The Efficacy of Condemnatory Prophecy

August 12, 2004 | 121 comments
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Bob Caswell has an interesting comment over at Meg Kurtz’s new Book of Mormon blog. Bob writes of Lehi:

Wouldn’t you be angry if a random person in your town claiming to be a prophet came to you and “testified” of your “wickedness and abominations”? Maybe this is the way the Lord wanted it, but I have to think there could have been a more tactful way if Lehi REALLY wanted people to listen to him. Bottom line: I’m glad I didn’t live in Jerusalem at the time because I probably would have been annoyed at Lehi (big mistake!).

Bob has a point — where is the commitment pattern, the “building relationships of trust,” the rest of the missionary toolbox that we use today? Condemnatory prophecy — “Hey, Bob, I testify to you that you are wicked!” — doesn’t seem to be the most effective missionary tool. Why do they seem to use it so much in the scriptures?

A few possibilities come to mind:

1. Lehi really didn’t care if anyone followed him (and note — no one did!). He was just concerned about “washing his hands” of their blood. Kind of callous, if you ask me.

2. This was just how they did things back then. We can’t expect Lehi to have access to modern tools. He may have been a bad missionary, but he was doing the best he knew how. (Query: Why would God allow people to be bad missionaries for thousands of years?).

3. The people were just so wicked that you had to yell at them. But wouldn’t that be an unusual circumstance. In contrast, we hardly see any soft missionary tools used in the scriptures? Perhaps a few, but the standard tactic seems to be to walk up to someone and tell him that he’s wicked.

4. We’re all a bunch of pansies now, with our “building relationships of trust” and whatnot. We should be telling more people that they’re going straight to hell.

5. For some reason, scriptural writers almost uniformly left out the touchy-feely commitment pattern stuff and just wrote down the bold proclamations of wickedness and destruction. (Why?)

I’m not thrilled with any of these, but perhaps (likely) there are possibilities I’m missing here.

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121 Responses to The Efficacy of Condemnatory Prophecy

  1. Adam Greenwood on August 12, 2004 at 12:15 pm

    Also, consider that Lehi et al. were primarily talking to believers, people who already had reason to know they were doing wrong and perhaps did know. That makes a world of difference. Your reason number 4 is also very much applicable, though the conclusion you draw is erroneous. In a world where people expect a soft touch, a soft touch is what you gotta have.

  2. Renee on August 12, 2004 at 12:18 pm

    When people are bluntly called on the alleged error of their ways, the natural man will scoof and dig his heels in. The humble man will step back and do some introspection to see if there’s any merit to what has been said.

    Style doesn’t seem to count for much. Jesus was usually tactful and people still took offense. The bottom line is people don’t like to be told they are wrong.

  3. Josh Kim on August 12, 2004 at 12:43 pm

    What in the world are you talking about Bob?!?

    Why don’t you actually read the Book of Mormon and read 1 Nephi 2:1 where the Lord tells Lehi, “Blessed art thou…”

    sheesh. Apparently the Lord must have approved of Lehi’s missionary work.

    But hey, if you think that the Lord isn’t a perfect judge………..

    How the heck is Lehi supposed to have any control over the free agency of others?

    What about Alma the Younger and Amulek in Ammonihah? They had no control over the wicked in Ammonihah.

    There were those that did believe in Alma’s message. But they were killed or run out of town.

  4. Josh Kim on August 12, 2004 at 12:57 pm

    you also have to consider that the people in Jerusalem were the very same people who stoned and killed the prophets.

    Somtimes you gotta tell it to them straight.

    Laman and Lemuel thought that the people in Jerusalem were righteous…I can hear the alarm ringing.

    Does that at least give you a clue as to the type of people that Lehi was preaching to?

  5. Logan on August 12, 2004 at 1:12 pm

    As I commented over at Meg’s blog, I don’t think “wickedness and abominations” necessarily refers to specific sins. Just what does “wicked” mean, anyway?

    I think it’s possible that Lehi was testifiying about how the community in general may not have been living up to the covenants it had made, or that they were neglecting important things like caring for the poor or things like that.

    Thinking along those lines helps me reconcile (somewhat) what seems like the lack of sensitivity often seen in the Book of Mormon.

  6. Kaimi on August 12, 2004 at 1:14 pm

    “What in the world are you talking about Bob?!? Why don’t you actually read the Book of Mormon. . .”

    I realize that we are on a thread about the efficacy of condemnatory tactics — perhaps you were trying to illustrate — but I don’t know that the implication here (Bob hasn’t actually read the Book of Mormon) is warranted. I’m pretty sure that Bob has read the Book of Mormon, and I can affirm that I’ve read it, and I don’t think that reading the Book of Mormon rules out these questions.

    We’re not supposed to just read it, we’re supposed to think about it as well. And it seems to me that Bob has thought about it — he thought “hmm, that sure seems like a strange wa to try to convice a populace.” And he’s got a good point.

    Lehi was apparently able to convince one family, once he sent his sons for some one-on-one conversation. Perhaps he should have been doing that all along, instead of his prior tactics?

  7. tyler durden on August 12, 2004 at 1:40 pm

    look at the different missionary tactics of the sone of mosiah (in the bofm, not bob and logan).

    ammon goes in and first tries to win the hearts of the people. he loves them and never jumps up to condem them. his first desire is to serve them. they turn to him and start asking the questions.

    aaron takes the lehi approach, tells them they are sinners and that they need to repent. aaron gets tossed in jail.

    ammon frees aaron’s butt and aaron tries the service route. it works.

    it looks like jesus was right about the whole loving and serving your neighbor thing.

  8. Carl Youngblood on August 12, 2004 at 1:44 pm

    “Style doesn’t seem to count for much. Jesus was usually tactful and people still took offense. The bottom line is people don’t like to be told they are wrong.”

    Are you sure of that? The more I read the Bible, the more I feel that Christ used deliberately confrontational language against all forms of hipocrisy, and made no attempts whatsoever to compromise or water down his words. In fact, I believe that pretty much all the words he chose were designed to disturb people and get them to see how radically different their world view was from the life God intended them to live.

    “Words ought to be a little wild, for they are the assaults of thought on the unthinking.”
    — John Maynard Keynes

  9. Davis Bell on August 12, 2004 at 1:46 pm

    I think it’s an interesting question.

    Kaimi’s suggestions:

    1. “Lehi really didn’t care if anyone followed him.” This seems unlikely to me, both given what we know about Lehi, the Lord’s approbation of Lehi, and the following scriptures, 1 Nephi 1:4, “Wherefore it came to pass that my father, Lehi, as he went forth prayed unto the Lord, yea, even with all his aheart, in behalf of his people.”

    2. Kaimi write, “This was just how they did things back then. We can’t expect Lehi to have access to modern tools. He may have been a bad missionary, but he was doing the best he knew how. (Query: Why would God allow people to be bad missionaries for thousands of years?).” The assumption here is that modern tools would work in an ancient context. As Adam noted, I think modern tools would be as ineffective in an ancient context as ancient tools would be in a modern context.

