Reflections on the Articles of Faith, Then and Now

John's Blazer BannerThe written text of my talk, given February 14, 1982, (when I was age 11 years, 10 months), reads as follows:

This is my Blazer Banner. These emblems show the different lessons we work on to prepare to receive and honor the priesthood. That is our motto, which is written here at the bottom of my banner.

I received these emblems for memorizing the 13 Articles of Faith. The Fifth Article of Faith talks about the authority of the Priesthood. The Sixth Article of Faith names a few of the priesthood offices in the church, such as prophets and apostles.

This emblem shows three Aaronic Priesthood holders at the Sacrament table. The lesson we had helped me understand the Sacrament better so that when I pass it, I will feel greater reverence.

This emblem shows John the Baptist giving Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery the Priesthood. I’m thankful for the Blazer program which is helping me to prepare to receive the Priesthood and for the great teachers who have worked with me.

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

This is still my old Blazer Banner (pictured). Google image searches failed to turn one of these up online (it seems that “Blazers” these days are a basketball team and a kind of SUV), so I presume that this program has long since been phased out by the LDS Church.

As I mention in my talk, the program in the 1980s called for boys in the Blazer age class (10-11) to memorize the Articles of Faith (one at a time, not all at once), and receive emblems for each one passed. As I’ve looked at my old Blazer Banner recently, I was taken by the strangeness of this document that is the “Articles of Faith.”

In the first place, given the degree to which Joseph Smith and other early members of the church initially opposed all creeds, possessing and memorizing a creed is a shade ironic. Of course I realize there are lots of reasons why Mormons have traditionally seen this list of 13 statements that begin with the phrase “We believe…” to be quite different “creeds” (a word derived the first word of the Nicene Creed in Latin, “Credo in Unum Deum…,” i.e., “I believe…”) Nevertheless, what I find particularly strange is not whether this thing that looks and sounds like a duck actually is a duck, but rather, what an odd duck it seems to be for Mormons.

The First Article of Faith “We believe in God the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost” is the statement that most closely resembles in content the bulk of the famous Nicene Creed, adopted by mainline Christianity at the Council of Nicea in 325 CE:

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, and born of the Father before all ages. God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God. Begotten and not made, consubstantial to the Father, by whom all things were made….And we believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who together with the Father and the Son is to be adored and Glorified….*

Lacking all the details about whether the Father and the Son are “consubstantial” and who proceeds from whom, the First Article of Faith is much more economical, and actually more ecumenical (pretty much everyone from Catholics to Arrians to Nestorians wouldn’t find objection). What it lacks is clarity. What do Mormons believe about the relationship between the members of the Godhead? Are the Father and Son of one essence? One substance? Or merely one purpose? The First Article doesn’t say. Moreover it fails to mention Mormonism’s unique theology of eternal progression, which Joseph Smith was beginning to develop and reveal at the time he composed the Articles of Faith, and which more recently has been falling prey to official de-emphasis.

The rest of the articles are an interesting list of beliefs that Mormons largely share with many Protestants and other Christians, alongside a few distinctives sprinkled in here and there, such as priesthood authority (#5), continuing revelation (#9), and the Book of Mormon (#8). Some of the distinctives are no longer emphasized, or they have been substantially reinterpreted since 1842.

From the Seventh Article, “We believe in the gift of tongues, prophecy, revelation, visions, healing, interpretation of tongues, etc.” [“et cetera” in the original], the gift of tongues and interpretation thereof no longer refers to the 1830s Mormon practice of glossolalia. Instead “tongues” has been replaced with folk stories about General Authorities going to multi-lingual places like the Philippines, giving addresses in English, and being heard by every listener in their native language.

Likewise, the most important elements of the belief in the “Literal Gathering of Israel” and the construction of Zion on this continent had been the view that Mormons themselves were literally of the blood of Israel (generally Ephraim), as were Indians. Both were to be gathered to the Missouri/Indian Territory frontier and Zion would be in Jackson County. Some of these beliefs linger among Mormons (although apparently not Mitt Romney). Today, Mormons don’t gather and largely don’t think of themselves as blood Israelites. The literalness of this article has largely been transferred to the gathering of Jews in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, my favorite article (which I mentioned in my 1982 talk), the Sixth: “We believe in the same organization that existed in the Primitive Church, namely apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, etc.” requires some updates. We need to strike out pastors and evangelists and add in Relief Society Presidents, Stake High Councilmen, Ward Clerks, Scoutmasters, etc.

At the end of the day, what’s in the Articles of Faith isn’t half as strange to me as what isn’t. There’s not a single mention of the word “temple.” Is all of temple work less an essential article of LDS belief than the 13 beliefs that do make the cut? How about an article that says “We believe that all mankind will have the opportunity to learn the gospel and be baptized, whether in this life or the next”?

Likewise, there’s absolutely no mention of the belief that has become the cornerstone of the LDS Church’s outreach: “We believe that marriage is eternal. We believe that families can be together forever.”

What do you think? Is it time for Mormons to come up with a few new Articles of Faith? (If so, what do you propose?)

______________
*The complexity of the doctrine of the Trinity, over which Christians have literally fought wars, has resulted in many variants to this creed.

Bookmark Reflections on the Articles of Faith, Then and Now

Comments

  1. We should adjust the bit about “honoring, obeying, and sustaining the law” to include the disclaimer “except when the brethren are unconcerned about the law”.

  2. Thanks for this, John. I was recently considering the same questions while researching the Pratt Brothers this summer, because JS’s Articles of Faith are basically a condensed (though at times word-for-word) version of Orson’s listing of Mormon beliefs published in 1840, and Orson’s list was a mere paraphrasing of his brother Parley’s list earlier that year (David Whittaker has a great article on the development of “Articles of Faith” in Mormon thought). At the least, I think it’s safe to say that JS did not put in much thought when writing this list–at least not enough thought to merit the importance we give it today.

