When you want your integrity and faith at the same time

Back in 2013 I created the Maxwell Institute Podcast with an eye toward constructive or “positive” apologetics. Instead of listing concerns and then giving responses or rebuttals, the show exhibited characteristics like intellectual charity, curiosity, and a faithful seeking style of confidence as opposed to dogmatic certainty.

The show’s style ran against the grain of much that had come before it at the Maxwell Institute and in church productions more broadly, and against the grain of what some church members and some leaders would be comfortable with, although it always stayed within the bounds of appropriate orthodoxy. It was, at the end of the day, a church production. But I believed it could appeal to a wide variety of church members across the culture war divide of conservative/liberal. I know for certain the audience had some very progressive and some very conservative appreciative listeners.

My back catalog is still there, although who knows how long it will stay. The Institute has moved on from past projects before, and my work will probably someday find itself among the jettisoned remnants of past approaches. (I have copies of all my work and retained copyright jointly so no worries!)

I decided to leave BYU at the beginning of the year and found a new job by March. On the side I began production on a podcast that’s similar in spirit to the old Maxwell Institute Podcast, but with a much wider scope. (Kind of like how the MIPodcast was when I started it. More recent directives required me to narrow its scope.) The new show is called Fireside with Blair Hodges. I wanted it to be something that believing and practicing members could enjoy as much as doubting people, and even some former members who no longer believe. People across the faith spectrum. It could give people who see things quite differently something they could mutually enjoy.

The latest episode features an author named Mary Rakow. She tells the story of how her life was falling apart, how she became very angry at God, and how she basically swore off religion. But in her time “away,” she wrote a novel that retells various Bible stories. And it’s one of the most spiritually and religiously rich books I’ve ever read. There’s an excerpt from the interview that strikes at an experience of faith that happens in Mormonism, but that isn’t often highlighted in Mormonism.

In this clip I’m talking to her about a scene near the end of the book where a woman decides to go back to Catholic confession after 30 years away. Mary reveals in the interview that the character is based on her own direct experience:

BLAIR HODGES: Your character confesses she doesn’t believe in God any more, and she says to the priest, “I don’t feel I’m committing a sin that I can’t believe in God anymore. I can’t will it. But I really wish it could change. This is why I came.”

MARY RAKOW: And that’s the title of the book. Yes, and that is literally what I said to the guy. And he was sitting on a low bench, and it was very humble. So he’s looking up at me. And he did say—you know, he had to do the formulary. And so he did give me absolution and things like that. But he never debated that. I mean, it was a very legitimate thing. And I felt it was a profound experience to me—

BLAIR HODGES: —Then you make this remarkable statement. That the woman in the book—and now we know you’re speaking for yourself—she says she “wants her integrity and her faith, both at the same time.”

MARY RAKOW: Everyone wants that. A seven-year-old wants that. A ninety-year-old wants that. Who doesn’t want that? We all want that. I mean, who wants a fake god? Who wants a god that is too small? Who wants a god who does stuff we wouldn’t even do in our humanity? I mean, we still have mercy! We want a god who is at least as good as we are at our best! We want something way, way, way beyond our imagining. And if we don’t have experience of that, or we don’t have teachings that lead us toward that, then it’s the moral thing to say, “This is not a god I accept.” That’s a very religious thing to do.


In a church that so strongly privileges the idea of achieving religious certainty, I felt so moved by Mary’s book, and by her own experience. I used to be one who testified with certainty, but I lost that ability long ago. And I believe that is a way of being faithful, too. When you talk like this at church you are bound to receive correction. People will be eager to insist that they know, and that you can (they really mean should) know, too. But hope is enough. Belief is enough. It is enough. Even if it carries you to unexpected places. The negotiation between integrity and faith continues, whether within or outside the LDS Church.

The episode is here, and it includes a full transcript for people who can’t or who prefer not to listen to podcasts. You can find it wherever you get your podcasts. I strongly recommend it to fellow travelers in this group who desire your integrity and your faith at the same time.

Comments

  1. Blair,

    I’m alone in the car most days for around 3 hours, your conversational material was always sought out to keep me company. Sorry to hear another direction has been selected by the Maxwell Institute hopefully that hasn’t turned into heavy emotional luggage personally.

    Explorers and Pioneers have a lot of concentricity, but institutional typological loyalties heavily side with the latter when it comes to the church. Both pioneering and exploring are good iterations of love from my perspective. Happy trails in your explorations, even if you had to leave some lovely pioneers behind.

    Fwiw I’m all caught up on fireside already.

  2. The temple recommend interview questions are framed in terms of belief and not knowledge. That’s good enough for me and I wish it more strongly informed our collective rhetoric.

  3. Thank you for this. I look forward to listening to the podcast.

  4. Jesse Stricklan says:

    Thank you for your work at MI. It was incredibly powerful for me.

    Thank you for your work with Fireside. I am avidly excited for it.

    Thank you for your work here. I read it always.

    Here’s to integrity and faith, all at the same time.

  5. I have found more and more the phrase “I know” when used toward things of faith, comparable to the phrase “I love” when used toward my relationship with my wife. I’ve been telling her this for over 30 years – often it is said with deep conviction, occasionally it is aspirational – but after 30 years, it definitely means something more rich and deep than it meant when we were dating. I’ve been testifying of things for even longer than I’ve been married and the words I use are often the same words of my youth, but exponentially more profound.

    Though I tend to use the word sparingly, I think of this and sometimes try to give people a little more latitude when I might be judgmental of whether they really “know”.