    3. Couldn’t this just be a problem of terminology and usage? If I go into a home of an unmarried couple who lives together and teach the law of chastity, am I not, in essence, “testifying of their wickedness and their abominations?” I think it possible that Lehi did use a gentler approach than we ascribe to him.

    4. See #2.

    5. See #3.

    Bob needs to go read his Book of Mormon. So does anyone who doesn’t agree with me. Got it?

  10. Rusty on August 12, 2004 at 1:48 pm

    “Apparently the Lord must have approved of Lehi’s missionary work.”

    The Lord can approve of my efforts on my mission but it doesn’t mean that I was the most effective teacher. I worked hard and He was pleased with that. I studied and grew and He was pleased with that. I came home honorably, and He was pleased with that. The fact that Lehi didn’t baptize anyone illustrates that the Lord it’s not the results that please him, per se, but the effort. NOT SPECIFICALLY the effectiveness of teaching.

    Why would they have just changed the discussions if they didn’t realize there was a more effective way to teach?

    I think Bob raises a very good question and I tend to feel like I would have fallen in the same group as him.

  11. Josh Kim on August 12, 2004 at 1:54 pm

    okay my comment that Bob should read the Book of Mormon was sarcastic.

    If any offense is taken then I’m sorry.

    I guess I just got into the spirit of contention.

    Okay, granted that The Sons of Mosiah had great missionary success due to Ammon’s “I am your servant and not your ruler” approach to winning the hearts and minds of the Lamanites.

    But remember, Ammon also chopped off the arms of the thieves who scattered the kings flock at the waters of Sebus…hungry, anyone?

    And it wasn’t like the People of Jerusalem were just misguided, mischievous sunbeams who drove away their teachers. They were wicked…they sought to take away Lehi’s life.

    This is pure wickedness. Maybe some hearts could have been swayed.

    I just have a real problem when Lehi is second guessed. Hindsight is always 20/20. It’s good to ponder the Book of Mormon. I just think that if we were in Lehi’s position we would have done the same thing he did.

    One last point:

    It’s not like Lehi didn’t want to convert people, Bob.

    Remember in 1 Nephi chapter 1 where Lehi pours his heart out in prayer on behalf of his people?

    Lehi actually wanted to save souls as does all Prophets do.

  12. john fowles on August 12, 2004 at 1:56 pm

    Kaimi, I think maybe one motivation for Josh Kim’s outburst was something that I am also pondering–what is the point of criticizing Lehi’s approach? Actually, what do we really know about Lehi’s approach? What leads Bob to believe Lehi was standing on the wall like Samuel the Lamanite screaming that everyone was a sinner?

    About Lehi’s preaching in Jerusalem, the BoM states,

    18 Therefore, I would that ye should know, that after the Lord had shown so many marvelous things unto my father, Lehi, yea, concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, behold he went forth among the people, and began to prophesy and to declare unto them concerning the things which he had both seen and heard.

    19 And it came to pass that the Jews did mock him because of the things which he testified of them; for he truly testified of their wickedness and their abominations; and he testified that the things which he saw and heard, and also the things which he read in the book, manifested plainly of the coming of a Messiah, and also the redemption of the world.

    20 And when the Jews heard these things they were angry with him; yea, even as with the prophets of old, whom they had cast out, and stoned, and slain; and they also sought his life, that they might take it away. But behold, I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance.

    1 Nephi 1:18-20.

    That’s about it. What about that report of Lehi’s activities should lead us to assume that he wasn’t schmoozing with all of his acquaintances, “declaring” these things unto them at the same time he inquired about their wives and kids?

    I second Adam’s thought that Lehi was preaching to believers who had stopped living their religion with the required strictness and was calling them to repentance, so at least some parts of the “commitment pattern” were probably unnecessary. But I still wonder why we should assume that Lehi or Jeremiah were particularly obtuse in their approach to missionary work.

  13. tyler durden on August 12, 2004 at 1:57 pm

    lehi wasn’t just some random person. lehi was ‘goodly’. from my understanding (correct me if i’m wrong) ‘goodly’ does not mean that he was a moral or righteous person. ‘goodly’ means that he was a prominent citizen.
    people knew who lehi was. we don’t know lehi’s history. perhaps that is why they didn’t want to listen to him.

  14. john fowles on August 12, 2004 at 2:07 pm

    No man knows [Lehi’s] history. Good one, tyler.

  15. Josh Kim on August 12, 2004 at 2:11 pm

    Tyler,

    Lehi was a prophet, he was chosen because he was willing to obey. He prayed before he was caught up in his vision of heaven…

    Lehi wasn’t perfect…but he certainly was good. He was striving to be like Jesus.

    When Nephi admonishes his brothers for being hardhearted they respond that Nephi said some hard things to them.

    The truth cuts to the very center.

  16. Josh Kim on August 12, 2004 at 2:16 pm

    Lehi was a righteous man, imperfect but righteous…

    Geeez…He left his house, his gold, his silver, to follow the Lord.

    Call me crazy but that is dedicated. He literally left the world (meaning worldly Jerusalem and his worldly possessions) to follow the warnings of God.

    If Lehi was an immoral or unrighteous person I doubt that the Lord would’ve guided him to America and raise up a “righteous people” unto the Lord.

  17. Kaimi on August 12, 2004 at 2:20 pm

    Josh,

    You’re fighting a straw man. No one has called Lehi unrighteous or immoral.

  18. tyler durden on August 12, 2004 at 2:31 pm

    josh,

    besides being a rich an respected citizen, we know nothing about lehi that precedes his kneeling down to pray.

    alma (the elder) was a rich and respected citizen. alma (the younger) had a good following. were they good men trying to be like jesus?

    perhaps the people’s disregard for lehi was that they knew the person he had been a few years previous. perhaps thats why laman and lemuel thought their dad was on pot. they were older than nephi and sam and maybe saw a different side of their dad that nephi and sam never really experienced.

  19. tyler durden on August 12, 2004 at 2:34 pm

    kaimi,

    i think i kind of just did

  20. clark on August 12, 2004 at 2:38 pm

    Just a note that the culture in 6th century Jerusalem is quite unlike 21st century America. Assuming that what would offend us today would offend them seems incorrect. The Hebrews had a cultural expectation of how prophets worked and Lehi was acting in that mold. By the time of Ammon and his brethers the Lamanites had largely lost that Hebrew culture. (Many would say they adopted mesoAmerican culture)

    If you are expected prophets to come and condemn and believe in prophets then I think how you’d react would be different.

  21. Julie in Austin on August 12, 2004 at 2:38 pm

    Nothing new to add, but I wanted to thank you, Kaimi, for this topic. I think it is an excellent question to ask and exactly the kind of issue we should explore instead of letting our eyes glaze over at our 900th take at “I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents blah blah blah.”

