“If there are faults they are the mistakes of men”: On fallibly reading fallible scriptures

pinnochio

We’re a Church with a canon. An agreed-upon book of authoritative stories, teachings, commandments. Sometimes I feel canon claustrophobia, other times I sense a liberating opportunity. I’ve gone through periods when I put my scripture study on hold. Sometimes an excerpt of scripture off-ends me when I’m simply seeking stability. A curious chapter in John describes such a moment:

“Then Jesus said to them, ‘Verily, verily, I say to you, Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life; and I’ll raise them up at the last day.’ From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him” (John 6:53-54, 66).


Jesus’s words proved a scandal, an obstruction, an offense, blocking the path. Perhaps the disciples’ sin here wasn’t their offense, but their decision to “walk no more with him.” At this point we can all likely agree that 1) Scripture sometimes offends, and 2) Offense does not, itself, signal the lack of truth or goodness. If we refuse to engage with texts that are initially difficult, I think we’ll fail to allow scripture to move us; we become the scandal, the obstacle, the unmoved mover. I can make a number of interpretive moves when faced with an offense. I can read Jesus’s words here figuratively as though he’s not demanding literal cannibalism.

While I embrace this charitable approach to scripture in principle, it’s more difficult for me in application. The question is: To what extent am I obligated or allowed to creatively re-read a text, to shear it of an original context, to rework it from its self-evident (to the extent that such a thing is possible) meaning? Aren’t I slipping into a different form of inerrantism when I try to rehabilitate any little thing based on its being present in a certain collection of books?

To complicate matters, the Book of Mormon’s title page throws us for a loop:

“And now, if there are faults they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God…”

This clause is like Pinocchio’s paradox. It tells me it contains faults, but how do I know that statement itself isn’t a fault? Regardless of how one solves that puzzle, here and in other places the BoM allows for the possibility of its own fallibility. It also provides opportunities to recognize possible faults. Consider the verse Kristine referred to yesterday, another instance where cannibalism receives attention. In Moroni 9 certain nameless women are depicted as being “deprived” of their “virtue and chastity” through rape. At the heart of Kristine’s concern is her objection to the idea that such a violent act can deprive someone else of their virtue or chastity, with reference to virginity, or at least the restriction of sexual intercourse to the bonds of legal marriage. (This is what Elizabeth Smart so forcefully rejected this week.)

So what do I do? This scripture is an offense that can be approached in a variety of ways. Some wish to defend a “plain reading” of the text and accept its claims as inspired, given that it appears in an inspired translation from a prophet. Again, the title page’s warning can be invoked. I’m skeptical of surface readings of our scriptures which assume too much context from the outset. The BoM culture, its ancient setting, is at a significant remove from us, and although we have no bullet-proof cultural setting for it, engagement with ancient cultures can result in text-morphing discoveries. At the same time, the BoM text has since been filtered through a nineteenth-century translation process, born again into a culture that also has become largely foreign to us today. So I might ask what the words referred to in Webster’s 1828 dictionary. Then again, the text is re-purposed through the contemporary Church’s lens of  “chastity,”  a concept that hasn’t been static over time.

Whose context is the proper one here? This gets to the heart of debates about proper BoM interpretation. Some may argue that ancient studies provide the best hope for understanding the context of the scriptures. The implication is that originalist readings thus have some sort of authority over present-day readers, that we must maintain fidelity to the original sense of the text. But even Nephi didn’t really do that with Isaiah. The interpretive options for Moroni 9:9 multiply, but I don’t feel replenished yet. If there be faults, they be the mistakes of men. I’m instructed not to condemn the things of God, but the mistakes of men are left to fend for themselves.

Two points left unresolved:

  • If there is no necessary “self-evident” reading, how can I avoid lapsing into textual anarchy or falling under the bogeyman of relativism?
  • How do I know I’m not simply using that “faults of men” escape hatch to avoid something I otherwise should engage with which offends me?

I have no satisfactory response to these questions. For now I think the best option is to keep directly engaging the text together, to acknowledge my feelings about it. Skipping over the verse on chastity, for example, leaves it in the path where others may stumble. We as readers are always faced with a choice and a chore, especially in cases where scripture says something we find offensive. On the one hand, the escape hatch of fallible scripture can become a way of escaping from calls to repentance. On the other hand, I think it can be understood as one of the most explicit and intriguing calls to repent—one of the best signals for the necessity of repentance—in all of scripture.

Even our holy book needs redemption.

Comments

  1. Very nicely said, Blair.

    Regarding your final two unresolved points, I think they are necessarily unresolved: we must learn and grow for ourselves — with the aid of the Holy Ghost, always asking, seeking, knocking — and take responsibility for our own actions, thoughts, words, and judgments. Otherwise we become prideful, irresponsible, or closed off….

  2. There are no easy answers. For me personally parsing and chewing and slowly digesting and relying on the spirit and my brain and heart to help me discern whether or not what I’ve come up with and consumed at a particular sitting constituted a wholesome meal is key. The verses in Moroni 9 are not necessarily good to the taste but I feel like they have some purpose, like bitter herbs perhaps, but put together in certain preparations can be downright dangerous even spirituality deadly.

  3. I see no reason to think that in writing Moroni 9:9, Mormon was indeed influenced by incorrect cultural perspectives about rape (i.e. that the victim of rape has thereby become unchaste and lost her virtue) and included that in the text.

    The fact that many Mormons, I think, would indeed take exception to looking at Mormon this way, is a real problem. We simply cannot countenance someone with a leadership calling (like Mormon apparently was in fulfilling the role of both a spiritual and military leader) actually being fallible and saying incorrect things, even in the context of their “teachings”. It is a real cultural weakness from which we are suffering a great deal and which is, I believe, a major contributing factor to the problem of previously fully committed Latter-day Saints leaving the Church.

  4. Oops, messed that up. I meant to say “I see no reason to think that in writing Moroni 9:9, Mormon was NOT indeed influenced. . . .” In other words, I think it should be self-evident that he was influenced by his own culture and there is no reason we should assume that his cultural context was prescriptively important for us today. The Book of Mormon itself includes the disclaimers that Blair highlights, but we usually discount those entirely, don’t we?

  5. In the right light and with the right perspective they can add insight even just to prick or hearts to the plight of those innocent who are destroyed when hearts grow cold and rebellion, depravity, violence and selfishness reign. Served up to our children as a lesson on sexual purity, not good for them or us at all. Just plain rot and poison served that way.

  6. Kim Berkey says:

    I’m with Robert. I suspect part of the answer can be found in Ether 12. Moroni says, “I fear lest the Gentiles shall mock at our words,” to which the Lord responds, “my grace is sufficient … that they shall take no advantage of your weakness” (Ether 12:25-26). Properly reading errant scripture means making sure we don’t take advantage of its faults. On the one hand, we must never let errant scripture justify incorrect doctrine; on the other, we must never allow the fact of its errancy to permit dismissiveness.

    In my personal experience, reading scripture is a dialectic. I’m constantly finding myself on either end of the spectrum–justification or dismissal–and through continuing to read (“_always_ asking, seeking, knocking,” as Robert says) I am called into question enough to humble myself and watch the weak things be made strong. It’s no mistake that this question, for Ether 12, is woven together with faith, hope, and charity.

  7. Steve Smith says:

    I am getting the sense that you want the standard works to be nearly infallible, and that when there are times that we find error, we should either repent of our beliefs or try to reconcile the scripture to fit either our set of current beliefs or what we believe the church standard to be. You didn’t, however, mention the option of simply disagreeing with the passage of scripture and finding your beliefs, or the prevailing beliefs of the LDS church or some other group, to be more enlightened. For instance in Matthew 5:32 Jesus says “whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.” That passage seems clear to me, but the LDS church does not regard the remarriage of divorced women to be wrong, let alone on par with adultery. Of course in some cultures, such as the prevailing culture in a significant part of Iranian society, it is believed sinful for a divorced woman to remarry. Marrying a divorced woman was also taboo in much of Jewish culture during Jesus’ time. But does that something is right simply because it is a cultural trend of a given time and place? I personally disagree with Jesus in this regard and believe that societies that do not condemn the remarriage of divorced women to be more enlightened.

  8. BHodges says:

    Steve: You didn’t, however, mention the option of simply disagreeing with the passage of scripture and finding your beliefs, or the prevailing beliefs of the LDS church or some other group, to be more enlightened.

    I believed the John 6 example did that. Many Catholics read this as a passage about transubstantiation whereas Mormons collectively read it as being symbolic.

    john f.: ha, good save. I was confused for a second.
    Dovie: I like the idea of herbs that could be dangerous.
    Robert, Kim, that’s my general sense, too.

