The Prophet’s Shelf

Sometimes in the church we encounter teachings or practices we don’t understand. We deal with them by choosing not to deal with them, at least for the present time, and we call this process “putting it on the shelf”. The hope is that in the future, after we gain insight and experience, the things on our shelves will begin to make sense to us. I was interested to find out that Brigham Young employed that same approach.

“In the days of Joseph, when the revelation came to him and Sidney Rigdon, while translating that portion of the New Testament contained in the 29th verse of the third chapter of John, in reference to the different degrees of glory, I was not prepared to say that I believed it, and I had to wait. What did I do? I handed this over to the Lord in my feelings, and said I, “I will wait until the spirit of God manifests to me, for or against.” I did not judge the matter, I did not argue against it, not in the least. I never argued the least against anything Joseph proposed, but if I could not see or understand it, I handed it over to the Lord. This is my counsel to you, my brethren and sisters…”

Journal of Discourses, 18:247

I find this interesting for several reasons. First, it is obviously good advice, and I have learned for myself that it works, at least sometimes. I’ve actually been a little embarrassed to admit to myself how something which had been such an obstacle can be looked upon, from the perspective of a few years, as a very trivial and insignificant matter.

But I’m also interested in the way that Brigham Young, an apostle at the time and later the president of the church, had to come to grips with a teaching he didn’t understand. We assume that people who are in tune and worthy don’t struggle with doctrinal issues, but that assumption is clearly false. I suppose we can draw some lessons about patience and bearing with one another when we struggle. If an apostle needs some time to gain a testimony of a doctrine or policy, we should certainly allow a lowly Sunday school teacher the same privilege. Sometimes it isn’t a matter of praying more or being more worthy. Sometimes, it is simply a matter of time.

Finally, it amazes me that president Young had a hard time accepting section 76. It seems like such a fundamental part of our doctrine now, and it is difficult to see how anybody could not immediately like the idea of universal resurrection and eternal kingdoms of glory. But he was a product of his time, and had learned only about heaven and hell. We all must interpret what we learn and experience in the light of our previous experiences, and we must also recognize our limitations.

I try to keep my shelf tidy, with only seven or eight items on it. But sometimes, I need to get a bigger shelf. If we ever see each other in the shelf aisle at Home Depot, I’ll try to keep my eyes decently averted, and I hope you do the same.

Comments

  1. One of the ironies is that it is some of the things that Bro./Pres. Brigham said that are on said shelf.

  2. Jacob, I hear you, brotherman.

  3. The irony is that BY was able to do it with what JS taught, and we do it for what BY taught, but many of us can’t do it for what a current or more recent apostle / prophet says. It’s very easy with Paul, quite easy with BY, a little harder with JSS, and much harder with EZT or GBH. I think doing it for a current leader is much more of an accomplishment than doing it for one who has been dead for a while – since the words of the living prophets are directly more obviously at us.

  4. California Condor says:

    Ray, be careful, it’s a slippery slope. If President Hinckley says don’t play poker, then don’t play poker. Simple as that.

  5. and your point is?

  6. California Condor says:

    I don’t think President Hinckley says many things that need to be “shelved.”

  7. George Q. Cannon said something similar.

    If we hear any principle taught from the stand that we do not understand, let us seek to comprehend it by the Spirit of God. If it be not of God, we have the privilege of knowing it. We are not required to receive for doctrine everything that we hear. We may say, “I do not know whether this is true or not; I will not fight it, neither will I endorse it, but I will seek knowledge from God, for that is my privilege, and I will never rest satisfied until I have obtained the light I require.”
    If you hear a doctrine that does not agree with your feelings or that you do not believe, take this course; do not reject nor endorse hastily without knowing or understanding. By taking this course you will develop the principle that God designs we should possess, and we will thus become a wise and understanding people, for we will be based on the rock of revelation. (Apr. 21, 1867, JD 12:46)

    -George Q. Cannon, Gospel Truth, 270

  8. That Vision was complicated because it looked so much like Universalism and Swedenborgianism, even though fundamentally it was different, that many Mormons, ever attempting to reclaim the authorized ground from evangelical Protestants, worried about being overly divergent from received Biblical wisdom.

  9. I just heard on NPR today that Mother Teresa’s recently published letters reveal that she struggled with “blindness” and “deafness” in that she knew God was there, but couldn’t see, hear, or feel Him. I guess I always assumed that she had a tremendously sensitive spirit as well as unflagging spiritual support from above to be able to love and serve with the complete devotion that she exemplified. According to the report I heard, it was an incredibly painful part of her life to cope with the heavenly silence. She seemed so serene . . . .I guess it goes to show you the shelf is probably universal.

