True to the Faith

May 11, 2004 | 59 comments
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True to the Faith was introduced to the Church in the April 2004 Ensign:

“The Church has issued a new doctrinal guidebook aimed at youth, young single adults, and new members. True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference is a collection of brief, simple statements on gospel doctrines and principles. Almost 200 pages in length, the book is intended to supplement the scriptures and the counsel of current Church leaders. Young men and young women may use it as a resource to assist them in achieving their Duty to God and Personal Progress awards. The book is designed to accompany the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet and explains the doctrine behind the standards it contains. Priesthood quorums and Relief Society groups may also offer the book to new members to better acquaint them with the doctrines of the restored gospel. True to the Faith is available at Church distribution centers for $1.50.”

I’ve skimmed it (it is available online) and here are my thoughts:

(1) I think this is the first time that a work of this type (official, with the topics in alphabetical format) has been available. I know that the Bible Dictionary and the Encyclopedia of Mormonism are similar, but not exactly the same thing. I wonder what prompted this book. A few thoughts:

(a) a desire to displace Mormon Doctrine as the easiest source for info on a specific topic. (True story: I had been a member of the Church for a few months when a teacher in a Young Women’s class said the following: “When you have a question about something, what do you do? You turn to Mormon Doctrine!” And then she proceeded to quote at length.)

(b) seriously, where do you go, as a young person or a new convert, with questions? I’m thinking that, especially in areas where the Church is less established, it’s probably a good idea for new converts to have another source besides the person who brought them into the Church, who maybe has only been a member for a few months or whatever.

©) a response to all the junk on the Internet. In other words, here’s the real doctrine, and what the antis are saying is our doctrine isn’t our doctrine. It could be especially useful in keeping people from taking flights of bizarre doctrine in church classes–hopefully someone could step up to the plate and note since whatever Faith Promoting Rumor is being spewed isn’t in True to the Faith, we might be better off moving on.

As mentioned, I have only skimmed it, but I think it is fair to say that:

(1) the long-term effects of this book will be huge, because of its unique position as an official source of simple, easy-to-access info.

(2) this book represents the liberal side of mainstream LDS doctrine. Just an example: the section on birth control. Quoting:

“with a testimony of these principles [that children are a blessing, etc.], you and your spouse will be prepared to prayerfully decide how many children to have and when to have them. Such decisions are between the two of you and the Lord.”

There is then a reminder that sex has purposes in addition to reproduction. For those of you wondering why this is noteworthy, consider this quotation from the recently revised (2001) CES Marriage and Family student book:

“We seriously regret that there should exist a sentiment or feeling among any members of the Church to curtail the birth of their children. . . . it is contrary to the teachings of the Church artificially to curtail or prevent the birth of children. ”

While there are other more moderate quotes, there are also several more along the same lines as the above. (Which brings us back to the recently discussed about the role/influence of CES in the shaping of doctrine, but that’s another topic.) I don’t think it is wrong to suggest that a new member reading True to the Faith would conclude that birth control is OK if you have prayed about it, but a new member reading the CES book would conclude that it is not.

I didn’t find any radical doctrine in here, but I will note that they mention eating meat sparingly in the WoW section, and you don’t hear that too often.

Another nice feature is that Church organization is explained. Good for them. I’d hate to be a new member trying to figure out what the heck an Area Authority Seventy is.

I have to say that I really like this little book. The tone reminds me of nothing so much as if Elder Nelson were my grandfather (wearing a sweater vest, no tie or jacket) and we were sitting over a plate of cookies, and he were giving me advice designed for nothing but ensuring my happiness and growth in the Gospel. Sorry if that sounds sappy, but this book gave me good vibes and I hope people use it.

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59 Responses to True to the Faith

  1. Julie in Austin on May 11, 2004 at 4:55 pm

    fixing bug and noting that I might have made my case much simpler with this one quote from the CES book:

    “Birth control is wickedness.” in italics, nonetheless.

  2. Nate Oman on May 11, 2004 at 5:12 pm

    Julie: I ordered a copy of this when it came out and I have been thumbing through it for a while. I have wanted to post something on it, but I am glad that you beat me to the punch.

    I think that your accessment of the book is essentially correct. A couple of addition points:

    A. Substantial portions of the book seem to be silently redacted pieces of conference addresses. At some point, some enterprising soul (with the help of computer text searches) could figure out which voice from the Brethren is most dominant.

    B. I think that “liberal side of the mainstream” is about perfect.

    C. This is not actually new, per se. The Church has produced these kinds of doctrinal references in the past, but they were not generally available to the membership. Rather — interestingly enough — they were produced for servicemen who were assumed to be isolated from other members and in need of some additional support. I used to have a copy of the old reference but I have now lost it.