  9. Steve Smith says:

    The John 6 example and Matthew 5:32 are completely different. In John 6, it wasn’t explicitly stated that Jesus was speaking figuratively, but it could be justifiably implied. In Matthew 5:32, the meaning appears quite clear; and would require a great deal more effort to reconcile it with current LDS beliefs and practices (i.e. we would have to make the claim that Jesus meant something else by divorce than how we interpret it today, or we would have to establish that Jesus was referring to some cultural practice of the time that we could comfortably declare wrong based on the LDS church’s current standards). But to the average reader, the passage, “whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery” is quite clear and the reader would be much harder pressed to interpret the passage as figurative, given its context, than the passage in John 6.

  10. TheMeanGuy says:

    I don’t think Moroni 9:9 suggests that women who are raped are not virtuous. To interpret it that way is to commit the informal fallacy of equivocation.

    More generally, I think a good rule of thumb with regards to scriptures and Church teaching is that, if something is taught repeatedly, over a long period of time, with a great deal of clarity, and from multiple prophets, then it has a high probability of being true. If something in the scriptures is ambiguous, sort-of “one-off” (e.g., the reference to herbs having medicinal qualities in the BOM), and not commonly taught, then conclusions need to be drawn more carefully or not at all.

    I don’t know why this presents a problem to some people.

  11. g.wesley says:

    “Even our holy book needs redemption.”

    Nice.

  12. Sadly, the premise of Moroni 9:9 was repeated by President Kimball in his 1969 book, The Miracle of Forgiveness, when he wrote, “Also far-reaching is the effect of loss of chastity. Once given or taken or stolen it can never be regained. Even in forced contact such as rape or incest, the injured one is greatly outraged. If she has not cooperated and contributed to the foul deed, she is of course in a more favorable position. There is no condemnation where there is absolutely no voluntary participation. It is better to die in defending one’s virtue than to live having lost it without a struggle.”

    The premise that one has lost one’s virtue during a rape has broken the heart of many rape survivors in the Church. I know.

    Elizabeth Smart’s comments at a Johns Hopkins University panel last week when she explained one of the factors deterring her from escaping her attacker should be carefully reviewed by the Church leaders and curriculum department, particularly at it relates to the current YW curriuculum.. Elizabeth said, “I remember in school one time, I had a teacher who was talking about abstinence,” Smart told the panel. “And she said, ‘Imagine you’re a stick of gum. When you engage in sex, that’s like getting chewed. And if you do that lots of times, you’re going to become an old piece of gum, and who is going to want you after that?’ Well, that’s terrible. No one should ever say that. But for me, I thought, ‘I’m that chewed-up piece of gum.’ Nobody re-chews a piece of gum. You throw it away. And that’s how easy it is to feel you no longer have worth. Your life no longer has value.”

  13. BHodges says:

    Steve: “The John 6 example and Matthew 5:32 are completely different. In John 6, it wasn’t explicitly stated that Jesus was speaking figuratively, but it could be justifiably implied.”

    I know Catholics who would beg to differ. Regardless, I didn’t intend to give the impression that I wish for infallible scriptures, as you said earlier. I don’t have a problem with the potential of discovering that any particular scriptural claim is less binding on us in the present than it was to an original audience or in an original context. My point is that such readings are, in fact, possible, but that using context-bounded interpretations as a potential escape hatch can also be problematic.

    TheMeanGuy: “I don’t think Moroni 9:9 suggests that women who are raped are not virtuous.

    That’s fine. I do, and others do as well. It says the women were “deprived” of their “chastity” and “virtue,” and while it doesn’t mention specific things like biological terminology we see that the text is being used that way in the recent YW’s materials. You’re simply approaching it, as I said in the post, with different interpretive lenses than the folks who wrote the curriculum. So we haven’t solved the problem the post is designed to call attention to.

    To interpret it that way is to commit the informal fallacy of equivocation.

    Speaking of fallacies, there has to be a name for the idea that if something is repeated enough over time it ought to be taken more seriously. Like a fallacy ad antiquitatem or something along those lines. Still, we’d have to first establish that our readings should always be free of logical fallacies, or that scriptures advance logical claims.

  14. TheMeanGuy says:

    @ BHodges: I think the fallacy of arguing that something is true because it has been repeated is the argumentum ad nauseam fallacy.

    In any case, 97% of the people who interpret Moroni 9:9 to mean that rape victims are not virtuous (i.e., do not have high standards), rather than not virtuous (i.e., are not virgins) write blogs. Take it for what it is.

    @ Chris: Yeah, nobody wants to be raped.

  15. BHodges says:

    TheMeanGuy, they also apparently write curriculum material and speak in General Conference.

  16. There’s no other way to interpret Moroni 9:9. It doesn’t just say “virtue,” in explicitly says “chastity.” Mormon is saying that the women who were raped were robbed of their chastity.

    In our day and age, many of us (including in the Church) believe that a woman has not been unchaste by being raped.

    And with our new tendency to use “virtue” as a synonymn of “chastity,” there is the double risk of Moroni 9:9 to be used as a prooftext to teach girls to be chaste, which is how it is used the the personal progress booklet and in the recent General Conference.

  17. TheMeanGuy says:

    @John F., I see what you are saying, but while chastity can mean “pure, decent, and modest”, it also means “not having experienced sexual intercourse, virginal.” By the first definition chaste women remain chaste after rape. By the second, they are not.

    The fallacy of equivocation here is:

    1) Chaste and virtuous women are pure, clean and decent.
    2) Rape victims are deprived of virtue.
    3) Rape victims are therefore not pure, clean, or decent.

    The logic would be fine if the words “chaste” and “virtuous” had one meaning. But they don’t, so it isn’t. This is not to say that some people, like small children, don’t feel persuaded by the above line of reasoning. But the reasoning is still poor.

    It’s like arguing

    1) Exciting novels are rare.
    2) Rare books are expensive.
    3) Exciting novels are expensive.

    The above reasoning would be fine if “rare” always meant the same thing. It doesn’t.

    I mean, c’mon guys, this is slow pitch.

    @ BHodges: Um… no.

  18. It seems like you are equivocating. I’m trying to understand your efforts to rehabilitate Moroni 9:9. I guess I’m a slow pitch kind of guy because the verse is clear in what it means. I think you also know that in that verse Mormon is saying that women who have been raped have been robbed of chastity and virtue, a perspective at odds with our view today that women who have been raped are not thereby unchaste or have lost their virtue.

    But to the extent there’s mileage to be obtained by rehabilitating Moroni 9:9 for use in YW booklets teaching young women to be chaste or General Conference talks for the same purpose, you’ve done about as much as can be done.

  19. Kristine says:

    It’s gladdening that almost everyone sees the need to contextualize and interpret Mormon’s words as meaning something slightly different than what they actually say. That is in keeping with the hermeneutic of charity, or, in Kim’s elegant formulation, the need to remember that “properly reading errant scripture means making sure we don’t take advantage of its faults.” I don’t think ANYONE is arguing that we should throw this verse, or this story, out of the canon, or that it is terribly difficult to give enough historical context to make clear the principle that people aren’t less virtuous if they are molested or abused or raped. But, as the example given above from “The Miracle of Forgiveness” shows, this is a doctrinal understanding that has evolved over time, as doctrinal understandings should–line upon line and precept upon precept–it is not mystically inherent in the text, and there are still words on a page that have to be initially confronted with the basic skills of syntactic reasoning before we can do the more nuanced reading that is necessary to glean correct doctrine from it.

    That is all well and good for grownups. But the 14-year-old who hasn’t yet found the courage to tell anyone that she has been abused by her father cannot be expected to have mastered the skill of reading the scriptures that way, and she may be deeply, deeply wounded by this text, ESPECIALLY if she is assigned to read it alone as part of the Personal Progress program, rather than in a Sunday lesson with a teacher whose manual performs the kind of reading we’ve been discussing. That is why we need to take it out of the Personal Progress manual. I’m totally down with including it in the lesson manual–Mormon’s heartbreak is, I think, a profound example of prophetic humility and empathy, and his despair is palpable in these verses. I want my daughter to read them and be moved by them, as I am. I do not want her to encounter them alone. I especially don’t want the 1 in 4 of her friends who, statistically, is likely to have been sexually abused before she reads this text for the first time, to encounter it without loving arms around her shoulders to help her feel Mormon’s love for those girls and women, instead of being confused by his idiom that differs from our current usage.

  20. AaronM says:

    MeanGuy:
    …but, the meaning of “rare” is actually quite close in your two examples. Shouldn’t it be:
    1) Rare meat is undercooked.
    2) Exciting novels are rare.
    3) Exciting novels are undercooked.

    BHodges, I appreciate your post, and am sometimes unsettled by my own tendency to dismiss or (I fear) creatively interpret some scripture. That said, I don’t see any easy way out, given that many scriptures have multiple plausible interpretations, and some of that other stuff is surely just wrong. I think I generally rely on two principles, hoping that they reduce my own error. The first is to judge against a core set of basic principles that are either immutable or only subject to slow, reluctant change: Agency, God’s love, don’t be a cannibal, and other stuff like that. If an interpretation violates one of those, then it’s out, or least flagged as highly dubious. The second is to assess any passage not in isolation, but in context and within the framework of the whole canon. Any interpretation is the based on its overall consistency.

