Gospel Doctrine Lesson 24: “Be Not Deceived, but Continue in Steadfastness” [Guest: fmhLisa]

We are very excited to have as our guest, long-time friend, fmhLisa.

Notes, commentary, and questions for LDS Sunday School teachers using the ‘Doctrine & Covenants and Church History’ manual. Feel free to share your thoughts or ideas regarding the lesson in the comments.

Purpose

To help class members understand how they can avoid deception and apostasy.

As you might guess from the outset with a title like that, this lesson is a challenging one for someone who has been accused of being an apostate more than a few times myself.

The very word Apostasy is a super heavy word in the Mormon world.  As a tight knit community where belonging is vitally important, an apostate is (painfully)  no longer one of us.  And I think it implies something even stronger than that, going along with the idea of deception, I think being an apostate implies that he is not only no longer one of us, but he is actively working toward hurting us.

I don’t doubt that people like that exist, I’ve met a few. But it’s probably not a word we should throw at each other lightly.

Almost all of us have friends and family members who have left the church or who have gone inactive (as they say).  This can be an intensely painful experience for everyone involved.  This process of leaving is as varied as the people involved, some leave angrily, some leave quietly, some would harm our testimonies and some still cherish their own.  An interesting meta question to ask ourselves about apostasy is if we perhaps create our own small deceptions in the stories we tell ourselves about the reasons for these painful losses.  (Hint: this gospel doctrine lesson is about to provide us with some interesting object lessons on this very subject.)

And yet this lesson’s purpose is that we learn to avoid deception and apostasy and how do we do that without constantly judging people to be apostates and deceivers?  Because constantly judging folks seems pretty spiritually dangerous. Plus depressing and fear-mongering.  Best to avoid that sort of thing.

It’s interesting ask about apostasy and deception: which direction is this question supposed to face??  Inward or outward?  When we look outward–  As we try to judge what is truth and who it telling lies, we judge others to be apostates.  Or we can look inward, look into our hearts and into our minds to judge if we are honestly meekly seeking truth or letting ourselves get proud and comfortable in the answers we think we already have.  Are we supposed to be diligently seeking to root out apostates among us, or are we to root out any self-deception or pride that might be stifling our own growth?

Luckily The Lord has provided us with a pattern.  It’s all about the fruits.  This fruity pattern is laid out many times in scripture, here it is in D&C 52:

14 And again, I will give unto you a pattern in all things, that ye may not be deceived; for Satan is abroad in the land, and he goeth forth deceiving the nations—

15 Wherefore he that prayeth, whose spirit is acontrite, the same is baccepted of me if he obey mine cordinances.

16 He that aspeaketh, whose spirit is contrite, whose language is meek and bedifieth, the same is of God if he obey mine ordinances.

17 And again, he that trembleth under my power shall be madeastrong, and shall bring forth fruits of praise and bwisdom, according to the revelations and truths which I have given you.

18 And again, he that is overcome and abringeth not forth fruits, even according to this pattern, is not of me.

Fruits of praise and wisdom.  I don’t think this pattern is about looking outward and judging other people at all.  This pattern is very internal.  We must be contrite, we must be meek, neither of those sound like a big pointy finger toward other folk’s opinions with a loud and confident “you’re wrong apostate!”.  But rather we are seeker, looking to be edified, willing to learn.  And we judge those things we seek by their fruits.  If they bring forth fruits of praise and wisdom, then those things are good and we will not be deceived.

So how do we recognize good fruits?  How do we discover truth?  

There is a freakin’ fantastic talk from everyone’s favorite Apostle (I know you know who I’m talking about!) all about discovering truth.  Uchtdorf, after telling the story of the Blind Men and the Elephant:

“We look at this story from a distance and smile. After all, we know what an elephant looks like. We have read about them and watched them on film, and many of us have even seen one with our own eyes. We believe we know the truth of what an elephant is. That someone could make a judgment based on one aspect of truth and apply it to the whole seems absurd or even unbelievable. On the other hand, can’t we recognize ourselves in these six blind men? Have we ever been guilty of the same pattern of thought?

I suppose the reason this story has remained so popular in so many cultures and over so many years is because of its universal application. The Apostle Paul said that in this world the light is dim and we see only part of the truth as though we are looking “through a glass, darkly.”2 And yet it seems to be part of our nature as human beings to make assumptions about people, politics, and piety based on our incomplete and often misleading experience. . . . .

“The “truths” we cling to shape the quality of our societies as well as our individual characters. All too often these “truths” are based on incomplete and inaccurate evidence, and at times they serve very selfish motives.

Part of the reason for poor judgment comes from the tendency of mankind to blur the line between belief and truth. We too often confuse belief with truth, thinking that because something makes sense or is convenient, it must be true. Conversely, we sometimes don’t believe truth or reject it—because it would require us to change or admit that we were wrong. Often, truth is rejected because it doesn’t appear to be consistent with previous experiences.

When the opinions or “truths” of others contradict our own, instead of considering the possibility that there could be information that might be helpful and augment or complement what we know, we often jump to conclusions or make assumptions that the other person is misinformed, mentally challenged, or even intentionally trying to deceive.”