  3. Several omissions could be because the doctrine had not been revealed (or widely taught) yet. As an example, that list of 13 dates to 1 March 1842. The letter from which D&C 127 comes (related to baptisms for the dead) is dated 1 September 1842.

    Queuno should realize there are bad laws. Sometimes it is important to oppose laws to try and change them.

  4. Huh. I was a blazer not too long after that, and I don’t ever remember seeing one of those blazer banners.

  5. At first, I thought you MADE that banner, John. Now, I know you could do it now, but the idea that you did it at 11 made me want to just toss my Speedball and lino cutters and give it all up now. I was trying to figure out how, at that age, you had typeset those words- because even back when I was in school, we were still using rub-on type.

    I guess now I should consider the actual point of your post, instead of marveling at my own inadequacy as an artist!

  6. Queuno should realize there are bad laws. Sometimes it is important to oppose laws to try and change them.

    I thought the sarcasm in my comment would bleed through without having to explicitly delineate it. (But maybe I should have been more explicit, given that I was making an offhand joke about Elder Jensen’s comments regarding the Brethren’s view on immigration.)

    Absolutely, there are nuances to the issue that don’t get considered. At any rate, I applaud this comment:

    At the least, I think it’s safe to say that JS did not put in much thought when writing this list–at least not enough thought to merit the importance we give it today.

  7. I think the changes that James Talmage (it was Talmage wasn’t it?) introduced are particularly interesting.

  8. Those are lovely pictures, John! I had never seen a Blazer Banner before, either. Thanks for the glimpse. Was this something that was done Church-wide, or locally? I know for a while in the 90s the Achievement Day girls had different recognition items for passing off their goals–bracelets, necklaces, pillowcases, etc.–but it wasn’t a Church-wide or a Church sponsored thing, but depended on the ward or the stake program.

    As for the Articles of Faith, they are absolute masterpieces in that they sound so doctrinal without actually clarifying any particular points. Such as: what constitutes the Gift of Tongues? Or: What was the effect of Adam’s transgression upon the human race? Or, as you mentioned, What is the relationship between the members of the Godhead? Practically all of us can recite them, but how much do they actually contribute to our doctrinal understanding?

    Odd that we expend so much effort criticizing the creeds of other faith traditions…

  9. Oh Jonathan, that’s far too provocative to leave without filling in the blanks. What did Talmage say?

    What John doesn’t have is the counterpart to the Blazer banner–the young women’s BANDELO. I had one. We got rhinestones for every AofF we passed off, and pretty little buttons for service acts, progression from “gay note” to “fire Light” (?) to “Merry Miss.” I’m rather surprised that I can’t remember all of the titles–and am unsure of those I’ve listed. I definitely remember the little notes on my bandelo signifying that I had graduated from Primary and become a GAY NOTE!
    We have expanded one article of faith to with a specific: “That Zion will be built upon this [the American] continent…”
    I don’t recall a lesson in many years on what’ll supposedly happen in Missouri (or elsewhere on the American continent), but the temple gets huge emphasis currently. So I like Hamer’s idea of putting temples into the AofF.

    Now I’ll google the famed bandelo of my youth. My mother gave mine to DI decades ago.

  10. Oh of course! I needed to check with Ardis P. first. She’s got an article on the Bandlo at Keepapitchin’ (and I’m sure her spelling is correct and mine is not):
    http://www.keepapitchinin.org/…/a-bundle-of-bandlos/
    Sadly, no actual photos.

  11. I would hate to be the SS teacher who had to teach the apostasy lesson right after your Thomas B. Marsh post, or the PH/RS teacher who has to teach the upcoming Articles of Faith lesson after this one, to a roomful of people who have read your posts and now think they could do a better job of defining doctrine than Joseph Smith or Orson Pratt. Is your timing deliberate, or coincidental? Why don’t you give context, at least defining the audience for whom the AoF were intended, which had a very direct bearing on what was included and what was not? Otherwise, this just looks like you’re trying to undercut faith.

    I know I’m in a foul mood tonight (you would be too, if you’d been trying to work in a “research” library all day with ringing cellphones, crying babies, toddlers without toys running around and pulling things off shelves, and missionaries giving tourists guided tours at the tops of their voices) and I should take more time to make this diplomatic, but surely I’m not the only person who has an uneasy sense of subversion when reading this.

  12. John Hamer says:

    Tracy (5): No, no! These were standard issue. Although not as standard as I thought. I’m surprised that Ben (4) and BiV (8) have never seen one.

    Margaret (9): I’ll have to read about the bandelos. You’ll have to reminisce more about your experiences as a Gay Note on a future post.

    Ardis (11): Sorry you’re in a foul mood. This is not a historical post; this is a personal reminiscence and an observation. I’m happy that I’ve saved my talk and my Blazer Banner from 1982. I haven’t researched the history of either the precursors of this document that Ben (2) mentions or the more recent changes that J (7) mentions; nor do I know the background of how the LDS Church came to canonize this particular portion of a letter Joseph Smith wrote to a gentile. I hope Ben and J and you write posts on those subjects because I think they would be fascinating, and if there’s an upcoming lesson on the Articles of Faith, they would presumably be timely.

    I don’t see my questions in this post as subversive to the faith. In fact, if I were teaching a lesson on the Articles of Faith, asking people in the class what they think their top 13 beliefs are would be a nice start. What would make the cut for you, as a faithful Mormon? I think thinking about your beliefs is a more useful teaching tool than memorizing a rote list of beliefs, as I did at age 11.

  13. John Hamer: [A]sking people in the class what they think their top 13 beliefs are would be a nice start. What would make the cut for you, as a faithful Mormon?

    I think this is a wonderful question and I’d like to see it answered. Separate post?

  14. Oh wow! We did that in Merrie Miss too. Except how come you didn’t have to embroider yours?

    You’re right, this one is essential:

    “We believe that marriage is eternal. We believe that families can be together forever.”

    But add “temple” before “marriage”, and add “traditional” before “families”.