    One of the things I love about the ‘nacle is that I’ve been able to read and participate in shelf examination with really smart folks who have new takes on my old collection. Many of the items on my shelf are lighter than before, even if only for the fact that I’ve learned I’m not alone or sinful for having so many.

  10. If everyone put everything they didn’t understand on the shelf, there would be no Bloggernacle.

  11. and my blood pressure would be lower. :-)

  12. Steve Evans says:

    Did someone say “shelving?”

    In any event, glad to discuss anything other than waterboarding. The other thread is, er, torturous.

  13. C. Condor (#4), the point Brigham made wasn’t that you should shelf a concept and completely disregard it, he specifically said he didn’t fight against the idea, but he simply didn’t understand it. I can imagine somebody who doesn’t understand a proscription on poker and consequently doesn’t believe it is immoral and shelves the teaching. I imagine that such an extension of Brigham’s pattern would not be the regular or irregular poker game.

  14. Steve – hats off to another great link!

  15. Especially since it is completely relevant to the overall thread for so many people who commented on it. It isn’t often that a hilarious link also is relevant. That takes a special (twisted?) kind of genius that I admire.

  16. I don’t think President Hinckley says many things that need to be “shelved.”

    That’s the beauty of this … you don’t, but maybe I do, and we can all be OK. For instance, the Proclomation on the Family takes up a fair amount of space on my shelf. I’m not sure about it, but I don’t denounce it in sacrament meeting, either. If I think about it, I shelved almost everything at one point, and have slowly taken them off the shelf as I rebuilt my testimony piece by piece.

  17. Peter LLC says:

    Brother Condor, I find the key to Brother Young’s approach here:

    I did not judge the matter, I did not argue against it.

    Perhaps viewing what others put on the shelf as merely an attempt to get around prophetic counsel is at cross purposes with the notion of shelving in the first place.

    I agree with Ray that shelving seems to get more difficult the more recent the utterance, though why this should be I’m not sure.

  18. Thanks, Nitsav. That’s interesting.

    Sam MB, it’s fascinating how we try to locate what we think we know. Context is everything.

    Ray, sorry about the blood pressure. Maybe you can think of it as taking one for the team.

    Spud, yeah, I think this is simply part of being human. And you’re right, that is one of the very best things about the ‘nacle.

    Steve, when I talked about bigger shelves, I didn’t mean….never mind.

  19. If I recall correctly (and I do not have access to anything that might be the source), Camilla Kimball once used the “shelf” analogy to describe a difference between her and her husband. She said that some gospel “mysteries” were like a wrapped present that you can’t open until a future date. She said that her husband would take such a present, feel its weight, shake it, consider its size – and having decided he couldn’t discern what it was, put it on a shelf in the closet and not worry about it. She, too, would take the present, feel its weight, shake is, consider its size – and having decided she couldn’t discern what it was, put it on a shelf in the closet – and then come back occasionally and do it all again.

    Don’t take my word for the truth of the story — it’s a distant memory. But I’ve always liked the comparison.

    I think I’m a bit like Sister Kimball, though I’ve probably moved closer to her husband over the years. I suspect there are many in the bloggernacle who don’t fit either mode: they’re unwilling to put the present away at all.

  20. This all makes me think of Mother Theresa and her long dark night of the Soul, and how that became a strength to her, as she understood it was a way of experienced what Christ experienced.

    Personally, I am grateful for those experiences and relationships which allow me to keep the shelf where it is. John Gould’s two year old is on my shelf. Anyone who can help with that one would have me forever indebted to them.

  21. California Condor says:

    Matt W.,

    Well, for starters, those references to John Gould’s two-year-old were written in 1888, and the alleged hoax happened in 1832. The 56-year time-gap weakens the legitmacy of those quotes.

  22. I like the quote in #7.

    It becomes difficult when we are asked by church leaders (especially if we sustain them as prophets, seers and revelators) to act on counsel/doctrine that has been shelved. I can think of a few what ifs, but for a more recent hypothetical….say portions of the Proclamation are on the shelf, but you’re asked by your leaders to support something like Prop 22? Based on the quotes above, I guess we’re entitled to tell those leaders we’ve received confirmation of no such revelation…and expect no recourse?

  23. Kevin Barney says:

    Although as the post makes clear the concept has been around for a long time, my understanding is that Camilla Kimball is indeed the specific originator of the shelf analogy. I would be interested if anyone can find an LDS usage predating hers.