  22. john fowles on August 12, 2004 at 2:44 pm

    tyler, what is the point of suggesting that maybe Lehi was leading a questionable life before his vision and prayerful supplication for his people?

    And as for his approach, as I have pointed out above, all we have is Nephi’s summary of what he did and what the result was in 1 Nephi 1:18-20. How can we draw any conclusions at all about his missionary methodology from that? The fact is, after he did his best to persuade the people of Jerusalem to repent and warned them of the impending destruction that had clearly been revealed to him, and which indeed came to pass, the people rejected him, sought to kill him, and he became ostracized permanently from their society.

  23. Josh Kim on August 12, 2004 at 2:46 pm

    Kaimi,

    I love arguing. I need a good target. sorry thats just my nature.

    Tyler kind of hinted that Lehi could have been unrighteous or immoral.

    But whatevers. Pot…haha that kind of reminds me of Cheech and Chong. I couldn’t imagine Lehi being Chong. Haha, good one.

    Anyways…what matters is that Lehi exercised his agency and followed the Lord. The people in Jerusalem exercised their agency and chose to reject Lehi.

    At first, noone in Ammonihah listened to Alma the Younger but the angel said “Alma, lift up your head and rejoice.”

    When Alma the Younger left the judgement seat he warned the people of Zarahemla because they weren’t obeying the commandemnts. But when he went to Gideon he perceived that they were keeping the commandments and so he changed his tone. He gave them a different message.

    I can’t remember but I think in the Book of Mormon we are told that if we are faithful to something we are given we will be given more knowledge and more knowledge. I can’t remember…maybe someone else does.

  24. Ryan Bell on August 12, 2004 at 2:50 pm

    I’m hesitant to get into this since Bob and I have had this exact same battle before. Still, I want to go on record as being strongly opposed to this method of reading the Book of Mormon.

    If I can read the scriptures without any presumption that the actions I find there are a model to be emulated, then I have eviscerated the scriptures of at least half of their value. If I can’t read the account of Ammon fighting the Lamanite marauders and assume that there is a kernel in there for me to learn from, the story is worthless, open to a hundred different interpretations based mostly on personal baggage, and I’m not really that interested in reading the scriptures anymore. Read this way, the Book of Mormon becomes a good book of narratives that may show good behavior, may show bad behavior, and I can pick and choose which vignettes I find 1. worth emulating and 2. worth anything.

    In other words, I think that if the Book of Mormon means anything at all, then we must assume that at least those actions taken by prophets that are explicitly detailed in the Book of Mormon are meant as exemplary behavior which we ought to seek to model our own lives after. It’s obvious that it’s harder to find great lessons in some of the stories than in others, but we have to assume that if we ponder and pray about it, the Lord will teach us something good through them. And not by means of using Lehi as the “poco efficiente” example.

    By the way, all this talk of Lehi’s style of preaching brought to mind one of the classic scenes of all time in Mormon cinema. For those of you who saw the Book of Mormon Movie (and I include here my sympathies), you may remember the scene where Lehi, wearing a K-mart issue Santa beard, stands in front of a ten foot wide scenery wall, in a very tight shot so as not to show how small the set is, and shouts at the four Jerusalemite passersby. For the duration of the scene, as he is mocked and scorned, he repeats one sentence, over and over, over and over. “You don’t understand, the city will be destroyed! (pause) You don’t understand, the city will be destroyed!” If you watch this movie, it will boggle your mind that the writers couldn’t somehow come up with something else for Lehi to say in all this screen time. Anyway, the point is, no matter what we all think about the real Lehi’s effectiveness as a missionary, you have to agree that as a missionary, the movie Lehi sucked big time.

  25. danithew on August 12, 2004 at 2:53 pm

    Hey… I was the actor portraying Lehi. Just kidding. :)

    I’m glad I missed that one. I can’t say I’ll get around to seeing it either.

  26. Adam Greenwood on August 12, 2004 at 3:04 pm

    I adopt Ryan Bell’s opinion as my own, except for the part where he says ‘poco efficiente’ instead of ‘menos eficaz.’

  27. Josh Kim on August 12, 2004 at 3:04 pm

    Yes, all the people who reside in Lehi, Utah should be ashamed for living in a town named after a bad missionary.

    Maybe next people are going to attack Abinadi too. After all, noone listened to him or was directly affected by him except Alma the Elder. Yeah, Abinadi preached some really great sermons on Christ but I guess if he used more tact he wouldn’t have been fried to a crisp…

    What about Samuel Smith? He only converted a few people including some unknown carpenter named Brigham Young. If only he would have been a better missionary he would have converted a more respected man like say, a minister.

    Don’t forget Enoch and Moses…they had trouble speaking to large crowds just like Lehi, but the Lord told them not to worry right?

    Because in the end, it’s not Lehi’s work, It’s not Enoch’s, not Joseph Smith’s, not Abinadi’s. It’s the work of the Father and the Son. The Spirit in the end witnesses to the truth of al things.

    My guess is that the people in Jerusalem rejected the Spirit and ignored Lehi.

    That’s just my opinion.

  28. Kaimi on August 12, 2004 at 3:05 pm

    Ryan writes,

    “If I can read the scriptures without any presumption that the actions I find there are a model to be emulated, then I have eviscerated the scriptures of at least half of their value.”

    Umm, Ryan, there’s a _lot_ in the scriptures that we shouldn’t emulate. We shouldn’t dress like harlots and sleep with our father-in-law, for instance.

  29. greenfrog on August 12, 2004 at 3:12 pm

    A litigator’s thought about context…

    It may be that what we get, particularly in the Book of Mormon, are the recorder’s summaries of what other people remember of events that happened a long time ago. To take the text regarding Lehi, Nephi, the author, doesn’t say that he witnessed Lehi’s denunciation of the sin in Jerusalem. He simply reports what happened. His source may have been personal observation, but it might have been Lehi’s description of those events, and the description could have occurred years after the actual events. Over time, memories cloud, specific words are lost, and what remains in memory is one’s impression of what occurred — not what actually occurred.

    In this instance, you might want to add to that aspect the further aspect that the Book of 1 Nephi was likely written with at least a bit of an eye toward Lehi’s people who had decamped from Jerusalem, and the descriptions of Jerusalem’s wickedness (and Lehi’s family’s departure from Jerusalem) make better sense in a text that features the contrast between wickedness and righteousness. It might have made them feel better about the all the mosquitos, too.

    Ryan Bell wrote: …if the Book of Mormon means anything at all, then we must assume that at least those actions taken by prophets that are explicitly detailed in the Book of Mormon are meant as exemplary behavior which we ought to seek to model our own lives after. It’s obvious that it’s harder to find great lessons in some of the stories than in others, but we have to assume that if we ponder and pray about it, the Lord will teach us something good through them.