    D. I suspect that this book along with the Encyclopedia of Mormonism will go a long way toward modifying the influence of Bruce R. in the CES. My sense is that most CES types are not necessarily conscious Bruce R. disciples but simply default to his theology because it provides a ready reference point. Hopefully, TTF and the EofM will replace him.

  3. Ben Huff on May 11, 2004 at 5:16 pm

    Wow, this is interesting! I am all in favor of all the purposes you listed, Julie. I have mixed feelings about the encyclopedic model of knowledge, in general, but when it is cast specifically for young people and new members, I say Bravo! The encyclopedic model of knowledge is so often implicit in people’s expectations for finding things out, we need something like this that’s well done to counter the surfeit of other stuff.

  4. Rob on May 11, 2004 at 5:23 pm

    BTW, wards can order these books free for the youth and new members. We just got a couple boxes for our ward and everyone is pretty excited about them. We’ll see how the youth take to them.

  5. Dave on May 11, 2004 at 5:26 pm

    FYI, there is an online version available over at LDS.org–the link is right up front on the main page. I’m intrigued by the description of this book as a left-of-center definition of basic Mormon doctrine, which would be a welcome and official counterweight to the right-of-center (with some way-right-of-center) materials generally available.

  6. Ben S on May 11, 2004 at 5:27 pm

    Looks like it’s available online as well, here

  7. Rob on May 11, 2004 at 5:37 pm

    As an ecologist and conservationist, my new favorite “scripture,” from the entry for “creation”.

    “As a beneficiary of all the beauties of creation, you can care for the earth and help preserve it for future generations.”

    Tree hugging’s OK!

  8. jeremobi on May 11, 2004 at 5:48 pm

    Gee, Rob. Did you need the justification or were you truly surprised at the level of enlightenment?

    I suppose the electronic copy will suffice for many and you’ll not be ordering too many paper (tree-killing) copies for the ward. :>)

  9. Frank McIntyre on May 11, 2004 at 5:50 pm

    What defines “center” in “left-of-center” and “right-of-center”? Is it whatever is widely believed by members? Is it the median view? Should I weight the views of the Twelve (as opposed to T&S bloggers) more heavily when computing this median? Is it the average view found in official Church Publications like the Ensign or Gospel Principles? If most materials are “right-of-center”, as Dave puts it, perhaps the mainstream view is right-of-center also. In which case, the center is right-of-center?

  10. Julie in Austin on May 11, 2004 at 5:59 pm

    Frank–

    We cuold have fun quibbling about this all day, (BTW, does anyone know a word that means ‘when extremists make something that was previously considered off-center look mainstream’? I’ve had this question for years.), but in the context of this discussion, I think 95% of people familiar with the written materials that the Church produces would read this book and think, ‘this is less conservative than most other stuff out there.’

  11. jeremobi on May 11, 2004 at 6:07 pm

    I’m sure Julie can tell us what “the liberal side of mainstream” means. But let’s not be so quick to jump to confusing terms like left, right, revolutionary, or reactionary. It could be dichotomous: “mainstream” LDS hold either liberal or illiberal views.

  12. Frank McIntyre on May 11, 2004 at 6:12 pm

    Julie—

    How about mainstreamate? Mainstreamize? Minstrimerate? Mangle?

  13. Frank McIntyre on May 11, 2004 at 6:23 pm

    “I think 95% of people familiar with the written materials that the Church produces would read this book and think, ‘this is less conservative than most other stuff out there.’”

    Supposing this is the case (and I have my doubts because I think most members are uninterested in the distinctions you are drawing) what should we infer? That the Church is more lefty now? That this is an aberration from the mean? Presumably you prefer a “lefter” tack. But suppose the Church were to take a “righter” tack in its publications. Do they become less inspired? Are they less true then the lefter stuff?

    I am uncomfortable with what smacks of picking and choosing one’s doctrine base don some prior set of beliefs about what doctrine is supposed to say. It seems like the preferred approach is to evaluate truth based on an attempt to integrate Church doctrine into a whole, rather than cherry-picking one’s favorite quotes.

    Perhaps we are all guilty of cherry-picking. In which case, I think we should all repent, because it seems wrong to me.

  14. Julie in Austin on May 11, 2004 at 6:32 pm

    Whoa, Frank, slow down! My ‘left of mainstream’ observation was just that: an observation, not a value judgment.

    Left, right, or in between, I am biased in favor of the words of the living prophet.

  15. Kingsley on May 11, 2004 at 6:35 pm

    Frank: In Mormons and the Bible Philip Barlow traces some of the disharmonies between “conservative” GA’s like Bruce R. McConkie and “liberal” GA’s like David O. McKay. Is it proper, in your view, for Latter-day Saints to lean, in a general way, toward one or the other? So that it’s not really a matter of cherry-picking this or that doctrine, but of simply noting (and being glad) when something’s more McKay-ish than McConkie-ish, or vice versa.