    Btw – I love that 12 of the 13 Articles of Faith are we “believe”, not we know ;-)

  6. Integrity and faith…looking forward to this episode of the podcast. And thanks for filling in the post-MI blanks a little.

  7. Unless it becomes more firmly institutionalized, all most of us can do is model the “faithful seeking style” of faith individually and hope it resonates with some. Your example has made my own discipleship a little more thoughtful, and for that I thank you.

  8. Pushback: The more comprehensive the statement, the more likely that “I know” may be too big a mouthful. “I know the Church is true” comprehends so very much that an inventory of its parts might be a good idea. But I do believe – know? – that individuals *can* know some things as certainty. “I know there is a God” might be debatable as to the definition of God, perhaps, but someone who has had an encounter with the divine may well know there is a God of some definition. You can know that you have received inspiration beyond your own experience and knowledge. Particular experiences may give you a certainty of particular principles or religious truth as real as any secular, material-world experience of physical reality can do. Whether you can convey that religious certainty to someone else depends on so many factors that maybe you’re the only one who knows that you know. But we’d be badly impoverished if we insisted that nobody can know any religious or spiritual truth about anything, ever.

    Dismiss me as the one at church eager to give correction. I’m not eager to do that at all. But neither am I willing to dismiss the sureness of knowing some few things, sometimes, whether or not anyone else accepts that sureness. I don’t think I could go on in the face of such continual disappointment in people and institutions if I didn’t in fact know some few things, not merely believe them or hope them or assume them.

  9. To be clear Ardis, this isn’t a post against knowledge. It’s a post about how belief, and even doubt, are religious impulses that we too long have assumed were inferior to knowledge wholesale.

  10. Stephen Hardy says:

    Some years ago I told a few of my best friends that the MI podcast was “the best thing that our church puts out.” By “the church” I did not mean “TCOJCOLDS” but rather I meanest something produced by members of our church. So many of those interviews were powerful. I will follow you on your next project. Keep up the good work!

  11. Stephen Hardy says:

    *… I meant…

  12. your food allergy is fake says:

    Ardis’ point is well taken, but the “know” rhetoric really is quite conspicuous. It is as though the very definition of testimony is that which follows “I know . . .” Like JamesM, I choose to allow the temple recommend questions asking whether you have a “testimony” of something to include faith or a hope for something. But I am curious to hear if others have historical insight into when and how the use of “know” came to be such a prominent feature of our expression of testimony.

  13. Nick: Glad to be along in the car with you. Thanks for coming along to Fireside with me.

    JamesM: I like that the recommend questions are belief-oriented.

    Dub: Hope you enjoy it. Gotta grow that audience. ;)

    Jesse Stricklan: Kind words, thank you. I’ve been really happy creating this stuff.

    pconnornc: Yes, I don’t begrudge anyone their own knowledge, whatever it means to them. Along with the latitude I also want there to be more room for people who don’t feel that way.

    Hunter: No prob! My job there became much more than the podcast, and I was able to build a strong portfolio for my next professional advancement. I don’t regret my time there at all. I root for the Institute to keep doing good things.

    Nertz: Yeah, I think the cultural weight is heavily in favor of “knowing,” so we carve out our place however we can.

    Stephen Hardy: Thant’s really kind of you, but maybe it speaks more poorly of the church than it speaks well of my work haha!

    your food allergy is fake: Maybe Matt Bowman knows about the rise of “knowing.” I imagine it’s tied to the McConkie years, but that’s just me stereotyping.

  14. Roger Hansen says:

    The relationship between faith and integrity are problematic for me.

    The Church’s obsession with LGBTQ+ issues is causing genuine harm. I don’t believe in the Church’s stated policy. By being associated with the Church, aren’t I contributing to that harm. And seriously compromising my integrity?

    The Church is currently sitting on assets valued at something far north of $130B. Even a small portion of those assets would go a long way toward improving the world situation. Like providing vaccine to struggling parts of the world. My conscience tells me that this failure to act is wrong.

  15. On the history: The earliest testimony meetings, into the early 20th century with the passing of the last of the first generation of Saints, featured those who had known Joseph Smith and been part of the earliest events of the Restoration. (I’ve read minutes of some meetings specifically limiting speakers to those who had known Joseph Smith, for the benefit of Sunday School children way too young to have been part of those early scenes.) They were literally *testimony* meetings, witnesses giving evidence of what they personally had seen and heard, like witnesses giving evidence in court. I think it would have been odd for such witnesses to say “I believe I heard Joseph teach such-and-such” or “I hope, but I don’t really know, that I rushed down to the river to be baptized for my dead father because I was inspired — I think — by hearing that sermon,” and I’m not aware of that first generation hesitating to declare that, say, they knew Joseph Smith to be a prophet of God, although that falls squarely into the body of things today’s speakers might rather call a belief or hope than knowledge.

    In other words, testimony of what people knew from personal experience came first, only gradually being replaced by broader theological statements couched in the same “I know” language first used by those who did know, but who had all passed away. I think Elder McConkie’s “contribution” was less about vocabulary and more about severely limiting the items that he considered as valid components of a public testimony. He and I don’t see eye to eye on that one.

  16. Chris Watkins says:

    Hey Blair, 3 episodes in and I’m officially a Fireside Completionist. Looking forward to my swag.

  17. your food allergy is fake says:

    Ardis, that is super interesting and much appreciated!