    I’ve learned good by observing bad, on more than one occasion. I can’t think of why I shouldn’t exercise moral agency in evaluating the conduct of others described in scripture. (JST: judge not unrighteously that ye be not judged.)

    Besides, if I took that approach, I’d have to conclude that Jonah was doing right sitting under that tree or hiding in that fish waiting for God to withdraw his commandment to go to Nineveh. (To say nothing about what I’d have to think of King David’s actions…)

    greenfrog

  30. Josh Kim on August 12, 2004 at 3:16 pm

    All kidding aside, Let’s not criticize or scrutinize the shortcomings of a man who obeyed the call of the Lord to be a missionary.

    Back then in Jerusalem, prophesying was a hazardous job and I doubt if Lehi got any bonus pay for that.

    Lehi honestly and faithfully served the Lord. He cared about his fellow citizens who had strayed from the teachings of Moses.

  31. Ryan Bell on August 12, 2004 at 3:22 pm

    Thank you, Adam, for the endorsement. And I am ashamed at my inability to tranlate my Portuguese mission experience into Spanish. Shouldn’t have even tried.

    Kaimi, you appear to have stumbled upon an unstated, but implicit premise in my argument that I didn’t think needed to be fleshed out. (People that struggle with longwindedness in print must always be forgiven for consciously omitting obvious premises in order to shorten their ramblings :) ). Obviously, there’s plenty in the Book of Mormon that models bad behavior. What’s important is the ease with which the Book tags whether the behavior at issue is bad or good. that’s why you rarely find ambiguous characters there. Either a person is bad, and should not be emulated, or is good, and should be. As I’ve written previously on my blog, even King Noah probably had good characteristics. But the writers have chosen to present only his evil side, so we won’t be confused about whether to like the guy or not. Even people like Alma, Alma the Younger and Zeezrom, who all went through both good and bad stages, have obvious markers that show the reader when they should be emulated and when they should not be.

    Summary: All “good” characters, as clearly marked as such by the editors, should be trusted and followed. Second-guessing them will only destroy clarity and introduce excessive amounts of ambiguity into our study, with negative results.

  32. john fowles on August 12, 2004 at 3:24 pm

    The reason I think this particular discussion is a little silly is because the scriptures don’t support Bob’s or Kaimi’s characterizations of how Lehi went about missionary work. Nephi’s summary of his mission in Jerusalem does not indicate whether he was going door to door, preaching from a wall, or making inroads with his own family and friends.

  33. Nate W. on August 12, 2004 at 3:27 pm

    “Let’s not criticize or scrutinize the shortcomings of a man who obeyed the call of the Lord to be a missionary.”

    Funny, because my old missionary guide tapes do exactly that. The first six months of my mission were about learning more effective teaching techniques by contrasting them with bad examples. I don’t think that asking whether his methods were “less effective” is tantamount to sullying his name. We may even learn something.

  34. Ryan Bell on August 12, 2004 at 3:29 pm

    Greenfrog, my last comment to Kaimi applies as well to your contentions. There’s no one in the world that thinks Jonah’s story is meant to convince us that it’s good to flee the Lord’s commands. There are markers there that make it obvious these are bad actions, not good ones. However, when those markers don’t exist, such as surrounding Lehi’s preaching or Alma’s speech to Corianton, I think we’re on safer ground assuming these men are doing the right thing, in the right way. Otherwise, the whole of the canon is thrown into doubt about who we can and cannot trust.

  35. greenfrog on August 12, 2004 at 4:38 pm

    Otherwise, the whole of the canon is thrown into doubt about who we can and cannot trust.

    That would mean that the scriptures are just like life.

    Wait, is that a good thing or a bad thing?

    Oh yeah — I have to decide that for myself, don’t I?

  36. Jack on August 12, 2004 at 4:50 pm

    Once again, with razor sharp acuteness, greenfrog makes an all important point. We simply don’t know very much about Lehi’s experience in Jerusalem.

    That said, I think it may be useful to look at the experiences of those a little closer to us. Joseph Smith is a prime example as his experiences are much the same as Lehi’s and many other notable prophets. He receives a powerful heavenly manifestation. He shares those elements of the manifestation which are calculated to benefit others. He is rejected. He is forced at some point in his ministry to flee for his life.

    Given that this pattern is repeated in all ages, perhaps we can assume that there are specific elements found in the approaches of various prophets – irrespective of time or place – that are common.

    One that stands out in my mind – when thinking about Joseph Smith – is that he didn’t have to do very much to provolk those who would be his enemies. He shared his experience with a minister during a casual encounter and soon the whole country side was persecuting him. I can imagine lehi moving through the same social circles to which he was already accustomed only to find that he was not accepted anymore because of his inspired views.

    Just some thoughts.

  37. Ryan Bell on August 12, 2004 at 5:15 pm

    Greenfrog, I find the suggestion that the scriptures ought to be just like life to be absurd. Why not just read my uncle’s journal instead?

  38. Jack on August 12, 2004 at 5:50 pm

    Ryan: no doubt the scriptures, by and large, are calculated buy the writers/editors to point the reader’s mind in a certain direction. However, when dealing with accounts of people[s] moving through events, the scriptures can be quite objective in some ways. Consider how the account of David’s life is treated in the Old Testament. It is obviously compiled in such a way so as to have the greatest impact upon its readers. However, each sequence is recounted without judgement on the part of the writer. We read about how Nathan tells David “thou art the man” and then we are left to form our own judgement of the situation. How about Abraham’s sacrifice? There is no psychological element in it. We are simply told what happens without any reference to anyone’s feelings or intents. Of course this doesn’t happen in every case. Sometimes we *are* appraised of a character’s intent, and therefore are left with less latitude in forming our own judgements. At anyrate, I don’t think greenfrog is completely off the mark for suggesting that the scriptures can be “like life”.

  39. Jack on August 12, 2004 at 5:54 pm

    Ryan: by the way, I was hard-pressed to control my laughter after reading your critigue of the “movie”. :))

  40. Bob Caswell on August 12, 2004 at 6:09 pm

    Oh boy, you get busy at work and look what happens… I feel like pointing out that I knew it was only a matter of time before Ryan and Adam became good friends in disagreeing with Bob (lol!). You’re both so good at it individually that it’s fun now to see you support each other.

    Ryan is correct, however, that we’ve had this conversation before. He may not appreciate this, but I do feel the need to point out a scripture Grasshopper pointed out to us when we (Ryan and I) were having our conversation the first time.

    Mormon 9:31
    “Condemn me not because of mine imperfection, neither my father, because of his imperfection, neither them who have written before him; but rather give thanks unto God that he hath made manifest unto you our imperfections, that ye may learn to be more wise than we have been.”

    This is a very powerful scripture suggesting that there are weaknesses prophets had, which were written down for our benefit. If we discuss their imperfections respectively, we can learn from them. This, of course, is quite a bit more complicated than Ryan’s simplified dichotomy of “Either a person is bad, and should not be emulated, or is good, and should be.”