  16. Ben S on May 11, 2004 at 6:37 pm

    I think what we’re trying to get at here is that instead of making dogmatic statements where there is no revealed dogma (e.g. on evolution), there is now a range of acceptable belief. It’s not that a more liberal opinion is being declared to be correct, it’s that there is now an acceptable range. Of course, with most of the examples I could think of, it was the “conservative” apostles who consistantly made statements that didn’t jibe with what official church doctrine is. I’m thinking here particularly of evolution, but other examples come to mind.

    “Birth control is a damnable heresy of the devil” vs. “Birth control is something between husband wife and god.”

  17. Randy on May 11, 2004 at 6:42 pm

    I think all of us are guilty, to one degree or another, of placing greater weight in those statements of doctrine that ring true to us. But I don’t see any reason to repent when the church begins to move in a direction that we had hoped they would. The birth control example is a good one. Why should I feel the need to repent merely because I happen to agree with the position on birth control taken in TTF? I’ve got enough things to worry about without having to repent of my *agreements* with recent church statements.

  18. Julie in Austin on May 11, 2004 at 6:45 pm

    Ben S–

    Changing the subject here a little, I think it is safe to say that everyone from average members to way high up, on issues from theology to politics, somehow feels safer stating things more conservative than official doctrine than more liberal than official doctrine. (I know I’m painting with a broad brush here, but I think that *in general* my observation is true. You know you hear more wacky conservative comments in SS than wacky liberal ones.) And my question is: Why is it that when people go off the strai(gh)t and narrow, they will publicly fall to the right?

  19. John H on May 11, 2004 at 6:54 pm

    Frank McIntyre: “Perhaps we are all guilty of cherry-picking. In which case, I think we should all repent, because it seems wrong to me.”

    Frank, I think we’re all guilty of cherry picking, but I also think it’s necessary, not just ok. At least I think it’s necessary if we’re talking about doctrinal statements by Church leaders or picking between which scriptures we might accept or those we might ignore.

    Church members cherry pick quite often, in fact. A simple example: Many accept Joseph Fielding Smith’s statements of progression among the degrees of glory, and ignore (or are not familiar with) contradictory statements by other leaders. That’s an obvious example, but I think there are others that demonstrate that people generally hear and believe what they want, despite their claims of “just following God or the prophet.”

    Following President Benson’s denunciation of mothers working outside the home, how many women quit their jobs? How many working mothers didn’t bother to go to work at the Church office building the next day? Although impossible to determine accurately, everything I’ve ever read or heard about this suggests very, very few women quit their jobs when confronted with President Benson’s counsel. This talk, like so many others that people just don’t like, has since gone the way of the dodo.

    Anyone else remember President Packer’s talk at BYU on the Unwritten Order of Things? There, he suggested that we talk about the deceased too much at our funerals. We ought to be talking about the Savior. He even said he would get out of his coffin at his funeral and correct the speaker if they started talking about him.

    Since then, I’ve been to enough funerals (including two where General Authorities spoke) to guess that no one bothered to listen to Elder Packer’s talk. Sure, there’s a mention here or there of the Savior and the Atonement, but more the most part, they remain (as they should) celebrations of the life of the one departed.

    I’ll stop with the examples. I just see evidence in members’ behavior and attitudes that suggest to me that like everyone else, they believe what they want.

  20. Frank McIntyre on May 11, 2004 at 6:57 pm

    Kingsley,

    It seems like a matter of degree, right? If my leaning leaves me in the cold when the Church goes South and I lean North, then that’s a problem. But what if the Church is all over the map and I lean North. Well, that doesn’t seem to be a big deal does it?

    But what if there is the occasional Brigham Young quote to support a North view that pretty much is found almost nowhere else. Then hauling those quotes out to bear the doctrinal load instead of taking in the whole (Southern) breadth of statements seems like cherry picking. I am not saying that this book does that. Nor am I accusing Julie of doing that (especially since she’s specifically denied such a scandalous accusation).

  21. Ben S on May 11, 2004 at 6:58 pm

    Because everyone knows that “liberal” means “bad” so “conservative” must be good:)

    Seriously, I think that the random person in church feels more comfortable heading to the literalist side of things because some GA’s have expressed “extreme” views. Or at least, if someone in class calls them on it, it’s easier to back up their statements with conservative apostles than liberal.

    We really need some better terminology. Upon reflection, I think the difference is really between those who dogmatically present their (unlabled) opinions vs. those who stick to what is revealed. For example, JFieldingS spoke dogmatically against evolution (though such was not doctrinal), and those quotes are easily found by the average church member, while the arguments of James Talmage or John Widstoe are not so widely circulated. So, evolution comes up, teacher says it’s a damnable heresy, Bro. Scientist says not so, and Teacher responds with Joseph Fielding Smith.

    On this note, there’s a pretty good article over at meridian on the writing of Mormon Doctrine and some of the internal strife it caused.