So Brother Uctdorf teaches us many things here.  We can’t know or see all truth.  Sometimes partial truth can blind us to larger truth.  All the truth we have is through a glass darkly (as Paul so beautifully put it) , sometimes we accept things as true because they are convenient, or because they confirm what we already believed or because it is self-serving or comfortable.  And we are much too quick to assume those who disagree with us must be ignorant, stupid, or evil rather than entertaining the possibility that we might be wrong.  (I seriously love Uctdorf!)

So keeping in mind these difficult lessons about truth from Uctdorf,  let’s take a look at one of the cautionary tales about apostasy that the lesson provides.  This is one of the legendary Mormons stories: Thomas Marsh and the pint of cream  (Stay with me here)

If you are teaching this lesson,  I think it would be interesting to ask the members of your class how many remember having heard the story and see if they can recount any of the details.

Here is how the lesson manual recounts the story under the title “Pride” :  

Some members are deceived because of their pride. The following story illustrates how pride led Thomas B. Marsh, who was President of the Quorum of the Twelve, and his wife, Elizabeth, into apostasy.

While living in Far West, Missouri, Sister Marsh and Sister Harris decided to exchange milk so they could each make a larger cheese than they otherwise could. They agreed to send each other both the milk and the cream from their cows. But Sister Marsh saved a pint of cream from each cow and sent Sister Harris the milk without the cream.

A quarrel arose, and the matter was referred to the bishop. When he determined that Sister Marsh had violated her agreement, she and her husband were upset and appealed the matter to the high council and then to the First Presidency. Each council approved the original decision that Sister Marsh had been in error.

Thomas B. Marsh declared that he would sustain the character of his wife. Soon afterward, he turned against the Church and went before a government official to declare that the Latter-day Saints were hostile toward the state of Missouri. (See George A. Smith, in Journal of Discourses, 3:283–84.)

This is a story that I have heard a hundred times as a cautionary tale about how small and inconsequential things can lead us to apostasy.   Unfortunately this is much like the blind men and the elephant, only a small fraction of the story.   There was in fact a pint of milk and a kerfuffle surrounding it, but there is far more to this story than a husband and wife so shallow and silly that they would abandon the Gospel for a pint of milk.  

You can read about many of these details on the churches own history website.

The truth is Marsh did leave the church in 1838, but it had little to do with a pint of milk.  He left because the Mormons had formed mobs, had kicked out all the non-Mormons from Daviess County, had stolen their property and burned their homes and towns.  There were mobs, there was fighting, there was pillaging and violence and the Mormons were terribly outnumbered (though not innocent of wrongdoing) and the outcome was by no means clear.  Marsh left the Church, but it is clear that his reasons were not petty and silly and inconsequential.

Certainly there are people who leave for foolish petty reasons, but this story is not one that we should use to illustrate that.  As Uctdorf stated so beautifully, .  “ . .  it seems to be part of our nature as human beings to make assumptions about people, politics, and piety based on our incomplete and often misleading experience. . .”

As a culture we have been telling a story incorrectly for generations.  Uctdorf also told us . . . “ we sometimes don’t believe truth or reject it—because it would require us to change or admit that we were wrong.”

And the funny thing is, that several of the other historical examples included in this lesson are also oversimplified and incomplete.   For instance under the heading “Critical of the Leader’s Imperfections” Symonds Ryder’s is said to have left because if “the spirit’ could make an error in the spelling of his name, then it may have erred in calling him to the ministry.  But historical documents show a much more complex story involving property interests and friendships. There are more examples of oversimplified history in this lesson but I see no reason to belabor the point.

But I do think it is important for us to ask, if so many of our stories about apostasy aren’t entirely accurate, what does that say about us and what do we need to learn from this?  Where is the truth and the lesson?  Remember the Elephant analogy? “We believe we know the truth of what an elephant is. That someone could make a judgment based on one aspect of truth and apply it to the whole seems absurd or even unbelievable . .  . Have we ever been guilty of the same pattern of thought?”    If many of our most famous stories about apostasy have been over-simplified and contain only a portion of the the truth  then clearly there is more that we can learn here.

More Uctdorf:

“ The thing about truth is that it exists beyond belief. It is true even if nobody believes it.

This truth is different from belief. It is different from hope. Absolute truth is not dependent upon public opinion or popularity. Polls cannot sway it. Not even the inexhaustible authority of celebrity endorsement can change it.

So how can we find truth?

I believe that our Father in Heaven is pleased with His children when they use their talents and mental faculties to earnestly discover truth. Over the centuries many wise men and women—through logic, reason, scientific inquiry, and, yes, through inspiration—have discovered truth. These discoveries have enriched mankind, improved our lives, and inspired joy, wonder, and awe.”

Here Uctdorf lists some of the tools that we can use to uncover truth:  Talents, Logic, Reason, Science, and Inspiration.  I think this holistic approach is vital.  We can not rely only on our emotions, but is equally foolish to worship pure logic.  The Lord gave us all of these capacities, and we need to employ them all in our search for truth.