    Regarding the context of Moroni 9:9, I don’t read this as text delivered from on high to a prophet for inclusion in a sacred text. I see a letter from a father to his son, describing a scene that was unimaginably horrible in so many ways – the very worst of human capacity for evil. One part of that “grievous” scene was the systematic rape of women captives, which he described as “depriving them of…chastity and virtue.” I don’t know why he used those words. I don’t know if it reflected his culturally-based understanding of women’s value, or a similar personal view, or if it just reflects his use of language. But I *know* that a rape victim has not lost value in the sight of God, so either (1) Mormon is expressing a messed-up and incorrect view, or (2) the words he used signified only virginity, with no connection to purity or value. I don’t know which it is, and I don’t see any basis for distinguishing with any confidence. In either case, it’s a pretty appalling verse to use to teach virtue today, given the obvious likelihood of causing misunderstanding and doing serious damage.

  21. DavidF says:

    TheMeanGuy,

    I think you’re actually making an equivocation error spanning a couple centuries of changes to word meaning..

    In 1830 century America, virtue could mean something unrelated to sexuality: power (corresponding to it’s more traditional form). Chastity, however, has always been tied to the notion of a woman’s worth. So using 1830 definitions leaves us with an interpretation that makes rape victims have lessened worth.

    Today, virtue has morphed to mean chastity (e.g. Preach My Gospel) while chastity has picked up an additional, alternative meaning, which you mentioned. We now say that a raped victim is still chaste. But this is an entirely modern recasting of what it means to be chaste. And even if we use this new, alternative definition for this scripture, we have to keep in mind that virtue now corresponds to the traditional meaning of chastity. The only way you can interpret this scripture as not talking about a woman’s worth is by using a traditional definition for virtue, and a modern alternative definition of chastity simultaneously, OR by using the modern, alternative definition for chastity and by forcing that same meaning on virtue. I don’t think that either of those paths are a good way out of a tough problem.

    It’s possible that Moroni meant this modern, alternative definition, but we can’t possibly know. Our best guides are the 1828 dictionary (which is ambiguous on this entry), and the words of modern prophets (which are somewhat disturbing on this topic).

  22. Excellent post.

    There are mistakes of men in our scriptures, including the Book of Mormon. It says so, explicitly. It’s not more complicated than that for me – but, as the OP says, it’s understanding personally what those mistakes are and how to balance seeing mistakes and not over-seeing mistakes that is harder.

    I believe “we claim the privilege of worshiping God according to the dictates of our own conscience” includes how we make those choices and build our understandings of scripture. I interpret many verses and passages differently than lots of other people do (inside and outside the LDS Church) – and I’m totally fine with that difference, for myself and for others. Accepting not just the existence but also the importance of that difference brings me peace among the differences.

  23. I like the Michael Hicks’s method. He decided to adapt each scripture of the BoM into language he could relate to. Much of this adaptation is poetic. His version of Moroni 9:9: “The women have headed out, scattering in search of food. We don’t know how many haven’t starved to death or been caught and made into sexual slaves or, indeed, been eaten themselves.”

  24. Mormon relativism doesn’t often play well, but I really find it obtuse when people claim there is *only* one way to interpret something, or even one *obvious* way, especially something so potentially poignant as scripture. I don’t find Mormon’s language to necessarily align with MoF, but I can see how some do and I don’t claim they’re intentionally misreading or just stupid for doing so. I hope they can offer the same to me. The real issue here is not hermeneutic, but pedagogical. Should this verse, given the current milieu, be used as it is in the youth curriculum? If it is used, a great deal of scaffolding is needed, which doesn’t appear to be present. Some claim we should therefore omit it, while others claim we should supply the scaffolding. Both arguments have merit, but they can only properly be argued as pedagogical questions and this framework seems to me to have been missing from components of the, um, conversation.

    As far as the OP, I have long been interested in this question as it regards Wilford Woodruff’s argument that God will not permit the head of the Church to lead us astray. A version of Pinocchio’s paradox seems to apply there as well, but as it is framed as a negation of the title page claim, the resolution is not deducible by a straightforward, strict application of logic, unfortunately. When I am offended by scripture, I find there is value in continuing to engage from time to time so that either I gain new perspective or I am reminded of the cause of offense. Both can be valuable, and both can be in error. C’est la vie.

  25. AaronM says:

    Brian,
    I agree that omission and scaffolding construction both have merit in principle, but justification to scaffold has to extend beyond “The name of the principle I want to teach appears in this verse.” In this case, the starting point has to be: Rapists took away the most precious thing, namely chastity and virtue, and then they murdered their victims. Extracting something of value from that is an incredibly tall order, at best, and for what gain? The potential value has to be commensurate with the height of the scaffolding. And where there’s real likelihood to cause harm, as in this case, the figure of merit has to be stricter still.

  26. Hey I’m for any excuse to talk about paradoxes. :-D

  27. Or we omit when appropriate (YM and YW manuals) and scaffold when appropriate (adult classes and Seminary/Institute) – and, fundamentally, we stop insisting that the Book of Mormon be our version of the evangelicals’ inerrant Bible.

  28. kaphor says:

    Sis. Smart said she felt dirty and violated, as you’d expect anyone who’d been molested/raped, etc. I think that is exactly what those verses are implying. The tragic reality is she did indeed “lose” something as a result of the terrible deeds of others. That loss is reflected in how one feels afterwards. It’s certainly no fault of their own, but the intense feelings of disgust, worthlessness, violation, etc. are there not through cultural distillation of YW lessons, but as a matter of fact of human nature. Perhaps the lessons sometimes ham-fistedly give imperfect voice to the reality of those feelings. But surely we can point to (tragically) innumerable instances of rape or abuse where the victim did not go to YW and yet felt worthless afterwards.

    That feeling is a reflecting of what the scripture is trying to convey. Which is precisely why it’s so tragic. The actions of others or forcing that feeling of deep profound loss on others.

    What is also a matter of fact is the atonement can make that loss whole, can “return” the feelings of virtue and worth.

    To take a less offensive approach, I once was in a situation to ask someone to help another person. The person I asked to provide the help refused and was rather uncharitable about the situation. I had done nothing wrong. I was trying to facilitate discipleship among people I separately cared about. And yet, I was feeling a burden upon me that wasn’t there before. Through no fault of my own, I had depressive thoughts running through my mind as a result of this relatively trivial action. It was only through the application of the atonement (prayer, forgiving, seeking forgiveness at the subsequent hard feelings that developed in my heart, and finally serving someone in need who unexpectedly crossed my path) that I felt made whole again.

    Also, to counter balance the point of this post is the seemingly contradictory statement by Joseph Smith that, “I never told you I was perfect; but there is no error in the revelations which I have taught.” It’s a pretty major co-out to read doctrinal faults in the Book of Mormon. I view that statement as charitably saying, “God inspired this work, it’s true, but we’re not perfect and sometimes we don’t express ourselves best.” One of the most frustrating things in life is to come across people who will use an honest, humble admission of ones imperfections against them. The very humble people who have something valuable to teach recognize their limitations and admit them upfront and then get rejected by know-it-alls.

    Not saying this post is doing that!

  29. BHodges says:

    Special thanks to the folks who pointed out the problems with TheMeanGuy’s arguments. As Kristine observes, his desire to make the text say things it doesn’t say is a positive sign in that it shows his rejection of the view we seek to overcome.

  30. As a missionary, I gave someone Moroni 10:3-5 to read. They liked that and decided to read what was on the page opposite. Cannibalism, rape, and slaughter. They gave me the book back and left.

  31. John C, then they didn’t understand what the book is. Any ancient historical record that doesn’t include those things (and/or more like them) is selectively compiled.

    I know you know that, but I think it’s important to point out explicitly that the existence of those things in the Book of Mormon in no way is a bad thing. It’s how we use them in the lessons we teach that can be bad.

    Kaphor, nobody here has done that about which you complain in the last part of your last paragraph – and it is fact that we don’t teach the same things that the Book of Mormon teaches in some cases. The Book of Mormon claims openly that it is NOT inerrant; we shouldn’t hold it to a standard it doesn’t claim. Also, Joseph’s statement you quote says nothing about the Book of Mormon. It literally doesn’t address this post or the issue of this post in any way.

  32. davidferg says:

    Kaphor,

    There may not be a problem with the revelation, but that only means that Joseph Smith didn’t get in the way of translation (granting that Joseph did make some later revisions to correct mistakes and make some words clearer). This says nothing about the humanness of the Book of Mormon prophets.