  22. Kingsley on May 11, 2004 at 7:26 pm

    Frank: I was thinking along more casual lines: “Hey, as a McKay sort of person I’m really glad the Church is heading in this direction, understanding that if the Church was to head in a McConkie direction it’d still be true and I’d still go with it, albiet more heavy-heartedly,” etc.

    That seems like a perfectly normal, natural experience in the Church.

  23. Frank McIntyre on May 11, 2004 at 7:32 pm

    John H,

    Imagine I wish to find the average height of men in the U.S.. I have in hand a sample of average heights of men by state, across years. I could average these heights and call this the right number. I could just average the heights in the most recent year. I could give a weighted average of heights, based on the population of each state. Or I could pick the two states with the highest average height and call this the national average.

    In each case, I am integrating information differently, weighting different pieces of evidence differently. But I would consider cherry-picking to be represented by the last, where one weights many relevant pieces of information (that you possess) at zero and favor the information that you like. So I think there is a large difference between weighing information differently based on its quality (more weight to recent prophetic statements, for example) to come to a conclusion and outright ignoring information that you don’t like.

    It also is suspect when one shifts how one evaluates information from question to question as a function of what will get you the answer you like. If, for example, on mothers’ employment I only was interested in statements by Brigham Young but when it came to statements on gender equality I only cared about statements by the modern prophet. Or suppose I routinely ignore statements by a particular prophet because they don’t agree with me on many issues, that would seem like a bad idea—not criminal, just a bad idea.

    You give examples of members not listening to the council of prophets and apostles. Certainly this is true, but I fail to see how it is a good idea or “necessary”.

  24. Kingsley on May 11, 2004 at 7:33 pm

    Like Brigham Young and polygamy: he had a certain worldview which collided so hard with the new practice that he wanted to crawl back into his grave. He went with it (boy did he!), however, regardless of his feelings.

  25. Frank McIntyre on May 11, 2004 at 7:38 pm

    Kingsley,

    The Brigham Young example is perfect. He had many strong reservations. He did it anyway and was a strong proponent of something he originally found repugnant, because he gained a testimony of it. Perhaps he felt an obligation to gain that testimony because he recognized that it was he who was out of sync, not the leader of the Church. So I think his was an example few of us could live up to easily.

  26. Kingsley on May 11, 2004 at 8:25 pm

    John H: I think the examples you give are not strong enough to support the idea that the Saints “generally hear and believe what they want, despite their claims of ‘just following God or the prophet.’” As far as President Benson’s talk goes, it’s highly debatable whether or not it’s “gone the way of the dodo”—the mothers-in-the-home vs. mothers-in-the-marketplace issue is constantly discussed in the Church, the general conclusion being that, ideally, mothers “are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children” (Family Proclamation)—a position not too far from President Benson’s. And President Packer’s funeral advice + President Smith’s theological speculations + anecdotal evidence doesn’t equal anything like the Saints, in general, hearing and believing “what they want” while swearing (empty?) allegiance to “God or the prophet.”

  27. Aaron Brown on May 11, 2004 at 9:23 pm

    Julie,

    No matter where you are on the Left-Right spectrum of belief (or practice), one thing always holds true:

    Anyone to your right is at worst a bit eccentric, perhaps too rigid for your tastes, but is at least well-intentioned, trying their best and, who knows?, maybe even worthy of special blessings for their faithfulness.

    Anyone to your left is flirting dangerously with unbelief or backsliding — on the slippery slope to apostasy.

    (I exaggerate, of course, but I think there is something to this).

    Aaron B

  28. Julie in Austin on May 11, 2004 at 9:43 pm

    Aaron–

    That is *exactly* my point–why don’t we reverse your descriptions of left and right? Why is too far right OK but too far left apostate? For my money, you are either on the strai(gh)t and narrow, or you aren’t, and it’s no better to fall off to the right than it is to the left.

  29. Kingsley on May 11, 2004 at 10:09 pm

    Julie: is it simply that the (U.S.) Church leans conservative politically? My grandmother, for instance, thinks Michael Savage is a nut job, but she’d still take him any day over a very moderate liberal like Alan Colmes of Fox News. If she actually contrasted their views she’d probably find she’s basically in agreement with Colmes, as opposed to Savage, on most things, but Hell will freeze before that happens—she knows what camp she’s in. Similarly, she’s going to sympathize automatically with any Latter-day Saint labeled “conservative,” even an extremist, over any Latter-day Saint labeled a “liberal,” even a moderate.

  30. diogenes on May 11, 2004 at 10:44 pm

    “No matter where you are on the Left-Right spectrum of belief (or practice), one thing always holds true:

    Anyone to your right is at worst a bit eccentric, perhaps too rigid for your tastes, but is at least well-intentioned, trying their best and, who knows?, maybe even worthy of special blessings for their faithfulness.