    The Vision was quite controversial in the early days of the Church; missionaries in Great Britain were counseled not to teach it, at least not too early. It was sort of the deification of its day. To us it seems natural and beautiful, even obvious, but back then it was quite shocking.

  24. To follow up on Kevin’s comment in #23 – and to follow up on the earlier concept of shelving for future understanding vs shelving to ignore:

    I believe one of the most obvious teachings of the Bible, and especially the NT, is the physical nature of the resurrection. It just couldn’t be any plainer to me. When I wrote a paper about it once in a Divinity School class, quoting solely from the Bible, the section leader gave me an “A” – with this fascinating explanation: “I can’t argue with the logic or the scriptural justification – even though I know your conclusion is wrong.” In fact, this teaching (the corporeal nature of the body of Godhood) is one of those teachings that gets us labeled as a heretical cult.

    My point? Shelving things to ignore them is a very dangerous game, since – unexamined – we tend to forget what actually it sitting on the shelf and come to belief it is something other than what it really is. I know my most frustrating moments in the Bloogernacle are when someone describes something they have shelved in such a way that it is obvious they don’t understand what originally was said – that it has mutated in their minds since they placed it on the shelf. It’s hard enough for us to maintain pure understanding even of those things we accept and consider on a regular basis, so it’s MUCH harder to understand what we shelve over time.

  25. Happens in the Bloggernacle, too – not just the Bloogernacle.

  26. That is a very goooood pooooint, Ray. Thanks for making it.

  27. Ray,

    Better than Boogernacle, I suppose.

    I think I agree with you, reflecting on Camilla Kimball’s process. We are going through a reexamination of the PH Ban with our youngest, who is struggling with it. It has caused all of us in the family to reconsider that shelved item. I understand it ended by revelation, I just don’t understand it’s beginnings.

    In that same sense, I much appreciated the article inthe September Ensign regarding Mountain Meadows. No attempt to gloss over the fact that it was a horrific crime. Why otherwise good people would do such a thing was very much on my mind during yesterday’s home teacher discussion. That’s back off the shelf now, as well, for a little shaking and rattling.

  28. It is comforting to me when I hear President Hinckley say things like “I confess that I do not know everything.” Even our prophet is still learning. And to tie this together with the recent thread about kingdoms, it is comforting too that we have eternity to learn and progress and understand (not to say that we shouldn’t try to do those things now, however).

  29. CC: That’s why it’s on the shelf and not all over the kitchen floor….

  30. #3 – I think it is just the opposite. I don’t understand half the stuff the older prophets taught – ie Brigham Young, Paul, etc. Especially if they were teaching “new doctrine”. No prophet (in my lifetime at least) has taught any new doctrine, so there’s nothing to shelf. It just comes down to behavior and obedience regarding poker, earrings, etc.

  31. California Condor says:

    Matt W.,

    The incident would have more need of being “shelved” if the sources were only a few years after the event occurred.

    Since the sources are from a much later date, the story can be taken with a grain of salt.

  32. Nick Literski says:

    #30:
    No prophet (in my lifetime at least) has taught any new doctrine, so there’s nothing to shelf. It just comes down to behavior and obedience regarding poker, earrings, etc.

    Wow…that sure sounds like a soul-satisfying faith, led by a prophet.

  33. Nick, it sounds like a Faith that has a tremendous amount of converts to me. Jonathan, you may think it is a matter of obedience, but to much of the Church, these things are very, very new.

  34. When I first joined the Church, I had so much stuff on the shelf about polygamy and gender issues, and race issues, and God and Jesus and Scriptures and everything else. It all sorts itself out over time. I have never had an issue where further study and prayer didn’t either elimate my worry about it (thus maing it shelvable) or develop a solution (thus making the shelf unnecassary).

  35. Matt W,

    Okay, if I understand you, then the shelf is contingent, but the gospel is necessary? Not sure I have the vocabulary of philosophy correct, but the shelf is just a convenience as the gospel has proven it’s importance and primacy many times over. Things that don’t fit the paradigm are probably an aberration, and there is some logical explanation that is just not readily apparent. Hence, a shelf, until we get more information. I like the idea of trying to empty the shelf over time.

  36. J. Stapley,
    Yes, they are very new and in many cases hard to follow, but in my mind, the 3 degrees of glory is a doctrine of truth that will last forever, while the earring thing is a temporary commandment for right now only. Similar to the Jews and circumcision, it is something that identifies us as a people and keeps us united and distinct.

    Nick,
    Your name looks familiar – didn’t you have a temples website years ago?

