Back-Row Questions: Doctrine and Covenants Lesson 27

Sometimes in Gospel Doctrine class, the scriptural text we’re reading raises more questions, concerns, or downright silliness in my mind than it can rightfully be expected to resolve.  I think of these as back-row questions, because they’re the sort of thing that Sunday School teachers dread when back-row class members raise their hands to contribute to the general discussion.  This week’s lesson materials raised several such thoughts in my mind; rather than impose them on a Gospel Doctrine class or whisper them to Taryn, I thought I’d just post them here.  What follows may well add up to nothing.

D&C Section 101 starts right out with an attempted answer to the problem of evil: Mormons in Jackson County, Missouri, were subjected to religious and/or ethnic persecution and explusion “in consequence of their transgressions.”  This is a classic answer to the problem of why God allows evil in the world; Bart Ehrman, in his book God’s Problem, calls this the “prophetic solution” to the problem of evil, because it’s the answer offered by many of the prophetic books of the Old Testament (other Bible books offer different solutions).

I often worry about this explanation for two reasons: it usually involves disproportionality between the crime and the punishment, as well as a collective mode of punishment that affects innocents as well as the guilty.  On the subject of disproportionality, consider the list of sins that are supposed to account for the Missouri Saints’ sufferings:

…there were jarrings, and contentions, and envyings, and strifes, and lustful and covetous desires among them… (D&C 101: 6)

An impressive list, to be sure.  (I bet that some of their children also lied about who ate the leftovers.)  Are we meant to see God’s justice in responding to these petty and ubiquitous human weaknesses with violence and total dispossession?  This image of God makes me think of a parent who punishes a child who doesn’t do her homework before playing by taking away her bed.

Speaking of children…  Surely not all of the Missouri Saints were equally guilty of envy, gossip, and whatnot.  Yet the suffering affected all of them — innocent and guilty alike.  Indeed, some categories of the innocent, very young children in particular, arguably may have suffered more than the guilty.  Once again, this is a vision of God that just bugs me.

There’s arguably a second justification for the Saints’ suffering in verse 4:

…they must needs be chastened and tried, even as Abraham, who was commanded to offer up his only son.

Which one is it, chastened or tried?  These are very different things, and the analogy to Abraham seems muddled by the equivocation.  Abraham was tried — he was told by God to murder his son, and the trial involved his response to that instruction.  No chastening was involved, really, although arguably Abraham deserved some for his willingness to do an evil deed just because someone told him to.  Unlike Abraham, the Missouri Saints didn’t really have a choice to make, just imposed suffering to live through.  The comparison seems a bit weak.

While the first part of this section offers what strike me as unpersuasive and even morally dubious explanations for why the Missouri Saints were dispossessed, the next part pursues what I see as a far preferable approach: a version of what Ehrman identifies as the “apocalyptic” solution to the problem of suffering.  In essence, this kind of narrative says: yes, there is unjust suffering in the world during the present age, but all will be set right by miraculous reversal in the age to come.  (See D&C 101:10-19, 22-66).  This is an idea that helps one cope with present inequities, and it often leads to beautiful text — as, indeed, it does in this instance.

Verses 20-21 seem to pose a problem.  In them, God tells us that there is no other place, besides Jackson County, for the gathering of the Saints — and there never will be, until Jackson County is full.  I guess we’re being metaphorical, then, when we talk about the gathering, since it evidently hasn’t even started yet.

A funny theme arises in verses 76-80, in which God recommends the pursuit of legal and political recourse regarding the Jackson County expulsion.  In this context, God explains why he established the U.S. Constitution: because

…it is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another.

Of course, the Constitution in question is one that provides a legal context for slavery.  Ah, well.

Section 103 offers much of the same.  The first verses reiterate that God allowed the Jackson County events because the Saints were not “altogether” perfect in their obedience to God’s commandments and revelations.  They also add that the expulsion was allowed so that God’s enemies “might fill up the measure of their iniquities” (D&C 103:3).  Good!  I’d hate to think that God’s enemies were shorted…

The last part of Section 103 is cagey, seeming to promise participants in Zion’s Camp that they will be successful in regaining Jackson County lands without actually guaranteeing anything.

Section 105 seems to offer a slightly different explanation for the Jackson County expulsions, and also suggests a reason for the (abject and total) failure of Zion’s Camp to meet its stated goal of restoring the Saints to their land.  The Mormons were kicked out of Jackson County, according to Section 105, not because of gossip and thinking dirty thoughts, as I read Section 101 to propose, but rather because they were insufficiently egalitarian and communitarian.  This explanation emphasizes themes that I see as central to the gospel, but it still seems too harsh.  Most everybody ever has always had these sins, and God doesn’t always allow/provide semi-genocidal retribution.

Verse 24 offers some very sound advice, telling the Saints:

Talk not of judgments, neither boast of faith nor of mighty works, but carefully gather together, as much in one region as can be, consistently with the feelings of the people…

If the Mormons’ post-Jackson County settlement patterns and relationships with outsiders had better followed this humble and low-key model, I wonder how many lives might have been saved?  Of course, the revelation leaves it ambiguous whether this advice was meant to last for the long term or only during the course of appeals regarding the Jackson County expulsion.  Whatever the original intent, taking this verse seriously in a broader sense could have saved a lot of 19th-century grief…

This section is of two minds on the smiting question.  Several verses predict future moments when the armies of Israel will demolish their enemies and generally carry out a good, old-fashioned, Joshua-style smiting.  Yet the section also advises,

And again I say unto you, sue for peace, not only to the people that have smitten you, but also to all people; and lift up an ensign of peace, and make a proclamation of peace unto the ends of the earth; and make proposals for peace unto those who have smitten you, according to the voice of the Spirit which is in you, and all things shall work together for your good. (D&C 105:38-40)

Given the relatively positive tone regarding military scattering, throwing down, avenging, laying waste, etc., earlier on, how are we to understand these instructions?  Are the Saints supposed to sincerely sue for peace, proving themselves to be morally superior to the Lord’s offer of vengeance?  Or are the proposals for peace to be seen as strategic and insincere, a way to buy time to let “my army become very great” (v. 31)?

These sections are a fascinating window into the way that the same questions and the same answers come up generation after generation, and even millennium after millennium.  Why do God’s people suffer?  Why do God’s promises of victory not always come true?  Perhaps because God’s people have sinned, or perhaps because the wicked need to meet some kind of evilness quota to justify their punishment in the coming age.  The questions are so much more emotionally and practically compelling than the available answers that there is every reason to expect this conversation to continue as long as God has a people.


  1. iguacufalls says:

    just because the scriptures don’t mention Abraham being chastened, doesn’t mean he wasn’t. It just means it wasn’t written down. Scriptures only offer a miniscule look into any of the lives they portray.

  2. tomchik says:

    Can we get a post on a DC lesson that’s actually positive, faith-building, and not cynically critical of the scriptures?

  3. Thomas Parkin says:


    It seems to me that you are repeatedly seeing either / or where altogether seems fitting. This also seems more cynical than usual – unnecessarily cutting, even for BCC. ~

  4. Left Field says:

    Perhaps the 13th Amendment is what the Lord had in mind when he instructed us in verse 77 to maintain the laws and constitution “for the rights and protection of all flesh.” Certainly the constitution as thus maintained has been effective in fulfilling the purpose mentioned in verses 79-80.

  5. I think I disagree just a little with your interpretation of Section 101. The question on the minds of the saints at the time was “why did zion fail?” Many felt that the Lord had promised that Zion would be established in Jackson county and now it was clear that it would not.

    The affliction that the Lord “suffered” to come upon the saints in verse 2, in my opinion, was not persecution but the inability to stand up to it. If the saints had been free of the shortcomings listed in verse six then they would have been able to establish zion. As a result, I believe, they would have been able to resist the persecutions of their neighbors.

    I am of the opinion that this is the lesson of the parable of the tower, as described later in the section. The saints failed to build the tower. Doing so would not have prevented the enemy from coming to attack the vineyard but it would have allowed the satins to be prepared for when the enemy did come.

  6. Steve Evans says:

    tomchik, one is a-comin’. I agree that there is more here to be found.

