First Presidency on Disseminating Comments

June 29, 2004 | 11 comments
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Here is the recent Church statement about repeating General and Area Authority statements given locally (Thanks to Dan for the link):

    From time to time statements are circulated among members which are inaccurately attributed to leaders of the church. Many such statements distort current church teachings and are often based on rumors and innuendos. They are never transmitted officially, but by word of mouth, e-mail, or rather informal means. We encourage members of the church to never teach or pass on such statements without verifying that they are from approved church sources such as official statements, communications, and publications. Any notes made when General Authorities, Area Authority Seventies, or other general Church officers speak at regional and stake conferences or other meetings should not be distributed without the consent of the speaker. Personal notes are for individual use only.

    True spiritual growth is based on studying the scriptures, the teachings of the Brethren and Church publications.

I take this as binding. I think it reflects an attempt to limit rumor-mongering that we all think little of. I think it helps authorities to make comments specific to local areas that would be inappropriate to a general audience. I’ve already posted on why advice may need to be local and not general.

I think this statement should have an effect on our posting behavior, especially the part about the use of notes. My interpretation is that we should avoid quoting or paraphrasing in posts what amount to notes for personal use from area or general authorities. Obviously this is not true of general statements, which we should use all the time.

Is that right or am I missing something?

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11 Responses to First Presidency on Disseminating Comments

  1. Kingsley on June 29, 2004 at 2:07 pm

    “I think this statement should have an effect on our posting behavior, especially the part about the use of notes. My interpretation is that we should avoid quoting or paraphrasing in posts what amount to notes for personal use from area or general authorities.”

    Is it just me, or are complaints regarding the Church’s supposed inanities about dress & grooming mostly anecdotally driven? “I heard about a bishop who said this” or “You know what this one GA said?” morph into “How dare the Church …!” etc. Without anecdotes the beard threads would die out rather quickly. Seeing as how they’re fun threads, perhaps the anecdotal stuff should remain, so long as everybody recognizes what’s going on.

  2. Dan Burk on June 29, 2004 at 2:40 pm

    Frank — The statement is addressed to rumors that “distort current church teachings,” and directs us to look instead to scripture for doctrinal guidance. I think this has always been Church policy, as well as common sense. There is no reason to pass around as authoritative claims (of the sort I have heard all my life) that Elder so-and-so called my cousin’s girlfriend’s ward to move back to Jackson County because the Second Coming is at hand, or that Elder thus-and-such told my sister’s friend’s nephew’s stake that the Brethren are re-instituting plural marriage. I don’t think anyone here has been doing that.

    OTOH, I don’t read it to mean any more than that. People in this forum may very well have questions about, or the need to discuss, situations they are facing, even if those are what you would call “local” situations. I particularly do not read the statement to mean that public statements cannot be subjected to public discussion.

    I specifically choose not to read it in such a way as to constitute spin control to save face for certain of the Brethren. Were I to do so, I would find it not only unworkable, but as I mentioned before, uncommonly silly. That’s why I don’t.

  3. Kaimi on June 29, 2004 at 2:51 pm

    This statement seems problematic. It’s somewhat like the use of unpublished opinions in appellate courts.

    It allows local authorities to make what are in effect binding pronouncements, without allowing those pronouncements to be seen or discussed by other members.

    The end result can be apparently binding rules, that aren’t necessarily based on scripture or “official” church doctrine, and which are hush-hush, strictly-on-the-QT, don’t discuss this with your friends.

    It seems like a reaction to the information age. My impression is that, in the past, many wards and stakes have operated in this way. The advent of the internet allows people to say “my bishop once said no one not wearing a white shirt will be allowed in the building” and others say “what?”

    And instead of reining in loose cannons and insisting that local leaders stick to actual church doctrine, the response is to say, “what are you guys doing talking about this anyway?”

    I mean, doesn’t this statement essentially say that the only official doctrine is what shows up in the Ensign? And if that is the case, why are local leaders allowed to set up shadow rules?