  15. When I was young, (1960s), we all embroidered the same saying in cross-stitch: “I Will Bring the Light Of the Gospel Into My Home.” (I think my mother also gave that to DI.)
    After the first bandlo, with the rhinestones representing articles of faith, we had yete another promotion and another bandlo. For this one, we had to create and sew on some kind of flower. I chose an apple blossom. Mine was worse than anybody’s and I was always embarrassed by it. I don’t know of the other girls got help from their mothers, but I certainly didn’t, and I always felt it stuck out when we all wore our bandlos–which wasn’t often.
    I think then you move to the beauty pageant sashes, don’t you? The nice side sash that says “Miss Provo” or “Most Adorable” or “Best Highlights”?
    I never got one.

  16. Left Field says:

    Slight changes were made in the wording of the Articles of Faith when the current edition of the Pearl of Great Price was issued about 1981. Latin abbreviations (“viz.” “etc.”) were replaced with English (“namely,” “and so forth”). And the tenth article was modified from “Zion will be built upon this [the American] continent’ to “Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American Continent.”

    I imagine John’s banner still has the old text because those banners date as I recall, from the early ’70s when the bandlos were phased out. I had a bandlo, but I remember Primary kids having the banners soon after I graduated from Primary about 1971.

    I’m wondering, John, did you memorize the text on your banner or the new text that was by then published in the Pearl of Great Price?

  17. Thomas Parkin says:

    I still believe very much that the New Jerusalem will be built in Missouri. I just felt like sayin it.

    I generally believe the same things that I was taught in the late 60s, 70s and early 80s as a kid. I think there have been tweaks, and will continue to be tweaks – some major, most minor. I don’t believe these tweaks constitute the wholesale reconsiderations some see in them.

    (I’m not in a great mood either, Ardis – for different reasons. I hope they get that missionaries thing worked out in the library. It seems to me that they need to be very particular about the qualifications of the missionaries they assign to work in there. Rather than, _possibly_, believing that a person called is always perfectly qualified. And, in general, that it becomes the peaceful place you need to do your research. It is a library after all. Shhhhhh!) ~

  18. #9: Margaret, I had a Bandlo.
    Talmage chanced #4 by adding “first Principles”. His feeling was Faith and Repentant were not Ordinances. I believe he was the first (only?) to change a Canon (?)

  19. Bob,
    Why did you receive the Young Women’s award?

  20. Very interesting post John. I suddenly feel old because I must have come before the Blazer Banners where around. I can’t even ever remember being asked to memorize the Articles of Faith. This post made me read through them again and I was interested in how little we talk about some of these things anymore. For example in #2, we hardly ever talk about being punished for transgressions. We talk about the atonement helping us avoid being punished, but #2 reads straight up like that is something we are all going to have to go through. No specific caveats about getting to avoid it by repenting (clearly repentance and atonement are there but they are not linked to punishment avoidance).

    And I’ve always had trouble with the ‘believe all things’ admonition. I want to believe all ‘true’ things, but to believe all things just seems naive and dangerous.

  21. For what it’s worth, I had a Blazer Banner. I earned all 13 Article of Faith emblems too. That would have been around 1980 to 1981 or thereabouts (I was born in late 1968). I recall that my older brother had one also, but I do not recall if my younger brother (three years younger than me) did; I think not, but I could be wrong.

  22. I too did a Merrie Miss banner like this. I think it’s in a box in the garage with my Peanuts paperbacks and slam books.

    Joe Spencer did a great write up recently on the Articles of Faith that gives a lot of the history: http://feastuponthewordblog.org/2009/07/04/rsmp-lesson-38-the-wentworth-letter-joseph-smith-manual/

    He highlights what came from Orson Pratt’s missionary pamphlet and how JS changed it. Very interesting read.

  23. Kristine says:

    I had a Merrie Miss banner, too. Unlike the boys’, ours were made of cloth, and we were supposed to embroider the panel at the bottom that said “I will radiate the light of the gospel.” Mine says “I will radi”

  24. #19: I had a forest green Bandlo in the 1950s. I guess changes were made. But I do believe it was for knowing all of the AoF.

  25. Bob’s right. In that era, he would have earned emblems to place on his bandlo, earned by memorizing the Articles of Faith, among other things.

    (And you all thought you’d never see me type the words “Bob’s right” and mean it. Pigs are flying and they’re ice skating in hell, but Bob’s right.)

  26. Yet Another John says:

    I had the green bandlo also ( late fifties). That pin for the 13th AF was the hardest one to get! I wonder if my mother still has it? Thanks for bringing this up.

  27. Hey — I was age 11 years, 10 months in Feb. of 1982 too.

    What day in April is your b-day John? (27th for me)

  28. Peter LLC says:

    a roomful of people who have read your posts and now think they could do a better job of defining doctrine than Joseph Smith or Orson Pratt.

    John Hamer is a charismatic man, but I doubt he is charasmatic enough to instill in them the megalomania you would find prevalent in your co-religionists.

  29. Slam Books!
    What a trip down memory lane!
    I wish I had kept my old ones.
    But now I have things like Niblets threads…

  30. Although this post seems to poke fun at “modern” LDS beliefs such as eternal families, temples and temple marriage, baptisms for the dead, etc. (by claiming that they are outside the bounds of what is covered by the AoF and therefore not fundamental or conversely that the AoF aren’t adequate because they don’t mention them), these were all around at the time of Joseph Smith, though some of them were revealed after the Wentworth letter was penned.

    The Articles of Faith aren’t inadequate because they don’t mention these beliefs. I don’t think that the Articles of Faith are either meant to or claimed to give an exhaustive statement of what Mormons believe, or were meant to do so at the time they were penned.

    The Articles of Faith presume an audience familiar with the Bible. This is why there is the lack of clarification that Bored in Vernal points out. In that sense, they are certainly inadequate today considering the state of society’s knowledge about the Bible. No need to go into perplexities about “consubstantial” or “God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God. Begotten and not made” in the First Article of Faith considering that such abstractions aren’t in the Bible. That Jesus Christ is the Son of God, however, is clearly expressed in the New Testament. Mormons believe this and it is clearly presented in the First Article of Faith. As another example, an audience that truly knew the Bible wouldn’t be confused at references to the New Jerusalem, although they would certainly be intrigued to hear that it would be established on the American continent. Etc.

