropriateness and without pretending that the question is bad.

    For Church texts and curricula to purposefully *omit* mention of thorny issues, pretending they don’t exist, has the result of sending the questioner down paths where they *will* get answers, but maybe without historical context, and without a regard for faith. Think Joseph Smith and polygamy. (“What? I thought polygamy was something revealed to Brigham Young!” vs. Bushman’s excellent treatment in RSR framing issue of Joseph’s practicing polygamy)

    I’m not in favor of making Gospel Doctrine classes turn into forums for long arguments over unsettled and controversial matters. No, no! But I am in favor of a questioner *being comfortable asking the question,* even if the response is, “Good question. But, in the end, I don’t think we know (yet). An excellent resource on the issue is [insert title].”

  45. MArgaret, I had heard that the new manuals were going to be devoid of certain voices that had been prominent in previous iterations…but the end of CES as an entity? HOLY CRAP! It is verily the Twighlight of the Gods.

  46. (43) – I haven’t heard anything about it, but I would be very interested to hear more!

  47. Kevin Barney says:

    Hunter, Joseph practicing polygamy is an excellent example. How is it possible for an adult member of the Church not to know that? Yet only the really grizzled old-timers know it; most have no idea. That’s a really dangerous one to leave untaught from our own perspective, I think.

  48. Mark IV says:

    I heard it from our Institute director who corrected me when I said CES. He said the preferred nomenclature is now Seminaries and Institutes.

    I’m a little skeptical that this is anything more than a name change, but we can always hope.

  49. Josh Smith says:

    Hunter,

    We agree. Sincere questions at any age should be answered honestly and faithfully, starting in nursery. And your GD example rings true for me.

    College texts should address thorny issues. I don’t read the Church’s college texts. If they don’t include difficult issues, they are probably wanting.

    So there are appropriate settings and contexts to address difficult issues.

  50. Like I said, Mark IV, my source is reputable, and indicated that there was a motive in the change of name–specifically to put up a garbage rail. (“No garbage past this point.”)

    Kevin, my oldest son’s final days as a Mormon included a casual conversation with me. He said, “I’m really surprised by the anti-Mormon stuff. I mean, they say the Joseph Smith practiced polygamy. I know Brigham Young did, but Joseph?”

    Funny, the issue had not come up in FHE. But I didn’t think much about answering, “Joseph DID practice polygamy.”

    My son looked at me, and the conversation was over. He was out of the church shortly thereafter.

  51. Apropos of our spy-from-within-the-hierarchy who is sharing secrets on the thread (hi Margaret!), perhaps we could supplement the endless array of cheesy seminary films with a showing or two of _Nobody Knows_.

  52. Researcher says:

    Wow. Interesting. Sure enough, the church web site says “Seminaries and Institutes of Religion.” Of course it also tells about The Objective of CES and CES fireside speakers. Looks like a switchover in progress. So are they going to call it SIR?

    I don’t know how the blogging world generally feels about Church History in the Fulness of Times but I saw it as a distinct improvement and step in the right direction when it was published. Much better than the previous offerings.

    And to say something about Hunter’s comments, I honestly don’t know how many nursery kids are going to be bringing up thorny issues. They’re still to young to wonder if Santa Claus is real. I also don’t want generic primary teachers trying to explain polygamy to my children. I will take care of it at home, thank you. I would prefer that they stick to the lesson manual and not teach things that they may not know much of anything about.

  53. You mean I’m in the hierarchy, Kaimi??? I’m so excited! Does this mean I get to speak about women’s roles somewhere?

    If the Church shows _Nobody Knows_ under some kind of official umbrella, I’ll become a permablogger on BCC.

  54. Hunter, Joseph practicing polygamy is an excellent example. How is it possible for an adult member of the Church not to know that? Yet only the really grizzled old-timers know it; most have no idea. That’s a really dangerous one to leave untaught from our own perspective, I think.

    Not to mention, Mountain Meadows. I didn’t learn that one until I was an adult, and neither did many of you. (See survey results at http://www.timesandseasons.org/?p=3840 — seriously, Kevin, Brad, Sam, and others weighing in with what age they first heard about MMM. Eye-opening.)