    I believe that just because the prophets aren’t revealing new doctrines in the last 32 or more years doesn’t mean they aren’t inspired men receiving revelation as required to lead the church.

  37. It sounds like ‘oh, to be young again’ …

  38. There is one more aspect that has been implied but not discussed directly.

    All of us come into the Church with various personal conceptions – either from a previous denomination / religion or from our own lack of understanding. The first time we are exposed to something that doesn’t fit our natural or learned paradigm, it can be very difficult to understand, accept and follow. However, after experiences expand our understanding a bit or humble us a bit or in any other way change our perspective, we often are able to revisit a previous issue and come to different conclusions.

    Two simple examples:

    1) How many times have I read a scripture and thought, “Wow! I didn’t realize it said that.” I might have read that particular scripture a dozen times, but it never hit me quite like that the other eleven times. The same applies to the endowment. Multiple exposure allows new and deeper enlightenment – even though the actual wording and visualization is exactly the same.

    2) How many of us viewed the world (religion, politics, etc.) a little differently in college or high school than we do when we are married with children? Age and experience usually change perspective in varied and interesting ways – but only if we are able and willing to re-examine our previous perceptions. I believe that if you haven’t changed your mind (to some degree) about numerous issues over the course of a decade or two, that is an issue in and of itself.

    In summary, there are things we shelve intentionally, but I believe there are things that get shelved without conscious effort (by our brains and/or spirits and/or God, to use an example of a convert to the Church who is exposed to the Gospel as a young adult then finally accepts it twenty years later when she is ready) – and only get taken off the shelf (by us or God) when we are in the proper condition to consider, accept, understand and deal with them.

  39. Nick Literski says:

    #36 Jonathan:
    Yes, I had a busy LDS temples website, until I was specifically directed by the LDS Quorum of the Twelve (via the managing director of the Temple Department, who actually carried the message) to take it down and replace it with a pointer to the then-new temples section of lds.org.

    I believe that just because the prophets aren’t revealing new doctrines in the last 32 or more years doesn’t mean they aren’t inspired men receiving revelation as required to lead the church.

    First, that really wasn’t my point. Rather, my point was that the teachings of modern leaders within LDS-ism, as you put it, “just come down to behavior and obedience regarding poker, earrings, etc.” For me, that has almost nothing to do with spiritual satisfaction. Your mileage may vary, of course, and yes, I’ve known many LDS (particularly from military backgrounds, interestingly enough) who clearly thrive on that sort of thing.

    Second, I would suggest that LDS leaders are, in fact, “revealing new doctrines” lately. For example, the “new doctrine” that homosexual attraction will magically disappear at death (entirely contrary to the Book of Mormon writings of Alma, btw) was simply never taught until the mock “interview” with Dallin Oaks and Lance Wickman, posted about a year ago to lds.org. It has been repeated by other apostles since then, and is hinted at in the new pamphlet on the subject. It is absolutely “new doctrine.”

  40. I like the part later on in Brigham’s sermon when he says:

    “How many are there in this Church who are now wavering and shaking because they bare spoken against the ordinances of heaven, and especially against that ordinance which God has revealed for the exaltation of the children of men in celestial marriage? Hold that as sacred as your own soul: if you cannot see the beauty and glory of it, and feel it in your own hearts, say nothing against it. This earth was placed in the hands of Adam and his sons, and he is the Lord of the earth; the male portion of the human family are the lords of the earth, and they are full of wickedness, evil and destruction, and especially in their acts towards the female sex. But God will hold them accountable. The fact is, let the pure principles of the kingdom of God be taught to men and women, and far more of the latter than of the former will receive and obey them. What shall we do with them? They want exaltation, they want to be in the great family of heaven, they do not want to be cast, off, then they must be taken into the families of those who prove themselves worthy to be exalted with the Gods. Who is it that can not see the beauty and the excellency of celestial marriage, and having our children sealed to us?” (J.D. 18:249)

    Not only was Brigham Young so kind as to give you a shelf in this sermon, but he also gave you something to put on the shelf.

  41. #39 Nick,
    That’s unfortunate about the website. I think it’s important to have voices from interested people on church topics that aren’t from church headquarters.

    I misunderstood your first point, but do think that there is some level of spiritual satisfaction from obedience. The problem with this is that it quickly leads to an elitist way of thinking and living (i.e. “I’m following the prophet and you’re not” attitude).

    I would classify the second point as the “tweaking” of a doctrine already in place since the church is still very much against homosexuality. This tweaking has happened several times now, (parents are no longer blamed as responsible) but is still at the core the same; i.e. they feel it’s still wrong. It makes sense that the concept of “the attraction disappearing at death” will soon go away just as holding parents responsible has. But I don’t think the church will ever reverse their stance and condone it.