    On a related tangent, I am highly skeptical of 1 Nephi. I believe Nephi wrote it; I just don’t believe he was always that righteous and his brothers were always that evil. Given the fact that he probably wrote most of it many years after the events took place, and that by this point he had gone to war with his brothers’ people in the Americas, I’d dare say there was a fair amount of bias that colored his autobiography.

  33. Chris Kimball says:

    I want to underline something Kristine said above (because I started out disagreeing and then read twice and so the charitable approach is to voice my agreement) — I think this discussion is appropriate and even important for 14-15-16 year young men and women. Not the proof-texted one-liner but the discussion about how to read and the possibility of human error and perspective and language. They can handle it and they need it and they will probably find it interesting and engaging.
    Quibble: in my short experience, some parents will be disturbed and may complain, when their teenagers come home from Church with a ‘we talked about errors in the Book of Mormon’ line. You can bet that’s how it will be reported.

  34. AaronM,
    I agree with you on the pedagogical point. The scaffolding we could provide would likely prove insufficient, or at the very least it would require more than it offers when other verses are available which require less scaffolding. The neat thing is that we can come to that same pedagogical conclusion even when/if we disagree on the “correct” interpretation of the scripture. The framework is important.

  35. Cheryl McGuire says:

    Blair,
    I just want to say thank you for this post. It is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. I appreciate your voice adding to Kristine’s and others on the dangers of how we read Moroni 9 and other scriptural texts.

    In answer to your questions at the end of the post, I am finding James Faulconer’s slow, close reading to be one way to explore scriptural texts in somewhat non-prejudicial ways. It opens my mind and soul to new understandings that I think do not always come from myself. While one lifetime is not enough to read all of scripture this way, even a little discipline in this area makes a difference.

    Cheryl

  36. TheMeanGuy says:

    @AaronM: Yes, the meaning of “rare” in my example involving books is extremely close in parts one and two, nevertheless the conclusion in 3 is unwarranted. I think your example makes the fallacy even more absurd and the conclusion even less warranted. I think this makes the exposition of the fallacy more clear, but I think it is worth noting that you need to only slightly equivocate on a word to make the fallacy.

    To those who think Moroni 9:9 says that women who are raped have no value, critique this:

    1) People who are innocent are not guilty of a crime.
    2) Elizabeth Smart was robbed of her innocence.
    3) Elizabeth Smart is guilty of a crime.

    I would characterize points 1 and 2 as “true”, though I think the conclusion in 3 is nevertheless faulty. I’m not saying 3 is false – maybe Elizabeth is guilty of something – but it is not true based on points 1 and 2 which simiply equivocate between two definitions of one word. It’s a lot like:

    1) Women who are raped are robbed of their chastity and virtue
    2) Chaste and virtuous women have high moral standards
    3) Women who are raped do not have high moral standards

    @DavidF: Thanks for pointing out that words change in their usage over time. I would also like to add that they have multiple meanings (the more relevant issue here). The 1828 edition of Webster’s dictionary includes three definitions of the word chaste. They include 1) free from all unlawful commerce of sexes, and 2) free from obscenity.

    Using the 1828 definitions to equivocate, the fallacy could be:

    1) Women who are raped are not chaste (“true” according to definition 1 above)
    2) Women who are chaste are not obscene (“true” according to definition 2 above)
    3) Women who are raped are obscene

    Again, the conclusion in 3 is not warranted. It might be true, but not on the basis of points 1 and 2 which do not appeal to the same definition of the word “chaste”.

    Moving back to Moroni 9:9, it’s entirely possible that Moroni *did* intend to say that women who are raped are not righteous or morally degenerate. A lot of ancient (and some modern) cultures look at it that way. But it’s far more likely he was just saying they were raped. Such an interpretation makes that verse somewhat benign, and we might want to sauce it up a little bit in a forum like this. But I think insisting on a salacious interpretation of that verse is unwarranted.

  37. TheMeanGuy: I don’t think the issue with Moroni 9:9 is whether Moroni (actually to be precise, it’s Mormon speaking in Moroni 9) intended to say that rape victims are not “virtuous.” The issue is that the words in that verse, which state (whether Mormon intended it or not) that rape victims had been deprived of virtue, when used in a discussion about the importance of maintaining virtue (which in the context of that discussion is not much more than a synonym for chastity), unmistakable says: if you get raped you no longer have “virtue.” I agree with you that it’s more likely that Mormon was saying that they were raped (albeit through a euphemism that, at least in modern English, is unnecessary and rather clumsy) rather than making a statement about their eternal worth or “virtue” in that sense. At least, that’s the charitable reading that I prefer.

    But if that’s the case, if “chastity and virtue” in Moroni 9:9 only means physiological virginity, not spiritual chastity or “virtue,” in the sense of spiritual worth, then what in the world is it doing in a discussion about “virtue” in that sense? It comes down to this: the problem is that the “equivocation fallacy” you describe is one that is made by the committee that wrote the curriculum, among others, with the result that it is teaching false doctrine.

    Really, my take on it is that the perhaps inadvertent statement that rape victims no longer have “virtue” and its disastrous effects is an unintentional cautionary tale about the pitfall of sexual euphemism. I similarly take issue with the reduction of the term “immoral” to nothing more than “sexually forbidden.” Immorality is obviously about a lot more than sex, but reading some of the old chastity lessons you wouldn’t know that. It’s better to say what we mean and mean what we say when talking about sex than to traffic in euphemism and entendre. You know, “I glory in plainness,” and all that. Maybe that’s the real “mistake of men” here: Instead of using plainness, as his forefather Nephi advocated, Moroni used euphemism, which may have been fine in a letter to his son, who presumably understand what he meant, but when put into a book for a larger audience, translated into modern English, and used in a discussion to young girls about the importance of maintaining “virtue” (i.e. sexual purity), the euphemism inadvertently makes a statement that, if taken literally, (and using “virtue” as it is used in the context of the surrounding discussion, rather than assign it a different definition based on our conjecture about what Mormon really intended to say) is false, and not only false, but false and also very damaging.

    At least we can all agree, as Kristine pointed out, that verse’s statement (intentional or not) that rape victims have lost their “chastity and virtue” is not literally true, as those words are used in our current discussions of sexual purity, and can be true only if we use some other definition.

  38. Angela C says:

    Brian: “Wilford Woodruff’s argument that God will not permit the head of the Church to lead us astray.” The only way this statement works, IMO, is if you add that simply following the head of the Church will also not lead us to God. Meaning, following man isn’t the right path.

    Ray: “we stop insisting that the Book of Mormon be our version of the evangelicals’ inerrant Bible.” I couldn’t agree more. There is a huge problem with Article of Faith 8: “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.” It doesn’t say “as far as it is translated correctly on the BOM, implying that the BOM is the inerrant word of God because it wasn’t handed down through multiple interpreters (well, abridgers, etc. were admitted). The fundamental problem is that God has yet to write a book.

    Holy books are always written / revealed / interpreted / translated / abridged / correlated / canonized / etc. by human beings. So leaders are just the ones whose interpretations are given more weight by the trust placed in their office. And yet, they are still the arm of flesh. I find it incredibly difficult at times to see the input of God behind all the human interpretation clouding the waters. Sometimes I see this as the words of inspired people rather than the words of God as recorded by inspired people.

  39. Observer says:

    One of my favorite examples of the fallibility of the Book of Mormon comes in Alma 24:19:

    “…and thus we see that they buried their weapons of peace, or they buried the weapons of war, for peace.”

    https://www.lds.org/scriptures/bofm/alma/24.19?lang=eng

    Reading this, I can just imagine Mormon writing on the Gold Plates, getting near to the bottom of a plate, and accidentally writing “peace” when he meant to write “war”. Since you can’t exactly pull out a bottle of “gold out” to remove a mistake like that, and it would be time consuming to redo the entire plate, what do you do? It appears he essentially decided to say “forget what I just said, this is what I really meant”.

    To me, little fallibilities like these make the book more powerful. It shows that the people who wrote it were real human beings, who make mistakes and misspeak just like the rest of us, and that’s OK. The Lord can still work with them to accomplish His will.

  40. TheMeanGuy says:

    @JKC, I agree that using the phrase “she was robbed of her chastity and virtue” defies common modern usage of those terms. I don’t like “she was robbed of her innocence” either, though the latter phrase is less likely to be misunderstood as “she was raped, therefore she is guilty.”

    I agree with your third paragraph. However, while the expression used in Moroni 9:9 to describe rape is archaic, I don’t think it is that hard to understand what is being said. Nevertheless, Moroni 9:9 is probably not the best verse to use in making the case for living a chaste and virtuous life. It’s like “don’t have sex before you are married, here’s a verse where the Nephite’s raped and murdered Lamanite women, and that was really bad, see what we mean?”