  55. “If the Church shows _Nobody Knows_ under some kind of official umbrella, I’ll become a permablogger on BCC.”

    Weirder things have happened, Margaret…

  56. I’m just setting out my conditions.

  57. :)

  58. You mean I’m in the hierarchy, Kaimi??? I’m so excited! Does this mean I get to speak about women’s roles somewhere?

    I look forward to the day when the Token Female Speaker At General Conference (TM) is a strawberry-blond poetess who doesn’t look a day over 35. :P

    (I guess until then, I’ll just have to follow her blog comments.)

  59. I learned about Zelph in a religion class at BYU, and the professor told the story of the “white nephite” in reverential tones, as evidence of Joseph’s prophetic calling. I didn’t hit the Kinderhook plates or the papyrus or the multitude of Joseph’s wives or the MMM until my mid-twenties, when I was married to a guy who desperately wanted to destroy Mormonism, and thought he could do it singlehandedly. (He warned Church leaders to be on guard, because the Tanners were watching–which I thought was a really funny line.) I researched the anti- stuff to save my marriage. That part failed, but I am glad to know what I know. Nothing surprises me, though I do get disappointed sometimes when I’ve let my expectations get too high. I have learned to trust in constant miracles, which I go to great trouble noticing, and to prepare for disappointment with all mortals (including myself) as we each negotiate our paths–carrying burdens few but we ourselves are aware of.

  60. Kaimi–so when do you predict Nicole Kidman will join the Church?

  61. Well, I saw her at a showing of Nobody Knows a few months back. She seemed to be great friends with Darius, and he’s probably being a good influence on her.

  62. JT (#42)–

    I started to type a long answer to your question, but it got really boring. So the short answer: In my experience, it is not uncommon for private companies to get audited by an outside CPA firm. It is pretty uncommon for such entities to publish their audited financials publicly.

    However, I don’t have much specific experience with the reporting practices of charitable and religious organizations. It seems that those would be the best benchmark for comparing the church’s practices.

  63. Mark B. says:

    Maybe it’s not the amount of light, but the gauzy filter over the lens. It wouldn’t take much to acknowledge, regularly, the humanity and weakness of our church leaders, and to contrast that weakness to the remarkable things that have come to pass.

    I suspect that “cursed is he that putteth his trust in man” applies as much to those who have a tendency to deify the prophets as to those who put their trust in Warren Buffett or, for that matter, Warren Beatty or Jimmy Buffett.

  64. Randy B. says:

    “So are they going to call it SIR?”

    Holy cow that is funny!!!

  65. Sacrilege, Mark B.! Repent, posthaste.

    As for why we tend to deify prophets, well,

    Some people claim that there’s a woman to blame,
    But I know,
    It’s my own damn fault.

  66. Mark B. says:

    My aging eyes saw that exclamation point as an “I”.

    I thought, Hell, it’s about time Kaimi repented.

    But, alas, I was once again mistaken.

    And it’s your own damn fault.

  67. In all seriousness, as we were building our documentary, we were intensely aware of the fine line we had to walk. We also had to trust the audience to come with us on the journey, and to be open to what they would hear. One response (received via e-mail just after our Boise showing) was a solid rebuke, which stated: “I believe that there was some reason that the priesthood had been denied to the Blacks and that it was God who made that law, just as it was God who cursed the Lamanites with dark skin because of their disobedience. As to whether Blacks are born black because they were not valiant in the pre-existence is opinion and conjecture, but the regulation barring Blacks from the priesthood, was in itself a judgment from God.”
    (I said, “Thank you very much” in my reply.)
    Obviously, some are not going to be open. But some good, even open people have raised important questions:
    What if somebody got PORTIONS of this and broadcast them on you-tube? Couldn’t that damage the Church?
    If we call Brigham Young’s teachings into question, don’t we call the teachings of all prophets into question? (There’s an easy answer to this for many of us, but we can’t ignore the fact that it’s a very difficult question for others.)
    We HOPE that our work is healing, and evidence suggests that it is for many. But we can’t ignore the fact that some will be introduced to disquieting facts which might lead them into bigger questions than they want to face–maybe bigger than they’re ready to face. Milk before meat–but eventually, we all need to have more than milk. Even Vegans.