  7. To the extent those sections attempt to address the problem of evil, they remind me of the book of Job–as to which even the LDS Bible Dictionary acknowledges that the book (of Job) does not fully address or answer. I do not think those sections of the Doctrine and Covenants adequately answer the problems of evil either.

  8. tomchik,
    I agree that the tone (especially for someone who doesn’t know JNS personally) comes across, at times, as a bit glib, I don’t share your view that the overall post was cynical or negative. I thought the post raised important and deeply interesting questions for latter-day saints, and the concluding point — about the relevance and compellingness of those questions at times when people identified as God’s face the difficulties of kingdom building — of the post was quite profound.

  9. Keep ’em coming JNS. Infinitely more interesting than the bloggernacle 1st ward.

  10. Steve Evans says:


  11. Somebody’s bitter about not getting called as enrichment coordinator…

  12. Brad, I liked the last paragraph as well.

    The first half of the OP is mainly what spurred my reaction. It just seemed like a lot of complaining about the way Joseph saw fit to record the revelation.

    I mean the bottom line is – dem’s da berries. It’s what the Lord said. We can sit here and question that he was too harsh or not succinct enough, or chose the wrong words in comparing to Abraham. Or we could try to actually learn what the Lord intended us to learn.

    Maybe I’m misreading his intent entirely, but when 99% of
    readers don’t “know JNS personally,” I think it might be prudent to attempt a less cynical, less harsh tone toward scripture. (especially if you admit that that is how it comes across to a stranger)

  13. About the Constitution complaint – I’m pretty sure God had the foresight to know that the document as it stood in 1833 was flexible enough that it would be changed to ban slavery.

  14. Speaking of children… Surely not all of the Missouri Saints were equally guilty of envy, gossip, and whatnot. Yet the suffering affected all of them — innocent and guilty alike. Indeed, some categories of the innocent, very young children in particular, arguably may have suffered more than the guilty.

    I view this as the Lord teaching a powerful lesosn on unity. The Saints had to be united – whether in prosperity or in being persecuted. That’s what Zion must be – a place where ALL dwell in righteousness, of one heart and one mind. If the people as a whole don’t abide the Zion standard, everyone suffers.

    Once again, this is a vision of God that just bugs me.

    I can think of 3 possibilities

    1) You believe Joseph was inspired in writing this section and are bugged that this is the way God actually is.
    2) You don’t believe Joseph was inspired in writing the particular verses in question and you’re bugged that Joseph had that view of God.
    3) You don’t believe Joseph is a prophet of God.

    Which is it?

  15. I also think it’s fairly obvious that the bit about Abraham should read, “they must needs be chastened, and tried even as Abraham…”d

    Let’s face it, grammar was not the forte of 1800s authors, and editing in subsequent years hasn’t been perfect.

    So 2 separate things needed to happen. One is to be chastened, and the other is to be tried. It sounds to me like the Lord was killing two birds with one stone with these particular persecutions.

    In other words, if they were just being chastened, it might not have been as harsh, but they were being chastened AND tried so they really had some tough times to wade through.

    But the words of the hymn are comforting: “The flame shall not hurt thee, I only design thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.”

  16. Which one is it, chastened or tried? These are very different things,

    I’m not so sure this is necessarily (or at least not always) true. I think that God’s chastening may not always be what we think of as chastening (as in ‘tsk, tsk, you naughty child’ …the kind of calling-into-line kind of thing). I think these two concepts can be synonymous in the journey of learning by experience, growing through opposition, etc.

  17. Peter LLC says:

    tomchik (14), I’d venture 4) None of the above.

    For example, I can imagine a revelatory process in which Joseph was inspired as the day is long, but where the Lord did not dictate to him word-for-word what to write.

  18. Peter LLC says:

    Let’s face it, grammar was not the forte of 1800s authors

    Although if “dem’s da berries” as you claim, wouldn’t your statement more properly read “grammar was not the forte of the Lord”?

  19. Aaron Brown says:

    Well, I quite liked this post, substantively, and I don’t much care about the “tone.” So that settles it.


  20. tomchik:
    Sure JNS was being a little fun with the scriptures, but he explained that at the outset, didn’t he? Did you not read that part of his post? (And besides, when did we start worshipping the scriptures and proscribe having a little fun?) I thought JNS was clear about his purpose, and frankly, I found much of what he had to say to be thought-provoking and illuminating.

  21. I like the perspective section 124 leads to on the problem of evil. Instead of blaming the saints for the failure to build a temple in Jackson county, it blames their enemies. God accepts the Saints’ offering and extends them the temple blessings they would have received in Jackson. The entire Jackson county saga was one of the first applications that occurred to me after learning about Open Theism from Blake Ostler. Open Theism has the potential to address the problem of evil in ways that classical theism can not.

    The primary reason why the Saints got kicked out of Jackson was championing abolitionism in their press. So it is hard for me to point a finger of blame on the Saints and very easy to do so on their enemies. I do think it is natural for Joseph and the Saints to be introspective and ask what they could do better in the aftermath of that suffering and for sections in between 84 and 124 to cultivate resolve and recommitment to the Lord to make Jackson still happen (through petitions and negotiations). A section like 101 is exactly what was needed to help the Saints try to get along with their Missouri neighbors to try accomplish their goals. Section 124 doesn’t make sense until the Jackson dream is completely dead and the Saints moving away and powerless to take their frustrations out on their enemies.

  22. I always felt it was an unrealistic proposition to think any group of people, particularly in the modern day, would be able to live up to the standards set up for Jackson County, Missouri, as set in this section of the Doctrine and Covenants. I felt, as I’ve read this in the past, that the Saints were being set up for failure because they were not properly prepared, and most importantly, not given the time to prepare to live as God would have wanted them to live. Those items, backbiting, etc, are really petty, but clearly important to remove if you want to create unity. I don’t know whose fault it was that the Saints failed, whether it was Joseph Smith’s fault for not preparing them enough, or God’s fault for setting the bar too high, or the anti-Mormons in Missouri who never gave the Saints a shot, or the Saints themselves just simply choosing not to live up to the standards they agreed to. To me, it always felt unrealistic.

    I mean look at us today, as a population of Saints. We’ve had now 170 some odd years to try and perfect the Saints and we’re still at strife, envious, greedy, backbiting, and so on. Delving into politics disunites us badly.

  23. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

    To all who complained regarding the tone, a couple of points. First, this post has a few sardonic throw-away lines. These are present not for the purpose of mocking scripture as with the intent of expressing my response to the texts in question. When the word “cynical” is thrown around, false accusations are being made: this post captures my genuine response to the passages in question, and I don’t have an ulterior motive. To the extent that I’m missing beauty and power in the passages that bother me, I’d love to be shown how other people read them to find that.

    Second, I suggest that the problem for many who complain about tone here isn’t tone at all, but rather content. These readers are unhappy about the fact that I am unhappy with some aspects of the way we are shown God acting in the world in these sections. To the extent that the tone is relevant to these concerns, I think it is because the style of the post clarifies rather than conceals the thrust of my remarks. I am offering a relatively unguarded account of my struggle with these passages, and that may violate some community taboos. But: are those taboos helpful or not? Would it be better if I were cagey and withdrawn, partially raising my dilemmas while disguising their nature? This would, in fact, be actually cynical…

    Finally, regarding the question of whether the post implies that I don’t think Joseph Smith was inspired in writing these passages, etc., that’s really not the point. Our sacred works depict God in a variety of hugely divergent ways. I regard most or all of those depictions as inspired, and I think that puts us in a position of having to really wrestle with the question of what God is like. I’m not at ease with any specific set of answers at this point, but I’m actively engaged. (On that last point, see the above post.)

  24. I like your post, JNS. The D&C has some powerful teachings, but also has veins of whimsy and 19th century literalism that only make sense (to me) if you assume that the divine message was mediated through a young 19th century mind. I think your back row questions show that you’re taking the book seriously — reading closely and thinking critically about what’s in there. I prefer that approach, rather than simply dismissing the whole book because it’s not perfect.

  25. Ugly Mahana says:

    Regarding “chastened and tried.” As you noted, not all of the saints were guilty of the sins the section states led to the punishment. Perhaps some were chastened, while others were tried.