  4. Steve Evans on June 29, 2004 at 3:18 pm

    I like Kaimi’s comment very much. I think it would be equitable for members to turn the tables on pronouncements heard locally, and to rely only on official Church declarations rather than a speaker’s “personal notes.”

    However, I don’t think this is the intention of the edict. It seems clear to me that the declaration here is designed to keep members quiet about weird things they hear over the pulpit, while preserving the weight of such pulpit declarations. I don’t know how successful the Church will be in this effort.

  5. Steve Evans on June 29, 2004 at 3:19 pm

    I like Kaimi’s comment very much. I think it would be equitable for members to turn the tables on pronouncements heard locally, and to rely only on official Church declarations rather than a speaker’s “personal notes.”

    However, I don’t think this is the intention of the edict. It seems clear to me that the declaration here is designed to keep members quiet about weird things they hear over the pulpit, while preserving the weight of such pulpit declarations. I don’t know how successful the Church will be in this effort.

  6. Kevin Barney on June 29, 2004 at 3:22 pm

    This is one of those things that arose out of a specific context. The context was remarks attributed to L. Tom Perry in a conference in Idaho where he discussed the various apostles. Notes of these remarks were soon passed around the internet (a google search will find them, I’m sure.) The remarks themselves seemed harmless and rather cute (and independent observers have confirmed that they are true to the sentiments expressed by Elder Perry), but for some reason I don’t quite grasp some folks went ballistic over this. CES distributed a memo to its personnel not to use or refer to the notes, and then this statement followed.

    The Perry comments characterized some of the human qualities of the apostles, which I found endearing and charming, but apparently some were bothered that they were described as having human qualities (as opposed to being high on their pedestals, above it all).

    So, as with the comments against civil disobedience, this is another case where it is useful to have some knowledge of the context driving this statement.

  7. Steve Evans on June 29, 2004 at 3:29 pm

    I also like repeating myself repeating myself.

  8. Frank McIntyre on June 29, 2004 at 3:55 pm

    Kevin,
    It is interesting to note the context of the statement, but of course that doesn’t give us reign to ignore what it says.

    Dan,
    Here is the relevant passage by the First Presidency:

    “Any notes made when General Authorities, Area Authority Seventies, or other general Church officers speak at regional and stake conferences or other meetings should not be distributed without the consent of the speaker. Personal notes are for individual use only.”

    This seems clear to me. It does not limit what notes are to be talked about and what aren’t. It asks that any notes be kept for one’s own use.

    Kaimi,

    This policy can be problematic or beneficial. It will probably be both! But of course, that is presumably what the First Presidency thought through when they made the announcement. Some areas, and this is no shock, may have different needs than others. Local statements may be correct for local areas but wrong for other areas. So statements should not be spread out.

    Your problem almost sounds like we are the watchdogs over the local leaders? That is true in some sense, but usually the relationship is the other way, and the local leaders are watched over by the general leaders more than by us.

  9. Eric James Stone on June 29, 2004 at 4:21 pm

    > It allows local authorities to make what are in
    > effect binding pronouncements…

    Kaimi, I don’t think this is meant to refer to local authorities at all. It is referring to General Authorities and other general officers of the Church. (The Area Authority Seventies are a special case, being neither General Authorities nor general officers, but they are still sustained by the Church as a whole in General Conference.)

    I think the main concern here is the misunderstandings and distortions that may creep in as a story is propagated by unofficial means. There is also the fact that Church leaders may misspeak from time to time — they are only human, after all. Publication in official sources gives them a chance to correct such mistakes in the printed version of the talk; propagation via the internet rumor mill does not. (And, of course, even when the Church leaders do not misspeak, sometimes they are misheard.)

  10. Dan Burk on June 29, 2004 at 4:22 pm

    Dan,
    Here is the relevant passage by the First Presidency:

    “Any notes made when General Authorities, Area Authority Seventies, or other general Church officers speak at regional and stake conferences or other meetings should not be distributed without the consent of the speaker. Personal notes are for individual use only.”