  18. I was thinking along @Roger Hansen’s comment, and this line from the podcast:

    “Who wants a god who does stuff we wouldn’t even do in our humanity? I mean, we still have mercy! We want a god who is at least as good as we are at our best! We want something way, way, way beyond our imagining. And if we don’t have experience of that, or we don’t have teachings that lead us toward that, then it’s the moral thing to say, “This is not a god I accept.” That’s a very religious thing to do.”

    A big shift in my relationship with the Church came when not only did I not *know* that some of its teachings are true, I didn’t even *hope* or *want* them to be true. I don’t hope that God won’t honor same-sex marriages and commitments. I don’t hope that God told his prophets to keep men in charge. I don’t hope for Pres. Nelson’s sad heaven. Etc.

    I’m still sorting out what I hope for and what I don’t and what that means for Church participation. I don’t even care about the knowledge piece anymore.

    @Blair I’m enjoying the podcast. I thought Adam Miller’s interview was kinda depressing TBH but also beautiful, and I’m liking the Rakow interview but haven’t finished.

  19. your food allergy is fake says:

    But at some level, if you’re just ticking off the boxes of characteristics that you want your god to have and not accepting anything else, aren’t you just creating your own god?

  20. @your food allergy, who’s to say that’s not what Joseph Smith did? A white man creating a white male God who let him have a bunch of wives and resolved the theological divide he faced in his own family? Why would Church leaders or other people who recorded scripture be immune to that tendency?

    When I say that there are certain characteristics I hope for and others that I don’t, I don’t mean to say that I will only accept a God who makes my life easy and makes me feel like I can do whatever I want whenever I want. What I mean is that a lot of what we are taught about God in Church contradicts the God I’ve come to know through my life experience (and frankly the God / Christ in the New Testament).

    The things I “hope” are true are things that I have seen help build the Kingdom of Zion / heaven on earth, which is what I think we are meant to do here. The things I “hope” are not true are things I have seen do actual real harm to myself, my friends, and my family, and I’ve come to the conclusion are the philosophies of men mingled with scripture. I do not believe or hope for an angry, vindictive, petty, homophobic, sexist God, and I’m am fine to bet my salvation on a loving, inclusive, expansive, merciful, egalitarian God instead. If I’m wrong, at least my version of God made my life and my relationships better – because it has.

    So yes, I can see running the risk that if we become untethered to a religious authority we can make God in our own image. But I think religious authorities do that too because they are humans too, so a healthy skepticism for any version of God that benefits the person describing that version (whether it’s me or someone else) is warranted. In any event, I think it’s more important to experience God than to try to describe God.

  21. @food allergy, I think that is oversimplifying. It is not a wishlist item to believe in a God that does not command the slaughter of babies (to reference an early faith crisis of mine rooted in reading the old testament). It is not a checklist of characteristics, it is believing that divine power must be rooted in what it means to be good.

  22. your food allergy is fake says:

    “who’s to say that’s not what Joseph Smith did? A white man creating a white male God who let him have a bunch of wives and resolved the theological divide he faced in his own family?”

    I completely agree, Elisa. My fear is that JS may have done just that with respect to polygamy. If that is the case then religious authority becomes less reliable as a tether to truth. We are left with individual conscience, the fruit of that tree.

  23. Roger Hansen: “The relationship between faith and integrity are problematic for me.”

    Right, that’s the heartbeat of Rakow’s book, the fact that integrity and faith can feel so at odds, and what it feels like to navigate things.

    I don’t believe in the Church’s stated policy. By being associated with the Church, aren’t I contributing to that harm. And seriously compromising my integrity?

    It depends, I think. In this context do you feel moved to let other people know how you feel? Do you feel drawn to connect with people who believe similar to you, or to make people who are suffering as a result of the circumstances feel supported, loved, or understood? Your singular association or disaffiliation won’t make or break the church’s existence. So what do you want to do with the circmstances right in front of you? That, to me, is where integrity is exercised.

    Ardis, fascinating stuff. That seems like a rich vein to pursue.

    Chris Watkins: haha yeah, so I have to think of something besides completists now that I’m down to 3 episodes so far.

    Elisa: Thanks for articulating that. I’ve experienced similar shifts in hope. Why would I hope for LGBTQ people not to have lives in which their healthy loving relationships can find full expression? I don’t believe the theological reasoning behind restricting them, so that’s that for me. And yeah Adam’s was depressing, kind of, in the sense that lives are always passing away. I don’t want to avoid that all the time, though. I want to sit with it sometimes. Glad you made it through to the Rakow interview!

    your food allergy is fake: That’s the danger, but it’s always the danger for everyone I think. The stories we end up believing and telling about God are co-creations. Just like in our personal relationships today, we have particular understandings of our loved ones but it’s impossible even with the people closest to us to fully capture or understand who they are. And I think it’s healthy to be careful about how much we create God in whatever image we want.

    Elisa again: ” I’m am fine to bet my salvation on a loving, inclusive, expansive, merciful, egalitarian God instead. If I’m wrong, at least my version of God made my life and my relationships better – because it has.”

    Amen to that. Like Joseph Smith said, if God sends us to hell for it we’ll kick the devil out and make a heaven out of it.

    Marian: I like how you put that.

  24. Ardis:
    Has anyone written up anything on the evolving practice of “testimonies?”

  25. Roger Hansen says:

    Blair, you ask what can be done when faith in what Church leaders expect clashes with individual integrity? In the past, I (and Jana) would suggest that tithing money be redirected toward more worthy causes. Perhaps toward LGBTQ+ causes or toward global remedies. Money talks, at least it did.

    But the Church leaders have made the institution independently wealthy. They don’t need member tithing. They can live in a cocoon. They can do whatever they want. They have no fear of tithing loss or shrinking membership numbers in developed countries.