    Adam, your first comment “Also, consider that Lehi et al. were primarily talking to believers…”

    I’m still curious to know if endorsing prophets popping up next door who then testify of your wickedness and abominations is synonymous with being a “believer” in this context.

    Josh, when you say, “you also have to consider that the people in Jerusalem were the very same people who stoned and killed the prophets. Sometimes you gotta tell it to them straight.”

    Why? Just move on with life. This is similar to the over-anxious / zealous missionary companion who wants to brush his feet off at every person that slams the door on him. How does that help the situation again?

    John, when you say, “The reason I think this particular discussion is a little silly is because the scriptures don’t support Bob’s or Kaimi’s characterizations of how Lehi went about missionary work.” I feel as if Kaimi and I are being portrayed as teaching false doctrine when in reality we’ve just posed a question that not many have yet to answer without just “letting our eyes glaze over at our 900th take” while assuming that “most correct book” = “perfect people living perfect lives”. But these kinds of conversations are still fun, just the same.

    Oh, and for the record, I have read the Book of Mormon… many times.

  41. Ebenezer on August 12, 2004 at 6:10 pm

    I’m not sure that this kind of speculative approach to Book of Mormon exegesis is very useful. I suspect it reveals more about the analyzer than it does the subject.

    The commitment pattern approach to missionary work is by no means a fundamentally superior method of preaching the gospel. It is not even an inspired method of preaching the gospel.

    The church committees formulated the commitment pattern after conducting a study of effective missionaries and observing certain common traits and approaches used by those missionaries. We use it because our authorities ask us to and because it serves our needs.

    The commitment pattern is not, and never has been, a substitute for following the Holy Spirit.

    The strongest relationship of trust is built when people feel the Holy Spirit with you. There was a time in my own mission that my companion and I would knock on a door and proclaim to the resident that we were representatives of Jesus Christ and that we had come to pronounce a blessing upon their home and family. We would bring the family to kneel down with us and then bless their home and family by the authority of the priesthood.

    The Authority of the Priesthood and the Holy Spirit are the most effective missionary tools.

    The people of Jerusalem did not rejecting Lehi, they rejected the Holy Spirit, as did Laman and Lemuel.

  42. Grasshopper on August 12, 2004 at 6:17 pm

    Ryan wrote:

    If I can read the scriptures without any presumption that the actions I find there are a model to be emulated, then I have eviscerated the scriptures of at least half of their value.

    I suppose that’s true, if you bring into your reading the assumption that “at least half” the value of the scriptures is to give us examples to follow. But I’m not convinced that is a primary purpose of the scriptures. How frequently in the scriptures are we commanded to emulate a prophet or another person, other than Christ?

    If, instead, we assume that the primary purposes of the scriptures are to teach doctrine, to show that God is involved in the world, and to encourage us to seek his involvement in our lives, then I don’t think this “questioning” method of reading the scriptures devalues them at all. In fact, it serves what I think the primary purpose of the scriptures is: to encourage us to ponder and pray for our own revelation.

  43. Bob Caswell on August 12, 2004 at 6:23 pm

    Ebenezer,

    I’d like to agree with you that the commitment pattern is in no way the perfect approach every time. Your way of approaching missionary work on your mission seems very similar to my way. I remember going door to door only to say something like, “We are volunteers of such and such Church looking for ways to better the community and were hoping for some input.”

    But we don’t have much record of Lehi trying approaches like these. We mostly have the “repent or be damned” method, which for the life of me, I’m having a hard time understanding why that method would ever be appropriate let alone be “exemplary behavior which we ought to seek to model our own lives after” as Ryan Bell puts it.

  44. Renee on August 12, 2004 at 6:24 pm

    renee: “Style doesn’t seem to count for much. Jesus was usually tactful and people still took offense. The bottom line is people don’t like to be told they are wrong.”

    Carl: Are you sure of that? The more I read the Bible, the more I feel that Christ used deliberately confrontational language against all forms of hipocrisy, and made no attempts whatsoever to compromise or water down his words.

    I didn’t say Jesus wasn’t blunt. I said He was usually tactful. Many people are well versed in driving home a point without brutality.

  45. john fowles on August 12, 2004 at 6:37 pm

    Bob, in the same way that you feel that people are mischaracterizing you and Kaimi as teaching false doctrine instead of merely posing a question (I disagree that people–and particularly my comment–are implying that), I feel that you have not fairly dealt with my concern here.

    Problematizing Lehi’s approach to missionary work (i.e. assuming that because the people rejected him he must have been simply shouting on the street corner like the manic street preachers in San Francisco) seems like creating an artificial problem to analyze. If that is what you want to do, why not just make up a hypothetical and then discuss its implications. We have no indication of how Lehi approached his missionary work, whether it was through “condemnatory prophecy” of an offensive kind (which you and Kaimi are assuming for the purposes of this discussion) or whether it was the case of a sophisticated man with a huge network of connections who wore out his welcome with them trying to share the substance of his vision and foresight regarding the imminent destruction of the city with them.

    I liked Jack’s suggestion: I can imagine lehi moving through the same social circles to which he was already accustomed only to find that he was not accepted anymore because of his inspired views. Even that is purely speculation because aside from stating that Lehi “declared” the warning to the people of Jerusalem and that they mocked him for it, Nephi is silent as to methodology. And since he is silent as to methodolgy, I don’t see the basis for a discussion of whether Lehi would have been more effective if he had just been less condemnatory, since we don’t know whether he was condemnatory or not in the first place.

  46. Ryan Bell on August 12, 2004 at 6:43 pm

    Bob, we meet again, and again I am faced with the difficult task of explaining that Moroni quote.

    I am not so dogged as to be blind to the fact that Moroni admits weaknesses, some of which might be visible in the text of the Book of Mormon. Admittedly, the scripture scores a point in your column.

    However, I don’t think it supports your overall approach to the Book. First of all, it seems clear that Moroni is speaking to his critics, not his devotees. He’s urging people to look past his flaws and see all the good in the book. This amounts to a suggestion that spending time in converstations like these, discussing possible flaws of the prophets, is not profitable, when so much good stuff remains to be mined from the scriptures.

    Secondly, the way I’ve always read this scripture, it seems to admitting that there are imperfections on the part of the writers, not on the part of the characters. I read this to mean that Moroni is concerned that people will focus on grammar, style, and form, over substance and narrative and spirit.

    Let’s look to the source for some context. Immediately after your quoted verse, Moroni gives an insecure sounding explanation of why they chose the language they did. He’s trying to help us see that it may not have been a perfect choice, but they did what they could with it. I’m prepared to accept that there could have been editorial choices that are open to criticism. Moroni admits as much– he is insecure as a writer and editor. But what reason do we have to doubt his behavior as a prophet and man, at least those behaviors that have been canonized in this book? I think you can draw a bright line between the flaws he’s talking about, and the flaws you’re talking about.