    This seems clear to me. It does not limit what notes are to be talked about and what aren’t. It asks that any notes be kept for one’s own use.

    ——–

    Frank — First of all, you’re prooftexting — reading that passage in isolation from what precedes and what follows it. A really bad way to read a text.

    Second, do you really want to turn this into a litigation discovery rule? If you want to be able to discuss the instruction Church leaders give you, just make sure you don’t write anything down? That should be just great for fueling the rumor mill — relying on memory or on paraphrases.

  11. Restoring Lost Comments on November 25, 2004 at 9:40 pm

    [Restoring Comments Inadvertently Lost in the WP transfer] :

    Frank:
    What you are suggesting/your reading seems odd to me. Can you further clarify ?
    I can take notes at a training meeting and should not make hard (or electronic) copies or otherwise “distribute” those notes. But I’m free to discuss those notes or read from them (for my use) in a class setting among peers or with friends and family, especially with regard to how the content of the notes affects me personally?
    Comment by: jeremobi at June 29, 2004 04:24 PM

    *****

    “Personal notes are for individual use only.”
    Can I discuss what was said with my wife and children? Can I share it with a friend who couldn’t attend? Why should I go to leadership meetings if I can’t use my notes in elders’ quorum or presidency meetings? If I use the notes with others I either go against church policy by quoting a GA, or I can be dishonest by claiming the thoughts as my own. Can a bishop use what he learned in these meetings to direct the ward? I guess there is the option of getting permission.
    The wording of this statement is so over-generalized that I have a hard time making use of it. I like its intent of controlling the rumor-mill, but this is more than just that.
    Comment by: Matt Jacobsen at June 29, 2004 04:25 PM

    *****

    Dan,
    I am confused; why does what goes before and comes after that sentence modify the statement, “any notes…”? I am very aware of the dangers of prooftexting (which, ironically, is one of the dangers of quoting leaders from non-public sources), but I don’t see any modifiers of the above sentence in the whole statement. Tell me what I’m missing.
    Second, we are encouraged to take notes for our own use, right? So we’re fine there. I’m certainly not suggesting that notes are banned but random gossip isn’t. I’m suggesting that the whole ball of wax is out. If you want a quote to share with people on the internet, the Church is asking that you go to the publically available material and the scriptures.
    Comment by: Frank McIntyre at June 29, 2004 04:32 PM

    *****

    Jeremobi/Matt,
    I am saying that I think paraphrasing what a GA said at your stake conference on a public board like T&S sounds like “distributing” notes. What other behaviors are or aren’t encouraged I don’t really have much to say about. But as a rather large and public message board for LDS commentary, I think this statement has application to T&S. I thought we should talk about it.
    Comment by: Frank McIntyre at June 29, 2004 04:44 PM

    *****

    Regarding “individual use” of notes, to me it seems fairly clear.
    If I take notes, I can use them. If I want to talk to my family about what was said by a General authority at a stake conference, I can use my notes. If I am a bishop, and have noted down things that will be of use in my calling, I can use my notes.
    Basically, I can use my notes as needed, but I am not to distribute those notes because they are not an official record of what was said.
    Comment by: Eric James Stone at June 29, 2004 04:47 PM

    *****

    First Frank says paraphrasing GAs on T&S sounds like distributing notes. Then Eric says individual use clearly means I can refer to my notes to talk to others about what a GA said, but that I can’t distribute the notes.
    Where does using my notes end and distributing them begin? Is it a question of email and Internet versus personal interaction? A question of the number of listeners of my ‘use’? A question of only-share-this-information-with-people-over-whom-you-have-stewardship?
    I think if I had heard Elder Parry’s comments about the Apostles, I would have felt fine about sharing it with my parents or siblings, and email would have been the easiest way. Of course, if they forward that email… Obviously the Church doesn’t want me to do this, so I wonder what is the intended difference between use and distribution?
    I would just like to add that Frank’s question about how this statement applies to T&S is a very good one.
    Comment by: Matt Jacobsen at June 29, 2004 06:04 PM