So circling back around again to the notion of apostasy and deception.  These historic cautionary tales were all focused outward, making a judgement about other people’s righteousness and making those judgements based on incomplete and somewhat misleading information, and I think the lesson to be learned from this is how very careful we need to be when we judge each other and draw conclusions about each other. It’s so easy to get it all wrong.

One question I think we need to ask ourselves: Is there is a difference between folks that disagree with us, and folks who are trying to hurt us ?  I believe there is and it’s a distinction we should draw more carefully.   A friend who struggles with doubt should not be lumped into the same category as and a (not) friend who wants to undermine our testimony.  We do not find truth when we oversimplify the faith journeys of our loved ones.  And we can do great damage when we label folks who need our love and support as dangerous enemies.

What would happen if we instead focused that gaze inward, and took responsibility for our own small apostasies?

D&C 50 tells us:

10 And now come, saith the Lord, by the Spirit, unto the elders of his church, and let us reason together, that ye may understand;

11 Let us reason even as a man reasoneth one with another face to face.

12 Now, when a man reasoneth he is understood of man, because he reasoneth as a man; even so will I, the Lord, reason with you that you may understand.

The Lord tells us that we much communicate with each other with  reason and logic.  And further he will communicate to us in a way we can understand. We must use our Logic.

13 Wherefore, I the Lord ask you this question—unto what were ye ordained?

14 To preach my gospel by the Spirit, even the Comforter which was sent forth to teach the truth.

15 And then received ye spirits which ye could not understand, and received them to be of God; and in this are ye justified?

Further we must communicate using the spirit.  Our emotions and our spirituality must also be part of how we learn.

21 Therefore, why is it that ye cannot understand and know, that he that receiveth the word by the Spirit of truth receiveth it as it is preached by the Spirit of truth?

22 Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together.

23 And that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness.

24 That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.

And once again it is clear that it is by the fruits that we can judge truth.  If it is something that edifies, and makes us rejoice together, then it is the spirit of truth.  If it brings further light, it is of God.  Shunning anyone who disagrees with us, avoiding anyone who has doubts . . . I do not think those actions edify or bring light.  We must judge each person, each interaction by its own merits, by its fruits.

The Prophet Joseph Smith taught:

“Mormonism is truth. … The first and fundamental principle of our holy religion is, that we believe that we have a right to embrace all, and every item of truth, without limitation or … being … prohibited by the creeds or superstitious notions of men.”20

I think one of the biggest fears we struggle with as Mormons is that we will be deceived– not by incorrect facts– but that we will be turned aside by wrong standards, that we might misapply information and  lose essential principles because we don’t have a proper guide.  And the guide has been provided, over and over the scriptures given for this lesson tell us: Fruits of Praise and Wisdom.  And the mindset of truth-seeking demands that we be earnest seekers of knowledge. If we take a defensive stance and refuse to listen to and to learn from people who think differently from us, we are blocking ourselves off from potential sources of truth.

Apostasy is about creating boundaries, who are we, what do we believe, and this is something we have to do to make a healthy community.  We do need to know the boundaries of what makes us who we are.  But I think the lesson I learned from these stories of apostasy is that while the boundaries may be necessary, if we are going to be truth seekers, we must  rethink the way we approach learning across those boundaries.  We can’t change people’s stories to fit our preconceived ideas about why people leave.  If we do that we are *blindly* embracing a very incomplete picture of truth, and creating our own small internal deceptions.

We must be willing to rethink mistakes, be open to new truths, and to learning to judge these things by their fruits.

In conclusion more Uctdorf :

“Yes, we do have the fulness of the everlasting gospel, but that does not mean that we know everything. In fact, one principle of the restored gospel is our belief that God “will yet reveal many great and important things.”21

The Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ came about because of a young man with a humble heart and a keen mind seeking for truth. Joseph studied and then acted accordingly. He discovered that if a man lacks wisdom, he can ask of God and the truth really will be given unto him.

Comments

  1. michelle says:

    The final judgment is always, always in God’s hands. But I think people like Thomas B. Marsh would *want* us to learn from his mistakes and be more wise than he was. In fact, if you study his history, you can see that when he endeavored to right the wrongs, he was particular to caution people to avoid the pride that pulled him down. He called *himself* an apostate. The fruits in his life *were* clear, and I think he’d be the first to acknowledge that. The milk strippings thing was kind of a turning point that had been building for a while; he’d been fighting against the 12 and the prophet for a while. He comments himself that he was angry and prideful and fighting against the prophet. The more he stirred the anger, the worse it got. Sure, there was more to the story, but perhaps sometimes our response to seemingly petty things, as C.S. Lewis talks about, can reveal the rats in our cellar, the bigger things God wants us to work on? Or, perhaps said another way, the ways that God can help and heal us?