    Anyone to your left is flirting dangerously with unbelief or backsliding — on the slippery slope to apostasy.”

    Funny, I would have said precisely the opposite. The lefties I know seem not only “well-intentioned, trying their best,” but one very seldom sees them stake out an encampment in Bullhead City to stockpile assault weapons and start taking plural wives.

  31. Ben S on May 11, 2004 at 10:50 pm

    Julie, care to clarify the “liberal/conservative” “left/right” of your statements? Political or theological? I think we’re getting more political than the thread intended…

  32. Julie in Austin on May 11, 2004 at 10:58 pm

    Ben S–

    Well, when we started this, I meant theologically, because we were talking about TTF. However, the discussion has mutated so that I think we are now talking both political and theological. Don’t you think that they usually go hand-in-hand, tho? Know many LDS sympathetic to J,E,P, and D who are likely to vote for Bo Gritz (is he still around?) this year? Or any Kerry supporters who think the earth is 6000 years old?

  33. Jack on May 11, 2004 at 11:09 pm

    I hope this isn’t to much of a tangent but, I wonder if the problem that so many seem to have with the McConkie-Fielding “dogma” (for or against) might be due to viewing it in too broad a context. Is it possible that there was a specific purpose for a more rigid theology when it came forth? I think about my enlightened g-g-g-generation busting loose from every convention (and I think it was inevitable) and running mad in all directions in search for something genuine. Wow! Maybe it(the above mentioned theology) served to tether us for a time and keep us from running over a cliff.

  34. Ivan Wolfe on May 11, 2004 at 11:28 pm

    Bo Gritz is still around, but its been nearly a decade since he broke any ties he may have had with the LDS church.

  35. Bob Caswell on May 11, 2004 at 11:44 pm

    I personally like the way the Church has recently started leaning toward the “members can make their own decisions” model rather than the “shove it down their throats because otherwise they’ll sin” model. I guess what I’m saying is that I totally agree with Julie when she says, “You know you hear more wacky conservative comments in SS than wacky liberal ones.” I suppose I have my own selfish agenda, but this book is a step toward helping me limit the number of times I need to roll my eyes in SS (if people start using it more than other sources).

  36. dp on May 11, 2004 at 11:50 pm

    I don’t have much new to add, since I posted on this very topic last week at Doctrinal.net making similar conclusions about Mormon Doctrine and the Encyclopedia of Mormonism.

    However, I was interested in Julie’s comment that TTTF represents the more liberal side of LDS Doctrine. I hesitate to think that the more liberal Latter-Day Saints will embrace TTTF, given their (I generalize) stereotypical rejection of anything claiming to be the Only Correct Interpretation of Doctrines of the Restored Gospel.

  37. dp on May 11, 2004 at 11:50 pm

    I don’t have much new to add, since I posted on this very topic last week at Doctrinal.net making similar conclusions about Mormon Doctrine and the Encyclopedia of Mormonism.

    However, I was interested in Julie’s comment that TTTF represents the more liberal side of LDS Doctrine. I hesitate to think that the more liberal Latter-Day Saints will embrace TTTF, given their (I generalize) stereotypical rejection of anything claiming to be the Only Correct Interpretation of Doctrines of the Restored Gospel.

  38. Bob Caswell on May 11, 2004 at 11:56 pm

    But dp, that’s just it. From what I understand of this new book, it’s a little more ambiguous, which by nature is rarely the “only correct interpretation of doctrines of the restored gospel”. The example of how the book deals with birth control comes to mind (used to be a sin, now work it out with God – hmm… doesn’t sound like there is only one way anymore…)

  39. brayden on May 12, 2004 at 12:08 am

    Warning: I may not actually believe what I’m about to write (I reserve the right to change my mind/attitude later), but I’m going to write it anyway.

    I think all of the reasons Julie lists for liking TTF are good ones, but after looking it over myself I felt a slight twinge of uncomfortability with TTF. I feel guilty for feeling that way, but I think the source of my discomfort is that I enjoy doctrinal messiness. When there are multiple ways of interpreting a specific doctrine (as we see vivified in Kaimi’s post on elite religion), there is more debate and uncertainty – more room for discussion rather than conformity. There is also more room for personal revelation and interpretation. If we are “commanded in all things” or instructed precisely in each doctrinal point, there is less room wiggle-room. I’m not sure that I like being crowded. Call it pride, I guess. I’ll soon get over it.

  40. Frank McIntyre on May 12, 2004 at 12:51 am

    Julie’s post on the mixing of theo and poli definitions of liberal and conservative probably has some bearing on why overly conservative opinions get less disapproval than liberal ones.