    Also, I think the comparison to Abraham is apt, as all had the choice to maintain their Church membership, or walk away. Presumably walking away would have allowed them to avoid the suffering.

  26. Randy B. says:

    A fun and interesting post, JNS. Keep ’em comin’.

  27. #13 Regarding the flexibility of the Constitution to ban Slavery and provide for States Rights. It failed. That lead to the Civil War in 1860.
    Missouri was just not a friendly place in 1830 or 1860. They ever had their own Civil War with Kansas.
    I think (personal opinion), a link can be made from Zion Camp to MMM.

  28. “Second, I suggest that the problem for many who complain about tone here isn’t tone at all, but rather content”

    I respectfully, and I mean that sincerely, disagree with you on this, at least in my case. It was indeed the tone for me and not the content. I believe it is indeed possible to raise honest inquiries for understanding certain passages of scripture or on the nature of God (or what have you) in a tone that is less jarring.

  29. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

    Sonny, no worries. I don’t mean that everyone was worried about content rather than tone, but it is clear that concerns about “tone” are sometimes used to rule certain kinds of content out of bounds. To the extent that the tone here was jarring, though, that has content implications — what you’re finding jarring is my experience of these texts.

  30. Matt W. says:

    JNS: I have a very different reaction, to these scriptures, in regards to how they relate to the problem of evil. I don’t offer this as a rebuttal of any sort, as I don’t think I have anything to rebutt, but merely as my own sincere response to a challenging scripture.

    To me, the initial report from the Lord that “…there were jarrings, and contentions, and envyings, and strifes, and lustful and covetous desires among them… (D&C 101: 6)” seems like an honest statement of the facts within a natural frame of reference. The Saints perpetrated crimes and other social ills against their fellow Missourians, and thus their fellow Missourians reciprocated in kind. God was not stating his own punishment upon them, but letting them know they suffered the natural consequences of their actions, and that God allowed the natural consequences. If there is a complaint to be made here, it could be that God is blaming the Victim, but I think that “Blaming the Victim” can be weasel words, in any case.

    Also the scripture says they must be chastened and tried even as Abraham. The Lord to me is saying his allowance of the natural consequences coupled with this revelation he is currently giving is his trial and chastisement. I think only the trial is even as Abraham, and the chastisement is perhaps poorly allowed into the same sentence.

    In any case, to me God is saying he allowed the natural order of this to occur, coupled with his verbal acknowledgment here that his allowance of the natural order of things does make him partially responsible for them, and that he will set things right at some future point for those who are his. (I would inject my own thought of whether they be Missourian or Mormon).

    I can not respond to your comment that “the Constitution in question is one that provides a legal context for slavery.”, but I can say my own somewhat emotional response to reading this same verse was to also think of Slavery, but to be extremely grateful for the gift of this statement in light of the Church’s own sinful nature in this regard, allowing pernicious folklore to judge a man for the color of his skin. I am not much of a patriot, and am not well versed in our constitution, but am grateful for the only part of the constitution I know, which is that all should have “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”. I believe that is very much in line with the Plan of Salvation, as I understand it.

    From the rest of my comment, you can probably see where I don’t think 101, 103, and 105 are out of line with one another, but are all facets of the same whole.

    Anyway, great post and great thoughts. Sorry for the unsettled reaction of others, I think it isn’t much to do with your content or tone, just that this is 1 in many recent posts dealing with complex issues, and people are taking them as a whole, and not on their own lights.

  31. Thomas Parkin says:

    “To the extent that the tone is relevant to these concerns, I think it is because the style of the post clarifies rather than conceals the thrust of my remarks.”

    The style of the post is strong enough that it is easily mistaken _for_ the thrust of your remarks – on an initial read, and doubly so for someone unacquainted with your style, I’m sure. I’d simply make you aware that your style will throw some readers, myself among them, off your trail.

    On second read, my reaction is much tamer than last night. I suppose that’s my point. I sometimes intentionally drive people off, or challenge them to see if they’ll be driven off, with an aggressive manner, but you seem to be saying that isn’t your intent.

    “Our sacred works depict God in a variety of hugely divergent ways…”

    It seems to me He is a being with a fully varied repertoire of behaviors. I’d repeat my first observation but apply it to God: why not altogether, why either /or. I personally see holiness as being an assimilation of opposites and of all possible godly personality traits into a perfect and functional unity. Why force Him to one thing, when that one thing clearly contains many things – in my view, the whole range of human passions only in a perfected order.

    I’m not sure how much justice enters in. I know that it is a major concern for many (most) people. I think that once we fall out of His protective circle, which we easily do, and even to a large measure while we are within it, He allows this fallen world to _happen_ to us. Isn’t the whole point to see how will comport ourselves to a reality that is beyond the pale? Whatever justice there is doesn’t come while this world is this world.

    “…having to really wrestle with the question of what God is like. ”

    Amen to that. What is God like? IS the question.~

  32. JNS,

    I appreciate the glimpse into your mind that this post affords me. It both suggests some interesting content to mull over with regard to the specific questions you raise, as well as an interesting process, evidenced by the inquiry methods and tools you use.

    On one of the content issues, I wonder whether concern with individually particularized punishment (both yours and mine) may emphasize too strongly the individual aspect (and concept) of an existence that is at least as strongly characterized by interdependence, ecological systems, and commune-ity.

    How precisely is the punishment for global warming being allocated? For economic excess?

  33. Thomas Parkin says:

    It says in Sec 76 that those who will inherit the Telestial Kingdom are also those who “suffer the wrath of God on Earth.” Since we are all more or less equally subject to the potential malevolence of this existence, it seems to me the wrath of God must be something other than calamities personal or collective. Say the earthquake shakes down your house and it shakes down mine – but I experience the wrath of God, while you still have the sweet companionship of His Spirit. ~

  34. JNS,

    I’m coming to this post a day late, but I am glad I was delayed.

    I listened to an interview yesterday with the author of The Evolution of God. In the book, this author traces the history of humankind’s concept of and relation to deity. He sketches a rough pattern in the evolution of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, such that when a people experiences uncertainty and outside threats, their concept of God is one of a vengeful deity trying them and countenancing, if not commanding, the destruction of their enemies.

    Conversely, when a people live in peaceful times, or when their survival necessitates cooperation and interdependence with other groups, their interpretation of God tends to the benevolent master, one that encourages charity and bestows blessings.

    The key point that I took from the interview is not that God is changing, but that our interpretation of Him changes over time. Perhaps we can look at this section of scripture from the point of view that Joseph and his little band of Mormons were simply trying to make sense of their circumstances, and that these times colored his words as he wrestled to find meaning in suffering.

    I share your jarring experience with these texts, but I tend to attribute the dualities in these verses to mortals navigating a frightening and difficult time, seeking survival – as a people, at the very least – in the face of hardship and threats.

    My approach may also be jarring, but it is the approach that helps me maintain a faith in my God, as I also wrestle with these questions that have plagued generations.

    If you ever move from the back bench and assume the role of Gospel Doctrine teacher, I’d like to know. I’d love to attend your class.

  35. Because I usually miss Sunday School, I miss out on a lot of back-row question stuff. (I also miss out on a lot of boring stuff.) I think I prefer getting my Sunday School here. Not only is it usually more interesting, but if something makes me indignant, I can talk about it in real life instead of blogging about it.

    Great post, JNS.

  36. Is this a new and improved BCC? In the first three comments, two take a critical approach to the author and blog. I was expecting fireworks and a meltdown, and pulled up a chair!

    Instead, there is just a lukewarm defense from one perma. Steve must be reading Zen and the Art of Blogging.

    Great post, J.

  37. Re: Constitution (#27, #13):

    FWIW, it’s my understanding – with what I’ve learned since HS – that the compromise on enumerating populations to include slaves was reached in order to prevent the southern States, who wanted slaves to count as a full person for Congressional representation, from wielding too much influence (propagating slavery everywhere or being too formidable ever to be stopped).

    Divinely-inspired *people* aren’t perfect, either, but they can help a lot of good things happen… and are frequently subject to misrepresentation.