    Um… Wha? I guess the point is that rape is worse than other infractions because sex is important? I dunno.

    I would only take issue with your statement that rape victims have not literally lost their “chastity and virtue.” That depends upon how you define “chastity and virtue.” If they mean “virginity” then, yes, rape victims who were previously virgins have literally lost their “chastity and virtue.”

    It’s a tragedy that the language is defined in such a way that rape victims may think that being robbed of their “chastity and virtue” or “innocence” means they are therefore neither “chaste and virtuous” or “innocent” but I didn’t invent the language, I just live with it.

  41. Why do we need to persist in the idea that what is written in Moroni 9:9 means rape? It doesn’t say rape in the scripture, we just conflate “depriving them of that which was most dear and precious above all things, which is chastity and virtue” with rape, because that’s the worst thing we can think of happening to a woman. To me, there are worse things, like imprisoning a woman and convincing her she loves her captors enough to lose their own chastity and virtue by their own actions, which blame would be laid on their captors, not the women themselves.

    We know that rape victims are not deprived of chastity and virtue, so why do we insist that this is what this means? This conflation has been cultural over the past 50 years, why re-inforce what we know to be wrong, rather than try and fix what we’ve broken? The excuse that “everyone” believes it to be that way doesnt work – the scripture about marrying and being given in marriage “everyone” takes to mean there wont be marriage in heaven, which we, the distant minorty, do not accept.

  42. ShawnC says:

    A little bit of a different perspective perhaps. My understanding is that Joseph translated the lost 116 pages using the urim and thummim. After that was lost and when he got the plates back, history suggests that the rest of the “translation” was done via the seer stone, Joseph with his face in a hat. So no real “reading” of the plates, but actually reading the scripture as it was given of the Lord through what I would consider a “seer” process.

    The Lord also told Joseph after the BoM was complete that “it was good”. I take that as the Lord’s stamp of approval.

    If there was not “translating” actually taking place at that time, perhaps it is not a mistake of men other than the chance that Joseph transcribed it wrong. But if such mistakes were still made, why did the Lord put his stamp of approval on the book?

    This is in no way anti. Just something I have thought about from time to time.

    Anybody help me out?

  43. TheMeanGuy says:

    @Frank: Everyone interprets it that way. Maybe it does mean something else. I dunno.

    @ShwanC: The book was written by men who are imperfect and who have different viewpoints. For example, in the dream of the tree of life, Lehi focused on his family, and was concerned about the safety of his children above other details of the dream. Nephi, who had a similar dream, focused more on the details rather than family (e.g., he noticed the waters were filthy, something his father missed).

    This a typical young man/old man approach to things. At least it seems that way to me.

    I would characterize both recollections as “good”, even if they were imperfect in that both recollections were incomplete. I don’t interpret “good” to mean something like “perfect and complete in every way and so clearly written as to defy misinterpretation.”

    I guess my way of looking at the world is that everything is, more or less, a little screwed up. I’m OK with that, it doesn’t keep me up at night. The difficulties in the BOM are pretty minor, in my view.

  44. BlueJay says:

    Frank, I am seriously astonished that you keep promoting the idea that “depriving of chastity” means something other than rape. Seriously. These are soldiers. Do you really believe that just because its the BoM soldiers are less likely to “rape, pillage and plunder” as part of standard warfare than more modern people? And do you really think they would spend the time trying to convince the women to have sex with them, when they were just planning to torture and murder them anyhow, if they could just take it thus adding to their feeling of power over their victims? Your interpretation defies reasonable unde,rstanding of human behavior, which in times of war is traditionally not pretty. As Moroni 9 amply demonstrates.

  45. TheMeanGuy,

    I see what you are getting at, but I don’t think it stands on firm grounds. As you pointed out, one of the definitions for chastity is not obscene. So:
    “2) Women who are chaste are not obscene (“true” according to definition 2 above)”

    That may be a possible usage of chastity, and points to a possible equivocation, except that I can’t fathom how that definition would apply in Moroni 9:9. So I’m not sure this argument works. Even so, I suspect it ultimately comes down to a difference of opinion of what Mormon meant by chastity. And I guess we all agree with the general idea that this verse shouldn’t be used as it is being used right now in young women’s manuals.

  46. BlueJay – no, I don’t believe BoM soldiers are less likely to rape. This isn’t the only instance of Stockholm Syndrome in the BoM, and it’s the only way I can see that makes the idea of having virtue or chastity taken by someone else work. I don’t think they had to convinve the women to have sex with them, I think being in that situation changed those women in a manner for which blame is solely on those who took them prisoner. When the Lamanites found the Priests of Noah who had kidnapped their daughters, it was the daughters who pled for the lives of their captors.

    You’re saying all armies rape – why is there no mention of rape by the Lamanite army? Do you think kidnappers, who almost never leave their ransoms alive, wouldn’t take advantage of a woman doing what she felt would earn her another day? This wasn’t a description of a quick battle, it was a prolonged war, where both sidesdoing unspeakable atrocities with their prisoners.

  47. “why is there no mention of rape by the Lamanite army?”

    Because we don’t have their records – or statements of survivors? Lack of detail doesn’t mean events didn’t happen, especially in the absence of actual records. As a former History teacher, that is History 101.

    “Do you think kidnappers, who almost never leave their ransoms alive”

    Bad distortion of reality – way too broad and generalized. These weren’t “kidnappers” in the classic sense of that word; these were conquering armies, and conquering armies often rape and leave those raped alive. It’s a standard part of warfare historically.

  48. “Because we don’t have their records – or statements of survivors? Lack of detail doesn’t mean events didn’t happen, especially in the absence of actual records. As a former History teacher, that is History 101. ”
    There’s as little detail in what the Nephite army was doing as in what the Lamanite army was doing.

  49. “These weren’t “kidnappers” in the classic sense of that word; these were conquering armies, and conquering armies often rape and leave those raped alive.”
    Do we blame the women in the Jewish Concentration Camps who slept with their captors? Do we think that those convinced to do so were less likely to be killed off with the rest?

  50. davidferg says:

    Frank Pellet,

    Why is rape the most natural inference from Moroni 9:9? I think Moroni 9:10 helps here:

    And after they had done this thing, they did murder them in a most cruel manner, torturing their bodies even unto death; and after they have done this, they devour their flesh like unto wild beasts, because of the hardness of their hearts; and they do it for a token of bravery.

    Unless you think the torture and murder was an afterthought, Moroni 9:9 doesn’t make sense as an implied reference to kidnapping and ransom. Given the overall graphic description of events, I think that rape makes the most sense as to what Mormon is trying to convey.

  51. TheMeanGuy says:

    @DavidF: The issue people seem to have with this verse is 1) Mormon says women who are raped are deprived of chastity and virtue, 2) chastity and virtue can be defined as morally upright, decent, and the like, and so some have concluded (putting 1 and 2 together) that 3) Mormon says that women who are raped are morally depraved, i.e., they are not chaste or virtuous (because they were deprived of it, right?). This is not necessarily true, because those words don’t have only one definition.

    I am simply saying that Mormon probably meant something more like “the women were robbed of their innocence” meaning they were raped. I don’t think he meant that the women were raped, therefore they were not innocent. In short, I don’t think it is a contradiction to say “women who are robbed of their innocence are innocent.” And the apparent contradiction is actually not a contradiction at all.

    But I agree that it is not a good verse to use to promote chastity and virtue (as we commonly use the word, i.e., “morally upright” or similar). In line with recent comments by Elizabeth Smart, it can be tragically misunderstood. Also, it is kind of like using a verse that decries thievery to support the idea of private property. It’s a little abstract, though I understand the sentiment and know what is meant.

  52. davidfrieg,
    Kidnapping was a poor match, as it tends to be isolated, rather than as large groups. A better example would be the concentration camps of WWII. The intent was murder, but there was time for other things to happen. The war in Moroni wasn’t a single happening, it was a prolonged campaign, each side trying to outdo the other in atrocities. Being convinced you loved your captors, even if they still intended to kill you, is worse than rape (which isn’t mentioned anywhere, just inferred incorrectly).

  53. Okay, Frank brought up Nazi concentration camps… Can I invoke Godwin’s law and declare an end to that threadjack?

  54. BlueJay says:

    (Sorry- that Godwin’s Law one was me. Also, my apologies for bringing the discussion further off track- the original post was actually thought provoking. Thanks).

  55. Frank, we are talking past each other, and you are misrepresenting what I said, badly – and it’s not just the two of us. Bonnie is right; this is over.

  56. Sorry for one more, but this had to be said:

    “Being convinced you loved your captors”

    ?!?! That interpretation is next to impossible to get from those verses – or in the concentration camps. It. just. isn’t. there. It is completely irrelevant to this discussion, and it is highly offensive to read it into those verses and mention it in a comment that brings in concentration campus.

    So, let’s please drop it, since it’s gone too far already.