    I don’t agree that the Church is deemphasizing certain teachings. In the case of emigration/gathering to Zion, this is certainly the case as a straightforward policy change. Interestingly, however, this policy change has no bearing on Mormons’ belief that Zion/the New Jerusalem will be established on the American Continent. My sense is that most if not all faithful Mormons continue to believe this, and I am extremely confident that Mitt Romney shares this belief, if it matters to you what he believes. I also do not think that the LDS Church is deemphasizing the doctrine that our purpose in life is to accept the Atonement and by so doing be exalted and become like God, even if Church leaders of late seem to have taken a more realistic view of the second part of the Snow couplet (about God having once been as man now is) or rather of what we actually know about that teaching (very little in comparison to what we know about the first part of the couplet, that we can become like God as joint-heirs with Christ).

  31. John Hamer says:

    Margaret (13): Thanks: we’ll put it in the rainy day file.

    Left Field (16): I seem to remember having flash cards. I think the articles were printed on cards that we would memorize them during a part of the class — so I don’t know which text variant was used. For me the memorization didn’t take. If we’d set them to song lyrics, I’d still have them in my head, the way I know the Books of the New Testament and the Preamble to the US Constitution. I remember as a kid saying, “we believe in being honest, true, and chased by elephants…” (which I presume was a common joke).

    SteveP (20): Yeah, I hadn’t looked at that one too closely, but I guess “we believe all things” is a little different from the actual admonition of Paul “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8), which qualifies the sort of things you should seek after. But presumably evolution (like everything else) falls under the category of “all things,” so you can be happy about that.

  32. John Hamer says:

    Russell (21): I’m glad you had one. I was beginning to wonder where my ward got these things.

    Hawk (22) & Kristine (23): I love it. Some day you’ll have to show us & jog my memory.

    Geoff (27): Mine is April 2 — so I’m a couple weeks older than you. Big one coming up next year for us….

    Peter (28): Thanks, I think.

    BiV (29): I share your love of nostalgia & I voted for you, so good luck!

  33. We memorized the Articles of Faith in primary (early to mid-1980s) without the perk of the Blazer Banner. We were still enriched for having done so.

  34. Kristine says:

    john f.,

    “poke fun”??

  35. By the way, what is the basis for this statement?

    Moreover it fails to mention Mormonism’s unique theology of eternal progression, which Joseph Smith was beginning to develop and reveal at the time he composed the Articles of Faith, and which more recently has been falling prey to official de-emphasis.

    1. Is the concept that man can become like God really unique to Mormonism? Sure, it is extremely deemphasized in creedal Christianity, to the point of being heresy, but what did the early Christians think about it? It is a fundamental tenet of Mormonism that what the earliest Christians thought and believed about many things, including this point, is not what modern creedal Christianity thinks and believes about these matters. That hasn’t changed from 1842 until now.

    2. What makes you say that the principle that man can become like God has fallen prey to official de-emphasis?

  36. Kristine, do you see it differently?

  37. John Hamer says:

    Hi John (30, 33): Thanks for recognizing the humor. I’m glad you were enriched, but I’m sorry you missed out on the fun of the banner.

    I don’t think many denomination’s sets of Articles of Faith or creeds are exhaustive lists. I don’t think I was asking why “We believe the apostle John never tasted death and will tarry in the flesh until the Savior’s return and we also believe the three Nephite apostles shall do likewise” wasn’t part of some exhaustive compendium. Rather, I was saying that it’s odd that the word “temple” isn’t mentioned, and the important LDS doctrine “we believe that families can be together forever” doesn’t make the cut. I don’t think a list would have to be exhaustive to find a place for these core beliefs.

    In terms of Mitt Romney: yes, I was poking fun at him in his role as a public figure. Yes, I agree he probably holds a traditional Mormon belief on the subject, which, contrary to his bungled statement and your defense of it, is meaningfully different from the mainline Christian belief on the subject.

    I’m surprised you don’t think LDS leaders are deemphasizing the belief “As man is God once was; as God is, man may be.” I think decoupling the couplet is deemphasizing at least half of it. You seem to objecting to the word “emphasize” and preferring the phrase “taking a more realistic view.” But I don’t see how abstract theology can be more or less realistic. I’m not sure what you mean by that. What I mean by deemphasis is that it’s not being said a lot. If LDS leaders are routinely repeating the whole couplet on the stand or printing it regularly in manuals, I wasn’t aware of it, and I’ll certainly reverse my observation.

  38. By “taking a more realistic view” of it I mean that leaders continue to discuss the principle that man can and should become like God but seem to be more realistic about what we actually know about the second part of the couplet, i.e. we just don’t know much about what Joseph Smith meant by the teachings that became the basis for the Snow couplet.

  39. (that is, the basis for the second part of the Snow couplet)

  40. John Hamer says:

    Is the concept that man can become like God really unique to Mormonism? Sure, it is extremely deemphasized in creedal Christianity, to the point of being heresy, but what did the early Christians think about it? It is a fundamental tenet of Mormonism that what the earliest Christians thought and believed about many things, including this point, is not what modern creedal Christianity thinks and believes about these matters. That hasn’t changed from 1842 until now.

    Yes, I agree that it’s a traditional Mormon belief that the primitive Christian Church had the same beliefs as Mormons have today. If you’re asking whether I personally believe that primitive Christians believed they could be exalted according to the Plan of Salvation, the answer is no. I don’t share that belief because I don’t personally see any evidence. Likewise, people in the Renaissance believed that they had revived the Roman Empire; they thought that civilization before and after what they named the “Middle Ages” were meaningfully identical. I think they did something neat, but I think they were wrong about that. I believe that revivals inevitably create something new because one can never functionally turn back the pages of history. That’s the subject of a different blog post.