  38. I think one contributing factor to comments like #2 & #3 is unrelated to this post taken as a single, stand-alone article; rather, it is more a question of timing. This post, which starts out in a seemingly cynical or grumbly view of the scriptures and Sunday School, comes on the heels of 3 other posts related (in one case unintentionally) to Sunday School which, to varying degrees, caused some readers/commenters to express concerns about the uplifting/faith-promoting nature of content on the site.

    Whether those concerns are justified or not is an entirely different question and, JNS had nothing to do with any of those posts.

    While I don’t particularly love what I perceive to be the tone of this post, I think that without the surrounding baggage of milk strippings-induced angst, far fewer eyes would be batted over this.

  39. JNS – I have no problem with any of the content. I am willing to discuss anyone’s honest questions about the scriptures, but when it feels like they are mocking or complaining or whining, I have a hard time because I can’t tell if their intent is to truly understand the principles in question or if they just want to say “I think this part of the scriptures is a load of crap.”

    Sorry if I misinterpreted your intent.

  40. BTW – Tom = tomchik. I wasn’t logged in. My apologies.

  41. Bob – #27

    It may have taken a war to get the country to the point that it could ban slavery and remain a unified country, but the Constitution was always flexible enough as a document in and of itself to allow slavery to be banned.

    The constitution didn’t have to be re-written to ban slavery. I’m just saying that it seems to me what the Lord is saying is that He instituted the Constitution knowing that it would allow for banning slavery.

    I see the verse essentially as a prophecy that slavery would end under the Constitution of the USA, which it did. Just my opinion obviously.

  42. #14:”The constitution didn’t have to be re-written to ban slavery.”
    It did/was….the 14th Amendment.

  43. #42: That’s #41,not #14

  44. #38

    You are exactly right. I haven’t been reading the blog all that long, and while JNS didn’t write the previous posts, there is still a “big picture” that the blog authors should be concerned about.

    How do you want newcomers like me to view your blog? How do you want us to talk about your blog to other LDS?

    Just some food for thought.

  45. Amending the Constitution is not rewriting it. To me the point is the flexibility of the document. It’s a living document that God instituted because He didn’t want men to enslave one another. Granted it took some time for men to get around to accomplishing God’s purposes, but that doesn’t change the fact that that is why God instituted the Constitution.

    i.e. “I instituted the Constitution because it would lead to the end of an unrighteous practice of slavery.” (at least in tthe USA)

  46. they’re the sort of thing that Sunday School teachers dread when back-row class members raise their hands to contribute to the general discussion

    Hm, I’m having a hard time getting past this first paragraph. An unfortunate amount of us-them implicit here. I’ve had wonderful Sunday School teachers who take a very thoughtful, analytical approach. There are excellent Sunday School teachers among the BCC permas and readers, and, JNS, with your knowledge, sensitivity, and teaching experience, one could imagine you at the podium. It rather pains me to this adversarial positioning at the outset, and the color it gives to what follows may explain some of the reaction of, e.g., tomchik.

  47. Kristine says:

    Wow–you read a lot in there, Cynthia. I read it as just JNS jokingly putting himself in the position of one of the “bad kids” in the back row.

  48. Cynthia, I think that may be a bit of over-reading. This isn’t back row people versus the other people. It’s back row thoughts, in the sense that this isn’t material that I’d discuss as directly if I were teaching the lesson. This doesn’t mean that lessons aren’t sometimes good or thoughtful — just that there are ideas and questions that are important to think about but probably not appropriate to bring up during Gospel Doctrine class.

  49. Well, even with that reading, it’s not as if jokes aren’t good at reinforcing us-them boundaries. Isn’t that why feminists are accused of being humorless–because we try to point out when jokes are doing that.

  50. (that was a reply to KH)

  51. Cynthia, the joke in question is certainly (and deliberately!) designed to maintain a specific boundary: the boundary between what is written here and any concept of official church teachings. I want to be as clear as possible that this is my rumination, not a set of truth claims spoken for Mormonism.

  52. JNS – As a gospel doctrine teacher, I would love these questions as long as they were posed in a respectful fashion.

    The apparent contradiction between what the Lord said about the Constitution and what the Constitution actually was in 1830? Why was the penalty to the Saints so severe, especially the “innocent” ones? What does the Lord really mena (or what was Joseph trying to convey) about the chastened and tried as Abraham stuff?

    Bring it on! Excellent discussion material IMO. I just need people to demonstrate that they are seeking to truly understand and build faith, and they are not out to bash the scriptures, the Church, or Joseph Smith.

  53. Well, now that we have been briefed on Tomchik’s criteria for acceptable discourse, we can proceed.

  54. Just scanned the first few comments…. Maybe someone has already made this point, but I looked up “chasten” in Webster’s, and one definition is to “refine: cause to be more humble or restrained.”

  55. #18

    When I said “dem’s da berries,” What I meant is – that’s what we have. That’s what has become doctrine. That’s what is there to teach us something about God and how He works. We can either sit and whine about it or make a sincere effort to understand it.

  56. Kristine says:

    I think JNS is making a sincere effort to understand, Tomchik. Just because he doesn’t ask in your voice doesn’t mean he’s less sincere than you are.

  57. Steve Evans says:

    BTW, as a newly-minted American, let me just say that portraying God as the author of the Constitution is simple-minded jingoism that inevitably makes Americans look stupid.

    Take that as you will, Tomchik.

  58. Tomchik says:

    Kristine – I hope he is being sincere. As I stated earlier, the tone just rubbed me the wrong way.

    Steve – I can understand the non-American (or new American) reaction to the “God as the author to the Constitution” bit. I merely view the teaching as “God instituted the Constitution to accomplish some of His purposes.”

    The same could probably be said of important documents from MANY other countries.

  59. Kristine says:

    Tomchik–generally, when someone’s tone “[rubs] you the wrong way,” it’s an excellent opportunity to practice Christian virtues of charity and empathy. See Gene England’s “Why the Bloggernacle is as True as the Gospel.”

  60. Tomchik says:

    Charity and empathy?

    You actually think I have any of that in me? ;)

  61. Steve Evans says:

    Tomchik, substitute “Constitution” for anything you want in that sentence, and the same effect is accomplished:

    “God instituted the Holocaust to accomplish some of His purposes.”

    “God instituted Hot Pockets to accomplish some of His purposes.”

    “God instituted BCC to accomplish some of His purposes.”

    You see the problems inherent in your approach, I trust. And why I will consistently mock people for it.

  62. Steve,
    No, Hell No, and Yes.

  63. Tomchik says:

    The difference is Joseph actually recorded that’s what the Lord told Him about the Constitution.

    I’m fine if you mock me. I mock myself often enough. It’s entertaining, really.

  64. Steve Evans says:

    No Tomchik, that’s _not_ what it says. God has “suffered” it be established. Stick to the scriptures man!

  65. Tomchik says:

    DC 101:80

    “And for this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose…”

    You are right. I should have said “established.” Not “instituted.” Silly me.

  66. Steve Evans says:

    Much better, dummy.

  67. Steve Evans says:

    anyways, enough of the threadjack, or I’ll ban you.

  68. Tomchik says:

    I aim to please.

  69. But seriously, guys. Hot Pockets are awful.

  70. Aaron Brown says:

    The only thing this thread lacks is someone pontificating in ALL CAPS and the liberal use of exclamation points, SO KINDLY ALLOW ME TO CHASTIZE YOU ALL FOR YOUR UNFAITHFULNESS AND YOUR UNRIGHTEOUS TONE !!!!!!


  71. Latter-day Guy says:

    “God instituted Hot Pockets to accomplish some of His purposes.”

    Come on, Fast and Testimony Meeting! This month, I’m ready for you!

  72. Tone Smone. What are be babies? I think the Lord likes good questions. I come from academia, we ask each other hard questions, tone be damned. In fact, the prophets can be identified by the hardness of the questions they ask (See Job). They don’t sit around being all nicity nice when there are real issues at stake. “Where are you!!!!!?????” they arn’t afraid to ask. “What? is a great question to ask of God. How I tire of the view that asking hard questions is somehow unfaithful. Poo and nonsense. I can almost hear the Lord saying, “Because the Saints have refused to ask good questions, I will smite them with simplicity. I will curse them with easy answers. Because they have not wrestled with what they have been given, I will bring sore black and white thinking upon them.”