  57. Look, my point, just like in the OP, is ther we have two choices here.
    – The scripture is wrong
    – Our interpretation is wrong

    I prefer giving the scripture the benefit of the doubt, no matter what “everyone” says on the issue, so it must be our interpretation, equating it with rape, that is wrong.

    That’s all.

  58. TheMeanGuy says:

    @Ray, I think it’s highly offensive when people say they are highly offended so as to close off discussion. It’s kinda cheap.

  59. BHodges says:

    TheMeanGuy: “To those who think Moroni 9:9 says that women who are raped have no value,”

    Actually, the verse speaks specifically of women being “deprived” of a specific aspect of their lives, “virtue” and “chastity,” without specifically saying anything about zero value (although it can be argued that such a consideration was primary depending on the historical context assumed). I think TheMeanGuy’s main problem here is that he is misunderstanding the nature of the culpability as described in the scripture. I don’t think anyone here is claiming that the verse depicts an active, deliberate action on the part of the women in the verse. Rather, they have been “deprived” of something, they play a passive role where something is taken, not an active one where they “deserved” the assault, etc. I think I see what his objection is, it just doesn’t happen to object to anything I’ve actually claimed here.

  60. BHodges says:

    Or, as JKC excellently put it: “It comes down to this: the problem is that the “equivocation fallacy” you describe is one that is made by the committee that wrote the curriculum, among others, with the result that it is teaching false doctrine.”

  61. BHodges says:

    Frank asks: “We know that rape victims are not deprived of chastity and virtue, so why do we insist that this is what this means?”

    Exactly. That is a perfect question to send to the folks who wrote the YW materials Kristine referred to the other day, who missed this bit of common knowledge.

    Then in a stunning reaffirmation of the very problem he denies exists, Frank puts it this way: “I am simply saying that Mormon probably meant something more like “the women were robbed of their innocence” meaning they were raped.”

    Seriously? Ugh.

    Frank: “I prefer giving the scripture the benefit of the doubt, no matter what “everyone” says on the issue, so it must be our interpretation, equating it with rape, that is wrong.”

    There’s another option: the scripture and one’s interpretation of the scripture could be wrong. This is the category in which I place your attempt.

  62. TheMeanGuy says:

    @BHodges: I think we’re speaking past each other! My point is benign (I think). I guess what got me started on it was the thought that Moroni 9:9 is an odd example to illustrate the difficulty of interpreting scripture, because I don’t think it is a difficult scripture to interpret. Mormon is saying “Lamanite women were raped.”

    In an attempt to make it difficult to interpret, I think some of us are committing a fallacy of equivocation by saying something like 1) Moroni says these women lost their innocence, and 2) we know that people who are innocent are guilty of something, therefore this scripture is problematic because 3) Moroni is saying these women are guilty of something. <>

    The problem is that this is a dumb way to interpret that verse. So from where I sit, I still think this is a poor choice of a verse if you wish illustrate the difficulty of interpreting scripture.

  63. BHodges says:

    TheMeanGuy, your beef is with the folks who put the scripture in the “Virtue” section of the YW PP materials. You should take it up with them at this point, thanks.

  64. BHodges, I never said anything about innocence.

    For its use in the YM Personal Progress manual (and the recent GC talk), I see it as an attempt to reclaim this scripture, rather than reinforce the poor interpretation of rape, since everyone seems to agree that rape does not make anyone lose virtue or chastity.

    I don’t understand the logic. If you believe that it’s not possible for anyone to have their virtue or chastity lost because of rape, how does it follow that a scripture that says virtue and chastity were taken means rape?

  65. BlueJay says:

    Because, Frank, as was just pointed out in the original post, as Mormons, we don’t believe in infallible scriptures, but rather that they are written by very human men- in this case, a prophet who, in writing a letter to his son, used an unfortunate euphemism for rape which accidentally implies something which we don’t believe.

  66. Or that a prophet, being a man and subject to the cultural beliefs of his time, believed something we no longer believe.

    We recognize that reality in the Bible (both OT and NT), and we recognize it in our own modern prophets and apostles (since we don’t believe everything they believed – and since they didn’t agree with each other about everything at any point in our history). Why can’t we believe it about Book of Mormon prophets? We ought to be able to say about Mormon, as well:

    “He might or might not have believed it, but, even if he did, we don’t.”

  67. Ok, take the scripture part out of it. If someone were to write that virtue and chastity were taken from a person, why should we take that to mean rape, when we don’t believe that rape has any effect on virtue or chastity?

  68. and around and around we go

    Don’t worry, Steve. You don’t have to say it.

  69. BHodges says:

    The right question: If someone were to write that virtue and chastity were taken from a person VIA IMPLIED RAPE, why SHOULDN’T we take that to mean rape, even while we don’t believe that rape has any effect on virtue or chastity?

  70. Moroni 9:9 by itself is pretty problematic for rape and sexual abuse survivors because along with Miracle of Forgiveness, it has historically been use to blame rape victims who are alive after their rapes. After all, if you don’t fight to the death, your virginity/virtue must not have meant much. 20 years ago my bishop asked why I didn’t fight harder, and I mentor women and girls who have been asked the same question in the last 6 months. The day after I was raped, my bishop had me read Moroni 9:9 to him, as he explain that I had allowed my virtue to be stolen, and it would be a long road back to be worthy to take sacrament or hood a calling, but that I would never be valuable enough to marry a RM. (Full stop.)

    I think maybe the biggest problem is that we have two prophets, Moroni and Gordon B Hinkley, who have given us this pretty clear messages, and we do not have an equally clear denial or correction to their words. We don’t have scriptural examples of girls or women who have been raped, who are embraced by a loving society of saints, treated with even more love and care, so that they have an extra measure of love, who go on to marry great men, who together are partners and leaders in the church/gospel. If we had such scriptures, then we wouldn’t need to simply pick a scripture with the word Virtue, and just go with that. Our church needs those valient women, as examples for the 1 in 4 women and girls who didn’t “die fighting for their virtue.” We need to tell our daughters that they should do what they have to to stay alive, so they can go on to be amazing women!

  71. Frank are you trying to be difficult and contrarian for its own sake, on a topic that is extremely sensitive and all too real for many women, or are you finding yourself falling into that habit by accident?

  72. Cynthia – what I am trying to do it to redeem a scripture that has been put into a horrible use since Miracle of Forgiveness. Rather than abandon it to its fate, saying “everyone” believes it to be that way now, we need to remove this as a weapon against those who have been raped and abused.

  73. TheMeanGuy says:

    @BHodges: My beef is not with the folks who wrote the YW PP material because they are not falsely telling women that if they are raped they are therefore not chaste and virtuous. Neither does Moroni 9:9. At worst they are using a verse that is only tangentially related to the point they are trying to make and of all the things I have to worry about today, that is low on the list.

    I understand that you want to equivocate between two meanings of the words/phrase “chaste and virtuous” in order to create a bit of controversy, and to publicly hand-wring over the topic. Its fine theater.

    But when you tell LDS women that Moroni 9:9 says that if they are robbed of their chastity and virtue, it means they are not chaste and virtuous, then I think that is irresponsible. Or using modern language, if you tell women who were robbed of their innocence that they are therefore not innocent, your equivocation between the different meanings of those words in order to reach a false conclusion can have absolutely tragic consequences.

  74. it's a series of tubes says:

    20 years ago my bishop asked why I didn’t fight harder, and I mentor women and girls who have been asked the same question in the last 6 months. The day after I was raped, my bishop had me read Moroni 9:9 to him, as he explain that I had allowed my virtue to be stolen, and it would be a long road back to be worthy to take sacrament or hood a calling, but that I would never be valuable enough to marry a RM.

    Julia, every so often I am reminded that the portion of the Church I have experienced is so, so different from what others have experienced. I’m terribly sorry for what you went through. Thank you for sharing.

  75. FWIW, I’ve put together some of my own thoughts (and meta-thoughts) at the Feast blog here.

  76. Frank and TheMeanGuy, you’re done commenting on this thread. Please lay off so that I’m not forced to cut you out entirely from the blog of life.

  77. BHodges says:

    “At worst they are using a verse that is only tangentially related to the point they are trying to make and of all the things I have to worry about today, that is low on the list.”

    You’ve clearly failed to understand my arguments. I suggest moving on to your more important things.

  78. TheMeanGuy says:

    Sorry fellas, I wasn’t trying to offend you. I just like talking about stuff I think is important. You can cut me off the blog if you want.

  79. Melissa says:

    Am I the only one here that just thinks Joseph Smith was using a polite euphemism that would have been clearly understood in his time? I read a fair bit of early 19th century literature, and most folks in those days didn’t use the word “rape” in polite conversation. But “loss of virtue” would have been clearly understood as a euphemism for a girl having sex (or being raped) out of wedlock, and the “used goods” mentality towards women was even more common then than it is now.