    However, by redirecting tithing money to more worthy causes, the member can at least have the warm and fuzzy feeling that they are trying to improve the world.

  26. Old Man, I know of nothing comprehensive to refer you to — virtually all scholarly writing on the history of testimonies centers on the shift from Thursday to Sunday meetings, not the content of the testimonies. I picked up on this because I am a fanatical reader of minutes. Some of the investigation into whether (or how many) people saw Brigham Young transfigured as Joseph Smith, or whether (or when) there was a “miracle of the gulls,” quote exhortations to “pay attention to these testimonies because these people were there and know” (not a direct quotation; my paraphrase of what the exhorters said). Ditto articles in magazines like the early Juvenile Instructor (of which I have also been a fanatical reader) about Sunday School conferences featuring meetings reserved for eyewitnesses. Sunday School lessons from the early 20th century (or talks about those lessons in general Sunday School conferences) teach the children to recognize specific things that they know, and practice bearing testimonies to those facts in their Fast Day classes; those lessons are quite distinctive in helping children recognize “I know” facts and not merely to repeat what they’ve been taught to believe as a theological proposition: there’s no “model testimony that you can bear” or “let me whisper in your ear and you repeat my words.” There are some magazine articles with titles like “Six Who Knew” or “They Knew the Prophet” emphasizing the special character of those people’s testimonies. There are minutes referring to Emmeline B. Wells (who was a young adult in Nauvoo, and lived until 1921) and her status as one of the last to have witnessed important events, so her testimony carried extra weight.

    But I don’t know of any writing that pulls all that together. (This is a free idea for someone studying lived religion, and the kinds of sources available.)

    (I apologize, Blair, for continuing a subthread that you declared to be more or less beside the point; I’m only responding to questions and not trying to carry it further than necessary.)

  27. Old Man, while it doesn’t speak to the “I know” language directly, the opening anecdote in this article: Lyon, T. Edgar (1978) “Recollections of “Old Nauvooers” Memories from Oral History,” BYU Studies Quarterly: Vol. 18 : Iss. 2 , Article 4, https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/byusq/vol18/iss2/4 illustrates the precedence in testimony meetings given to those who had been there, and the young Lyon’s deduction that apparently you had a testimony only if you could speak of knowing Joseph Smith.

  28. Rehashing some of what has already been said about testimony-bearing, with an additional thought or two:

    It is one thing to say that you know something. It is more useful and more compelling to explain why you know it. This is true whether you’re claiming knowledge of a verifiable fact or asserting a matter of faith. A person can say, “I know that it rained at 2:00 pm at the corner of State and Main.” It is more compelling to say, “I know that it rained at 2:00 pm at the corner of State and Main because I was standing there at the time.” This is also true about assertions of faith; my religious testimony is more compelling if I explain how my knowledge or belief is rooted in my experience.

    Ardis mentioned the narrowing of “legitimate” subject matter for testimony-bearing. I think we’ve lost something important as this change has become widely accepted. We’ve come to a point, at least in my experience, where the bare assertion of knowledge or belief (“I know the church is true”) is what matters most. The sharing of one’s unique experiences that lead to knowledge or belief ought to be the heart of the thing, but often it seems more like an adornment—nice to have, but only if you don’t go on about it for very long.

    A similar problem affects the quality of our sermonizing. Not very many of us can make a compelling sacrament meeting talk built on doctrinal principles, but many people can speak authentically about their own experiences with religion and spirituality. I think we discourage people from considering their own experiences when we ask them to repurpose a general authority’s conference talk. This approach implies that the authority’s spiritual insights are better than the insight we can win by our own struggles. We absorb that lesson, and so we turn increasingly to mimicry and conformity in our discourse. I don’t mean to suggest that there was ever a golden age of brilliant preaching in sacrament meetings, but I’m old enough to recognize a general decline in quality as sermons have moved away from more personal material.

    Finally, I think this trend tends to erode the sense of community in our wards. It’s harder to know people when their sacrament meeting talks and class lessons become less and less personal.

  29. I’m loving it, Ardis! Fascinating, and I hope that subject gets a lot more attention!

  30. Loursat, that resonates with my own observations.

  31. Great stuff Blair. Avid listener. Ardis: excellent points. Reading early hymnals suggests a basis for “I know” language. Recently a member of our bishopric used “believe” in testimony. I noticed, but I think few others did.