    In any event, I don’t have any objection if you believe the traditional view. That’s your faith. Thus, I used the word “unique” above because I am making observations from my perspective. If I were attempting to make observations from your perspective and passing them off as though it was my perspective, I would be behaving disingenuously.

  41. john f. gets at what irritated me in my first rudely worded comment (for which rudeness I apologize). The Articles of Faith were not originally intended as a summation of all of Mormonism’s most essential beliefs — they were directed at an outside audience, and specifically addressed issues that were then popular topics for religious discussion beyond Mormonism, or that addressed charges made against the Saints (e.g., that we didn’t acknowledge secular law). (Somebody needs to examine how a set of statements assembled under those conditions has come to treated almost creedally, but that’s outside the scope of your post or my comment.)

    As others have noted, the post is a disparaging view of the Articles of Faith — they aren’t accurate, they aren’t adequate, they include things we don’t believe, we believe things they don’t include, and so on. A casual reader who takes your post at face value will go into PH/RS in a week or two, hear a teacher present a lesson based in part on the Articles of Faith, and have the smug assurance that he knows better than the teacher or the rest of the class, because he knows that the Articles ofFaith aren’t accurate, aren’t adequate, include things we don’t believe, and omit things we do believe.

    The same thing would have happened a week or two ago when casual readers who took your Thomas B. Marsh post at face value went into Sunday School, heard that story again, and smugly “knew” it was 100% false — when, as BHodges and others noted, the matter is more complex than that, with the story being exaggerated and inadequate, but not entirely without base. A class member with that “knowledge” could easily have missed whatever larger point the teacher tried to present.

    I know this for a fact, because I have to combat my own arrogance constantly in just those situations. Even if virtually all of your readers are smarter than me and have no trouble thinking through the issues and holding the complexities in mind, I’m probably not the only one who reads something, assumes it’s true, and then misses the gospel message because I’m so arrogant about my better understanding of the mere illustrations.

    That’s why I used the word “subversive,” and why I asked whether the timing of your posts was deliberate or coincidental. I would still like to know the answer to the question about timing.

  42. I had the corresponding Merrie Miss banner. (“Merrie Miss”=not as cool as “Blazer”) I think I had to embroider part of it, as I recall. I never did get all my sticky things to put on it, even though I know I earned all of them. So it’s incomplete and that bothers me. Even though I have no idea where it is now. Maybe I threw it out at some point because I knew it could never be complete (since they stopped doing such things shortly after I finished being a Merrie Miss). That seems unlike me. Perhaps someone else did it for me. (That would have been the compassionate thing to do.)

    I’ve often thought about what my personal Articles of Faith would be, but only in the sense of “I should really give that some more thought…some other time.” I almost think I am afraid of that exercise, for some reason. (I’m sure I could come up with a very plausible reason, if I gave it more thought, some other time.)

  43. That’s a pretty expansive, if technically accurate, definition of subversive, Ardis (can you imagine — a SS class in which some of the students think they know better than the instructor!?!?!?!?!?!). All independent study of Mormonism and the gospel — in particular the academic/critical variety — is potentially (if not actually) subversive in this sense. Perhaps a more modest definition — one, say, that doesn’t apply to virtually all of the bloggernaccle — is appropriate here.

  44. Kristine says:

    My subversiveness meter must need recalibrating.

  45. Gotcha, Brad, Kristine.

    Please edit my previous comments to read:

    Wow! This is super! This is the best article on the topic that I have ever read! I am so grateful that you posted it now!

  46. Mine says “I will radi”

    Just noticed Kristine’s comment. That’s hilarious!

  47. John Hamer says:

    Hi Ardis (41): Let me answer your question on the timing. My post on Br. Marsh was not a coincidence; I wrote it because people in the bloggernacle were talking about it because they had just had that lesson (or possibly because they were going to have it and had looked ahead in the manual). I was reacting to that chatter. I don’t like the way that story is told and my post was a response to it. Is history complex? Of course. Do I expect Mormons to teach complex history in Sunday School? No. Which is why I made the practical suggestion that the milk & strippings story be dropped from the curriculum and no longer retold.

    On the Articles of Faith timing: that’s a coincidence. I don’t have current LDS manuals and I the only way I’ve heard of this is from you. I’m writing this now because I was moving some files and I discovered the typed text of my 1982 talk folded into the banner.

    The question of subversion is complex. You seem to be advocating a strategy of teaching down in order to avoid shaking the faith of the simplest thinking member. I’m sure there are pluses and minuses to this strategy. One of the minuses seems to be that the simple picture is sometimes fragile and vulnerable to being shattered by real world complexity. I believe this is why some faithful Mormons advocate a policy of “inoculation” — i.e., Mormons teaching Mormons that the real world is complex, so that they don’t have to find that out from the real world. I think there’s merit to this idea. But, of course, because my own beliefs value thinking about beliefs, I am naturally biased. So I don’t view thinking about faith as something that is necessarily subversive to faith, including distinctly Mormon faiths. It only becomes so when you lock yourself into the strategy of teaching down and over simplifying, which I would identify as the factor more dangerous to faith than my posts. If anyone loses their faith because I convinced them that “We believe families can be together forever” should be an article of faith, it implies to me that the strategy of teaching down is quite dangerous to the faith.

    I had someone tell me that they went to class armed with more information on the Thomas B. Marsh story, that the resulting discussion was good, and that the lesson ultimately focused in on the moral of loving and forgiving one another. That’s precisely the result I might have hoped for and I hope that happened in more than one ward.

  48. Brad (& Kristine)–
    All Ardis (seems) to be getting at is that, when posting information like this, there are ways of making it look more scandalous and ways of making it look less scandalous. Certainly we can all agree to that, right?

    While I don’t for a second believe that Hamer was attempting in any way to undermine Sunday School teachers, it’s not hard to see that acknowledging a fairly obvious fact–that Joseph Smith didn’t attempt in any way to describe the entirety of Mormonism–would render certain–but not all–questions about why certain doctrines are omitted much more benign.