    If a liberal theological view is linked with a liberal political outlook, what is the association in most members minds? True or not, I think most members associate the Democratic party of the last 35 years as being on the other side of most policy issues that might seem doctrinally settled. The D party is pro-choice, which is suspect; was pro-ERA, which the Church opposed; opposed welfare reform that emphasized work requirements, where work is the hallmark of the Church welfare program; was lax on Communism, when very prominent Church leaders spoke out about the dangers of Communism; pro-ACLU, which has been no friend to the Church; comparatively supportive of same-sex unions, where the Church has pushed for a traditional definition of marriage; suspected of being hostile to religion; etc. etc.

    Given this company, a member may not be excited about being associated with leftism, even on issues that themselves have no clear doctrinal resolution . Perhaps the thinking goes, “Since liberals, as represented by the Democratic Party, are usually on the wrong side of the Church, the view they endorse or at least can be tenuously linked to them is probably wrong here too.” This may be incorrect, and certainly implies that the person is not spending a lot of time thinking out the particulars, but it may be a fair assessment of how members approach the problem.

    Naturally, one could form a similar, but probably weaker, list of disputes between Republican idealogy and Church beliefs (feel free!), but I think the list I outlined gives some sense of why over-liberal sounds more dangerous than over-conservative, due to the associations formed. Mainstream liberalism (as represented by the above views) seems much more at odds with the Church than mainstream conservatism.

    Let me add a disclaimer, I spent 5 years in the Bay area and frankly the ward was not steeped in conservatism. The whole issue may actually be very locationally dependent.

  41. obi-wan on May 12, 2004 at 1:34 am

    “. . . I think the list I outlined gives some sense of why over-liberal sounds more dangerous than over-conservative, due to the associations formed. Mainstream liberalism (as represented by the above views) seems much more at odds with the Church than mainstream conservatism.”

    I have before me on the table The Book of Mormon: Another Testiment of Jesus Christ.

    It is my firm conviction that this book is a record compiled by ancient prophets who were shown our day, and who were directed by the Lord to specifically warn us about the calamities that our society will will face in the latter days. It is my understanding that those prophets recorded the mistakes that destroyed thier peoples so that we will be warned against making the same mistakes.

    Curiously, as I study the record I find absolutely no evidence that the Nephite or Jaredite civilazations collapsed because they gave too many handouts to welfare mothers, or became overly concerned with the rights of the criminally accused, or got carried away trying to make health care universally available to poor people, or were excessively protective of speech by minorities and dissenters. None of those problems seem to be issues that Mormon and his son felt inspired to warn us about.

    What I *do* find throughout the record in great abundance are warnings against excessive militarism and warlike arrogance, against class divisions and intolerance, against greed and manipulation of religion for monetary or political gain. Not to mention a rather specific warning against adopting a “first-strike” strategy against one’s enemies (see Mormon 4:4) — even when one’s enemies are bloodthirstily depraved terrorist and secret combinations.

    Now let me emphasize that I am at the moment quite unhappy with both our major political parties, and don’t find either one’s professions terribly consistent with the values I believe a disciple of Christ is expected to adopt. But in those dark moments when I peruse Mormon’s record and fret over whether the left or the right might be leading the American republic into moral decay and eventual calamity, which of them do you think I worry about the most?

  42. Frank McIntyre on May 12, 2004 at 1:58 am

    I am not saying that you can’t be a liberal and be a faithful member. I am not saying that the issues I outlined are the core values or doctrines of the Church. I am saying that they constitute reasons why there is a perception that liberalism is not on the Church’s side.

    You mention health care, free speech, criminal rights as not being central to the Book of Mormon. OK. I agree. But the issue is on the intersection of policy and doctrine, not the non-intersecting points. I tried to list points where there is a widespread perception of an intersection, and perhaps you’d agree with those, but perhaps not. You generate your own list of important points but I fail to see how they can be so clearly tied to beliefs in the Republican party as the ones I outlined are tied to the Democrats. It’s not as if Republicans are in favor of class division and intolerance, or none that I know anyway.

    The war thing is a much more concrete example, policywise. Surely though, you recognize that many, many, other members take away a very different view of the Book of Mormon’s teachings on justified war and how it relates to current policy. See, for a not entirely unrelated example, President Hinckley’s conference address the day we dropped bombs in Afghanistan. In light of this difference, I think my point about people’s perceptions of the two parties is correct, and not without a rational basis.

    Perhaps you wish to argue that the perception is mistaken. Go right ahead. I am only saying that this perception exists and there is a historical basis for that perception. I don’t know what God thinks of the military action in Iraq, though I hope (as do we all) that He can use it to further His purposes and to help the people of Iraq and America.

  43. dp on May 12, 2004 at 2:31 am

    Bob,
    I have read many of the entries, and didn’t come away with a feeling of ambiguity. Admittedly I have been aware of this stated position on birth control since it appeared in the Handbook of instructions released in 1998.

    I think that Brayden’s discomfort articulates my concern about its acceptance amongst liberals. Not to label Brayden as a liberal, just noting that I feel his response will be shared by many who typically claim to hold a more ‘liberal’ Latter-day Saints view.