    I think the history also shows how much God reaches out and how many opportunities Bro. Marsh had to stay on the path of having great contributions to make to the work. God wanted him with the Church. He chose otherwise for a while, and there was a place for him when he repented and opened his heart again. It was God Himself whose chastisements brought him back. But I think he’d be the first to say that that was a hard road to walk..e.g., he DID say ” let no one feel too secure: for, before you think of it, your steps will slide. You will not then think nor feel for a moment as you did before you lost the Spirit of Christ; for when men apostatize, they are left to grovel in the dark. …if there are any of you that have the seeds of apostacy in you, do not let them make their appearance, but nip that spirit in the bud; for it is misery and affliction in this world, and destruction in the world to come.”

    And I think this kind of warning applies to any and all of us. Is there any of us who doesn’t wrestle against anger? Who doesn’t struggle against pride? If we sow seeds of anger or pride, we risk reaping the fruits of such things. It’s a sobering message,and not just for those who may struggle with the Church. But by the same token, I don’t think that means we ought to minimize the message that for many like Bro. Marsh, leaving the Church ended up bringing them pain. The fruity scripture talks, for example, about how ordinances matter. Scriptures talk often about the improtance of sustaining the prophet (which Bro. Marsh ceased doing). I think we can respect that some people may feel the need for time away from these things for a while, but in the end, those are the boundaries God has drawn, and not just for this life, but for eternity. If we are talking about truth, I think we need to not shy away from that even as we realize that when it comes to individual lives, we simply never know all the elephant and can take comfort in the fact that God knows and *wants* them home and will do all He can to reach out to them toward that end.

  2. As pitch perfect an OP as I’ve read on BCC.

  3. Wonderful lesson! I was also struck by how little relationship the stories listed in the manual had to the assigned texts from the Doctrine and Covenants. Those texts are about the rule of common consent, the authority of Joseph Smith, and tools for discernment. They are quite clearly not a series of object lessons teaching obedience to “the brethren” and yet that is more or less what the lesson manual offers. Thank you for rectifying the imbalance!

  4. “As a culture we have been telling a story incorrectly for generations.” * * * * “But I do think it is important for us to ask, if so many of our stories about apostasy aren’t entirely accurate, what does that say about us and what do we need to learn from this?”

    Former Church Historian Marlin K. Jensen, about 18 months ago, acknowledged that the church’s failure to honestly and accurately teach its history and the evolution of its doctrines has contributed to the decision of many to leave the church. Mormon scholar and author Terryl Givens described the problem as a “real crises” and an “epidemic.” Specifically, Givens stated that there is a “discrepancy between a church history that has been selectively rendered through the Church Education System and Sunday school manuals, and a less-flattering version universally accessible on the Internet … The problem is not so much the discovery of particular details that are deal breakers for the faithful; the problem is a loss of faith and trust in an institution that was less that forthcoming to begin with.”

    What does this say about us? It tells us that we are no different than any other group of people or religion—we selectively recount our history in order to cast our church and its leaders in the most favorable light possible. In other words, we tell something less than the complete truth if we believe we can get away with it. But in the Information Age in which we live, we can no longer get away with it. And, as is often the case, it’s the act of dishonesty, not the actual controversial historical episode in question—”the cover up, not the crime”—that causes the greatest harm. As Professor Givens stated: “[T]he problem is not information, the problem is betrayal. Nobody really leaves the church because there isn’t information to answer a question. And that’s one thing the church hasn’t gotten yet. People leave the church because by the time the question arises, its too late.”

    We are taught in the temple that “all truth may be circumscribed in one great whole,” not just faith-promoting truths or a homiletic version of our history. I disagree with the Jack Nicholsons in our midst: We CAN handle the truth.

  5. I suppose my ward is off, we had this lesson last week. I realized that if you look at it from the other side, the Thomas B. Marsh story fails to make much sense. So he went to the home teachers, through several other people and eventually to the first presidency, and none of them were willing to say “Thomas, Mr. harris, there might have been a mistake, just let it go.” Certainly Thomas Marsh had uneccessary pride, but it seems like there was just as much pride in the church to have the issue escalated that far, was there any other time petty thievery was brought before the first presidency? This story raises a lot of interesting questions about what other factors might cause someone to go inactive, and what we (as a ward, or individual) could do to help them. Otherwise, the normal telling becomes a cautionary tale that almost anything, even pride, can lead one away from the church. (also true, but I think the lessons in the first approach would be much more useful.)

  6. I agree with Thomas Parkin–fantastic post. Bravo and amen.

  7. I realize that “Uchtdorf” is difficult to pronounce, but it’s not all that hard to spell. It’s also not all that hard to be courteous enough to use a title–sort of like taking the time to write out Joseph and not just Joe Smith.

  8. Mark B., it’s also not all that hard to be read blogposts with a little generosity.

  9. Mark B.

    That’s it. I no longer believe this post has any value because the author’s *spelled a name wrong*!

  10. It doesn’t hurt to take gentle and legitimate correction with a little generosity, either.

    I’m used to reading bare surnames in scholarly writing, but in a devotional setting — and although blogs aren’t ordinarily considered devotional, a lesson plan for Sunday School is — Mark B. is right; it *is* jarring to see the names of men whose offices should be respected tossed around without that normal courtesy.