  49. You seem to be advocating a strategy of teaching down in order to avoid shaking the faith of the simplest thinking member.

    Baloney. You’ve never read anything I’ve ever written, if you believe that. I haven’t read beyond that statement, because anything that builds on it is utterly false.

    Excuse me for responding to your post in the first place. I won’t trouble you again.

  50. #45
    hahaha
    when Ardis brings on the sarcasm, she has no equal.

  51. If I may offer something to be carefully considered:

    The Articles of Faith, as I’m sure many are aware, are included in the Pearl of Great Price–the 4th standard work in the church. They are scripture. They were voted on twice, along with the rest of the Pearl of Great Price, to be recognized as scripture.

    We must be careful how we speak about the Articles of Faith, for they are scripture and are therefore sacred.

    We put these Articles on the back of pass along cards to explain our most fundamental truths to those with NO understanding of our faith. I find that they do their job extremely well, having been a convert and received these pass-along cards. I wasn’t ready for deeper doctrine at the time of my conversion because I did not yet have the spiritual maturity to understand and accept them.

    Our Articles of Faith are sufficient. And I would caution that anyone who bears any contention against them, or who suggests any changes to them who does not have the authority to receive revelation about them on behalf of the church, is subject to the will of Satan.

    We must be ever so careful about how we treat the scriptures. They are not something we should be tearing apart and calling it scholarship. THEY ARE SACRED.

  52. I still have my Merrie Miss bracelet. We got a pastel colored stone each time we passed of an article of faith.

  53. John, reading this post and remembering some of your past musings the only question that comes to my mind is whether you have ever thrown out anything in your entire life. When will we get your reflections on an old pair of socks you wore in 4th grade with the text of the book report you gave while wearing them?

  54. John Hamer says:

    Paradox (51): If that’s your belief, that’s fine with me. However, let me share my belief with you. I believe that if we can’t joke around about scripture then we are worshiping scripture. I believe that worshiping scripture violates the first great commandment of the gospel “Love God” (have no other gods before God). I joke about Bible stories all the time. I joke about things I personally hold sacred, because I think that’s healthy.

  55. Kristine says:

    Ardis, all I meant was it seems to me that a commenter might offer context–something like “it’s important to remember that JS didn’t intend these as a full statement of our beliefs,” or “John, you’ve forgotten to take account of Joseph’s intended audience and the circumstances surrounding the writing of the AofF”–without speculating as to John’s motives for writing the way he did.

    I think it’s perfectly fine for you to take issue with the post, and for people to take issue with your comments. Surely we can volley a couple of rounds before we have to pack up the ball and go home.

  56. Isn’t that what she did in #11?

  57. John Hamer says:

    KLC (52): Um, not so much the socks. But I do have a great proportion of things that I’ve made saved. Talks, reports, drawings, paintings, books, journals all fall under that umbrella. I hate to admit that I’ve hardly scratched the surface of childhood things I can post simply on the topic of Mormonism. So expect that 4th grade report in due time.

    Scott B (42): I have mentioned that I don’t think this document was meant to “describe the entirety of Mormonism.” Talking about what makes the cut and what doesn’t implicitly understands that a portion, perhaps a large portion, of the “entirety” is not being described. And I clarified that understanding in my response to John F (37) where I explicitly said that I never imagined a list of articles should be “exhaustive.” In any event, I didn’t explore Joseph Smith’s intentions and motives at all because I haven’t researched them at all. As I’ve mentioned, I welcome future posts that do just that and even moreso, I welcome a post about how, as Ardis says, this “set of statements assembled under those conditions has come to [be] treated almost creedally.”

  58. John (57)–
    Sorry-I want to clarify that my comment was not directed at your post at all–I have no issues with your presentation at all. I was just trying to render the tone of the conversation a bit more diplomatic because I felt like comments and responses were starting to jump from one hyperbole to another.

  59. John Hamer says:

    Scott B (58): Thanks, much. Cooling the tone and promoting diplomatic interchange are always welcome.

  60. John, I should have included a smiley in my comment. That someone approaching 40 would have the text of a church talk given almost 30 years ago is almost incomprehensible to me.

  61. >>>”That someone approaching 40 would have the text of a church talk given almost 30 years ago is almost incomprehensible to me.”

    …says the person who never got a Blazer Banner.

  62. “Moreover it fails to mention Mormonism’s unique theology of eternal progression, which Joseph Smith was beginning to develop and reveal at the time he composed the Articles of Faith, and which more recently has been falling prey to official de-emphasis.”

    Fact: The first time I remember hearing about this doctrine was when I was about 11 or 12, and I was totally taken by surprise. At least by the late 90s, the church definitely played this down. Anyway, I just thought it was funny you added this bit in because I definitely learned the articles of faith, but I had never heard about eternal progression.

  63. oudenos says:

    comment 53, zing!!! i was kind of thinking the same thing.

  64. John Hamer says:

    KLC (60): I’m beginning to think I should put smileys on all my posts. :)

  65. Ardis, you’re making a very important point when you note that John’s characterization of your argument is not consistent with even a casual reading of what you write on a daily basis. That’s the point I’m trying to make: you are articulating a definition of subversion — i.e. as something that arms SS attendees with a sense that they are better informed than their teachers — that would most certainly apply to your incredibly rich, informative, and now award-winning Mormon history blogging.

  66. Steve Evans says:

    Paradox (#51), what then do we make of bible scholars? What of those blasphemous tools of Satan?

  67. Steve Evans says:

    PS, re: Ardis’ comment, I think it’s the task of all of us to look at our religion carefully, to figure out exactly what we believe and why. There’s no question that meanings shift over time, and that (in the case of the AoF) we probably accentuate some aspects over others that may have nothing to do with authorial intent. Is that subversive? Depends on our intent in finding out this knowledge, and what we do with it. I like the idea of trying to know everything I can about our faith. Whether or not that makes me a subversive depends largely, I would think, upon why I want that knowledge and what I do with it (as opposed to the knowledge itself, which I think is mostly neutral).