  44. Adam Greenwood on May 12, 2004 at 9:51 am

    Bob Caswell,
    The line that Julie quotes does not embrace ambiguity at all. Ambiguity would mean that it was tenable for some church members to continue to believe that birth control was wrong, and others to not. In contrast, the quoted statement is clearly incompatible the first position. Your idea of ambiguity–that there be no general moral rules visavis a particular practice–is unambiguously a position in the spectrum of positions. I don’t particularly have a point with all this, I guess I’m just saying that the statement isn’t embracing ambiguity, it’s staking out a position different from some of the other positions.

  45. Mary on May 12, 2004 at 11:01 am

    The entries on body piercing and tatoos are NOT ambiguous. From the body piercing entry, “Latter-day prophets strongly discourage the piercing of the body except for medical purposes. If girls or women desire to have their ears pierced, they are encouraged to wear only one pair of modest earrings.

    Those who choose to disregard this counsel show a lack of respect for themselves and for God. They will someday regret their decision.”

    Tatooing: “If you have a tattoo, you wear a constant reminder of a mistake you have made. You might consider having it removed.”

    Yikes!

  46. Nate Oman on May 12, 2004 at 11:06 am

    Does anyone have any ideas of how the tatooing statements have been recieved among Maoris, Samoans, and other Pacific islanders who have a long tradition of elaborate tatoos? Given that these places have large Mormon populations and that tatooing has a significantly different meaning in such cultural contexts, I am curious as to how the issue gets thought about.

  47. lyle on May 12, 2004 at 12:26 pm

    great. now everyone can turn to their favorite church publication & claim truth; and then get into an argument about precedent, latter in time, supereceding revelation, etc.

  48. Rob on May 12, 2004 at 1:24 pm

    Frank is probably right that “there is a perception that liberalism is not on the Church’s sid,” I also share obi-wan’s concern about the political “right” and its enthusiasm for ” excessive militarism and warlike arrogance…class divisions and intolerance…greed and manipulation of religion for monetary or political gain”

    I think this is a case of false-consciousness on the part of members–of partial perceptions–of being blinded by the rhetoric and ideology supporting our (un-Zionlike) socio-economic system.

    There are other misperceptions common in the Church:

    People are trustworthy–this misperception makes Utah the hailed fraud capital of the nation.

    The Church is the fastest growing church in the world, and it’s a sign of God’s true work–just take a look at cumorah.org and you can see that this misperception isn’t grounded in any real comparative data.

    We could all add to this list.

    To the degree that we become blinded by party politics, economic ideologies, unsubstantiated claims (about WMDs, missionary work, whatever), we fall short of our potential as children of God.

  49. John H on May 12, 2004 at 3:47 pm

    “John H: I think the examples you give are not strong enough to support the idea that the Saints “generally hear and believe what they want, despite their claims of ‘just following God or the prophet.’” As far as President Benson’s talk goes, it’s highly debatable whether or not it’s “gone the way of the dodo”—the mothers-in-the-home vs. mothers-in-the-marketplace issue is constantly discussed in the Church, the general conclusion being that, ideally, mothers “are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children” (Family Proclamation)—a position not too far from President Benson’s. And President Packer’s funeral advice + President Smith’s theological speculations + anecdotal evidence doesn’t equal anything like the Saints, in general, hearing and believing “what they want” while swearing (empty?) allegiance to God or the prophet.”

    I have to disagree. My examples aren’t meant to be conclusive evidence – they are merely my experience. BTW, the debate about mothers working outside the home continues in the Church, but there seem to be few references to President Benson’s talk.

    I’m not trying to single out Church members as somehow being without integrity, or in any other way malign them. My whole point is, they are like everyone else. They form opinions, accept ideas that comfortably fit their worldview, and generally reject those that don’t. Of course, there will always be those members who are more open than others. Those that hear a new idea or a previously espoused doctrine by an early Church leader, and they will conform their beliefs to fit those or rethink prior notions. But my own limited experience suggests to me that those people are in the minority.

    Most Church members (again, like everyone else – including me), upon hearing something that disagrees with previously held notions or beliefs, tend to dismiss it, or find ways around it if what they hear comes from an authoritative source, such as scriptures or Church leaders.

    Some Church members, however, don’t believe they are cherry picking or merely accepting those beliefs that conform to their already preconceived ideas and notions. So when they hear something contrary to their beliefs from one who is not an authority figure, they don’t assume it is a difference of opinion, they assume the other person is wrong and perhaps even unorthodox.

  50. ed on May 12, 2004 at 6:43 pm

    Adam says:

    Ambiguity would mean that it was tenable for some church members to continue to believe that birth control was wrong, and others to not. In contrast, the quoted statement is clearly incompatible the first position.