    I link this scripture directly with Ether 12, in which Moroni states specifically that he’s scared people will mock the book because of the writers’ weakness in print.

    Of course, there are other interpretations of this verse, I understand that. But I hold that this is the most consistent with the context of the book, and the most logical approach to reading it.

  47. Ryan Bell on August 12, 2004 at 6:46 pm

    Jack, i think the mention of Abraham sacrificing (almost) Isaac is a good example of my “markers” system. No one ever mentions explicitly that Abraham is about to do a good thing. No one says what he was thinking at the time. Yet it’s universally clear that what he was doing was righteous. This is probably because the book states clearly that God commanded him to do it, and also that God blessed him for his willingness to do it.

    Thus, it’s unimportant that we understand intent, etc. The point, which is hard to argue, is that we almost always know whether the writer endores or condemns the behavior that’s being written about.

  48. Ryan Bell on August 12, 2004 at 6:52 pm

    Grasshopper: I suppose that’s true, if you bring into your reading the assumption that “at least half” the value of the scriptures is to give us examples to follow. But I’m not convinced that is a primary purpose of the scriptures. How frequently in the scriptures are we commanded to emulate a prophet or another person, other than Christ?

    Alma 48:17–“Yea, verily, verily I say unto you, if all men had been, and were, and ever would be, like unto Moroni, behold, the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; yea, the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men.”

    Helaman 11:18-19– “. . . they did esteem [Nephi] as a a great prophet, and a man of God, having great power and authority given unto him from God.
    And behold, Lehi, his brother, was not a a whit behind him as to things pertaining to righteousness.”

    I think the list could go on for a long, long time. This Book is undoubtedly here to show us examples of great, great men to model our lives after. How is that a controversial point?

  49. Ryan Bell on August 12, 2004 at 7:00 pm

    By the way, John’s point does have to be addressed. Before we proceed farther, someone does have to set out a basis, beyond assumptions, for believing that Lehi’s style was harsh. The scriptures John quotes in an earlier post are helpful, and must be accepted or rebutted.

  50. Josh Kim on August 12, 2004 at 7:03 pm

    Bob, when in the history of the old testament has it been enough to nicely warn or admonish?

    Josh, when you say, “you also have to consider that the people in Jerusalem were the very same people who stoned and killed the prophets. Sometimes you gotta tell it to them straight.”

    Why? Just move on with life. This is similar to the over-anxious / zealous missionary companion who wants to brush his feet off at every person that slams the door on him. How does that help the situation again?

    You err when you attempt to compare Lehi to some 19-year old kid who’s out on his mission today.

    Lehi’s had a transcendant vision in which he sees the destruction of Jerusalem as a city-state or whatever you call it. People are killed, people are made slaves. This is what he saw.

    I have this feeling as if you are saying, “Lehi, chill out.”

    Well, to reiterate an earlier point, the Lord said, “Blessed art thou Lehi…”

    Let’s drop it. Of course Lehi wasn’t the only witness or prophet sent by God to warn the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Think of Isaiah and Jeremiah. They all tried to warn the people.

    I feel like some of you are giving the wicked in Jerusalem a cop-out because they didn’t listen to Lehi, they must’ve done something wrong, right?

    What about the wicked Amulonites and Amalekites? Even after the People of Ammon made a brave stand by praying as they were being slaughtered senseless, the Amulonites and Amalekites still wouldn’t convert save only one Amalekite. The rest further hardened their hearts.

    You can spin this story all you want guys. Yes, the Story of the People of Ammon goes on to say that more people joined the People than were lost in the attacks because the Lamanites were converted when they saw that they would not fight back.

    But the other side to that is of course the unrepentant apostate Amalekites and Amulonites who already had the truth and then rejected it.

    “And thus we can plainly discern, that after a people have been once enlightened by the Spirit of God, and having had great knowledge of things pertaining to righteousness, and then have fallen away into SIN and TRANSGRESSION, they become more hardened, and thus their state becomes worse than though they had never known these things.”
    ALMA 24:30

  51. Adam Greenwood on August 12, 2004 at 7:24 pm

    Certainly problematizing the scriptures, using them to ask questions, etc., has an appeal, but like Ryan I wonder, why the scriptures? Wouldn’t any historical chronicle do just as well? Why are their narratives in the scriptures at all?
    The answer I find is that thinking of truth as a set of doctrines is, at root, and in my opinion, and with no intention of giving offense, a fairly unSaintly and unChristian approach. The New Testament does not ask for our assent to a set of propositions which constitute the Truth. It demands that we assent to Christ, who _in his person_ is the Truth. Mormonism adds the wrinkle that we wish to form bonds of sociality with all the righteous and learn all good from everywhere, which means that we are willing to follow the good examples of many. So when God does give us an example in the Book of Mormon, I assume that we are to learn by imitating it and not by critiquing it.

    Which brings me to Moroni. I generally agree with Ryan’s argument. But even if Moroni meant that he had a few doubts about his judgment, doesn’t Bob have a few doubts about his own? What I mean to say is, I am not so sure of my own excellence and wisdom that I am going to prefer it to Moroni’s.

  52. Ebenezer on August 12, 2004 at 7:25 pm

    Brother Caswell,

    The only measure of the appropriateness of one approach or another is whether it is done in obedience to the Lord, whether it conforms to the instructions of our priesthood authorities, and whether it is ratified by the Holy Spirit.

    I have had occasion to call those within my stewardship to repentance with fire and brimstone as well as with loving nudges. The Lord knows what people need and how they should be approached at one time and another.

    Like Enoch, the Lord’s Spirit was upon Lehi, and He did justify all his words. When a man speaketh by the power of the Holy Ghost the power of the Holy Ghost carrieth it unto the hearts of the children of men.

    When we speculate whether Lehi’s method may have prevented people from listening to his message, it is at some level, questioning whether he spoke with the Spirit.

    Again, the people of Jerusalem did not reject Lehi, they rejected the Holy Spirit.

  53. Kaimi on August 12, 2004 at 8:03 pm

    Ryan, Adam, et al.,

    We are expected to read the scriptures, look at the actions of characters, and make judgments as to what we should be emulating.

    Look at David, for example. Great faith — emulate. Problems with women — avoid.

    That is, we do this all the time. There are no explicit directions — “emulate this one, avoid that one, take two pills on an empty stomach.” We figure the good examples and the bad examples out on our own.

    So, what’s so controversial about looking at Lehi’s experience and taking from it:

    Faith — emulate
    Ineffective missionary work — avoid

  54. Renee on August 12, 2004 at 8:26 pm

    On an indirect note, did anyone watch the show on A&E last night about the murderous excommunicated RLDS guy, Jeff Lundgren?

  55. Adam Greenwood on August 12, 2004 at 8:35 pm

    Like Ryan, I agree that the scriptures already have their own cues telling us what to emulate and what not. We aren’t having to decide. David–great faith–praised. David–adultery–condemned by a prophet, lamented by David.