  42. The opening quote is yet another of the reasons that I really like Brigham Young.

  43. Nick – Not to threadjack too much, but to characterize what Elder Oaks said as “magically disappear” is false. I thought that he was saying that at some point in the afterlife it won’t be a problem. If you want to say disappear, fine, but please don’t use magic in conjunction with it. It conveys a ridiculousness to Elder Oaks’ beliefs that doesn’t need to be there.

  44. whoinventedfreeride says:

    Although we all may call the process of “shelving” by different names, I think all members employ such a process just to keep sane. With all due respect to our church leaders, it amazes me to think about how much power they hold over us as members by the simple virtue of their church calling. I.e., as far as the average member is concerned, all members are, at worst, at least socially expected to endorse everything that is said by an apostle or prophet. This process of shelving helps to keep us sane when prophets or apostles, when acting in every good intention, ask for member obedience to new policies that are obviously rooted in cultural (not God’s) beliefs or mores. Often times, it is apparent that the apostle or prophet is so accustomed to their own closed culture, that they forget that certain requests may seem absurd to the general membership still living in and among the world (for those who don’t understand what I’m getting at, think back to what it was like living a missionary. I remember sitting in church one day as a missionary, feeling enlighten, and wondering, “gee, why does anyone not want to come to church?).

    Without this shelving process, certain requests would be too hard for most of the general membership (including myself) to accept and still maintain a desire to listen to further prophetic counsel. E.g., Hinckley’s no more than two earring for women and none for men rule, the Priesthood ban for Africans (for those of you who are still holding on to some mysterious, “God intended it to happen” explanation of this ban, get over it. The leadership at the time plainly screwed up; they were racist. I can only imaging the kind of courage it took President Kimball to stand up to BRM and BKP. In some ways, if it weren’t for the latter two apostles, I wonder if President McKay would have been the one to usher in the Proclamation on the priesthood.), 20th century ascetic/puritanical interpretations of the Word of Wisdom, and so on, and so on…

    Personally, if it weren’t for the shelving process, I would have left the church after the leadership decided to invite Dick Cheney to come speak at BYU’s most recent convocation. For me, it just seemed too insane at the time that the leadership would make such a gratuitous political statement, especially during a highly scrutinized war. With all due respect to President Hinckley, in addition to being divinely inspired at times, and a prophet of God, he is also a very old man, never held a job other than working for the church (he started working for the church right after his mission), and was educated in Utah at a time when even higher Utah education struggled (BYU still does) with progressiveness. Because I understand some of these shortfalls that someone of Hinckley’s generation may succumb to, I’m able to shelf some of the church leadership’s “father knows best” mentality and continue going to church.

  45. Re: #44
    I think there is a difference between not understanding reasons for counsel or not understanding principles and choosing to disagree with or oppose the counsel or principles that our leaders have given us. There are many things that we may not understand, but I believe we need to be very careful about adopting a position of disagreement or opposition with our leaders.

    Our prophets and apostles themselves would admit that there are not perfect, but they are chosen by God to be His mouthpiece for us. I love Elder Holland’s words from conference in Oct. 2006 (“Prophets in the Land”) where he describes how “in touch” these leaders are and what a blessing it is to be led by prophets today.

  46. whoinventedfreeride

    It would be difficult for BKP to have been an obstacle to DOM as an apostle because BKP wasn’t an apostle until after DOM was dead. Just as you made this error, I also think you are reading too far into Dick Cheney being invited to BYU.

  47. whoinventedfreeride says:

    Matt,

    President McKay didn’t die until 1970, and Boyd K. Packer has been a general authority since 1961. Sure, BKP didn’t become an apostle until right after DOM’s death, but they certainly knew each other, and I’m sure BKP was just as outspoken then as he is now. As far as your comments concerning Dick Cheney, I don’t think you would feel the same if Bill Clinton was asked to speak at a BYU convocation or (gasp) devotional.

  48. Mark Brown says:

    freeride,

    Let’s not, shall we?

  49. whoinventedfreeride says:

    Mark Brown,

    What are you talking about?

  50. Mark Brown says:

    whoinventedfreeride,

    BCC has hosted many exhaustive, not to mention exhausting, discussions of the priesthood ban and Cheney’s speech at BYU within the last six months. To reopen both issues again in a single comment seems like overkill to me. I invite you to look through the archives if you’re interested.