    Jacob wrestled with an angel (or maybe God), what do you think this means? They got in tights to see who could manage first pile-driver?

    Again this is a great post, with great questions. What more could you ask for?

  73. Eric Russell says:

    Mr. Brown, you spoke an hour too soon.

  74. Thomas Parkin says:

    “Tone Smone.”

    Bet I could make you reconsider that tack.
    This keyboard goes to 11.

    Seriously, if you take on a style that is inaccessible to someone, for whatever reason, you can hardly avoid your share of responsibility when that someone can’t easily access your meaning or intent. It may not be the only consideration, but it is a consideration.

    Consider the overall tone of BCC: smug, flip with a smattering of heart. I don’t have a problem with it, usually; I can play right along. You can’t be all things to all people. But it necessarily excludes some folks whose contribution would be expansive.

    “How I tire of the view that asking hard questions is somehow unfaithful.”

    I don’t think anyone has suggested that on this thread. Nor, really, can I recall the last time I heard it suggested anywhere. I suppose if I ever did hear it, I would tire of it instantly. ~

  75. Thomas, sure, it’s possible to be harsh and off the wall. I don’t think that happens very often at BCC, which reads to me a lot like the Mormon equivalent of the discussion at a seminar in a conservative Protestant seminary. In any case, in the context of this post, there’s an easy and available remedy for tonal concerns: give me your reading of the texts in question. I’m grateful to the people above who have done that, and — to the extent that I’m persuaded — such readings can alter my experience of the text and as such amend my tone.

  76. Steve Evans says:

    “Consider the overall tone of BCC: smug, flip with a smattering of heart.”

    Really, TP? I hate for us to be so easily reducible.

  77. I’d say much more than a smattering, Thomas. (I can’t bring myself to call you TP.)

  78. Thomas Parkin says:

    No, Steve, you’re totally right.

    Maybe I see, or fear, that my contribution is smug, flip with a smattering of heart! So I tend to see that in BCC. JNS sees a seminary.

    The fact is that BCC is actually a rather big room. There is a reason this is the only blog I read every day. But it isn’t, you know, infinite. Both in style and, less so, in content it is going to throw up a door that many people can’t or won’t pass through. As I’ve been writing this, I’ve been thinking about a person whose contribution to this discussion would be very enlightening, a very bright and (I hesitate to use the word) spiritual fellow. But there is no way he would have got past the “sardonic” edge in JNS’ post. (I only got past it when I saw other people engaging the content. I thought, I’d better go back and try again.)

    I dislike two things. First, the fact, which possibly shouldn’t be helped, that style and, less so, content are filtering what I see as important voices in a discussion like this one; and, second, that those voices are then reduced to … you know, conservative harpies that are afraid to ask tough questions. I think this last is at least partly a conceit. ~

  79. Did Kristine’s announcement of the revised and updated version of Gene England’s essay go unnoticed? Stunning! There will be a transmogrification (I’ve been waiting months to use that word) of Gene’s “Why the Church is as True as the Gospel” to the 2009 version: “Why the Bloggernacle is as True as the Gospel.” And in all seriousness, Gene’s points about the gathering of disparate, diverse, from-all-directions Latter-day Saints into a community or a conversation as being an important part of the LIVING gospel (questions and all) is relevant here.

  80. Thomas Parkin says:

    Mrs. Soper,

    In Seattle people called me Thomas. In most of the rest of the world, people call me Tom. I’ve still got a couple relatives old enough to call me Tommy. Several people call me TP, which I don’t mind. One friend calls me Perkins, and at least a couple still call me “Bird” or “Bigbird.” Just don’t call me Joe. ~

  81. Jacob wrestled with an angel (or maybe God), what do you think this means? They got in tights to see who could manage first pile-driver?

    Wait–are you saying this isn’t how it went down?

    Very disappointing.

  82. Mrs. Soper is my mother-in-law.

    Can I call you Al?

  83. I just took a look at BCC’s layout. In a sidebar, it asks for prayers for J.A. Benson, who just lost her very young husband. She is a part of our bloggernacle family–or ward, whatever. Norbert has posted a touching piece about fathers and sons. John C has a thought-provoking post on Halakahah and Aggadah (rules and stories). We had some fun yesterday and created a ward. We exchanged thoughts about how to approach a lesson which portrays someone ungenerously and incompletely.
    I love this blog. It is not always true, but it is usually useful. I love the personalities. I love the questions JNS poses in this post. Believe it or not, I had not considered that the scripture “it is not right that any man should be in bondage to another” comes in the context of a constitution which accommodated slavery. I think JNS’s explanation is a little too easy, but I’m okay with it. I had not thought about the context, and now I will need to think some more.
    If there is anything virtuous, lovely, of good report, praiseworthy, or worth talking about, we seek after these things. If anyone demeans or ridicules things we as a whole regard as sacred, we ban them.

  84. By the Rules says:

    Back to a quote from the post:
    “Are we meant to see God’s justice in responding to these petty and ubiquitous human weaknesses with violence and total dispossession? ”

    So once we get past all the ax murderer stage, we come to what I call the polish stage. The level of polish on the Saints lives, as defined by the Lord, is the level required for those who would build Zion.

    Rather than seeing this as petty, I would see it as the final goal to aspire to in order to participate in Zion.

    There is no better organization to put polish on people than to thust 2 people who grate on each others nerves into a Presidency, Committee, or other church position, and have them strive together for a common goal.

    Sometimes I think that the whole purpose of the Church is to get different people to get along, starting in Church callings.

    Now if we could convert the world…..

    Does the Bloggernacle 1st Ward allow voting on who is going to be Bishop?

  85. Tomchik says:

    #59 Kristine –

    Where is this Gene England article of which you speak? Google can’t find it, nor can the T&S search or BCC search find it.

  86. That’s because it doesn’t exist, Tomchik.

    But you might enjoy this.

    Kristine is one clever hussy.

  87. By the Rule #84, I agree that these “polish-level” vices are vices. Nonetheless, the text in question here shows God responding to these vices with the same level of intensity, and indeed the same categories of punishment, that our scriptures show as responses to human sacrifice and temple prostitution. That seems hard to deal with, from my point of view.

  88. Margaret #83, you say, “I think JNS’s explanation is a little too easy…” I didn’t actually think I’d offered an explanation for the tension between the statement that the Constitution was God’s way to avoid servitude and the Constitution’s institutionalization of slavery. My point was simply to note the tension.

  89. By the Rules says:

    Perhaps the hashness was similiar to the treatment of the House of Israel banished for 40 years, throwing money changers out of the Temple sort of thing.

    If the people hadn’t of had the high expectations/opportunity to found Zion, then maybe they wouldn’t have been treated so harshly for petty things?

  90. Well, the money changers weren’t really treated that badly. Probably didn’t even lose much work time. The House of Israel might be an interesting comparison — but the story tells us that they actually made a physical idol and worshiped it. Isn’t that a bit more than a petty sin?

  91. By the Rules says:

    Granted, but my general point is the “Unto whom much is given, much is expected” idea. Maybe even the spew lukewarm idea.

    ?things near and dear to the Lords heart (establishing Zion) evoke a disproportionate responsej for otherwise petty sin?

    ?maybe they aren’t as petty as we think?

  92. JNS (88)–my apologies. It wasn’t you, it was a later commenter. You raised the contradition, which I honestly hadn’t considered before, and I do find it compelling.

  93. By the Rules #91, I agree that many explanations could be offered, and that there are moral systems in which God’s actions look perfectly reasonable. That said, those moral systems are not necessarily themselves reasonable. For example, the idea that the Lord super-punishes people who commit small sins while engaged in work He commands them to do doesn’t seem to me to make the Lord much more reasonable. Now, God seems to set people up to fail and then essentially torture them when the basically inevitable happens. Not reassuring. Likewise, perhaps jealousy, etc., should be seen as major sins in some absolute sense. This is okay with me, so long as we recognize that they’re still minor sins relative to, e.g., slavery, rape, child abuse, murder, economic exploitation, and so forth. Which are sins that people unfortunately commit all the time, even while allegedly building Zion, without getting punished nearly as severely as the Jackson County Saints. So I’m not sure this idea helps all that much, either — the relative, as well as the absolute, magnitudes of the sins in question really do matter.