  68. Very good questions, Margaret. They’re the same sorts of questions you see Richard Bushman address in On the Road with Joseph Smith.

    Can we guarantee that the net effect of sunlight will always be good? No, we can’t.

    Is it likely that sunlight will drive some people away from the church? Yes.

    Is it likely that sunlight will help others remain, when they find out about problems? Also yes.

    We really can’t guarantee that the overall effect will be a net gain. We can point out that it will probably help ameliorate some problems. But critics will point out — correctly — that it will bring its own problems, too.

    And we can’t exactly do an epidemiological study (“Cohort A was exposed to Bushman at age 12. The control group was not. After 10 years, activity rates among both groups varied as follows . . . “)

  69. Kaimi, we can’t predict and even if we could, should the currently unknown results of more sunlight determine whether we should do the right thing here? It is just fundamentally wrong to me for any organization to withhold directly relevant information in the name of it not being “useful” to the organization’s mission and goals. It’s manipulative.

    Do what is right, let the….well, you know.

    Margaret, I’ll bet you money that the same emailer would have raved about your film had it been officially sanctioned by the FP/QTA (or shown on KSL in between conference). Another reason things like this should come through church channels…for many members, historical fact is fiction unless declared by an apostle or prophet.

  70. Stories of polygamy were part of growing up in a Mormon family with lots of second cousins through polygamous great grandparents.
    I first heard of Mountain Meadows Massacre in seminary at age 15. It was done very well.
    However, I first heard of temple garments at age 17 from a non-member. I responded that our church doesn’t believe in such nonsense. My parents had never been to the temple, and no one in church ever talked about it in any more detail than “going to the temple is very special.”
    When I heard about the Kinderhook plates at 38, I decided I needed to take a more active role in learning about church history. I resolved not be surprised again.
    My bishop, who was the first person I asked about Kinderhook, took the approach, that these things are better left alone. I disagree.
    After learning about seerstones, hermetic talismen, Adam-God, and polyandry, I think I’ve seen the worst. I’m still here.

  71. Well, the Church will debut a little film at the upcoming commemoration of the priesthood revelation, which will include an interview with my co-producer, Darius Gray. Is that validation enough? Can we then say, “Hey, the Church MADE A MOVIE ABOUT THIS GUY!” Or “He spoke in the tabernacle.” (On film.) How about this: “One of the film makers met twice a month with Gordon B. Hinckley, THomas S. Monson, and Boyd K. Packer to talk about helping Mormons of color.” Does virtue by association work?
    I love being part Groberg, but I do find myself cringing when someone says, “So you’re related to John H. Groberg–from _The Other Side of Heaven_. That’s good blood.”
    Red. A neg. Normal blood.
    I’m off to help my brother now: Roberg GROBERG Blair. But I’m not sure his blood is good. He had an accident long ago and had many, many transfusions. I’m afraid his is tainted blood. Not sure he should keep his middle name.

  72. Mark IV says:

    I’d like to meet Roberg Groberg.

    (Forgive me, Margaret. I just don’t get many chances to get back at all my English teachers who returned my papers looking as though someone had opened an artery while grading them.)

    I’m sure the bloodlines of the Grobergs are sacred.

  73. Mark,

    You should consider yourslef blessed that Margareg Broberg opened an artery of her good a-negative onto your unworthy paper.

  74. (Unless it was because the effort of readinfg your paper caused her to slit her wrists in despaier . . . )

  75. Margaret,

    This will sound odd coming from my otherwise pretty conventional voice, but I suspect that had your film been officially sanctioned by the church, it wouldn’t be the film that you and Darius have produced. Someone mentioned a successful correlation experience here in this thread, and I’ll admit, that’s the first time I have ever heard that phrase. It’s hard to imagine that an officially sanctioned film would be as frank as yours is reported to be (I still haven’t seen it, but have hopes for Seattle or the DVD release).

    I honestly don’t mean for that to be a knock on the church that I love, I just know how slowly and finely the gears grind in the correlation process. You should probably be grateful that it wasn’t sanctioned, in the same way that Richard Bushman probably told a much different story than perhaps had he been dealing with Deseret Book.