  68. I don’t think the AoF can be limited to only to the time of Joseph Smith, what Joseph meant to say, or Joseph’s intended audience and the circumstances surrounding the writing of the AoF.
    At some point, the AoF moved on from this. They became the core for teaching the Youth of the Church. For over a hundred years, all were to know them by heart. They became the Church’s AoF. The Church took ownership. They became more than just some quick notes to a newspaper by Joseph Smith.

  69. JEW1967 Says says:

    John Hamer #47

    “On the Articles of Faith timing: that’s a coincidence. I don’t have current LDS manuals and I the only way I’ve heard of this is from you. I’m writing this now because I was moving some files and I discovered the typed text of my 1982 talk folded into the banner.”

    I do not believe there are any coincidences. Everything has its purpose. Do you not think that God prepared and guided your discovery and prompted your thoughts to write this article to bring some truth to light to others?
    I do. As it enlightened my understanding.

    I too enjoyed this remenicense as i was a youth in the 80’s as well.

    I’m sincerely sorry for the likes of Paradox. Forgive him/her for he/she are blind children and know not what they do.

    God Bless

  70. Randy B. says:

    I’m with Brad in #65. Ardis’s position strikes me as either incoherent or incredibly inconsistent, which makes me fairly certain I am simply not understanding her.

  71. John, thanks for this post. It was both fun and interesting. I know it is not about providing historical context for the AoF, etc., but I’d thought I’d throw this out there for anyone interested in such things: Other denominations of the era sometimes used “Articles of Faith” for a list of their general beliefs in an effort to provide such a list without labeling it a “creed.” Methodists, for example, (at least in their earliest years) ridiculed the creeds of sectarian Christianity, preferring instead to produce “Articles of Faith” and the “Doctrine and Disciple of the Methodist Church” so as not to become attached to creeds.

  72. “>>>”That someone approaching 40 would have the text of a church talk given almost 30 years ago is almost incomprehensible to me.”

    …says the person who never got a Blazer Banner.”

    …says the person who did get the bandlo and promptly threw it away when he turned 12. (apply same logic to almost everything else the person has owned to understand imcomprehensibility of John’s archived childhood)

  73. We had the blazer banners in my ward (middle 80’s). I don’t believe I memorized any of the articles of faith at that time (although I could be wrong). Feel free to draw generalizations regarding that and my current level of faithfulness.

  74. >>>>>>”That someone approaching 40 would have the text of a church talk given almost 30 years ago is almost incomprehensible to me.”

    >>>>…says the person who never got a Blazer Banner.”

    >>…says the person who did get the bandlo and promptly threw it away when he turned 12.

    …says the person who hates puppies.

  75. I personally have always found our doctrinal reliance on the AofF troubling, given their specific historical context in the Wentworth Letter.

    I did a post on them. Unfortunately, a very nifty graph showing how often each one has been referenced in Conference no longer exists. Shame. It was blue.

  76. John Hamer says:

    Norbert (75): thanks, I hadn’t seen that before. It looks like some of our observations tracked along similar lines (including your notice that belief in eternal families doesn’t make the list), but you helpfully framed your post in more of a historical context. Very nice! Now I want to see the missing graph!

  77. John, I’m not surprised that you still have the Blazer banner, but that none of the little emblems have fallen off…I think most of mine don’t stick anymore. Did you re-glue any of them?

  78. For we are, we are, we are the Targeteers.

    It’s been a bad week here at the mortgage bank, and I’m feeling nasty. So, here you go.

    Revision to #8:
    We believe the Bible to be the Word of God, as far as it is translated correctly and as it is interpreted in correlated manuals. We also believe the Book of Mormon to be the Word of God, except for all that really hard 2nd Nephi stuff. We also believe that if “The Work and The Glory” isn’t the word of God, it’s close enough for Sunday School.

    And my revision of Article #12:

    We believe in being subject to kings, conservative presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law, unless those laws are like totally unjust and infringe on my free agency to drive as fast as I want, to make turn signals option, and to ignore any and all parking regulations. We also claim the ability to park in handicap spaces because the handicapped need more exercise anyway, to insist on double coupons, and the authority to make all those home-based business incomes strictly “under the table”. We also believe it is our right to make a ton of money from our downline, to discuss “a great business plan” with anyone who will meet us at Dennys, and to ratify contracts with a quick trip to the Temple instead of any pesky legal signatures.

  79. John Hamer says:

    Rob (77): Nope, this is in as-is condition, no repairs. It probably hadn’t been touched since it came down from the wall a quarter century ago.

  80. Kristine says:

    “Did you re-glue any of them?”

    And if you did, would you admit it ;) ?

  81. John Taber says:

    John H., I’m a little younger than you, but I do remember the Blazer banner. I didn’t know what it was called, or how exactly it worked, but they had them in Primary in my ward in Nashville at that time. (I remember one even being used as a prop in a skit depicting Moses throwing down the stones upon seeing Israel worship the golden calf.)

    We moved in August 1982, and the ward I moved into (meeting in Elkton, Maryland) didn’t seem to have them. But at that time it had been a ward for less than a year, and as a branch had thrown in the towel on Primary until the three-hour block reinstated it. So maybe they never got around to implementing that.

  82. Kristine says:

    John–a propos of absolutely nothing… We must have just missed each other in Nashville–I moved in in August 1982, into your cousins’ ward, iirc.

  83. Aaron Brown says:

    I nominate Paradox, specifically for his delicious comment #51, as winner of the 1st annual “Prudence McPrude Prudery Award”, to be granted each year by a special committee composed only of me.

    AB

  84. Aaron Brown says:

    It’s a little hard to take seriously the criticism that John’s post is in any sense subversive, or even “disparaging”, except in the most minor, inoccuous of senses. For crying out loud, it would have been incredibly easy to couch John’s observations in a form that would have merited such criticism. I can imagine writing such a post myself. But this is so G-rated, I’m just left scratching my head at much of the discussion in the comments.