    I agree that God is beyond our comprehension. But when His self-explanations aren’t beyond our comprehension but still seem morally incomplete, that worries me.

  94. Eric Russell says:

    I’ve often wondered what Eugene England would have said in various bloggernacle conversations. I’m sure he would have been a participant. He’d have been like the Bloggernacle 1st ward’s GA.

  95. Kristine says:

    Not GA, Patron Saint.

  96. Honestly, I think Gene would have made a marvelous bishop of the Bloggernacle First ward. He would have blessed our cars if they weren’t running well. He would have made peace at all times. He would have apologized if he thought he had offended. And he would have really enjoyed this post, JNS. He would have engaged you, as you know, in probing conversation, always making you feel like you were the smartest, most interesting person he had ever met. The questions you pose in your post would have intrigued him, and he would almost certainly have written a long essay about his musings. Dedicated to you, of course.

  97. Steve Evans says:

    “making you feel like you were the smartest, most interesting person he had ever met.”

    Though of course in this case that would actually be true. That’s right JNS, I paid you a compliment.

  98. Thomas Parkin says:


    As comment on D&C 101, through verse 8, I repeat what I said in #31.

    “I’m not sure how much justice enters in. I know that it is a major concern for many (most) people. I think that once we fall out of His protective circle, which we easily do, and even to a large measure while we are within it, He allows this fallen world to _happen_ to us. Isn’t the whole point to see how will comport ourselves in a reality that is beyond the pale? Whatever justice there is doesn’t come while this world is this world.”

    Nowhere in this section do I see that God is “punishing” the Missouri Saints. Rather He is, in His words, ‘suffer(ing) the affliction to come upon them … in consequence of their transgressions …’ I think I’ve described my reading of that in the paragraph above. The punishment, in so far as one can be found, is in the condition of those who will suffer the calamities inherent in this life, without God. Since the righteous at no time lose that companionship, the calamities that do come upon them are not punishments but chastisements. “… for whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth …” (Heb), and a purging (John 15). Those chastisements further prepare them for the Zion that they were not yet ready for.

    I’d like to reiterate that it seems to me that your reading, as well as feelings, are marked by a fixed concern about justice that we are not likely to find in this world. “In this world, you will have tribulation … ” You are looking for what cannot be found, because it isn’t there. Justice, it seems to me, is coming.

    I strongly disagree that God is beyond our comprehension. We may not understand everything, but that isn’t meant to be our lot. We understand Him trait by trait, and begin to see Him as He really is. In my view, whenever we throw up our hands and say “beyond our mere mortal minds” we are getting right off the track. Instead, we should reapply ourselves by spiritual means. ~

  99. JNS, I am way late to this discussion, but I found in D&C 98 some answers, maybe not all the answers we look for, uncomfortable answers in many cases, but also some hope.

    In verses 1 through 4, the saints appear to be directed to be thankful that their prayers have been heard, even if not yet answered: v3, “Therefore, he giveth this promise unto you with an immutable covenant that they shall all be fulfilled; and all things wherewith you have been afflicted shall work together for your good….”

    Verses 4 through 10 seem to offer up a conflicting requirement of obeying just laws, “which are the constitutional law of the land…” while making a distinction with unjust law that comes from the evil of men.

    Verse 12 and 13 talk about the possibility of suffering even unto death, “…and I will try you and prove you…and whoso layeth down his life…shall find it again…”

    I have been reading about the history of the nation during this period of post-Jacksonian America, where slavery was protected by every legal means possible, and Presidents and Governors both recognized the principle of “popular sovereignty”, which often included a recognized right for the people to commit acts of mob violence, especially against ethnic and religious minorities. Jackson, in many cases no defender of the rule of law, supported what today we could only call “ethnic cleansing” against Native Americans, and official obstruction of the legal efforts of abolitionists by refusing to deliver their newspapers and mail.

    In all cases, the answer seems to be to “renounce war and proclaim peace (98:16)” and live a law that models the Lord’s example of being no respecter of persons. The Missouri Saints just had the misfortune of trying to live this new covenant in a nation that was not yet prepared to hear it.

    Great discussion, all. And great questions, JNS.

  100. Latter-day Guy says:

    A fascinating discussion; and many good questions, JNS.

    Re: 96, “He would have blessed our cars if they weren’t running well.”

    Reminds me of a guy I met on my mission, who actually did this. He was, in fact, quite careful to call his car by its full name in the process: “Chrysler P.T. Cruiser…” We missionaries were completely gobsmacked.

  101. A Chrysler PT Cruiser would indeed be in desperate need of a blessing.

  102. Thomas, thanks for your comments. Your reading gives me yet another vision of a God who strikes me, personally, as morally immature. This is a God who doesn’t recognize inaction as a form of action, and thereby inflicts massive and disproportionate penalties for minor mistakes because he regards those mistakes as offering a just basis for a total withdrawal of divine protection. This is especially alarming when we consider that the Saints in Jackson County were in the perilous situation in question due to following explicit divine instructions. This is a God who puts you in extreme danger and then abandons you for, e.g., bad manners.

    Kevin, thanks for your ideas. It’s made more complicated, of course, because the sections in this reading (especially 103 and 105) have several passages that basically endorse vigilante justice and violent revenge on the part of the Saints.

    Steve, you rock!

  103. JNS, I understand your view of a “Non-interventionist God” as you have described before, but even in section 105, I find the descriptions of the “armies of Israel” to be more metaphorical than actual, and their power to be more spiritual than physical. Section 105 verses 10 and 11 talk about waiting until they are “endowed with power from on high”, and then the section ends with these statements in verses 38 through 41:

    38 And again I say unto you, sue for peace, not only to the people that have smitten you, but also to all people;
    39 And lift up an ensign of peace, and make a proclamation of peace unto the ends of the earth;
    40 And make proposals for peace unto those who have smitten you, according to the voice of the Spirit which is in you, and all things shall work together for your good.
    41 Therefore, be faithful; and behold, and lo, I am with you even unto the end. Even so. Amen.

    That sounds more like a call to transcend the cycle of imitative violence of the era, and bring about the Lord’s purposes in a more Christlike manner. I think that this must have been tough counsel for Joseph Smith, who really longed for justice and retribution on his enemies, and needed to be chastened himself. His angry confrontations with Sylvester Smith and others during the Zions Camp march showed that he was still learning how to be the Lord’s mouthpiece, and hold himself to a higher standard of conduct towards his friends and his enemies.

    Perhaps, then, it is not God who is morally immature. I know personally that waiting on a God who seems to be more aloof and distant at times, often during times of crisis and suffering, is a chastening and trying experience. Yet sometimes, his Grace and his presence are overwhelming. It’s the mix of aloofness and closeness that we find frustrating, and I think that defines the core of the problems described in these sections.

    Or as the Rolling Stones said, “You can’t always get what you want; but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need”.

  104. Kevinf, I like a lot about your reading, but in the end I can’t find it a persuasive fit with the texts. Consider in particular this statement:

    And after these lands are purchased, I will hold the armies of Israel guiltless in taking possession of their own lands, which they have previously purchased with their moneys, and of throwing down the towers of mine enemies that may be upon them, and scattering their watchmen, and avenging me of mine enemies unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me. (D&C 105:30)

    This doesn’t sound like a description of spiritual action to me. Taking possession of their own lands is something that concrete, specific, mortal Saints would physically do — and that aligns the phrase “armies of Israel” with the actual, historical armies of the Saints. In that context, it’s worth remembering that this revelation was given to an actual, constituted church army.

    I agree that some parts of this revelation, especially when taken out of literary and historical context, sound like calls toward a Gandhi-like politics of victory through nonviolent action. Other passages qualify those, suggesting that nonviolence is a tactic to be used in specific circumstances, for limited durations, or possibly even for purposes of strategic misrepresentation. These revelations contain pro-retribution as well as (one or two) anti-retribution passages, which is why I think they’re best described as mixed on the smiting front.

    Regarding a “non-interventionist God,” it might be too much to say that I believe that’s what God is. It’s an open possibility for me, but there are many others.

  105. Thomas Parkin says:

    “This is a God who puts you in extreme danger and then abandons you for, e.g., bad manners.”