    I appreciate that the atmosphere seems to be a little clearer these days, more sunlight through the clouds, perhaps? I attribute that to two individuals, Pres. Hinckley, and to Elder Jensen of the 70, now Church Historian. The article on the Kinderhook plates and the Mountain Meadows articles in the Ensign are positive signs, but you can still see that there is a very careful process going on.

    I suspect the church is looking to shed more light, but in small doses, for all the reasons mentioned here. I have many times over the last two days thought about the scriptural references to the “weak things” confounding the strong, or the Book of Mormon prophets cursing their weaknesses, while still producing accounts and testimonies of amazing power. If the weak things of the world are to prevail (which includes our still relatively small church with a lay leadership and general authorities who are former business people, lawyers, doctors, and educators), then the weakness will only become strong over time, and in gradual steps. You don’t bench press 300 pounds the first day in the gym. It takes time, patience, determination, patience, and courage.

    Did I say patience? I think we’ll get more sunlight, but it’s a lot like the weather here in Seattle, the only place where sunbreaks is a legitimate meteorological term. I’m looking for that endless summer, but it’s still only spring.

  76. Kevin,

    Or maybe it’s just application of D&C 89:

    Yes, we can get meat after milk. But even then, we’re only given meat sparingly, in time of winter. :)

  77. Mark IV says:

    Kaimi, ye of little faith. It’s clear that you don’t have a drop of believing blood flowing through your veins.

  78. I do not bleed on my students’ papers except in rare instances–and then it’s their blood. I think Mark IV had my husband for a class, not me. Since I share his pain (having also had a class from Bruce Young–and realizing then that unless somebody married him he’d keep giving ridiculously long assignments because he had no life [you're welcome]), I can fully empathize.

    Interestingly, the paper I was helping my brother with (that’s Robert Groberg Blair) dealt with _The Lion King_ and the heroic journey. It spoke especially about the vision Simba has of his father, who says, “You are not what you have become.” That sense of legacy does impel him on. I think we Mormons have a sense of legacy which both impels and inhibits us. We do not want to be the “weak link” as Pres. Hinckley put it. We don’t want to betray that believing blood. Isn’t that the whole point of _Legacy_? Could we ever include the Salt Sermon in a film like that?

  79. My CES supe told me last week of this name change. From what little he related, it’s not much more than a rebranding. We’ve gone from geneaology to Family Historytm, and Homemaking to HomeFamilyPersonalEnrichmentThing, and yet little has changed.

    Don’t hold your breath.

  80. Margaret,
    I’ve been wanting to see your film for a while. Any chance it’s coming to AZ?

    Kaimi,
    Great post. My husband is into finance, markets, etc. and I sent him the link. (i’m trying to get him interested in the bloggernacle. So far he thinks it’s pushing me off the unbelieving end, so I should let him read great threads like this more often)
    The church needs to let the sunlight in. There used to be a link directly from the lds.org homepage to a site just for Joseph Smith (I can’t find it anymore). I was reading “In Sacred Loneliness” at the time and I went to Joseph Smith’s site to find out what the church said about his polygamy. Nada. They had some great art and letters about him and Emma, but nothing else. I was disappointed, and discouraged.

    Re: 24 Kevin Barney and others
    When you talk about context, what do you mean? It seems to me that discussing context is just a code word for positive spin.
    People who like the church despite the “troubling” issues tend to put positive spin on the way they disclose information. Those who don’t, don’t.
    I’m not sure where I sit right now, but I tend to think that we should admit our motivation to keep people active when we disclose information.

    Lastly, can anyone give me a few links for info on the Kinderhook plates? I’m not familiar with it. -thanks

  81. I’m glad you liked it, Jess. :)

    I’m an advocate for more sunlight, myself. And to be fair, the church is moving in that direction (albeit, haltingly and slowly). For instance, the Ensign ran an article discussing Mountain Meadows, a few months back. The new Joseph Smith manual is also much more candid than earlier manuals. It mentions that Joseph Smith taught the concept of plural marriage — it doesn’t give any detail about plural wives, but that’s a step forward. (And the first two lessons quote from different First vision accounts — one clue about another issue that is often avoided.)

    I like the direction that things are going. But it’s frustrating to deal with the accumulated problems caused by years of inadequate sunlight.