  32. Thank you Blair Hodges. This was profoundly beautiful OP.
    How relevant is the knowledge piece anyway? With the LDS nearly universal sotierology based on garnering knowledge of certain things here in earth life we may ask what is the most important think to learn while we are here? So few will have a chance to learn about Christ in comparison to all who have ever lived, even fewer will have the chance to learn about LDS restorationist doctrines and history etc. Even fewer will have the chance to participate in the covenants. But we are told that all will have (eventually) an equal opportunity. So what is the one thing we ALL can garner here that it seems most essential to “know?” Paul maybe wasn’t wrong when he said that love/charity is the greatest of all this stuff. Love is the one and only thing. Perhaps the only way we can truly learn it as living beings, rather than simply have it programmed “ex machina” is to be put in a circumstance when it is impossible to know everything (I agree with Ardis that it is possible to know many things), and certainly impossible to empirically demonstrate almost anything about spiritual matters/claims. I think this realization would profoundly affect any approach to apologetics. Will try to catch your podcast, it sounds great.
    The emphasis on love also makes it easier to grant grace in the light of contradictory imperatives, like can prophets who truly have had divinely appointed keys and marvelous manifestations, be wrong and even cruel in their actions? I believe the answer is an obvious yes- they receive many answers, they don’t receive all of them, and with great power comes great responsibility (1st epistle of Ben Parker 1:1) and the capability to do great harm (my own addition to the word). Look at racist, misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic policies and even “doctrines” that have dogged us all of our (relatively) short LDS history. But I do believe there is grace and love big enough for all of this. If I need it, then why can’t the whole church, or the whole world need it too? This outlook allows me, a believing former member, transgender, and in a same sex marriage to take the profound steps that have saved my life, who longs to get back into the church but won’t be able to unless the policies change, to not have to deny my testimony (my personal knowledge) if you will, that angels and God visited Joseph Smith, and the keys are in this church. I can still attend and feel the comfort in the ordinances even if I can’t participate, and feel the grace that I hope will reconcile all of this someday. Just as I did not have to lie about who I was to feel this peace, no one should have to lie about saying they know something that they don’t in order to access that grace. Can we really learn how to love if we don’t ever come up against imperatives that just don’t make sense? It is easy to love when everything fits.
    A World without paradox needs no grace, and maybe would not be able to learn to love.

  33. Lona, thank you for sharing your witness.

  34. We keep our faith and integrity aligned by doing the works of Abraham–which is requires — sometimes at great pains — keeping the Two Great Commandments in their proper order.

  35. Stephen Hardy says:

    Dirtbag: “We?” Please don’t include me in your solution. Please say “I”.

  36. I don’t read the Abraham story the way Dirtbag does (or, for that matter, the way the general Church does). I think the stronger, more accurate reading is that Abraham messed up. He wasn’t supposed to work towards killing his son. He was supposed to use his meal reasoning, reject the idea proposed to him, and then reason with God. Instead, he messed up. And so God provided a savior ram in the thickets. In the larger sense, this comports with how we generally understand the atonement. We humans don’t get the ram, Jesus, because we do/did what was right. The ram is there because we do/did what is wrong and the ram is provided to show us that and resolve to do better.

  37. I’m not sure that the shift from “believe” to “know” is unique to our faith. “The Case for God” by Karen Armstrong discusses (among other things) how post reformation there was a general move toward this in Christianity.

  38. Joseph Stanford says:

    In a ward I was in previously, our bishop once bore his testimony as follows: “I know the gospel is true. I believe it’s true. I hope it’s true. What else is there?” This was to me a particularly heartfelt and honest expression of a testimony.

  39. Sharolyn Stauffer says:

    I caught up with your podcasts this week and will be a devotee. Thank you for the thoughtfulness of your selections so far and for the excellent interviews and thought experiments. I have pondered and discussed this “knowledge” conundrum for several years now, as I believe words matter, and knowing is different than believing. I loved this discussion and readings with Mary Rakow. What a lovely voice she has and gave me much to stew over. This was just what I needed yesterday and cannot wait to hear more.

  40. Dirtbag: We keep our faith and integrity aligned by doing the works of Abraham–which is requires — sometimes at great pains — keeping the Two Great Commandments in their proper order.

    The original questioner wanted to know the greatest commandment, and Jesus seems to challenge that premise by saying “the first one is love God, and the second is like unto it, love others as yourself.” Or in other words, “don’t trick yourself into thinking you can truly do one without the other.” I’ve seen efforts to make these 2 commands into a hierarchy on the grounds that we should draw lines about how far our love will reach. There’s a lot of fear about whether our love for others might be taken to “condone” immoral actions. But I have strong suspicions (and live my faith such) that it’s impossible to disentangle the two great commandments. To fulfill the first requires fulfillment of both.

  41. pconnornc: Right, I don’t think a drive to certainty is unique to Mormonism. But I think there are unique Mormon elements about what we are supposed to be certain about, how we arrive at that certainty, what happens if we aren’t certain, and etc. That’s what makes it interesting!

    Sharolyn: thank you for listening! Good to see you here at BCC. :)

  42. Nate Daniels says:

    Glad to see a new vein of apologetics. A far cry from the clownshow videos with Kwaku El and company that FAIR Mormon put out, and later took down, a few months ago.

  43. PS: Dirtbag, I’m trying to think of an instance in scripture where a person is criticized/condemned/corrected for being too “condoning,” for being too merciful, for measuring out judgment too “lovingly” in favor of a human in contrast with loving God. I’m not saying there aren’t examples of this and I would personally interpret such examples through a lens that prioritizes mercy and grace, but can you think of scriptural examples where God says “in the name of being loving to someone, in the name of listening to someone and honoring their sincere witness, you extended too much grace and are in some big trouble now”? Those would be some scriptural passages I would wrestle with.

  44. BHodges, I certainly agree that our default position must be one of compassion towards others–and that a failure to love others is, in effect, a failure to love God. And that’s the very reason (IMO) why it can be an extreme challenge to follow counsel that may seem counterintuitive to keeping the Second Great Commandment. We are, after all, striving to be good Christians. I’d even go so far as to say that, if we’re in the habit of seeking special dispensations as to whether or not we ought to show mercy toward particular persons or groups of people, we may need to revisit our theological assumptions vis-a-vis the doctrine of Christ.

    That said, IMO, we (each one of us) will be challenged on occasion — and those occasions are typically rare, thankfully — by counsel that seems to fly in the face of our personal Christian values. IMO, the scriptures are filled with examples of this sort of struggle–though, more often than not, we tend to miss them because we fail to empathize with the “bad guys.”