  80. Thau, it’s a series of tubes. There are several things that I learned during that time. First, that I didn’t need anyone else to tell me whether Heavenly Mother and Heavenly Father loved me. While my bishop told me I lost my worth to Mormon boys/men, and in the end that did turn out to be true, I became much closer than to my Heavenly Parents.

    I also learned that having a calling does not mean that the person that has a calling to be a judge in Israel, does not mean that he *always* has the mantle. He can make mistakes, and even be an absolute jerk, but his mistakes as a man did not mean the gospel isn’t true. Several spiritual experiences at that time made me sure that the gospel was true, but it was years before I ever trusted a priesthood leader.

  81. RE: Moroni 9:9. So many questions can multiply, as you say in the OP.

    The easiest solution for me that is somehow comforting is that the people of that time had a set of social mores that weren’t perfectly aligned with the gospel. Viewing rape as the loss of virtue is tragic indeed.

    As I’ve pondered this scripture over the last several days, I developed an analogy in my mind r another way to interpret the verse in its context.

    Consider Samantha has a trust fund with hundreds of millions of dollars she can have access to when she turns a certain age and meets certain conditions. However, at her current age, she is ineligible, and she also hasn’t yet finished all of the conditions associated with the trust. But as she works away, getting older, working at what is asked of her so she can enjoy the many benefits of the trust when the right time and circumstances come together, an associate of Samantha who also happens to be a high-tech thief manages to steal all the necessary information to transfer the entirety of her trust fund into a secret offshore account.

    For me, in this scenario, Samantha has done nothing wrong. Despite her best efforts, what she yearned to give at the right time under the right circumstances – but was unable to give until those things occurred – was deprived her. She had done nothing wrong. In fact, she had done much good.

    Is she then at fault for consecrating herself to being worthy to obtain and use the trust fund because someone took it from her? I just can’t see that. To me, Samantha is a tragic victim.

    Several other analogies could be modified slightly if using synonyms for “deprived,” such as “robbed,” or “dispossessed.” But in the end, they all mean approximately the same thing.

    Chastity and virtue are indeed prized virtues as mentioned in Moroni 9:9. When I try to put myself in the situation that is taking place, I feel overwhelmed with heartache that such a precious thing was taken.

    Sexual assault is an evil. I think there are many ways to interpret this verse and come to the conclusion that while tragic things do happen, these sad realities do not make the victim of any less worth.

    In other words, through a variety of interpretative methods, I think the verse conveys the precious nature of chastity and virtue and the evils associated viewing and acting upon those virtues in terrible ways.

    Chastity and virtue could also be viewed more as something we possess, rather than something we give away voluntarily, have stolen from us, etc. With this lens, we can see a man force himself on another, yet still leave the victim with her virtue and chastity intact.

    In today’s society, some women have minor surgical procedures so they can again be “virgins” for their marriages after having been promiscuous beforehand. That mindset views whatever synonym is used for chastity and virtue and turns it into an action. However, when viewed in context, virtue and chastity may in reality be a state of being.

    Thus, a righteous woman who has not married and is sexually abused should be able to say with her head held high, “I am a chaste and virtuous woman. I was raped. But not even that terrible evil can take away from me my commitment to live a life of chastity and virtue.

    Fascinating post. Thank you. I’ve seen several others around lately and have given Moroni 9:9 more attention in the last two-to-three days than ever before. I think it would be wise for these discussions to continue.

  82. I can agree that it is tragic when anyone who has experienced something as horrible as rape is damaged more by this scripture, but it seems pretty clear to me in context that the verse is condemning the perpetrators and not the victims of rape as especially depraved. I think we can all agree that while virtue and chastity may not be the best words for what has been deprived, rape is a horrifying violation. In short, context matters.

  83. in Moroni 9:9, Mormon was writing his son saying that some of the Nephites were raping Lamanite women and then killing them. The last thing on his mind was slipping in some commentary about the moral worth of sexually abused women. Joseph Smith was going to translate it in a way to preclude misunderstanding but, alas, being imperfect, he did not know that 183 years after the BoM being produced, Mormon bloggers and Facebookers would insist that Mormon meant to say that rape victims are lesser people and freak out about it.

    I know this to be true because Mormon and Joseph Smith appeared to me in a vision last night and told me.

  84. Sorry Jacob, you got it wrong. Joseph of course knew all those things, he like Moroni knew our doings. But Joseph left the stumbling blocks in place because he knew if he used the word bloggernacle in scripture he’d either irrevocably alter the space time continuum or destroy agency by inserting such an anachronism that pertains to futurity into the scriptures that all God’s children would have no choice but to believe once the bloggernacle was invented.

    Of course, Moroni knew this as well, and once Joseph knew that Moroni knew, and ultimately God knew the same thing it was left as is. Stumble on McDuff!

  85. Kaphor, good points, but Mormon and Joseph told me themselves. On the other hand, I didn’t ask to shake their hands, so… Crap. I guess we’ll have to stumble all over this particular pebble in the road.

  86. BHodges says:

    Jacob, your beef is with the folks who put the verse in YW materials, not with me.

  87. No it’s not, BHodges. The YW materials say simply: “Study the meaning and importance of chastity and virtue by reading Moroni 9:9…” There’s not anything there to have a “beef” about.

  88. BHodges says:

    Ah, so YW need to be reminded simply that rape and murder are wrong. Got it. Thanks, Jacob.

  89. But they are wrong. Your sexuality and life are important, and it is not just wrong, but very wrong to violate either. It’s not a big deal to tell anyone that. If Mormon said they were deprived of something that was “no big whoop”, then maybe it wouldn’t be a good verse to use to explain to young girls that control over their sexuality is important.

    Dang, bro, you don’t need to get snarky, we’re just a couple of guys hanging out on the internet.

  90. BHodges says:

    ” It’s not a big deal to tell anyone that.

    It’s not what the manual was telling them. I’m baffled by the people here who are trying to “defend” the verse while at the same time denying that the verse as used by the manual needs defense.

  91. The manual says exactly this: “Study the meaning and importance of chastity and virtue by reading Moroni 9:9, [bunch of other references].” That’s it, all of it. No other reference to the verse in the entire manual, and no commentary. Bro, it just says read the verse.

    I reread the posts, and I don’t think anyone is really defending the verse – I’m not even sure what you think they are defending the verse against. Some of them take issue with your interpretation of it, so maybe that’s what you mean by “defending” it. But dude, they offer some pretty clear and well articulated criticism in that regard. I’d take a break from this for a week, reread the responses, and I think you will see what I mean.

    I didn’t see any posts defending the fact that the manual references it, other than “I don’t see a problem with this,” but that’s not really a defense, more of a simple statement of position. Some people have said “maybe they shouldn’t reference it because it can be misinterpreted” (for an example of this, see http://bycommonconsent.com/2013/05/07/if-there-are-faults-they-are-the-mistakes-of-men-on-fallibly-reading-fallible-scriptures/), but that’s not a defense either.

    Dude, you are a creative guy.

  92. OK, I just googled you and found that you are affiliated with the Maxwell Institute. I’d go to some of the actual scholars there and show them your article, some of the responses to it, and your responses to the responses. Ask for their opinion. My guess is they will tell you to “stick with blogging.”

  93. Kristine says:

    Jacob–you should maybe stick to tweeting. At least that way the displays of your arrogant stupidity could aspire to the redeeming quality of brevity.

  94. Jacob, I’m so of astounded by the opacity of your comments that I hardly know what to do. Ignoring them seems most appropriate, but then it’s so dissatisfying to see what was at times a thoughtful discussion end with such painfully blind reasoning and base meanness. So, briefly:

    Some have argued here that this verse teaches that rape victims have diminished worth. Others have argued that this might not actually be Mormon’s intent, but that it can be easily interpreted that way, thereby reinforcing a gross doctrinal perversion that has been taught by individual church leaders on various occasions. Still others have argued that the verse makes no such claim or suggestion, and that in fact its true meaning is obvious. As in Jeremy’s “it seems pretty clear to me in context that the verse is condemning the perpetrators and not the victims of rape as especially depraved.” When one person says “This verse says something bad,” that’s called a criticism. When another replies, “That’s not what it means! It doesn’t say anything bad at all,” that’s called a defense.

    Please bear in mind, dude, that this is not just some theoretical, academic discussion. It includes actual rape victims who have actually been taught these things, and who see this verse in that same vein. It includes women who have heard this message all their lives, suffered for it, and are now trying to decide whether or not they can allow their daughters to participate in YW. They don’t see any positive logical justification for including this verse to teach chastity. You don’t have to agree with anyone’s reasoning, but you might want to save your condescension hat for when you have something defensible to say.

  95. BHodges says:

    I particularly liked how Jacob referred me to my own post, this post, to clarify ways people have responded to Moroni 9:9.