    Otherwise, this is a well-organized lesson, and one geared to generate a lot more — and a lot better — class discussion than the dull and routine questions asked in the manual. We may have just discovered one more justification for blogging: When you develop the skill to write posts that allow for wide comment, you can do the same thing in live teaching.

  11. Sorry for the mistakes, I’m the worst spelled i can the history of the world. I honestly can’t even see spelling mistakes. I’ll be sure to include a title next time, I think my possessive fondness for the man may have misled me. I really want to just call him Uncle Dieter.

  12. Speller ha! See!

  13. Brava, Lisa.

  14. Wonderful lesson, Lisa. Simply wonderful.

    It’s a lesson I would love to hear in a Sunday School class, and I know how fortunate I am to have a Gospel Doctrine teacher in our ward (a former Bishop) who would teach it. I don’t attend the class, since I teach the oldest youth class, and I miss hearing his lessons each week, as much as I love my calling.

  15. MDearest says:

    I’d happily trade my spelling prowess for some of your mental sharpness, Lisa, in case you’ve any to spare. You can come teach in our ward anytime.

    I agree that it can be jarring to see our leaders’ names without their customary titles, but I doubt any would be so trollish as to say it is apostate. (Said with a wink and a smile) I just finished reading the ghosted biography of Ellisa Wall, who left the FLDS and testified in the case that sentenced Warren Jeffs to prison, and the term of endearment that the FLDS use for their prophet is “Uncle.” So I share the affection, but the idea of ‘Uncle Dieter’ kind of grates on my psyche this week.

  16. Angela C says:

    Lisa – what an excellent post! I am troubled by our simplistic narratives at times, both institutionally and individually (often in fast & testimony meetings). I love Pres. Uchtdorf’s advice. Even though the elephant analogy is often used, people struggle to apply its lessons. Thanks for the devotional message today. It’s a bright start to my Sunday!

  17. Excellent, Lisa–thanks! I think that D&C 50:6-9 also speaks to the inward/outward question you identify. It condemns deceivers and hypocrites, notes that they’ll have their just deserts sooner or later, and enjoins self-examination: “Wherefore, let every man beware lest he do that which is not in truth and righteousness before me.”

  18. Excellent post!
    For those coming to it by google search, there are some other good lds posts on Marsh and this issue.

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/faithpromotingrumor/2009/07/my-thomas-marsh-experience/

    http://history.lds.org/article/revelations-in-context-doctrine-and-covenants-thomas-marsh?lang=eng

    http://bycommonconsent.com/2009/07/01/the-milk-strippings-story-thomas-b-marsh-and-brigham-young/

    http://bycommonconsent.com/2009/07/14/what-should-you-do-when-the-lesson-manual-is-wrong/

    And here Lyndon W. Cook, ” ‘I Have Sinned Against Heaven, and Am Unworthy of Your Confidence, But I Cannot Live without a Reconciliation’ “:Thomas B. Marsh Returns to the Church,” BYU Studies, Vol. 20, No. 4

    https://byustudies.byu.edu/showtitle.aspx?title=5439

    That article includes a letter he wrote, reprinted here.

    http://www.scottwoodward.org/churchhistory_marsh_thomas_apostasy_letterofreinstatement.html

  19. I have a multi-link comment in the moderation queue…

  20. Idahospud says:

    Great lesson, Lisa! I missed church today so it was nice to read such an uplifting piece.

  21. Mark from MI says:

    We had this lesson in class today, and both simplified versions of Thomas Marsh and Symonds Ryder stories were used. I commented that I had been able to read a little more about Bro. Marsh’s story (thanks for the links!) and that he was bothered that local leaders were antagonizing their non-mormon neighbors. I suggested that the pint of cream could have just been the last straw on the camel’s back. Instead of condeming someone for their pride we should ask ourselves if there is anything in our conduct towards other people that leads them to conclude that we really aren’t that Christian. Am I treating the guy next to me so poorly that he doesn’t want to come back next week? Besides my pride affecting me, my behavior affects others. That’s what I got out of the story.

  22. A big thank you, Lisa, for your interpretation of the lesson. I’m teaching this lesson next week and I believe your approach to the deeper insights explored in the lesson will benefit my class. Also to Jared Anderson for posting a link to your page from his excellent Engaging Gospel Doctrine podcast on the same lesson: http://www.mormonsundayschool.org/053-be-not-deceived-but-continue-in-steadfastness-dc-and-church-history-24/ Anyone who is a fan of Terryl Givens will probably enjoy the panel discussion that his participates in half way through the podcast.

    There’s something about Elder Uchtdorf, isn’t there? A friend of mine was on his mission in Germany when Elder Uchtdorf was serving as a stake president. He recalls an impression at the time that surely the Lord had bigger things in mind for the good stake president.

  23. Glenn Smith says:

    Did Thomas B. Marsh leave a journal behind?????

  24. Lisa, I love how you use very current and powerful counsel from Elder Uchtdorf to admonish this lesson plan. And very wise advice it is. But please don’t pay any mind to the curmudgeons. Anyone who’s heard Brother Dieter (as my German friends call him) speak more than once, should come away realizing how light-hearted and forgiving he would be about the spelling error.