    And no, Elder Packer had nothing to do with when the priesthood ban was lifted.

  51. Nick Literski says:

    #43 Jacob:
    Not to threadjack too much, but to characterize what Elder Oaks said as “magically disappear” is false. I thought that he was saying that at some point in the afterlife it won’t be a problem. If you want to say disappear, fine, but please don’t use magic in conjunction with it. It conveys a ridiculousness to Elder Oaks’ beliefs that doesn’t need to be there.

    Jacob, Dallin Oaks and Lance Wickman have claimed, in official statements, that homosexuality only can exist in mortality, and that it will, in fact, “disappear” after death. This contradicts the teachings of Alma as recorded in The Book of Mormon, which indicate that death will not change our nature and/or character. Oaks’ theory of sudden change in sexual orientation at the time of death is, in fact, ridiculous, notwithstanding the refusal of some LDS to believe an apostle can be fallible.

    Furthermore, Jacob, it remains the teaching of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that those homosexual persons (who actually don’t exist according to the LDS church, btw) who are “good enough” will turn straight. To quote from the recent pamphlet:

    “While many Latter-day Saints, through individual effort, the exercise of faith, and reliance upon the enabling power of the Atonement, overcome same-gender attraction in mortality, others may not be free of this challenge in this life.”

    This language is incredibly irresponsible. The inescapable implication is that those who are “not free of this challenge in this life” have FAILED to make enough effort, exercise enough faith, or rely enough on “the enabling power of the Atonement.” Such a message will create despair for gay members of the LDS church, and will very likely result in suicides.

  52. that’s silly. What does sexual orientation have to do with our spiritual nature and/or character. If our sex drive is completely motivated by our need in this life to procreate, it is fairly reasonable to assume it will be gone after this life is over.

    and I see nothing in the new pamphlet to suggest a failure of faith, etc. on the partof the one’s who “mat not be free of this challenge in this life” but rather a matter of fact statement that even after all those things, some people are still going to be homosexual. I think you’re reading is extremely unfair.

    Plus your overblown “will very likely result in suicides” and “who actually don’t exist” make you out to be just over the top.

  53. I would love if Bill Clinton spoke at BYU.

    Thanks Mark Brown.

  54. Nick Literski says:

    Matt, are you serious? Do you actually believe that Mormonism teaches that sexual desire will “be gone” after this life? Let me be sure I understand you. You’re saying that someday, when you and your wife are resurrected with perfect bodies, you’ll have no desire to make love to her? Are you really telling me that eternal marriage will merely consist of being really good platonic friends? In 28 years since I became a member of the LDS church, you are seriously the first member of the church who I have ever heard claim that sexual desire will cease to exist after mortality.

    I’m also perplexed by your claim that you see “nothing” in the new pamphlet that suggests spiritual failure on the part of gay LDS who do not “overcome” their sexual orientation. Did you even read the portion I quoted?

    If the only message was, as you say, “a matter of fact statement that even after all those things, some people are still going to be homosexual,” then the sentence would merely read something like: “Some may not be free of this challenge in this life.” That would be a neutral, “matter of fact” statement.

    Instead, the statement is placed in a very specific context. That context is intended, at least, to suggest that homosexuality can be overcome by spiritual means. Note the wording:

    While many Latter-day Saints, through individual effort, the exercise of faith, and reliance upon the enabling power of the Atonement, overcome same-gender attraction in mortality…

    This is a spiritual prescription, or recipe, Matt. The clear meaning is that homosexuality can be “overcome” through (1) individual effort, (2) exercise of faith, and (3) reliance upon the “enabling power” of the Atonement.

    Now, I agree with you that the author most likely intended to suggest that despite heroic spiritual effort, some people would continue, through no fault of their own, to be homosexual. As written, however, the paragraph conveys a different message. Because of its “recipe” format, many readers will conclude that if a person hasn’t “overcome” homosexuality, they just haven’t applied that recipe completely enough. This kind of reading is reinforced by a larger American religious context, where vocal protestant groups state even more explicity that belief in Jesus will “cure” homosexuality.

    If you think that my comment regarding the danger of suicide was “over the top,” Matt, I can only conclude that you are simply unfamiliar with the experience of gay LDS. I don’t think you have any idea of the kind of anguish that gay members of the LDS church go through. I’ve communicated with many through the years, not to mention my own experience. The inability to “overcome” being gay, no matter how hard one tries to do everything they are taught to do, can really be torture, Matt. In that kind of situation, it’s almost a “default” to assume that you just aren’t righteous enough, you haven’t prayed enough, fasted enough, etc., or else deity would have “fixed” you. Official statements like this pamphlet are ambiguous at best, and contribute to this feeling of despair. It is not at all “over the top” to see how this context can (and likely will) drive some to terrible choices like suicide.