    Thanks for the link, bro.

  96. BHodges says:

    AaronM and Kristine, thanks!

  97. Kristine: I’ve never actually used Twitter.

    Aaron: When someone says “I believe X” that is a statement of position, as is “I don’t believe X.” When someone say “I (don’t) believe X, because…” And thereafter offers a rationale, I would characterize that as a criticism or defense. At least that’s how I intended for those terms to be understood.

    Open question: I am curious, if you were in Mormon’s position and wanted to tell your son what was happening to the Lamanite women, how would you have explained things? In other words, how would you have written that verse?

  98. Hi Jacob, I fear that you are on the path towards completely eclipsing your points by escalating the rhetoric. You should know that path leads to sadness and bannination.

  99. Does your bannination stick work on zombies, Steve? Surely Jacob’s continued commentary after having been so utterly slain by Kristine proves that he is undead.

  100. “Our soldiers have raped, tortured, killed and then eaten their captives.”

    I wouldn’t have used the word “virtue” at all, and I certainly wouldn’t have said the captives’ virtue was taken from them. I also wouldn’t have said that either chastity or virtue was the thing that was most dear. I reserve that for agency – and, if that’s what I meant to convey, I would have used that word.

  101. That’s what happens when I am typing while other comments are being posted.

  102. OK, I just googled Jacob and found out that he is affiliated with anonymous, dickwad internet trolling. I’d go to some of your fellow trolls, show them your work here. Ask them their opinion. My guess is they will tell you to “stick to message board circle-jerking.”

  103. Steve: yes, that’s true. My apologies to BHodges, I should not have been snarky or resorted to ad hominem attacks. I am frustrated with this discussion, though. BHodges, you may think you have articulated your points well, but I don’t think so. I wasn’t being rhetorical when I suggest you retread the responses to your post. Some of them are quite good and point out substantive flaws in your reasoning. While you don’t have to ultimately agree with the conclusion to which others have arrived, attempting to understand their arguments and taking them into account can help you strengthen your position or improve the clarity of your writing. I do this for a living, and while it may not feel like it, this advice is offered in good faith.

  104. Ray: I like it, very brief, to the point. Though simply saying someone was raped doesnt capture the emotional impact if it, IMO.

    Maybe something like: Despite what the Lamanites have done, our people are worse. They have captured many of the Lamanite women, and after robbing them of their innocence, they tortured them to death in the most cruel way imaginable, then ate their remains like wild animals.

    That’s a pretty freaking gruesome verse.

  105. Brad, I think they’d be underwhelmed.

  106. BHodges says:

    I do this for a living, and while it may not feel like it, this advice is offered in good faith.

    Thanks. I do this for living, too.

    “robbing them of their innocence,”

    So if I lie to someone, do I rob them of their honesty? Seriously, just stop. Just go.

  107. Blair, I did a cartoon of Laman and Lemuel looking over Nephi’s shoulder reading what he had engraved and resentfully exclaiming, “Hey wait a minute… That’s not how it happened!” (I would link it but admins always erase it and get testy because I’m not an insider who is privileged enough to self-peomote by poaching) {{violins playing}}

    The point is, I think that like davidferg pointed out above, what if the engraver just had a messed up way off interpreting virtue as opposed (in addition to) Joseph using a word that later would morph into something else?

  108. AndrewM – Thank you for summarizing things fairly well.

    I am pretty easy to track down. (My name links to my blog, my blog have my email address several places.) It’s on purpose, because Mormon rape and incest victims often find one of my blog posts, and they want a way to comment without doing it publicly. It means that often I am the first person they talk to about one of the darkest moments of their life. That moment though, it does NOT steal anything from that person. It is a trauma, and a sexual one, but it only becomes a stolen, irreplaceable thing when we make it one. I have permission to share this paragraph, from a survivor who read this thread. I am not the first person she talked to, and she had great support from her family, but her experiences underline why this part of Mormon culture is *a big deal.*

    “I was 16 when my family joined the church. We all embraced the gospel, and I loved the Book of Mormon. I read it in two weeks while my family was taking the discussions from the missionaries, and I found so much love and hope, it taught me about faith that grows and while similar, the messages from Christ in the Book of Mormon seemed clearer, more sweet and pure. My whole family had been committed to baptism, and we were very excited. It wasn’t until the “practice interviews” that my family realized one thing that was very different about the Mormon church. All of us would have to be interviewed by the mission president because my parents and older brother had gone with me, to be supportive when I was 14 I had an abortion, at 16 weeks pregnant, with my rapist’s baby. No one at the church we attended at the time was anything but supportive. In fact, several of the young men at our church made sure I had a date to every school dance. When my rapist pled guilty, and I gave my victim’s impact statement, the courtroom was filled with members of our church. So many came, half of them say in the hall, praying for me as I stood in the same room as my rapist, and explained that I would not let him have the satisfaction of taking anything away from me. I had the abortion planned for the day of his sentencing. My family was with me, closing the final chapter on that part of our lives. At least I thought it was the final chapter, until the rumors about why my family had to be interviewed by the mission president started to make their way around our ward. People who had been welcoming to me during the 8 weeks we had attended church while taking the lessons, suddenly started saying things like, “At least you were raped before you were baptized, it almost makes it like you are a virgin.” The first licked cupcake lesson had me in tears. My brother was about to leave for Rick’s college, but after what I went through that Sunday, he decided to go to the junior college that was close. He had left the church by the time he graduated from college, mostly because he felt betrayed by the way the church treats rape victims.”

    She is married in the temple, to another convert she met going to a non-LDS school. She just got called as the YW president in her ward. When she accepted the calling, she told her bishop that she had been reading the personal progress program, (her daughter turns 12 this summer) and that he shouldn’t issue the call if he wants Virtue to receive much attention, at least as it currently is in the curriculum. She has her first YW leadership meeting last week, and she and I have been talking about what things she is not going to allow while she is YW president. I’m proud of her, I’m proud of her bishop for calling someone he knows isn’t on board with the correlated materials. May more wards in the church have bishops who listen to women when they tell them that something is hurtful, and lets them do things that are not damaging. I’m looking forward to hearing how the meeting with her, her bishop and the YM president. She is planning on asking him to have twice a year combined activities that address sexual harassment, sexual abuse, rape, and how to help a friend who is dealing with any of those issues. She said, “I am going to start by letting the YM know that I I have faith in them, and believe that each if them wants all of the girls snd women they know to be strong and emotionally healthy, since the YW in the room are likely to be the mothers, teachers and role models for their future daughters. No father wants his daughters treated disrespectfully, and so together, as YM and YW, they can learn how to be the friend that a YW knows she can rely on to do the right thing, if someone else is doing something unworthy of being a priesthood holder.”

    Amen.

  109. “proves that he is undead.”

    The virginal brides file past his tomb
    Strewn with time’s dead flowers
    Bereft in deathly bloom
    Alone, in a darkened room

    Shhhhhhhh!

    undead, undead, undead!

    Doom, doom!

    Undead!, Undead!, Undead!

  110. Never mind me … I’m all said out.

  111. That is sad Julia! Shame on you, OP, and others like you who tell us the scripture and YW program tell those of us who have experienced sexual abuse are not virtuous. Just shame on you! It’s not a game.

  112. Laura,
    You clearly misunderstood the OP.

  113. BHodges says:

    Laura, like you, I found the use of Moroni 9:9 to imply that people who’ve experienced sexual abuse aren’t virtuous to be abhorrent. That was the reason I wrote this post.

  114. Don’t put words in my mouth and try to manipulate me. You have said that that is what this verse implies. I know men like you. You’re a jerk and a bully.

  115. Laura, you seem to be new here. You appear not to know BHodges. Please go back and read the OP carefully. The OP says that implication is wrong.

    There is no bullying going on here, and the OP says the we need to ensure that the “not virtuous” interpretation is understood to be incorrect and harmful. You are swinging at the wrong person here.

  116. BHodges says:

    Laura, I’d like to emphasize again that whether that verse implies such a thing or not, it’s something I completely disagree with and never want to hear taught to anyone in or out of the church at any time. I’m sorry my post wasn’t adequate to that task for you and a few others, but that is what I intended to communicate here.

  117. Don’t get me wrong, Hodgy is a jerk and a bully, but it’s got nothing to do with this post and everything to do with the fact that he does not share his books.

  118. If the Nephite women in their decadent state had worn 4th Nephi style skirts, maybe the Lamanties would have left them alone. When we hear that some women make themselves walking porn for some men, I think Lamanite men are exactly the kind of men that are being spoken about. I mean, they put bones in their noses, have hearts of flint. I’d be awful dang surprised if they weren’t also porn addicts. Also, who is to say that they would have succumbed to the natural cannibal instincts of their race if the Nephites hadn’t followed council and, well, just plain common sense, and not been seasoning themselves with jungle spices.

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