    By the way, one need not have even read John’s post to recognize that the Articles of Faith aren’t quite what they are often advertized to be. Anyone who’s attended LDS Church meetings for any length of time, and is sentient, couuld presumably notice that many central Mormon truth claims aren’t included in the AofF (just as many that are included really aren’t currently “central” in any real sense ). Not that John’s post wasn’t interesting, but it hardly introduces any interpretive bombshells, or obscure facts.

    AB

  85. John Taber says:

    I didn’t know when you moved in, but that sounds about right. Not that we would have known each other, since I was all of nine at the time.

  86. John Taber says:

    I meant that for Kristine in #82.

  87. Kristine says:

    John, I was only 13–you could have been the cute little deacon I danced with when I was a Laurel :)

  88. Norbert, I’m very sorry to read of the loss of your graph. Seriously! A well-done graph can convey so much data so well. I hope to see you someday re-make it. Or if you don’t get around to it, maybe I will. :)

  89. I had some sort of Merrie Miss banner that looked almost identical to this. I think ours had a weird yarn embroidery on it. I wonder what happened to mine?

  90. Horatio says:

    I had that banner hanging on my wall in 1979. I had forgotten about the shiny little buttons — seeing the pictures was a nice reminder of the past. I memorized them with the “viz” and other out-dated words. Reading your post also highlighted to me the de-emphasis on the ten lost tribes. Growing up, I had vague premonitions that I would be one of the first missionaries called to the then-Soviet Union, where I would help find the lost tribes and bring their scriptures to the world. I can’t remember the last time I heard the lost tribes discussed in a Church meeting.

  91. I had the Merrie Miss banner, with all the little circular buttons like the Blazer banner has — yours is very well-preserved, John. The MM one had some embroidered gospel homily at the bottom — embroidered awkwardly by myself in some huge acrylic yarn. I remember having to memorise all the AoFs to get each of the buttons, and I remember our teacher PAINFULLY repeating again and again the word “paradisiacal” until we could pronounce it properly. Dude, by the end of that we could say it, but NO ONE understood what it meant. :-)

    I also had the bracelet with the colored plastic “stones” but I can’t recall what we had to do to earn each stone. My bracelet fell in the garbage disposal once and had all sorts of pitted sharp dents in it after that. (I think there may be a chewed-gum object lesson in that somewhere…?)

  92. I loved this riff on an old piece of memorabilia found in the basement. Several years ago I dug mine out for a Sacrament talk, which included my mother’s bandalos (Gleaners and Bluebirds) from the 40’s and 50’s, and my Targeteers flag complete with ribbons. The point was how fast things change in the Church, even when it seems like the ways things are right now is perfect and normal forever and ever.

    And sometimes when we are shaken by some change in programs in the church, we see that time and the church continue to move forward, maybe for the better. And while some things are fun and nice at the time, they may not be essential in the larger scheme of things.

    I think people got the point, but some of the older ladies in the ward were still surprised to see the old Gleaner’s bandalo and loved sharing their memories. We can knock the kitschiness of things like that, but we can’t discount the long-lasting effect these tokens can have on a developing young person.

  93. Rigel Hawthorne says:

    I remember mine. It used to hang on the wall by my bed and I used to gaze at those round pictures with a pseudo 3d effect caused by the curved glass. I also had a targeteer flag with ribbons.

    My wife has a memento blanket from her childhood that is pretty amazing. Her father worked at the distribution center and came home one day with boxes of targeteer flags that were being dumped because the program had been phased out. In a testament to frugality, her mother stitched the flags together and made blankets for each of the children. The circular emblems washed off after use, but the slightly faded red satin squares are recognizable.

  94. Alf O'Mega says:

    Thanks for the photos, John. I lost my mid-seventies-vintage banner long ago. A couple of the photos you posted make it clear that the Church must have produced at least two versions of the banner. Notice that the tenth article has the bracketed “New Jerusalem” interpolation that (I believe) originated with the 1981 triple combination. When I was memorizing articles of faith, we still had the previous version. Same with the sixth: “viz.” was still the adverb of record on my banner.

    I remember acquiring a new level of obnoxiousness when I learned how to pronounce paradisiacal. I still feel a slightly condescending cringe whenever I hear it pronounced “par-a-DICE-i-cal.” (Interesting: upon using the Google spell checker just now, it flagged paradisiacal and suggested paradisaical, a variant I had not been aware of. I’m sticking with the one I learned first.)

  95. Alf O'Mega says:

    Sorry about the formatting codes. I’ll have to see if I can think in plain text in the future.

  96. Alf O'Mega says:

    Which makes no sense now that the formatting does appear. I’ll just be mumbling to myself down here at the bottom of the thread.

  97. John Hamer says:

    Sorry, Alf (95-96) — I fixed your codes.

    Interesting (94). I was taught to pronounce it “pear-ah-die-SAY-i-cal.” Were you taught to pronounce it that way, or “pear-ah-DIE-see-ah-cal”?

  98. Alf O'Mega says:

    C. “pear-ah-di-SIGH-i-cal” It’s the first pronunciation in Merriam-Webster’s.

  99. John Hamer says:

    Huh. Interesting. If I’m translating the OED right, they have: “parr-eh-DISS-say-ik-el.” Of course, they’re Brits.

    Anyway, I’m totally on board with you and cringing on the “par-a-DICE-i-cal” icicle/popstick pronunciation.

  100. BCC: Where parr-eh-DISS-say-ik-el Happens

  101. Does anyone want to sell their old “Bandio”?

    * either the Blazer or Merrie Miss version.

    I actually just need the 13 article of faith “emblems”. I just have a partial collection of the Article of Faith “emblems” and would love to have the full set.

    If you have a set of emblems you wouldn’t mind parting with, email me at our_other_account “at” hotmail.com

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