  25. Thank you for this perspective on this lesson Lisa. I found it very valuable. We all need to improve on this but, sadly, I think that some of the people who would benefit most (and who seem to point the finger of accusations of apostasy most often, frequently based on these dumbed down/incomplete versions of the Marsh and Ryder episodes and others) don’t read BCC, other Mormon blogs, or even, really, much “non-correlated” information about the Church or its history at all. Such is life. But Google is a wonderful thing! This post now forms part of the response to people searching for information about apostasy and Marsh.

    And President Uchtdorf’s talk is the perfect interpretive lens to apply specifically to this issue. In fact, I would think that President Uchtdorf himself has incorporated the simplified, incomplete version of the Thomas B. Marsh story (i.e. Marsh left the Church out of pride over the milk strippings case) into his own internal narrative about pride and apostasy (because that is the standard, correlated understanding of and interpretive use of this selectively retold story from our history — how many Mormons even know that Marsh had grave concerns about the Mormons’ treatment of locals and the escalating conflict in their interactions?). President Hinckley certainly did; I recall him recounting the Marsh story in this version/approach periodically for just this purpose, including relatively recently.

    It is a fair assumption, I think, that President Uchtdorf simply shares President Hinckley’s reading/understanding/interpretation of the Marsh story. (This is not necessarily a given, however, because President Uchtdorf might very well be informed about the greater nuances of this story — I simply have no way of knowing the extent of his historical reading about the period or this topic).

    But assuming for the sake of this thought experiment that this is the case, how delighted President Uchtdorf would be to discover that he could apply his own guidance on the topic of Truth and finger-pointing to one of his own internal assumptions to correct “incomplete and inaccurate evidence” that confounds a commonly shared perception of truth on this issue! I have found him to be a true leader in Christian discipleship including “practicing what you preach” so I have no doubt that if he were to look at the Marsh episode in more detail, perhaps with the assistance of the “Revelations in Context” link relating to it (which you helpfully provided in the original post, http://history.lds.org/article/revelations-in-context-doctrine-and-covenants-thomas-marsh?lang=eng) or in some of the links Ben S. provided above, then he would appropriately incorporate that greater detail into his understanding of the issue even if it “would require [him] to change or admit that [he was] wrong.” Following his own guidance, he would not succumb to the temptation to reject the broader truth behind this episode “because it doesn’t appear to be consistent with previous experiences.”

    President Uchtdorf would surely lead by example under such circumstances. Following his own guidance, he would rely on “logic, reason, scientific inquiry, and, yes, . . . inspiration” to search for more accurate details of this situation. Once found, he would courageously change his interpretation/use of that particular story and perhaps build up a more nuanced interpretive lens for considerations of Apostasy, similar to what you’ve done in this post.

    I take two primary lessons from this thought exercise about President Uchtdorf being willing to follow his own guidance to correct a use of “incomplete and inaccurate” information about this particular episode that has, in the past among us, encouraged the faulty “tendency of mankind to blur the line between belief and truth” on this issue of speculating reasons for others’ decisions to leave the Church:

    (1) each of us can be similarly courageous in righting incorrect information, assumptions, or aspersions that we have gleaned from our culture or even our correlated curriculum, even and perhaps especially when we find ourselves in church leadership roles (how powerful would it be, for example, for a stake president to give a talk distancing himself from the traditional use/interpretation of the correlated version of the Marsh story, providing some of the broader historical detail and nuance that has now been available for some time about the situation surrounding Marsh’s decision to leave the Church, and then put forward a framework for avoiding apostasy that does not rely on or involve employing such incomplete and inaccurate anecdotes — I would have to think that this would greatly reduce the tendency in that stake of people to “change people’s stories to fit our preconceived ideas about why people leave,” to quote Lisa’s excellent way of expressing the problem; in fact, it could be a first step toward preventing others from “*blindly* embracing a very incomplete picture of truth, and creating [their] own small internal deceptions”); and

    (2) even the best among us (like President Uchtdorf — surely no better example of a modern Mormon exists, or President Hinckley as it is well-established that he employed the Marsh story this way) are prone to these types of mistakes, misunderstandings, oversimplifications, temptations to point finger or exclude, etc.; accordingly, we must all rededicate ourselves to the principle of developing charity for each other, graciously accepting that others’ historical insights about this and other such episodes might remain on the anecdotal level, not necessarily out of any fault of their own but simply because that is the extent of the exposure to the issue that they have been privileged to receive in their lives so far.

  26. In all fairness, michelle has it right as to how Thomas B. Marsh told his own story. I think we do some people a disservice when we conclude that they can not tell their own stories and that our revisionist approaches are superior to their voices.

    I know that it has grown popular to state that Thomas B. Marsh lied about his own story and that it is deceitful and incomplete for church leaders to tell his story in his own narrative rather than the superior one we have from our better knowledge of the context and events.

    But it may be unfair to both Thomas B. Marsh and those who tell his story to elevate our own understanding. It comes across as a little less than self effacing for those who do so.