    *****

    Frank –
    Let me put it this way: I attend a regional conference. I take the following notes: “Elder Eyring bore his testimony of the divinity of Jesus Christ and the importance of the atonement. Said Joseph Smith was a prophet who saw the Father and Son in the grove. Said J. translated the Book of Mormon by the gift and power of God. Very moving.”
    You really think those are the kind of “notes” that the statement is referring to? That I need to write Elder Eyring (who of course, probably needs more correspondence of this kind) in order to ask his permission to tell people on T&S about my experience?
    Those notes are not a subset of the “statements” introduced in the topic sentence. Diagram the paragraph if you have to.
    Comment by: Dan Burk at June 29, 2004 09:06 PM

    *****

    Well, for that matter — if Elder Eyring stands up in your regional conference and says, “God is a head of cabbage,” do they really think people aren’t going to talk?
    Comment by: obi-wan at June 29, 2004 09:52 PM

    *****

    Frank, I don’t like it and I don’t think it will have much effect, but I’ll agree with your reading of the statement.
    1. Personal notes, including the edifying example supplied by Dan above, “are for individual use only” and “should not be distributed” without consent.
    2. Statements inaccurately attributed to Church leaders (the referent for “such statements” later in the paragraph) should not be taught or passed on without being verified against an approved Church source.
    Number 2 is a little opaque. Since circulating statements do not come with a “this is an inaccurately attributed statement” label, it suggests one should verify every statement attributed to a Church leader before circulating it. But that’s not actually what it says. Read carefully, it doesn’t prohibit teaching or passing around accurately attributed statements as long as one is not passing around personal notes. At least that’s how I read it.
    Comment by: Dave at June 29, 2004 10:42 PM

    *****

    I suspect most GAs are now advised not to say anything too controversial. I recall Elder Eyring saying various things with the caveat, “I don’t want to hear about this from the internet tomorrow morning…” I think it is a way of being able to state their opinion without people treating it like doctrine. It used to be that GAs did this all the time. However people often quote things like the Journal of Discourses a little uncritically. Its bad enough with stuff 150 years old. Newer stuff is even worse though.
    Consider for instance a Stake Conference from a few decades ago where my parents recorded Pres. Benson saying that the USSR isn’t the real threat – China is. He also said that the USSR would collapse. Now when I was young and then saw the USSR self-destruct, that really seemed amazing. Now that I’m a little older and now more of the history of Pres. Benson back in the 60′s I’m a tad more skeptical of the meaning of it all. But can you imagine how many in the audience would react? Would they take it as his political opinion or prophetic prediction?
    Comment by: Clark Goble at June 29, 2004 11:21 PM

    *****

    How can we acquire the direct consent necessary to distribute our personal notes as the statement requests? I recall official letters and a line of two from the policy manual stating that we should not write directly to the Brethren (despite GAs reading personal letters in General Conference). Or is that the rub?
    Comment by: jeremobi at June 30, 2004 02:05 AM

    *****

    Dan,
    Your Elder Eyring example is of publically available knowledge. Thus you could relay that information without any reference to something a general authority said in your conference. The statement specifically talks about how we should get our counsel from the generally available materials. Your example would be of such generally available information.
    You seem to be claiming that “any notes” does not mean “all notes”, but rather any notes that fall within the purview of this statement. And what might that be? The statement before the any “notes” sentence says to:
    1. Avoid rumors (which doesn’t apply to personal notes as they are not rumors, they are first hand
    2. Avoid passing on incorrect information, but then you’re saying that “any notes” refers to “any notes” that are, in fact, wrong. That seems a pretty strong reading. Of course you shouldn’t pass on incorrect information. We already knew that. So the “any notes” line becomes meaningless if it only applies to incorrect information. It also is very vague. It should say, “Any notes made, that are incorrect,…” at which point the sentence becomes blatantly silly.
    3. Don’t pass on things that aren’t from approved sources, but once again, we already know the source because we heard it directly. So how does this modify “any notes”?
    Please tell me what the appropriate universe is to which “any notes” refers, such that the sentence is not a pointless redundancy and includes the case of Elder Perry’s rather harmless comments about his fellow Church leaders. Said interpretation should also be consonant with “Personal notes are for individual use only.”, which surely is not just about incorrect personal notes!
    Comment by: Frank McIntyre at June 30, 2004 11:24 AM