    I think of the arguments that were put forth by Laman and Lemuel against Lehi and Nephi. I might make the same arguments if I were to witness the exquisite suffering of my own loved ones in a similar situation. In fact, I think it was for the very reasons that we’re discussing here that Lehi stumbled and complained to the Lord. His burden as the Lord’s anointed became unbearable as he witnessed the suffering of his people–which suffering was a direct effect of the inspired counsel he had given them.

    Anyway, each one of us will–at one point or another–be tempted by *virtue* (as opposed to vice) which can be the most difficult temptation of all to conquer.

  45. By the way, Dirtbag is really the old commenter Jack. I was banned from BCC about 5 years ago. So maybe the powers that be have decided to give me a second chance.

  46. By the way, Dirtbag is really me–Jack. I was banned 5 or so years ago from BCC. So that’s why the change in moniker. Maybe I’ve just sealed my fate–again. We’ll see. :D

  47. The idea of opposing the two great commandments to each other is seriously problematic. It strikes me as a misreading of the scripture, which says that the second commandment is like unto the first. I understand this to mean that we fulfill the first commandment by obeying the second one. These commandments are companions. They are not a paradox lying in wait to trap us.

    I am aware of Pres. Oaks’s talks which attempt to describe an opposition between love and law. In those sermons, Pres. Oaks thinks he sees an opposition between the two great commandments. I have spent a lot of time, probably too much time, thinking and praying about those sermons. I remain unpersuaded.

    We waste our time by imagining ourselves as the heroes of an Abrahamic test. We need to love each other. To love is the concrete, daily challenge that we must meet in our relationships with real people every day of our lives. It is very hard to do it well, and it is challenge enough.

  48. “We waste our time by imagining ourselves as the heroes of an Abrahamic test.”

    I agree that it’s a waste of time (and energy) to view ourselves as heroes–of anything.

    It’s at those times when the Lord tugs at our heartstrings that we become keenly aware of our weaknesses and–as a result–that we work out our salvation with even greater “fear and trembling.”

  49. Bhodges: you asked about scriptural passages of being too loving/condoning/merciful/etc… I am 100% behind being compassionate, yet I have been pondering what scriptures would support anything less than an 100% accepting & loving engagement with others (btw – I am not seeking justification to be a non-accepting, a jerk or un-Christlike)

    I won’t go to the OT – there are definitely references there, but we don’t want anyone cutting of people’s hands and worse…

    In the NT we have Jesus casting out money changers. I’m guessing not all of these people were miserly grinches out to offend the Lord – many were possibly just people trying to support their family. But clearly the Lord does not hold back on them…

    In the BoM we have in Alma 3:8 separation to avoid bad traditions (which I am not advocating), but that is an example of being less than loving, embracing and charitable of those who aren’t necessarily sinning but have different traditions…

    In the NT we have admonitions to hate our family (and own life) over the Savior. What he is really saying our devotion to Christ comes first…

    Both the BoM and D&C have admonitions on denying the sacrament. Clearly we’re loving them, but putting a burden or limit to our love based on worthiness…

    And lastly, in the NT we have the Savior w/ the Canaanite woman. At first he ignores her, then explains his non response due to her heritage, then finally compares her to a dog. In the end he does bless her. We can argue that he knows the end before the beginning and knew what would happen – so his apparent rudeness didn’t count. I’m not accusing the Savior of being “rude”, I just think these are scriptural examples of withholding complete unconditional love and acceptance.

    Because I know how discussions can be, I want to reiterate that I have way too many beams in my eyes to be looking for motes. But I think there are passages to suggest that people might sometimes find friction between the two great commandments.

  50. pconnornc: Thank you for trying! None of those seem to fit exactly. I’m looking for an example where a person is trying to be merciful, but they are corrected for being too merciful. In other words, something that assumes a motive that is generated by an honest desire for mercy, not indulgence or whatever. I’m not suggesting scripture doesn’t make moral evaluations or expect us to maker them.

    Also, re: the Canaanite woman, I think it’s a perfectly wonderful interpretation to assume that Jesus was somewhat called to account by her and learned something from her.

  51. Jack (Dirtbag) says:

    BHodges,

    As I said earlier–I think we miss a lot of good examples because of the way the scriptures tend to caricaturize the disobedient. IMO, if we were to place ourselves in Laman’s shoes I think we’d see rather quickly that we’d have some of the same genuine concerns that he had–especially for our loved ones. The scriptures are rife with examples of people believing that counsel from the Lord’s prophets–or the Lord himself–is morally deficient or lacking in some other way.

    Even so, I think there are a few specific examples that get close to what you’re looking for. The most noteworthy would be (IMO) when Amulek seeks to deliver the wives and children of the believers from the fire. Alma doesn’t chastise him–but he does deliver counsel that would seem–on its face–to work against the Second Great Commandment or the Golden Rule for that matter.

  52. Stephen Hardy says:

    Jack:
    The Amulek incident, in my opinion, is an attempt to explain why God allows evil to exist. It has nothing to do with some misguided attempt to prioritize the first great commandments. It is similar to Alma who wishes that he could speak with the voice of an angel and “shake the earth.” But he realizes that he “sin[s] in [his] wish.” The sin is not the sin of loving too much. It is the sin of taking away people’s moral agency. So, no, the Amulek example does not teach us to turn our backs on LGBTQ+ in an attempt to show love for God.