    And really, the church also misses out on the chance to frame the issues in minimally destructive ways. I think this is what Kevin refers to, discussing context.

    For instance, I blogged over at T&S about teaching, in Elders Quorum, about different First Vision accounts. There were six different 1st vision accounts recorded by Joseph Smith, (plus two duplicate accounts), and they’re not the same. In fact, they differ significantly. In the earliest accounts, Joseph basically says, “I saw God, and was told that my sins were forgiven.” In later accounts, he discusses other aspects of the experience — apostasy, restoration of the gospel, and so on.

    That’s the fact background. But really, facts don’t mean a lot, standing alone. What do we do with those facts, and how do we weave them into a narrative?

    As I noted at T&S, a number of faithful LDS scholars (Dean Jessee, Richard Bushman, Leonard Arrington), knowing these facts, have basically suggested that Joseph Smith didn’t really “get” the whole vision until a few years had passed and he had time to really comprehend what it meant. And that’s okay. That’s the development of a young mind and a complex experience. Early accounts focused on what he found most important as a young man (personal forgiveness); later, as he grew into his prophetic calling, he realized the import of the other aspects of the vision.

    But that’s not the only way the facts have been interpreted. Critics like the Tanners set the facts into a very different narrative. “Joseph kept making up new versions and details as time went on. He couldn’t keep his story straight. That’s because he was making it all up.”

    It matters a lot, the narrative that the facts are set into. And there’s really no second chance for a first impression. If the first time a church member hears about multiple First Vision accounts is from the Tanners, it will set the tone for how they view it.

    (And similarly, you can read all of the published accounts in Jack Welch’s _Opening the Heavens_, published by BYU Press, or you can read them all (I believe) in the Tanners’ _Mormonism, Shadow or Reality?_. The two books set the facts into very different narratives.)

    So, for my money, it’s not so much putting spin on it, as it is that, in reality, it’s mostly impossible to give facts alone, divorced entirely from narrative. Members are going to hear these facts, woven into one narrative or another. The only question is, which narrative will that be?

    Does that make sense?

    p.s. The Kinderhook plates were a forgery that some tricksters tried to use to embarrass Joseph Smith and the church. They brought metal plates, ancient looking, with glyphs and characters, to Joseph Smith and asked for a translation. He said he would look at them and provide a translation. Church statements at the time suggest that some church leaders (including maybe Joseph Smith) thought the plates were genuine, and that they provided evidence for the Book of Mormon. However, Joseph Smith ultimately never provided any translation of the fake plates. (There’s a statement by William Clayton — of sometimes-disputed accuracy — suggesting that Joseph was in the process of preparing a translation.)

    Depending on whether you ask a church critic or apologist, this is either evidence of Joseph Smith’s fraud (since he appears to have initially accepted them as legitimate, and some statements were published showing excitement about the plates); evidence of his prophetic calling (since he never did translate them in any known published writing); or maybe neither.

  82. p.p.s. Welcome to blogging, Mr. Jessawhy. It can be a lot of fun, and it’s really not any more addicting than crack cocaine. Or so I’m told.

    Your blog looks interesting — I spend a fair amount of time getting my students up to speed on some of those very concepts.

  83. John Mansfield says:

    For what it’s worth, the first time I ever heard of the Kinderhook plates was reading the Ensign article by Stanley Kimball which Kevin Barney praises in his comment above. That article appeared in 1981. Other of these supposedly hidden things, I encountered as a teen by doing little more than reading the Ensign. Seriously, how could anyone who had even lightly touched Section 132 think that Mormon polygamy started with Brigham Young? For those who started out indifferent to such things and ignored what was available to them, the impaired sunlight and capacity for surprise was of their making.

  84. John Mansfield says:

    Here is a tiny example of the “Why was this hidden?” excuse: On the Sunstone Blog, some folks were grousing about the Church’s secret missionary weight restrictions; I pointed out an article in the previous month’s New Era about the supposed secret; the grousers mildly mock me for knowing what is in the Church’s magazine aimed at youth preparing for missions and go on complaining about the weight standard.

  85. John, 83+84

    I had a similar reaction to Margaret’s comment.