    *****

    > 3. Don’t pass on things that aren’t from
    > approved sources, but once again, we already
    > know the source because we heard it directly.
    > So how does this modify “any notes”?
    Hearing it directly is not an approved source for redistribution, because of the potential for inaccuracies due to mishearing, misunderstanding, mistranscribing, and misspeaking. So you should not pass on your notes about anything that you cannot confirm from an approved source.
    Basically, I think this is directed against propagation of “this controversial or interesting thing that is not generally known must be true because Elder X said it at a stake conference.” If the information is meant for general propagation, then it is almost certainly to be found among the approved published materials.
    Comment by: Eric James Stone at June 30, 2004 03:38 PM

    *****

    The doctrinal basis for this instruction is found in D&C 28:4-5, which allows apostles to _speak_, but not to _write_ by way of commandment. Speech is context appropriate and carried by the Spirit into the hearts of the children of men – writing requires much more consideration. That is why all GA books go through correlation.
    The virtues of federalism in the church are a completely different matter, going to the very heart of the meaning of agency, authority and stewardship, not to mention priesthood, patriarchy, and exaltation.
    Comment by: Mark Butler at June 30, 2004 04:14 PM

    *****

    EJS,
    I am fine with your interpretation. It is a better-stated version of what I gave. My attempt was to figure out what Dan’s interpretation was, because he appears to have a markedly different one.
    Comment by: Frank McIntyre at June 30, 2004 04:28 PM

    *****

    Mark,
    It seems to me there is a big difference between sharing something thought-provoking or interesting and establishing something as written “by way of commandment”. The recent instruction seems to forbid both, though only the latter seems to be a real problem in my mind.
    Comment by: Grasshopper at June 30, 2004 04:56 PM

    *****

    Grasshopper, One big problem is that there are far too many members who treat anything that a GA says or is rumoured to say as scripture (or non-scripture) without considering its context, consistency, or application, let alone the principles of church government laid out in sections 28 and 107. The spirit of the statement is clear, how we personally implement it is a matter of discretion. “Encourage” (read: fill with the Spirit) is the key word here.
    Comment by: Mark Butler at June 30, 2004 11:31 PM

    *****

    I just happened to “link” my way to this site following up on another subject. I am aware of the instructions from the First Presidency that you are discussing, however. First let me say I found them confusing. Next I would just say that it appears to me that what you are doing here is at least heading somewhat in the direction of doing what you were counseled not to do as you are discussing and interpreting the message from the First Presidency and doing so electronically. That having been said, I personally am not troubled by what you are doing and enjoy reading your thoughts and ideas. I just thought you might want to know how you appear to an outsider (novice).
    Comment by: El Cid at August 1, 2004 03:23 PM

    *****

    El Cid–
    Welcome to Times and Seasons. Unless we ignore everything the First Pres. says, I am not sure how we can avoid ‘discussing and interpreting’ what they say. And, of course, that is precisely what you were doing (discussing and interpreting) in your post.
    I think the original point was not to take notes from local meetings and disseminate them because of concerns that they may be incorrectly disseminated. (This actually happened a few years ago when a lengthy quote about the youth being generals in the war in heaven, attributed to Elder Packer, made its way around the Internet, was quoted extensively, and finally required a clarification in the Church News.) It may also be to allow leaders the ability to speak things to local audiences that are particularly relevant to local concerns and not nec. for the entire membership.
    Comment by: Julie in Austin at August 1, 2004 04:52 PM

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