  53. John Mansfield says:

    The question above brought Matthew 8 to mind. A disciple wants to follow Jesus, but first wants to bury his father, and he is told by Jesus to follow immediately and let the dead bury the dead. I have buried my father and I have buried my wife. I brought my own shovel for the purpose and threw down dirt until my father’s grave was filled and until my wife’s casket was covered. Those were acts of devotion and expressions of love, and somewhat connected with having been 7,000 miles away when my mother was buried. I expect the disciple’s attention to his father’s burial would have been an act of love, but Jesus told him to leave such attention to the “dead.”

    I am sure this passage will also be deemed lacking, but it did come to mind.

  54. Jack (Dirtbag) says:

    Stephen, I agree that we learn something about the problem of evil in that incident. But it isn’t the only thing that may be learned. The takeaway message might be something as simple as: trust the Lord. Or it might be a little more complex: trust the Lord even when his counsel seems to go against one’s own genuine religious sensibilities.

    That said, I want to make it very clear that I would never (knowingly) suggest that we are to love our neighbors less in order to keep the First Commandment. All I’m really saying is that we ought to be willing to place God’s wisdom above our own even when his counsel challenges our personal sense of morality–whether it’s masking up and receiving the COVID-19 vaccine or defending the church’s foundational teachings on marriage and family or what-have-you.

    From King Benjamin’s address:

    “Believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things, both in heaven and in earth; believe that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth; believe that man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend.”

  55. Jack (Dirtbag) says:

    Stephen,

    Just to add: I think Alma sins in his wish to become an angel because it causes him to be discontent with what the Lord has called him to do in the moment. It’s precisely because of his love for his fellow beings that he wishes he could declare to gospel to everyone “that there might not be more sorrow upon all the face of the earth.” So he is actually tempted by a virtue to look beyond to work that the Lord has placed before him.

    Even so, I what I find so cool about Alma’s internal struggle is that, in the end, he *does* finally get his wish–or at least that’s what the reader is led to believe when Alma walks off into the sunset. It was just a matter keeping things properly aligned as he moved from one station to another.

  56. John, it still doesn’t really fit what I’m looking for.

    trust the Lord. Or it might be a little more complex: trust the Lord even when his counsel seems to go against one’s own genuine religious sensibilities.

    Does opposition to same-sex marriage run counter to your religious sensibilities? What things does the church currently teach/require that runs counter to your religious sensibilities? And how do you negotiate those things?

    Is it possible that it isn’t “the Lord’s counsel” at all that opposes LGBTQ equality? Is it possible for humans to mistake their own prejudices for the word of God?

    What do we do about cases like Deanna Laney, who believed God told her to smash the skulls of her young children with stones, which she did? She could say “we don’t comprehend all the things God comprehends, he wanted that to happen.”

  57. Jack (Dirtbag) says:

    John, I’m so sorry for your loss. I pray the Lord will comfort you.

    I think that’s a great example from the New Testament. We should never miss the birthday, wedding, or funeral, of a dear loved one except, perhaps, when we’re serving a fulltime mission or attending our own funeral.

  58. Jack (Dirtbag) says:

    BHodges,

    “Does opposition to same-sex marriage run counter to your religious sensibilities? What things does the church currently teach/require that runs counter to your religious sensibilities? And how do you negotiate those things?”

    I’m not troubled by the church’s counsel on marriage and family–or the pandemic for that matter. Even so, I have been troubled by other bits of counsel in the past–and, as I remember, what I needed most was time. It took a little while for me to either conform to it or grow into it.

    “Is it possible that it isn’t “the Lord’s counsel” at all that opposes LGBTQ equality? Is it possible for humans to mistake their own prejudices for the word of God?”

    It’s certainly possible–and I think the very reason as to why there are living prophets and apostles is so that we’re not carried about by every wind of doctrine. And with regard to our prejudices, it’s been interesting to monitor the reaction of the saints to the most recent words of the prophets. Those who object to their counsel on the pandemic tend to lean to the right. And those who object to their counsel on marriage and family tend to lean to the left. But even so, the Lord doesn’t care where his counsel lands on the sociopolitical spectrum–and he knows full well that his people will be sorely tried on occasion by the words of his prophets.

    “What do we do about cases like Deanna Laney, who believed God told her to smash the skulls of her young children with stones, which she did? She could say “we don’t comprehend all the things God comprehends, he wanted that to happen.””

    Again, if we find that certain revelatory claims are out of lockstep with the counsel that we receive through the Lord’s anointed–then we may want to think about them twice.

  59. By the way, John: ultimately, I think Jesus would prefer we bury our dead. You describe a loving act of devotion. God bless you.

    I have been troubled by other bits of counsel in the past–and, as I remember, what I needed most was time. It took a little while for me to either conform to it or grow into it.

    Can you think of any significant examples? Particularly something that you actually believe would be outright damaging to yourself or others if you were to follow along.

    I think the very reason as to why there are living prophets and apostles is so that we’re not carried about by every wind of doctrine.

    I think living prophets and apostles are also subject to making mistakes. Even really big ones. There’s a reason that common consent is also supposed to play a role in the church’s direction. I think church leadership oversees collective action, holds governing keys, and above all is supposed to witness of Christ’s name. But they are imperfect in these roles. They’re human. I think they have much too strongly emphasized deference to everything they say rather than relying on the power of truth and the Spirit to carry through. Many church members default to accept pretty much everything they do and say as being directly directed by God. I believe that has some significant negative consequences. For example, all-or-nothing thinking that causes members to walk away when they can’t agree with everything a leader says. And honestly I think most if not all of the current 12 would agree with the idea that if you can’t agree with their views, and can’t keep it to yourself, then the church would be better off without you.