  27. As for the bloodshed, land, etc. that is in the Doctrine and Covenants about how they are to acquire land only by purchase, because any other method will involve violence and that is forbidden them.

    “Did Thomas B. Marsh leave a journal behind?????” — he left behind a number of addresses and statements he made in Utah after he returned.

  28. Glenn, the link contains one of the addresses, there are a number of others.

    “After Marsh’s arrival in Salt Lake City in September 1857, Brigham Young allowed him to address the Saints. In a weakened voice, Marsh explained his apostasy and asked for forgiveness:

    I have frequently wanted to know how my apostacy began, and I have come to the conclusion that I must have lost the Spirit of the Lord out of my heart.

    The next question is, ‘How and when did you lose the Spirit?’ I became jealous of the Prophet, and then I saw double, and overlooked everything that was right, and spent all my time in looking for the evil; and then, when the Devil began to lead me, it was easy for the carnal mind to rise up, which is anger, jealousy, and wrath. I could feel it within me; I felt angry and wrathful; and the Spirit of the Lord being gone, as the Scriptures say, I was blinded, … I got mad, and I wanted everybody else to be mad.23″

    From http://history.lds.org/article/revelations-in-context-doctrine-and-covenants-thomas-marsh?lang=eng

  29. Dale Whiting says:

    I am not one to accept or claim that “The Devil made me do it.” Sure his forces are out and since the Fall have been out. But it’s the lessening of social-societal forces that threaten us and our individual spiritual grown today. As I see things, two forces threaten our progress. One and perhaps the greatest force is spiritual complacency, the tendency to find security in the masses represented by our congregating together. We stop looking for and striving to put of the Nature Man. The other is our total abandonment of social-societal forces, venturing out on our own and turning away altogether from social forces. After all, we were given Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, etc. to assist us along our individual pathways toward perfection. But it is us who have to take those steps. Lengthening our strides has been a huge problem.

  30. That’s a great quote, Stephen. It reminds me that I’ve been awfully angry lately.

  31. Stephen, great quote from the Marsh talk. Tellingly, he doesn’t mention milk strippings. Rather, envy of and anger at Joseph Smith were at the root of his decision to leave the Church. This is consistent with his contemporaneous Affidavit, which was very damaging to the Church and therefore caused his remorse/repentance to be so severe (see page 57 in the following scanned book for the Marsh Affidavit: http://archive.org/stream/documentcontaini00miss#page/n123/mode/2up). Attributing Marsh’s decision to leave the Church virtually entirely to the milk strippings case can be traced back to George A. Smith’s 1856 discourse (or perhaps to a statement George A. Smith made as early as 1845 about Marsh and milk strippings). Personally, I believe the altercation over the milk strippings happened and that it irritated Marsh, adding, as it did, to his growing dissatisfaction with Church leaders based on his observations of their leadership in dealing with local neighbors.

  32. I think this is way too convoluted. Characterizing apostasy is a much simpler thing than it is being made out to be…

    “…we could not conceive of [an individual] publishing these differences of opinion and seeking by arguments, sophistry and special pleading to enforce them upon the people to produce division and strife and to place the acts and counsels of the Authorities of the Church, if possible, in a wrong light, and not be an apostate, for such conduct was apostasy as we understood the term”.

  33. My experience bears out President Faust’s classic observation –

    Free discussion and expression are encouraged in the Church.

    Keeping Covenants and Honoring the Priesthood

    …but not necessarily found to be the general practice in other places.

  34. President Uctdorf has also said

    The “why” of obedience sanctifies our actions, transforming the mundane into the majestic.

    Forget Me Not

  35. “Free discussion and expression are encouraged in the Church.”

    That has to be the funniest thing I have ever read ob this website.

    What chrch is it you belong to, Jim?

  36. Forget about which church Jim belongs to; what church was President Faust referring to?

  37. I suppose it is funny, I too get a pretty big laugh in some of the kind of posturing that I seem to see. But I derive my entertainment from the apparent mind-set of those who seem inclined to complain that the Church is some kind of repressive regime. This is especially ludicrous to me in the context of the current political administration’s performance. The popularity of the Bloggernacle, and related instruments, makes the notion of an oppressive Church look like nothing more than a ridiculous caricature, to me.

    I note that there seem to be more than a few LDS members whose experience is just as President Faust describes. Then there are some who apparently feel otherwise, who seem perhaps more like they belong to the other group President Faust comments about. But nobody appears to be exerting any extortionary measures that I can discern to persuade them to shut up. Maybe there is some guy that lurks behind the scenes, making them an offer they can’t refuse. But if so, I’ve never heard of it.

    I’m pretty sure President Faust was a professional attorney before being called as a General Authority. He was also known to be a registered Democrat, if I remember correctly. He’s dead, so we might encounter some difficulty of we tried to contact him. Anyway, I guess I thought lawyers and Democrats generally command a bit less derision in the Bloggernacle. Maybe I’m mistaken. Probably I am.

  38. Jim, there can be a huge difference between “The (global) Church” and “the (local) church” – and people’s reactions tend to be slanted heavily toward which type of church they attend locally (as well as by a handful of specific issues where free discussion and expression generally are not welcomed at all).