    In a recent CES fireside Elder Packer said:

    You do not have to be commanded in all things. Without having to have the Church deliver a statement on it, you should know what the Lord’s position is on abortion or cloning or same-gender marriage or birth control. All of those things are built in as a part of what we know and what we are.

    http://www.lds.org/broadcast/ces020203/transcript/0,15946,395,00.html

    This seems to me to strongly imply that President Packer believes birth control is wrong, despite what it says in “True to the Faith.”

  51. Grasshopper on May 12, 2004 at 7:09 pm

    Which begs the question: are there issues that are glossed over in the pamphlet?

    I think the obvious answer is yes. How does that affect how we (should) view it?

  52. Kingsley on May 12, 2004 at 7:26 pm

    Ed: I remember sitting up a little when I heard Pres. Packer make that statement. My first reaction was contradictory: No, that’s built in as a part of what you know and what you are, owing to when and where you grew up, etc. I was disturbed, however, to realize that I was only reacting negatively to “birth control”–as for cloning, abortion, same-gender marriage, of course the “Lord’s position” on these things is an inborn inheritance of the Saints! Then I looked over at my sister-in-law, who held my baby nephew on her lap, and I wondered: When he’s grown and I’m an old man, will my position on these other things, which seems so inevitable now, be highly debatable to him? Will he view abortion or cloning or (dare I say) same-gender marriage as I now view birth-control, i.e. as something perfectly natural? (This, by the way, is an example of the phenomenon John H was describing, so I suppose I must eat my words, or at least some of them.)

  53. jeremobi on May 12, 2004 at 7:33 pm

    Nate asks:

    “Does anyone have any ideas of how the tattooing statements have been received among Maoris, Samoans, and other Pacific islanders who have a long tradition of elaborate tattoos?”

    I have some limited contact with Maori and, to a lesser extent, Samoan and Tongan members. My impression is that the statements on tattooing receive a mixed response.

    Some members have mentioned to me that the Brethren who make such statements have little or no understanding of what the Moko means to Maori, and I know of a few middle-aged members who have left the church recently in search of a more traditional Maori life (none of these expressed to me any strongly negative feelings about the church).

    Others accept the statements in stride, though I think there is still great respect and honor for those who seek to conserve traditions, even if it is not for them (“I wear mine on the inside” is a phrase that comes to mind).

    I’ve never heard a Maori member criticize a friend or family member’s choice to tattoo as part of traditional ritual, though the disrespectful use of Maori tattoos among NZ gang members is condemned without question.

  54. ed on May 12, 2004 at 7:49 pm

    Kingsly:

    I was actually a little surprised that Pres. Packer included “cloning.” There are many separate issues that come under the topic of cloning, and it is not obvious to me what the church’s position on them would be. I take it it is obvious to you?

  55. Kingsley on May 12, 2004 at 9:41 pm

    Ed: No, it wasn’t obvious. Then again, I guess it was, if I accepted it without a second thought. What I’m saying is, I am completely ignorant of the “many separate issues that come under the topic of cloning,” so that when I heard Pres. Packer use the word I immediately thought of the popular interpretion of it: you know, copies of myself running around, perhaps inhabited by evil spirits (like in “Godsend”), or rows of bodies on cold steel slabs with faceless men in white hovering over them, harvesting their organs … In short, I equated it with “playing God”-type practices of the most horrifying kind. I should probably read up on the subject. Any suggestions?

  56. ed on May 12, 2004 at 11:15 pm

    Kingsley: Sorry, I don’t know much about cloning either. But there is a difference between cloning animals and cloning humans, or between cloning for research and cloning for reproduction. And for each ethical issue, there is an issue about the proper role of government regulation.

  57. Nate Oman on May 12, 2004 at 11:19 pm

    Julie writes: Why is too far right OK but too far left apostate? For my money, you are either on the strai(gh)t and narrow, or you aren’t, and it’s no better to fall off to the right than it is to the left.

    Nate writes: One interesting data point. Ten years ago the “September Six” were excommunicated. There was press coverage around the country about how the Church was cracking down on liberal intellectuals. What did not recieve anything like the same level of attention is the fact that at almost the same time, a far, far larger number of ultra-conservative Mormons were excommunicated in south eastern Idaho and Utah. The difference, of course, is that the ultra-conservatives were not well educated, articulate, and middle class (which is to say, they were not like journalists) and thus got less press.

  58. Frank McIntyre on May 13, 2004 at 12:48 am

    ed,

    Don’t forget IBM PC clones, such as the one on which I am now typing this. What do you think the Church position is on off-the-rack PC’s?

  59. Mark Butler on May 19, 2004 at 2:43 pm

    The great irony of the true Mormon fundamentalism is that its reverberations are causing the Church to convert from Protestant to Catholic ecclesiology in a way that the anti-Rosarians of the Church seem hardly to have intended. A Church that can maintain Young, Pratt, and McConkie in its hall of Saints is Catholic indeed.