  55. Nick–

    If I’m understanding you right, you’re reading Alma to say that a person who makes a sincere-yet-unsuccessful effort to overcome an “undesirable” sexual orientation in this life will find themselves with that same sexual orientation in the resurrection.

    Does this reading apply to everyone who is unable to overcome some weakness of the “natural man” in this life? Will people who tried but were unable to overcome predispositions towards chemical abuse in this life find themselves with those same dependencies in the resurrection? What about those who tried and failed to overcome, say, dishonesty? Selfishness? Racism? Intolerance?

    Or does your reading of Alma only apply to sexual orientations? And if so, how do all those people penitents who were unable to overcome their preferences for multiple sexual partners, or S&M, or pedophilia [but spent a lifetime denying these urges], find fulfillment in the resurrection?

  56. Nick Literski says:

    Jim,
    No, I’m not for a moment saying that the passage in Alma applies only to sexual orientations. Rather, I’m pointing out that Oaks’ doctrine actually exempts sexual orientation from Alma’s teachings.

    A selfish person, or a racist (your examples) isn’t going to suddenly be generous or non-racist at death. Such an idea not only goes against what is attributed to Alma, but frankly flaunts common sense.

    In the 26 years I was a member of the LDS church, quite a number of sources pointed to the Alma passage to highlight the importance of repenting from various sins, such as Word of Wisdom violations, because that “craving” would continue to be experienced. For a time, in fact, a non-LDS book was very popular in LDS circles, because the author (who claimed a near-death experience) described seeing spirits trying unsuccessfully to grab cigarettes, alcohol, and other addictive substances. I believe the title was “Return From Tomorrow,” but I don’t recall the author’s name.

  57. It seems to me, Nick, that you are drawing a false parallel. The post-mortal cravings that you describe are all pre-resurrection. The resurrection, in my reading, is regularly viewed as giving us a holy body, one without the failings of fallen humanity. Oaks is clear that the change occurs in the resurrection. Your reading is actually not consistent with historical or contemporary teachings.

  58. I think everyone ( including Nick) misinterprets that passage in Alma, but I haven’t had time to post on it yet.

  59. I agree with Nitsav. I read that passage and get a VERY different principle than I hear many members teach.

    Nick, I don’t mean this in any way to be focused on you individually, but I have found that many people read that passage through the filter of one particular doctrine with which they struggle or one particular member or missionary who interpreted it through their own filter – and that filtering inhibits a perspective that is more comprehensive and true to what I believe to be the fundamental principle.

    The short version:

    Alma 24: 31-35 says NOTHING whatsoever about specific natural tendencies of the mortal body – and it does not say that physical tendencies that cannot be controlled in this life will be maintained in the afterlife. It addresses repentance only – by focusing on whether one’s spirit is repentant or not – whether or not one has tried to improve over the course of one’s life. (v.33 highlights improvement as the key standard.)

    Given what it actually says, I easily can picture someone with every conceivable “sinful” tendency who struggles his entire life to change those tendencies but fails to overcome any of them but one very minor one faring better than someone with only one fairly minor “sinful” tendency who never attempts to repent because he sees himself as so much better than all those dirty sinners around him.

    It certainly helps me hang on as I keep falling flat on my face in my efforts to change. I share Nick’s concern about how we treat homosexual men and women, but I don’t agree that this passage should be used to say those who are unable to remain celibate automatically will be damned. It just doesn’t say that.

  60. Nick Literski says:

    Ray, I just want you to know that even when I disagree with you completely, I appreciate your ability to write with sensitivity and sincerity. I truly enjoy reading your posts.

    As I read these responses, I think we are talking past one another in one regard. If homosexuality is a “birth defect,” or some other “defective” condition, then yes, Mormonism clearly teaches that such things pertain only to the mortal body, and will not exist after death. Pre-resurrection, there is no “defective” body to influence the spirit, and post-resurrection a “perfect” body would be free of such “defects.” I think the most charitable reading of Oaks is that he bases his doctrine on the idea that homosexuality is essentially a “birth defect,” and his comments in the mock interview posted on lds.org seems to bear this view out.

    As you might expect, I prefer the LDS church’s admission that they simply don’t know for certain why some people are gay. For myself, I only know that (a) I endured a great deal of anguish and misery when I believed that I was somehow “defective,” and (b) I have enjoyed a great deal more joy in the present, having accepted and embraced my homosexuality as a normal part of my creation–just as much as my brown hair or my hazel eyes.