    “Abandons you” is your words. As I said back in #33 “Say the earthquake shakes down your house and it shakes down mine – but I experience the wrath of God, while you still have the sweet companionship of His Spirit.” He doesn’t abandon, as many of those poor Missouri Saints I’m sure would let us know.

    Is there any God you would accept other than one who constantly intervenes in order to keep all things at all times equitable, or prevents all danger except to those who egregiously sin? (Bet we couldn’t agree on a list of what those egregious sins would be, either.) We may as well have never come to this party. ~

  106. Thomas, I’d characterize that as an unhelpful comment. Your discussion of the Spirit strikes me as equivalent to changing the topic; the point isn’t whether God makes some people feel better about being homeless than others, but rather about whether God sees making people homeless as a suitable response to jealousy, backbiting, etc.

    Regarding the question of whether there is any account of God that I would find morally acceptable, that’s also really not the point. Of course there are possible accounts of God that wouldn’t worry me, but the discussion here isn’t about all possible accounts of God — it’s about a specific account that God seems to offer of Himself. That account is one in which God responds to what we would all agree to regard as small sins in comparative perspective with severe material punishment. That’s a dilemma that all of us who regard the revelation in question as canonized can’t escape. The ideas that the dilemma doesn’t exist because gossip is really one of the worst sins after all, or because God might help some people feel better about the horrible consequences He imposed or allowed to be imposed seem like sideshows.

  107. Thomas Parkin says:


    It isn’t at all beside the point. Your central concern is about justice. Both your use of ‘punishment’,- in fact I see that you’ve just come back to it again,- then ‘abandon’ for cause (punishment again). I have several times tried to show that it isn’t necessary to read these events in terms of punishment, or justice. Your example is mute, because I’m not proposing a God that “makes” people homeless, but rather allows homelessness as one among an infinite number of unpleasant conditions that exist in life. The punishment, if, as I said, there is one, is in the absence of His Spirit, which is always an individual matter and can therefore be suited justly to the reality of the individual in whatever conditions he finds himself – and is also why discussion of the Spirit is germane.

    The second paragraph follows. Your reduction of the companionship of the Spirit as “helping some people feel better” reveals a fundamental difference. For me, the long term loss of the Spirit is the only thing I still deeply fear,- except physical torture,- and is the only thing I take to be a punishment.

    The Missouri Saints were commanded to build Zion – a thing they were not just a little bit inept at. (One might imagine the Bloggernacle 1st Ward being commanded to do the same). He then allows a situation that chastens them in so far as they are righteous, and in so doing prepares them for a time when they will be able to live in Zion, and allows them to experience wrath them in so far as they are wicked. (See me in #33 again).

    Finally, you are unnecessarily dismissive. You want alternate readings, then when you get them dismiss them as a sideshow because they are not your reading.

    Best! I’m off to bed for now. ~

  108. Thomas Parkin says:

    Please excuse the usual spelling and grammar problems – I’m doing this as fast as I can while I should be sleeping. ~

  109. Thomas, here’s the thing — you’re not engaging the text, in which God gives himself responsibility for the Saints’ homelessness. He describes this as a “chastening,” which is at least a pretty good synonym for punishment. What you’re offering is not so much a reading of the text as an eisegesis. That’s why I’m dismissing it.

    I love that your reading characterizes people guilty of low-level universal sins as “not just a little bit inept” at building Zion. First, the record doesn’t show people being bad, you know. God himself only accuses them of things everyone, even prophets, do. So, for your reading to work, it’s necessary for us to rather harshly judge people for being, well, people.

    Second, what about the idea that God works with people who want to be good even if they aren’t perfect? Does he expect to build Zion only using already-perfected people? This seems alien to Mormon theology, in which we’re called to build Zion to help us improve, not because we’re already perfect.

  110. I’m enjoying the discussion, though I cannot find it within me to parse these verses with the careful detail and thought that is being displayed. I’m not criticizing your approaches, simply acknowledging that I am lazy.

    I go back again to my point in #34, that scripture gives us a view into the lives and struggles of the people who wrote it. The scriptures are sacred, but not in a divine, words of God sense, but rather a relational sense. Given power as a shared collection of writings that are our foundation, and given power as they have shaped us and will continue to shape us.

    I think it does violence to the text to try to justify or explain away the internally problematic verses and wrestle a complete view of God. As JNS points out, viewing these passages with a detailed eye paints a picture of an immature God, one that is inconsistent. Such a God is one that I neither can nor want to have faith in.

    I don’t think it is an overstatement to say that we, as LDS, esteem the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants a little bit differently than the Bible, especially the Old Testament. It is easier for us to view those writings as a collection of books written by people long ago, filtered through revisions, and a mixture of history, poetry, and didactic fiction. But we tend to look at latter-day scripture as something – what? Cleaner? More direct from God? I think we do. But I think that is a mistake.

    Why esteem the experiences of a bronze-aged tribal culture, wrestling with their concept of God and justice and morality, as anything substantially different than a frontier American culture of the early nineteenth century wrestling with the same thing? Or of our own wrestle today with spiritual and moral matters? We have the benefit of more information, a perspective gained from the collective histories passed down through generations, but is our experience of the divine somehow more or less than any other age?

    If we read scripture as the response of these communities – both ancient and modern – to their experience of God, then that frees us to allow for immature descriptions and inconsistencies. That immaturity is on the part of the author and the community, struggling to relate their stories of God, their perception of God’s character, their prayers and praise, their perceptions of the human condition, and their attempts to find deliverance – temporal, and spiritual.

    This approach reduces the miraculous, it questions any claim to a privileged access to God, but I don’t think this approach minimizes scripture. (Though I am confident that someone will disagree and assert as much.) And as I admitted in the first paragraph, I am lazy. I’m perfectly willing to admit that this view of scripture makes it easy for me to dismiss passages, to shrug my shoulders and lay the blame on the authors. But I don’t think that negates the power of the scriptures, nor their importance. They are still our foundational documents, they are an impetus to generate discussions like this, a vehicle through which we are able to contemplate spiritual matters and wrestle with them together, and through this, perhaps, find God.

  111. I think the scriptures suggest that though God may be the same today, yesterday, and forever, consistency in His dealings with humankind is not a primary attribute. Some die and others are healed.

  112. At the risk of putting all scripture open to the “interpretations of men”, I’ve been thinking of late about the nature of scripture. There are times when it has been written, with no thought on the part of the writers that this document will become canon, times when the writers are heavily under the influence of the spirit, and other times when the writer is writing the words of the Lord as reveled.

    The Doctrine & Covenants is an interesting mix, I believe, of the latter two types. We already know that the translation of the Book of Mormon involved Joseph Smith being given the words of the translation in 17th century English, and the D&C in a mix of Joseph Smith’s own words, literal quotes from heavenly messengers, and mashups of the two. It’s not difficult for me to view the more vengeful statements in these sections as Joseph interpreting the communications he has received, which sometimes are metaphorical, sometimes more literal, and trying to get the words on paper through his scribes.

    Is it possible that Joseph Smith put some wish fulfillment into these sections, based on not fully grasping what was metaphorical in the visions he received, and what was literal? And now, 170 years later, we are trying to sort it out with the background of a country and culture much more tolerant, much less violent, than what Joseph Smith and the early church members were living in. Perspective matters, I think.

    JNS raises some good questions, but is drawing conclusions that I am having trouble accommodating with my own view and experience. We’re still all operating on faith here, not certainty, and so I can respect JNS and his conclusions, without fully agreeing with them.

  113. I agree Kevin. Maybe this question has already been asked here, but if we believe in an open cannon does that imply that some sections of the D&C could at some point be ‘un-canonized’? I think that would be an interesting vote at general conference.

  114. Alex, I may be flawed in memory, but hasn’t this already happened multiple times over?

  115. Steve Evans says:

    Yeah, try the Lectures on Faith.

  116. Rory, Margaret, and Kevin, thanks for the wise comments. I like what you have to say; it adds a lot.

    Alex, we have at least one historical instance of decanonization, with the Lectures on Faith. I’m not sure how likely it is that we’ll ever see another. In any case, there may be value in struggling with difficult or problematic texts.