    I think this is the risk that is inherent in the propagation of certain aspects of some Mormon blogs, an undercurrent of mild disdain for those who do not question the programs or worse the doctrines of the Church that becomes almost a badge of honor.

  86. One of the problems of “sunlight”, as John points out in #83 and #84 is the simple fact that many people believe stuff is hidden if it isn’t addressed publicly in their lifetime or memory – or in the years they are cognizant of the issue – or in publications of which they are aware. Therefore, when someone who is 30 in 2008 speaks of how “the Church has hidden the facts about (whatever),” in practical terms it often means no more than, “I have not seen anything since 1996 (when I was 18 years old) about (whatever). Thus, to that person, Stanley Kimball’s 1981 Ensign article about the Kniderhook Plates might as well have never been written.

    We see this all the time in criticism of the Church. Once Church leaders have addressed an issue like this in some “official” way, they often feel no need to keep returning and re-addressing the issue. Why would they? It only takes away from their primary focus – administering the affairs of the Church and testifying of Christ. However, each new generation wants a “fresh” take – or they simply are unaware of the initial explanation and, therefore, believe the issue has been buried and hidden.

    I agree totally with the need to frame these issues in a proper context, but I also think much of the heartburn would disappear if people simply knew about statements and articles and commentary that already exist. Those who won’t accept such resources and continue to hammer their own pet peeves probably wouldn’t be convinced by a “new” scholarly explanation, anyway. (On another blog, for example, I just got accused of mental gymnastics for making a very simple statement about how appropriate the term “personage” is for how Joseph must have seen the Father and the Son when they first appeared to him – having had no clue they would do so before it happened and before the Father’s introduction. It’s such a simple thing, but the other person had decided already that the whole thing was fraudulent, so he was nit-picking at ridiculously minor aspects that were easy to explain properly.)

    So, in summary, shine light if it hasn’t been shone already, but, just as importantly, make people aware of what light already has been shone – like Kevin’s and John’s comment about the Kimball article. If they realize it’s been shining for quite some time but they simply hadn’t flipped the proper switch, there is a chance that their perspective can change. In talking with a lot of people who initially felt like leaving the Church but stayed, this is perhaps the most common reason I have heard. They found contemporaries who understood (whatever) and remained faithful and/or they realized the light had been shining for quite some time without them being aware of it.

  87. Ray,

    I see what you are saying, but don’t know that I agree. How would it happen in practice? Every 5 years there would be a special conference to address a laundry list of debates, past and present.

    Somehow I feel that we would be better served to have forgone that level of hand holding.

    But Margaret’s example begs the question of how many people would find an reason to shed their neglected testimonies regardless of how much information they have or don’t have. Sometimes I get the impression that the anti arguments serve a nothing more than a catalog of excuses that can be trotted out to justify a decision, not the basis of the decision itself.

  88. Ray – I agree that your approach is probably best. But when I approached my bishop with the simple question “What is the church’s position on the Kinderhook plates?”, his reaction was essentially “Don’t ask that question.” When it should have been, “I have an article from 1981 that addresses this very issue.” I don’t fault him for not knowing, but surely as a church we can do better.

  89. John,

    I’m not convinced that saying, “well, there was enough sunlight for _me_” is really a good answer when someone says that there was not enough sunlight for them.

  90. John, I know

    … [I] started out indifferent to such things and ignored what was available to [me], the impaired sunlight and capacity for surprise was of [my] own making

    But that doesn’t excuse the ignorance of church officials. The availability of anti Mormon literature far exceeds the availability of church positions on these issues. In this day and age that is ludicrous.

  91. “The availability of anti Mormon literature far exceeds the availability of church positions on these issues. In this day and age that is ludicrous.”

    No, it isn’t. The Tanners spend their entire existence publishing articles to defame the Church and destroy testimonies. Do you really want Church leaders dedicating their own lives to such miserable purposes? I don’t. Apologists and one official statement are good enough for me.

  92. #87 – MAC, I think you mis-read what I was saying. I don’t think we should publish comprehensive apologetics every 5 years, just because each generation would like to have one. A good aggregator that lists the best articles and defenses over the years would be perfect, imho. We don’t need to “bring these things into the light of day” as much as gather them under one eternally lit bulb.