    Regardless of which view is correct, I have to stand by my point that language is important. In fact, I wonder a bit whether this pamphlet was “test marketed,” so to speak. I wonder if they had gay members of the LDS church (in good standing, of course) read the drafts, and comment on their responses—just to make sure that the words used actually conveyed the message that was truly desired. I don’t for a moment think that LDS leaders wanted gay members of the LDS church to feel despair. I think most of the pamphlet proves just the opposite. Still, I think this passage is unfortunately stated, and could indeed be a catalyst for some very unfortunate outcomes.

  61. Neal Peters says:

    Even though I could care less about the post-mortal state of our physical desires, I now feel compelled to add further confusion to the growing miasma of Book of Mormon post-mortal interpretation. Back when I was a young and handsome college student attending a large, extremely conservative, privately owned LDS University located in Provo, Utah, I had the misfortune of enrolling in R.D.’s Old Testament class. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Brother D., he is a bit of a nut case, and single handedly has managed to bring further meaning to the title of Class Five Lunatic. For unknown reasons, Brother D. had many insane ideas, which he would often sprinkle into our otherwise strictly Mormon orthodox classroom discussions. One day we were struggling to discuss a passage in the Old Testament concerning post-mortal marriage at eight in the morning. Dear brother Draper went on to explain that only those who are married under the covenant in this life will retain their genitals in the next life. Discussion highlights included exchanges between the class and teacher that further clarified that those not married under the covenant in this life will have a patch of smooth skin where their genitals once were. I’d like to see President D. Oaks take a crack at this one.

  62. Nick Literski says:

    Heh…I wasn’t going to go there, Neal, but yes, I also heard a number of LDS members claim that only “celestial” ressurected bodies (as opposed to terrestrial resurrected bodies, and telestial resurrected bodies) would have functional genetalia. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard anyone claim that in seriousness, but it was a pretty common folk belief at one time!

  63. Neal, one of my favorite quotes from my father is, “Sometimes people think too hard.”

  64. Nick, one of the reasons I also like how the Church leaders are discussing homosexuality now is the very thing you mentioned – that they no longer are involved in the natural vs. unnatural debate. They no longer “blame” people for their sexual inclinations. I also like Elder Jensen’s recognition that it is almost impossible to expect people to live without hope. I think that opens a window for eternal reward through grace that doesn’t exist under the orthodox view.

  65. Hopefully, this will be five in a row on the recent comment list. Pride is such a good thing. (Please, please, please recognize the tone of that that one.)

    Nick, I just need to thank you for the first paragraph of #60. As much as I don’t care what others think in many ways, those words mean a lot to me. I have gone through a bit of a transformation in regard to your comments. There was a time when I viewed them as combative and argumentative, but I no longer see it that way. I appreciate most of them now as sincere and thoughtful – as a necessary alternative view in the process of understanding the issues more fully. I still think a few are over-the-top, but they no longer bother me as much as they originally did. (and I also see that most, if not all, of the ones I view as over-the-top are in direct response to someone else whose comment also is over-the-top) In summary, thank you; I now feel the same way.

    End of lovefest – not that there’s anything wrong with that.

  66. FWIW, the doctrine Neal refers to in #61 is the “TK Smoothie” rule which you can read more about here. It’s crap, of course.

  67. TK Smoothie?!?! Wow. Simply wow.

    I’d like to invoke that rule in some of my administrative meetings, but I might need to come up with a different title. I’m not sure my closest Priesthood associates would appreciate “TK Smoothie” – although most of them have excellent senses of humor. If I can’t come up with another name for it, perhaps I will have an interesting experience in the future.

  68. This is one that someone else must have put on my shelf, since I was unaware of it. I’m not sure I would put it on a shelf, since there are all kinds of possible wild applications. I wouldn’t pick Methodist, but it might be fun to portray a different religion every week.

    http://www.timesandseasons.org/?p=4053#comment-232853

  69. Sorry; it’s late and I’m exhausted. Should have been:

    http://www.timesandseasons.org/?p=4053#more-4053

  70. Hello: one of my professors is looking for the original Camilla Kimball “shelf” reference. If anyone can provide that for me, I would greatly appreciate it.

    Email me at portia (at) byu (dot) edu

    or just post it here.

  71. Portia, I believe it is this biographical sketch that Lavina wrote for the Ensign in 1975.

  72. Hey, thanks. I found it shortly after submitting this, actually, but references are always good. :)