    A thought on Lehi:
    There’s another possibility beyond the one’s that Kaimi suggests. Lehi’s message was _urgent_. Our fellowshipping ideas all have an eye on long-term conversion. We think we’ll have a longterm relationship with the people, or if we’ll have left seeds of kindness that God can arrange to be harvested down the road. What if we knew that our city would be destroyed in a year or two unless it repented? Phtt, that’s it. No time for seeds to grow, no time for trust to mature. In such a situation preaching wrath might be a desperate strategy, but it might also be the only strategy.

  56. XON on August 12, 2004 at 9:13 pm

    I actually like Kaimi’s original question; or more precisely, what I infer that his original question is: What was Lehi doing that led to the events described in 1 Nephi?

    I also lament how the invitation implied by “We’re not supposed to just read it, we’re supposed to think about it as well” has sort of gone by the wayside in favor of a sort of literary-criticism type of discussion.

    So, my un-solicited, free (worth every penny you pay for them. . .) observations:

    It appears, in Jeremiah, that the Israelites in Jerusalem weren’t just scrimping in their fast offerings and wearing broad hems on their robes. The ‘church’ if you will, in Jerusalem was, under the influence of an Egyptian puppet government, conducting child sacrifice, and various other abominations of the most detestable type.(See Jerusalem: The eternal city; Galbrath, Ogden, Skinner; also 2 Kings 21-24).

    If you recall the history of the OT, almost all warfare was couched in terms of religion. Israel went against the Amalekites merely because they disbelieved Jehovah. The Egyptians and Assyrians moved back and forth across the land of Israel imposing first one religious order, then the other. It would seem that contradicting the religious order in the city in those days was much less about freedom of expression, and much more about what we would refer today as sedition.

    So here’s Lehi. Obviously a prosperous man (1 Nephi 3:16), and a part of the elite (most likely a member of the Sanhedrin); he even hangs out with Laban, holder of an ‘original’ copy of the scriptures.

    Here, I speculate, but it seems plausible to ask the question whether Lehi was, what we now call ‘nouveau riche’? The main reason for this is that Nephi gives no genealogy before Lehi. This is rather in constrast to the nearly obsessive genealogizing of the Hebrews in the OT. (Not that they didn’t have good reason to…) Perhaps there wasn’t any ancestor worth mentioning before Lehi?

    This would also accord with the speculation that Lehi was a caravan merchant. These seemed to be the ‘venture capitalists’ of the day, i.e., the folks who made a lot of money quickly, or at least relatively quickly.

    So you have this Lehi fellow, who has spent most of his life living ‘on the road’, has made a good deal of money, has bought his way, to a greater or lesser degree, into the upper levels of a theocratic society, and then has a break with the corruption and evil that characterizes it. Perhaps, if the idea that he is ‘nouveau riche’ works, he doesn’t have the experience or clout to buck the system, or is politically naive, or is the target of active resentment of the ‘old guard’.

    Anyway, he speaks out. One of the important elements to Kaimi’s point is that Lehi obviously did more than just sort of make a point, among friends, at a reception. What he said, and when and how he said it antagonized the powers that be, in no small degree.

    At this point, refer to the New Testament, and see how the Sanhedrin went about going after Jesus. There was no service of process, public trial, and media battle. They followed a long-established model of snatching the seditionist in the middle of the night, and making sure he was dead in the morning when the city awoke. Lehi, as part of the elite, probably knew well ‘how things were done’.

    Which is why Lehi fled Jerusalem, probably hours ahead of the officers that would come to deliver him to the Sanhedrin(c.f. Abinadi, John the Baptist, Jesus, etc…) Anybody ever ask why Lehi’s family went three days travel, then laid up for some time, while he tries to conduct some business in Jerusalem via his sons?

    Which leads me to Ishmael. While it says that Lehi is commanded to leave in a dream, we get to wonder if this is Nephi’s take on this; an ebellishment, perhaps? Nephi admits that he is not very old (1 Nephi 2:16), and if we found ourselves obliged to leave the country in fear of our lives, how would we explain this to our younger children? Could Lehi have, at least, been ‘warned’ by his friends about the danger his words were creaing? Could he have gotten the OT version of a phone call late at night from one of his friends (also, obviously, another member of the ruling elite) who had just come from a very unusual ‘emergency session’ of the Sanhedrin, or sub-group therein where dangerous business had been discussed? (Not to deny the BoM account; it could have been that the ‘stage was set’ by the friend’s warning, but the actual command to leave came from God) Perhaps there was a communication to the effect of “Go to this valley, and let me know when you get there,” between Lehi and his best friend, or converted colleague Ishmael.

    I don’t know. This is all just educated guess. But it certainly plows a field for consideration of the real-life circumstances that demand revelation to navigate successfully. And I appreciated Kaimi’s question that got me thinking about all this. Maybe I’ll get a better idea of how revelation really works in real-life situations from thinking about it in this context; and that is certainly good for my soul, and my family.

  57. Bob Caswell on August 12, 2004 at 9:47 pm

    All right, round two:

    John,

    “I don’t see the basis for a discussion of whether Lehi would have been more effective if he had just been less condemnatory…” Really? If I were called on a mission to a land where most everyone was wicked only to have no conversions and have that land destroyed soon there after… only to have a basic account made…. I would hope people would analyze what could have been done better on my part rather than assume a one-sided view of “there wasn’t ONE person I could get through to because EVERY SINGLE person was wicked”. Interestingly enough, notice how the only people who later joined Lehi’s family joined out of no interaction with Lehi (i.e. Nephi returning for Ishmael and also the whole Zoram bit). In fact, we know they knew of Lehi’s preaching before only to stay until someone else could get through to them. Hmm… One more strike against Lehi as a shining missionary example…

    Josh,

    “You err when you attempt to compare Lehi to some 19-year old kid who’s out on his mission today.” Do I need to point out the Lehi-murmur scripture to you? Comparing Lehi to a 19-year-old missionary isn’t far fetched in certain contexts. I’ve seen both preoccupied with some form of “righteous indignation”, and I’ve seen both murmur, that’s all.

    Adam,

    “What I mean to say is, I am not so sure of my own excellence and wisdom that I am going to prefer it to Moroni’s.” Well, I’m not so sure of Moroni’s excellence and wisdom to prefer it to some other example. As for my own excellence and wisdom, well, they are inferior to that of Moroni’s, to be sure. But that’s not to say I should discount them entirely. The trick here isn’t to go extreme one way or the other. In my opinion, you shouldn’t rely on your own wisdom as much as you shouldn’t rely on anyone else’s. There’s a balance. In many cases, I may rely on Moroni, but in others, it may be more appropriate to rely on another example or even myself.