    For example, I have been fortunate to have been able to express myself quite openly and freely throughout my life – but I’ve had about 40 years to hone the ability to do so non-confrontationally and using faithful delivery methods. However, I have two friends whose temple recommends were not renewed simply because they expressed certain beliefs that were in opposition to those of their Stake President – and both of them were “ratted out” by members who accused them of apostasy when neither of them was anywhere close to apostate. I am confident the top leadership would be appalled and not supportive of those actions, and I believe strongly the current leadership is moving determinedly toward free discussion and expression, but the global leadership usually isn’t involved in or aware of most abuses that occur locally.

  39. “I guess I thought lawyers and Democrats generally command a bit less derision in the Bloggernacle.”

    See how easy it is to word things in such a way that someone can read a charge of apostasy into it without any real effort, if they are so inclined?

  40. Jim, the statement of President Faust, that you endorsed, was: “Free discussion and expression are encouraged in the Church.”

    Note the word “encouraged” in that sentence. Think hard about that word. Its meaning is far different than “reluctantly tolerated” or “mostly ignored.” If you had used those words, I would have no trouble agreeing with you. But that is not what you said. You said “encouraged.” That word is simply not accurate in that sentence. Just because there is no obvious repression of discussion in the bloggernacle does not bear out the word “encouraged.” “Encouraged” requires something more than non-suppression. It requires an active effort to facilitate or espouse. If you think that is really ocurring, then please give me examples of it. And especially examples from the 90s, when President Faust was speaking. And then maybe you can try giving a talk in sacrament meeting that is pro-SSM or pro-choice, or in some other way contrary to the party line, and then let us know what happens.

  41. jcobabe says:

    MQH responds,

    …you can try giving a talk in sacrament meeting that is pro-SSM or pro-choice, or in some other way contrary to the party line, and then let us know what happens.

    Interesting idea. I find myself in agreement, but with some reservation…

    It would seem somewhat problematic that I don’t invest a shred of faith in any of the popular fringe issues listed, nor could I advocate for such causes with any sincerity. If I understand, you’re suggesting I should pretend to advocate for things that are “contrary to the party line”, the intent being to provoke some particular negative reaction. This “disingenous posturing to test the effect” idea seems quite a novel approach – I am intrigued with the idea, and it seems like a great Gedankenexperiment.

    I rather have the suspicion that the ensuing drama might be characterized with the phrase, “…and nothing STILL happened”. My bishop and most other ward leaders are very close friends who, wisely or not, already make many allowances for my very obvious and frequent manifestations of “non compos mentis”, but even so I think they might detect the superficiality of such an effort.

    I suppose such a demonstration might produce results something similar to me urinating from the podium. People would be understandably displeased, but I doubt that they would impose any punitive measures, except maybe to say “Don’t do that again – it stinks”, or “Next time wear your Depends!”

    In any case, I already seem to have a feel for the concept that divisiveness is divisive. I have not any inclination to “act in clear, open, and deliberate public opposition” to Church teachings that I fully agree with.

    So am I reading this right? :-)

  42. Wait, didn’t we ban you like years ago Jim? What’s going on here??

  43. Yes, I decided that this forum exhibits a deplorable lack of tolerance for diversity. So on my own initiative I decided to act as the reactionary guerilla subversive, a sort of outside agitator.

    I broke through the security wall here long ago, but found that there really wasn’t’ a lot to say. But I’m pretty good at saying not much in a whole lotta words nonetheless.

  44. jcobabe says:

    Steve, “banning” people who disagree with you is an interesting way to deal with conflict, don’t you think? Sorta like the the Islamist approach to “celebrating diversity” – lovingly hack of their heads.

    Anyway, go ahead and put me on your black list again if it pleases you. I’m just here to play.

  45. “So am I reading this right?”

    If opposites are the same, then, yes.

  46. Jim, you should know better than to say that we ban people purely for disagreeing. We tend to ban people because they are incoherent jerks. Whether it’s possible to disagree with people this forum without being an incoherent jerk is an open question.

  47. jcobabe says:

    [bows] Your servant, sir. I am not bound to please thee with my answer.

  48. elisabethebaker@yahoo.com says:

    “Whether it’s possible to disagree with people this forum without being an incoherent jerk is an open question.”

    Proof that coherence is not important here.

  49. MDearest says:

    I’m so relieved, I thought that there was something wrong with my reading comprehension. I tried reading Jim’s comments twice but still couldn’t work my way through the doublespeak. When I got to the part about “pretending to advocate a party line” and “disingenuous posturing to test the effect” I decided comprehension wasn’t important anyway since his credibility was thoroughly trashed after that point. But good to know that I’m not the only one fed up with the nastiness.

    Also, for the record, I very much value coherence here. And clarity.
    Brevity counts too.

  50. Jessica says:

    I thought I knew what I was going to teach tomorrow until I read this post–now I am rethinking. Thanks for some very thought provoking ideas. I have such a great class–I can already tell we are going to have a great discussion tomorrow using some of your ideas. Woo hoo!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 8,625 other followers