    If someone wants to create such a tool, great. I don’t expect the Church to have to do it; there are plenty of faithful members who could do it well. Anyone at FAIR want to tackle it – or does it already exist, with my question proving my point?

  93. Kevin Barney says:

    Ray, try the FAIR Wiki, and fairwiki.org, or the Topical Guide, at fairlds.org.

  94. Thanks, Kevin. I will. My question probably does prove my point.

    Kevin, please send me an e-mail. I want to ask you something about those resources (very simple) that I don’t want to post publicly.

  95. Ray – I don’t advocate spending nearly the time or energy the Tanners do. The internet is littered with anti and apologetic material. 30 seconds online and I can have a dozen opinions at my fingertips. But as a member I want to know what the church’s official stand is. That is why I go to my Bishop. He has the CHI to tell the official stand on many issues. I don’t think this particular one will be, or should be, in there, but I do think his answer should be better than “Don’t ask that question”

  96. “I do think his answer should be better than ‘Don’t ask that question'”.

    AMEN!

  97. Here is a tiny example of the “Why was this hidden?” excuse: On the Sunstone Blog, some folks were grousing about the Church’s secret missionary weight restrictions; I pointed out an article in the previous month’s New Era about the supposed secret; the grousers mildly mock me for knowing what is in the Church’s magazine aimed at youth preparing for missions and go on complaining about the weight standard.

    Which reinforces the belief that no matter what the level of disclosure, no matter how well explained, people who don’t want to believe and who want to complain will complain.

  98. Kaimi,
    Thanks for the great response. I don’t usually comment on the big blogs anymore because in the past my questions or comments were generally ignored, so I really appreciated your thoughtful comments.
    I should have gone back to Rough Stone Rolling (I started it last fall and have forgotten much of it) regarding the Kinderhook plates, it sounds more familiar now that you mention it.
    I also remember the explanation of the different accounts of the first vision. I’m not sure I find it convincing, since it seems to me that he would incorporate each additional part as he remembered it, not have different accounts say different things. However, that isn’t the point of this post. I would love to discuss this in Sunday School, but I can’t. That, is the point of this post. We should be able, or encouraged to ask questions in church that let in the sunlight.
    I’m glad that you see the church making improvements in this area. I also liked the Mountain Meadows Massacre article last year in the Ensign, although I wonder if it would have happened without the PBS broadcast in the same timeframe. Thanks for linking to the articles and for checking out DH’s blog. He’ll be delighted. (after I explain what blogging superstar you are, he doesn’t understand all of that yet)

  99. Yeah, I do my share of ignoring. It’s usually inadvertent, but it doesn’t make it any less painful to be on the receiving side.

    I can’t seem to locate my copy of RSR at the moment (it seems to have disappeared somewhere in the bedroom, which is kind of a laundry-strewn disaster right now, given end-of-semester time crunch), but Kinderhook definitely gets mentioned in it. There are some good other resources on it, too.

    I also remember the explanation of the different accounts of the first vision. I’m not sure I find it convincing, since it seems to me that he would incorporate each additional part as he remembered it, not have different accounts say different things. However, that isn’t the point of this post. I would love to discuss this in Sunday School, but I can’t. That, is the point of this post. We should be able, or encouraged to ask questions in church that let in the sunlight.

    I agree on the larger point, of course. :) As for whether the Bushman/Jessee explanation holds water — it’s an interesting question.

    On the one hand, church proponents note that we’ve got multiple accounts of, for instance, the crucifixion, each one emphasizing different portions of it. In telling accounts of Jesus’s life, Luke’s version differs slightly from Matthew’s; and Luke’s differs from Luke’s (in Acts), too. I do think there’s some natural change to be expected in accounts of an event.

    I’m not completely convinced that this fully accounts for the significant differences in versions. But it is a coherent explanation. And I do think we should discuss this more in church.

    Thanks for linking to the articles and for checking out DH’s blog. He’ll be delighted. (after I explain what blogging superstar you are, he doesn’t understand all of that yet)

    (Blush.) Thanks, Jess. I don’t know if I’d call myself a superstar (more like “just a guy who talks too much” :P ), but it’s nice to hear that, anyway. :)

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