    Those who object to their counsel on the pandemic tend to lean to the right. And those who object to their counsel on marriage and family tend to lean to the left.

    How about me? I think overall their guidance on the pandemic has been far too lax. I think the ay they handled sacrament regulations during quarantine wasn’t great. I think resuming worship meetings without requiring face masks was wrong. I think they’ve used much stronger language to oppose gay marriage than they have to affirm the need for vaccines and proper health precautions. Politically I am a Democrat. I don’t see that party reflected in much of what the church does. I see an extraordinary amount of deference to/borrowing from/fitness with Republicans though. And that’s a real problem for the overall health of the church, ideologically and now especially literally!

    Again, if we find that certain revelatory claims are out of lockstep with the counsel that we receive through the Lord’s anointed–then we may want to think about them twice.

    It’s almost like you’re treating prophets like the ultimate cheat code. People should do anything a leader asks them to do, if the leader thinks they are speaking on behalf of God? Your default position is “accept their words in pretty much all cases.” Mine is, I recognize their authority to direct the church in general. And I accept them insofar as they lead me to Christ and not a step farther. Recognizing that like them, I can also be mistaken about what God wants. So it’s a mix of scripture, prophets, conscience, science, Spirit, etc. rather than “When the prophet speaks the thinking has been done.” No cheat codes for me.

  60. Jack (Dirtbag) says:

    I think the apostles have always recognized their own weakness–to a fault. And I think they’re very uncomfortable with the notion of infallibility that some folks ascribe to them.

    That said, I take my cues from the scriptures with respect to what my attitude should be toward the Lord’s anointed. With thousands of years of hindsight made available on the subject there should be little ambiguity as to who — myself or the prophets — will likely need to adjust his views in order to see eye to eye.

  61. John Mansfield says:

    Jack, could you send me an e-mail at John39N77W@gmail.com?

  62. John Mansfield says:

    My last comment seems to fallen casualty to BCC’s love/hate relationship with the internet. Trying again:

    Jack, could you send me an e-mail? I tried simply typing it into my last comment. The username part of that contact is John39N77W, and it is a gmail account.

  63. John Mansfield says:

    ”ultimately, I think Jesus would prefer we bury our dead”

    Is this one of those interpretations that has Jesus playing the role of tempting demon, disappointed in those who fail his test by heading his words and following him instead of ignoring him and choosing to do good instead?

    There is a book, Thirst, by Amelie Nothomb. The English translation was published this year, and the Embassy of France was promoting it on their French culture web site. The writing is good, and it has interesting ideas, some of which may be true. At 92 pages, it is a short read. It is an interior monologue by Jesus starting at the time of his trial, and in this telling his triumph on the cross is to find the ability to forgive himself for going through with being crucified. I will type out a few passages below.

    I’m still damned alive. I’m sweating—where is all this liquid coming from? My blood is circulating, pouring from my wounds, could the pain be any worse? It hurts so much that the geography of my skin has been altered, it feels as if the most sensitive zones of my body are now located in my arms and shoulders, this position is intolerable, to think that one day a human being came up with the idea of crucifixion, clever thinking, proof of my father’s failure: it is one of his creatures who dreamt up this torture.

    Love thy neighbor as thyself. A sublime teaching, and I am in the process of professing the contrary. I have accepted this monstrous, humiliating, indecent, interminable execution: whoever accepts such a thing does not love himself.

    I can take refuge behind paternal error. Because his plan was nothing more than a blunder, pure and simple. But how could I have been so mistaken? Why did I not realize until I was on the cross? I had my suspicions, to be sure, but not to the point of rejecting the matter entirely.

    Where did you come up with the idea that God is goodness? Do I look like I am goodness? Is my father, who dreamt up this ting I have accepted, credible in his role? He hasn’t claimed to be, by the way. He says he is love. Love is not goodness. The two might overlap, but then again, not always.

    And even what he says he is—is he really? The power of love is sometimes difficult to differentiate from all the other ambient currents. My father sent me here out of love for his creation. Find me a more perverse act of love.

    It’s done. It’s a performative verb. No sooner said—as it must be said, in the absolute sense of the verb—than done.

    I have just saved myself, and saved, therefore, everything that is. Does my father know this? Surely not. He’s useless when it comes to doing things on the spur of the moment. It’s not his fault: to be able to do things last minute, you have to have a body.

    I still have one. Never have I been more incarnate than this: suffering has nailed me to my body. I am filled with conflicting emotions at the thought of leaving it. In spite of the intense pain, I have not forgotten what I owe this incarnation.

    At least I have stopped my mental torture. It makes things considerably easier to be able to look deep in Madeleine’s eyes: she can tell I’ve won. She nods.

  64. I think the apostles have always recognized their own weakness–to a fault. And I think they’re very uncomfortable with the notion of infallibility that some folks ascribe to them.

    Pres. Uchtdorf spoke a few times to the fallibility of leaders, and he’s Elder Uchtdorf now. I can’t think of a single example of a current General Authority speaking to the question of fallibility. I can point to a heap of Follow The Prophet instruction, though. Maybe the closest thing was Pres. Nelson’s relatively fast reversal of the disastrous Nov. 5 discrimination policy where he suggested they’d received some feedback and decided to reverse it. Other than that?

    That said, I take my cues from the scriptures with respect to what my attitude should be toward the Lord’s anointed.

    Same! I see apostles getting it wrong right and left in the New Testament. Always growing. Moses didn’t get to cross into the Promised Land because he messed up. David became an adulterer and murderer. And etc.

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