  117. Well, the Lectures on Faith were either not properly canonized in the first place (1835 edition of D&C) or not properly de-canonized in the 1921 edition (which I tend to agree with). Are there other examples?

  118. JNS, #116, this series is a great example of the value of “struggling with difficult or problematic texts”.

  119. Thomas Parkin says:


    At the risk of sounding like a broken record.

    ““chastening,” which is at least a pretty good synonym for punishment”

    Strongly disagree for reasons already given.

    “o, for your reading to work, it’s necessary for us to rather harshly judge people for being, well, people.”

    Yes. People are not very good. But you still haven’t heard me because you still think that the justice of God shouldn’t come at the end, but at every event. It bothers me not one bit if God does things which seem unjust – or _are_ unjust – to us along the way, because it is not in the nature of this experience we are having to always find justice. This is my answer to your important question: what is God like? He is _not_ just in the time frame and on the terms you desire. But I have faith He will make things perfectly right at the end.

    And, anyway, give every man according to his desserts and who shall ‘scape whipping.

    “Second, what about the idea that God works with people who want to be good even if they aren’t perfect?”

    I’ve already engaged the idea that God has abandoned people. I think He is very much working with the Missouri saint.

    “Does he expect to build Zion only using already-perfected people? ”

    Nor did He stop working with them to build Zion, nor has He stopped to this day. ~

  120. Thomas Parkin says:

    I’m going to go over some personal details of my life for a second. Nothing I haven’t gone over on the naccle before – and so I’m going to do it with a little less depth, but highlight a couple things.

    We are currently living far from our home, which we were more or less driven from. We sleep on an air mattress, in an apartment that is falling apart. I make a small fraction of what I’ve made in any year since 1997. If you count investors money lost in the last 18 months .. well, it is far far more than I ever made in a single similar period, that’s for sure. Every day was a financial horror for me for months, and the effect of that trial still lingers. At one point, shortly after the sale of our restaurant, I woke up to the realization that I still owed $12000 in sales taxes to the State of Washington. This is the end of weeks and weeks in which my bills were, every week, thousands of dollars above and beyond what the store, and then the sale of the store, could produce. At that point, laying alone in the couch in our front room, my body actually went into convulsions, and I couldn’t control my arms or hands which started pecking at the air uncontrollably, like chicken beeks, and I thought I heard the devil laugh at me. In short, I was toast.

    During my time as that mom and pop business owner, I tried very hard to deal with my employees and customers in not only a just way, but a loving way. I paid my tithing. I worked in my few personal hours in a leadership position in my ward. I was as good as I could be. And yet God allowed all my material possessions to be taken from me, and allowed a couple folks who could probably be called enemies to mock me in front of friends and to seem to prosper at my expense. One can hardly describe how this failed to be what I took to be my due going in. It is _impossible_ in such a situation to not wonder about justice in this world.

    One day, about a year ago by now, I was walking a farm road there near Puyallup – and it was a gorgeous day, and Mount Rainier, which I love like a brother, was out in full regalia – and I had an epiphany. A couple really. The first was that the world is very beautiful and life is a thing of depth and dimension that we really never guess. The second is that there is NO safety in this world. Good people are tortured in front of their family and shot in the head and left in ditches. Children are kidnapped from parents and sold into slavery in foreign countries. Whole nations are swept off in genocidal murder. Hatred and prejudices and horrors of all kinds thrive. It came to me, with force, that there was only one safe thing for me, and that is the covenants I’ve made with God. Every single other thing can and will be taken from me. And then, I felt full of love and I had no fear. And who can flipping tell me that it is better to have a house and a car and a business than to have no fear, and who is going to tell me that God isn’t in it??

    There is another element. I’ve said this before. As things are slipping out of our fingers, at every floor we collapsed through, one thinks “here God is going to rescue us.” But no rescue came. And then, finally, the answer to me “things are going to get worse for you, you should find your strength in serving in the church.” I’ve said this before, but there is another thing.

    I had been haunted by this scripture, in the Temple it had by whispered that this was meaningful to me, that I should pay close attention to it.

    From D&C 19:

    31 And of tenets thou shalt not talk, but thou shalt declare repentance and faith on the Savior, and remission of sins by baptism, and by fire, yea, even the holy Ghost.
    32 Behold, this is a great and the last commandment which I shall give unto you concerning this matter; for this shall suffice for thy daily walk, even unto the end of thy life.
    33 And misery thou shalt receive if thou wilt slight these counsels, yea, even the destruction of thyself and property.

    What haunted me is that I was seeing the destruction of myself and property, and that deep down I knew that I was slighting these particular councils. Does this mean there is justice? No! It is not about justice. It isn’t about me slighting some councils that _everyone_ slights and therefore I _deserve_ awful things to happen to me, while other people get off with a free pass. It is about God blessing me with a perspective closer to His, and a greater ability to not slight these councils. One discovers, by and by, what is important. ~

  121. Thomas, I still find your account unresponsive to the text — in the text, God gives himself short-term responsibility for the suffering in question and justifies that in terms of the sins described above. That is, the terms of the puzzle here are set by the revelation, not by my (admitted) stubbornness. So objecting to the terms of the discussion is really just another way of expressing discomfort with the scriptural text in question.

    I’m sincerely very sorry for your hardships.

  122. Thomas Parkin says:


    We will do nothing but go round and round, because we are not reading the same text. You are reading the one in front of you, and I’m reading the one in front of me.

    Kind of like Bushman suggesting that there is a Catholic Bible and a Protestant Bible and that Joseph also had a Bible. Of course, the Bible itself doesn’t change. Same words. It’s the spectacles that change. If you think you’ve got the best pair of spectacles you can have, then I am no one to tell you different.

    I’ve granted everything in your reading – that God is not just in these events, at least in the short term. What I don’t grant is that this leads necessarily to angst. I understand why it does, but have been trying to explain why, read from another perspective, it does not.

    Thanks for giving me an opportunity to clarify some things for myself. And God bless ya, brutha. ~

  123. Thomas, I certainly don’t have the best reading I can have! Although I do have some better ideas about these texts today than I did at the beginning of this process. Thanks — to you and the others who’ve contributed to a great discussion.

  124. Thomas Parkin says:

    One other thing – you are the smart one – no doubt on that.
    It’s intimidating. :) ~

  125. As an occasional commenter I hope I am not out of line but I think a recent reading of mine would be of benefit here.

    Phillip Yancy, a wonderful author and meditater on the real life application of the scriptures, wrote a book called The Bible Jesus Read in which he explores the Old Testament especialy the tricky parts in the section on Job he includes the I think very relevant observation that the book of Job never really answers the question “where is God when it hurts?” Because the more important question is “where is JOB”.

    I recommend reading the whole book I think its all there at Google books.

  126. Boy, I need to work on my commas.

    One other observation, again inspired Mr. Yancey’s book. He follows the chapter on Job with one on Deuteronomy, where in Moses in his last message to his people outlines not just the blessings of entering the promised land but the cursing that will come on the people as well. Cursings that result, not so much because of the specific sins, but as a result of the BREAKING of the COVENANT.

    He also observes that God praises Job in his honest questioning over his friends in their dogmatic assertations of Jobs guilt.

    Note: I tend to refer to the writings of others because I am Dis-graphic (production side equivalent of dyslexia) and consiquently I am “not mighty in writing.”

  127. Glenn Smith says:

    I am concerned with the comments about Abraham being asked to “murder” Issac. I see a big difference between killing at the Lord’s command and murder.
    Did Nephi “murder” Laban? 1 Nephi 4:6-19
    Did Moses “murder” Sihon, and his sons and all his people? Deuteronomy 2:30-37
    Did Moses “murder” Og, and the men, women & children of Og’s kingdom living in 60 cities? Deuteronomy 3:1-7
    Did Joshua “murder” the people of Jericho, destroying all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, save only Rahab and all with her, in her house? Joshua 6:17-25

    To commit sin is to willfully disobey God’s commandments or to fail to act righteously despite a knowledge of the truth (see James 4:17). (from Killing becomes a sin, and thus murder, only when the life taken is contrary to the will of God. Abraham was ready to kill Issac, on God’s command. The act would not be a sin, and not murder.

    Many questions were raised in this article, all worthy of discussion, which others are doing well. And, perhaps later, so will I.

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