    Ebenezer,

    “I have had occasion to call those within my stewardship to repentance with fire and brimstone…” Thankfully, I’ve never been put in such a position. I still don’t see the benefit. What is being accomplished? That’s why, admittedly, much of the Old Testament is hard for me to swallow. Luckily, I can rely on the “plain and precious” things being removed bit, but I know that doesn’t cover it entirely… Also luckily, I’m not sure I’ll ever need to call someone to repentance with fire and brimstone in this life.

    Ryan,

    “give thanks unto God that he hath made manifest unto you our imperfections, that ye may learn to be more wise than we have been…” Do you really think this was meant for critics and not devotees? As if, because I’m a devotee (at least I think I am), I’m making a mistake in learning from a prophet’s imperfections? I need to shed my devotee status and become a critic in order for this to be applicable?

  58. Kaimi on August 12, 2004 at 9:55 pm

    I think we all need to pray for Bob.

  59. Bob Caswell on August 12, 2004 at 10:04 pm

    “”We’re not supposed to just read it, we’re supposed to think about it as well” has sort of gone by the wayside in favor of a sort of literary-criticism type of discussion.”

    XON,

    Was this meant for me? I appreciate your well-put-together thoughts on the subject. I really like how you’ve tried to learn from the situation at hand without necessarily diminishing Lehi’s role as a prophet. This is similar to what I was trying to accomplish, but in defending the appropriateness of the questions I originally I had, sadly perhaps my observations have come across to harshly or disrespectfully. Thank you for your example.

  60. Ebenezer on August 12, 2004 at 10:05 pm

    Brother XON,

    An account of Lehi’s genealogy was recorded in the Book of Lehi (1 Nephi 6:1). Nephi wanted the space on the small plates for the things of God. The missing genealogy is more likely the fault of Joseph Smith and Martin Harris losing the manuscript than an indication of Lehi’s status or history.

  61. XON on August 12, 2004 at 10:14 pm

    Ebenezer,

    Good point. See, this exercise has paid dividends already! I now understand more than I did before.

  62. XON on August 12, 2004 at 10:29 pm

    Bob Caswell,

    Nope. I just thought there was another aspect to explore in the original question. I actually appreciate your much-more-erudite-than-mine analysis.

  63. john fowles on August 12, 2004 at 10:45 pm

    Bob, it’s only fair for me to note that you have taken me way out of context. You only quoted the first part of a sentence and then responded to that part, but the sentence was incomplete and was making a different point.

    If we knew that Lehi had used an ineffective missionary approach, then I would agree with you that we should study it and try not to make the same mistake.

    But my sentence, quoted in full, said I don’t see the basis for a discussion of whether Lehi would have been more effective if he had just been less condemnatory, since we don’t know whether he was condemnatory or not in the first place. The bold part is what you left out when you quoted the first part of the sentence, making me sound like an absurd objector to studying the scriptures for practical in addition to doctrinal knowledge. That was not my point at all.

    It’s not that I don’t see the basis for a discussion of the effectiveness of Lehi’s approach; rather, my point was that we have no indication at all of what his approach was! All we have in Nephi’s three verse summary of the mission in Jerusalem in which Nephi states that Lehi “declared” the message to them. We have no idea how he went about doing it. You are assuming that he did so in a condemnatory, ineffective manner. I suppose that you arrive at that conclusion merely because he didn’t have more success, or is there some other reason for you to assume that Lehi used such an ineffective approach?

  64. Kaimi on August 12, 2004 at 10:57 pm

    John,

    Yes, Bob assumes that Lehi is using a condemnatory approach. It seems like a pretty reasonable assumption. The text we’ve got — “testified” of “wickedness and abominations” — implies that. The comparison of Lehi to Jeremiah implies this. And others have apparently taken the same implication (see the comment about the BOM movie). Be honest — until today, did _you_ think Lehi did anything other than stand on a street corner and harrass the passerby? (Maybe he was trying to network and create synergies!). Plus, he had zero success — again implying that he may not have been using the best methods.

    So, it’s the most natural reading of the text. Of course it’s not the only possible reading. We don’t have a videotape of Lehi, so for all we know, he tried to convince people using balloon animals and face painting.

  65. Josh Kim on August 12, 2004 at 11:26 pm

    Fine, you guys try coddling your kids and keep on babying them their whole lives and see how they turn out.

    The Lord chastens those he loves.

    Lehi was only speaking what the Lord wanted him to.

    It’s not Lehi’s fault or anything that they just couldn’t accept it.

  66. Jack on August 12, 2004 at 11:48 pm

    XON: I very much enjoyed reading your comment.

    Though you didn’t talk of Laman and Lemuel,
    in thinking about your comment I began to consider their opposition to Lehi, and found some questions arising in my mind.

    First: Was their claim – that the people in Jerusalem were righteous because they lived the Law of Moses – based solely on a national theology? Or can we assume that Lehi, being a man who was concerned with the things of God, saw to it that his children were trained in the Law after a manner that was conducive to his own religious sensibilities?

    Second: If their claim (as mentioned above) was based primarily on their religious views as learned within their own family, is it then probable that their diffuculty with following their father might have been more complex then we generally believe, in that they’re not merely unwilling to forsake the false traditions of a corrupt society, but rather unable to bear the crucible caused by the challenge of accepting their father as one who speaks with God?

    I’m positing that a more sincere religious upbringing might have caused a more profound challenge as there may have been some level of acceptence in their minds toward the idea of contemporary revelation, which would have caused them to feel – more keenly – the possibility of their father receiving revelation. I have difficulty believing that they could receive such heavy condemnation without having some minimal experience with the Spirit.

    Certainly, the national theology of the time would have infuenced all to disbelieve contemporary revelation. However, if Laman and Lemuel’s oppostion to Lehi had more to do with my second question, then I ask a third.

    Third: Is it possible that Laman and Lemuel considered themselves devout followers of a true religion? And if so…

    Fourth: What can we learn today in terms of indentifying the obstacles that they wrestled with which kept them from acknowledging contemporary revelation – even if it was condemning at times?

    I hope that I haven’t veered too far off the beaten path of this thread.

  67. XON on August 13, 2004 at 12:17 am

    Jack,

    I guess the only way I can respond is: Don’t even get me started on Laman and Lemuel!

    As a preliminary, I want to say, very clearly that I do not endorse L&L, and think that they partook of Master Mahan from the beginning. That said. . .

    I have great sympathy for Lemuel, and especially Laman. Consider their plight:

    Laman and Lemuel were both at least somewhat older than Nephi, who’s protestations to the contrary, was fairly close to ‘adulthood’ at the time that Lehi fled Jerusalem. Considering that Laman would have been at least a couple of years older, and likely more given the sense in 1 Nephi; here’s one POSSIBLE scenario.

    Laman, at 20-25 years of age, has spent the majority of his life as the priviledged son of a rich member of the Sanhedrin. While he’s not going about as a son of Mosiah, he’s nonetheless a child of priviledge. Add to that the fact that is is reasonable to suppose that he, and Lemuel, had gone on a caravan trip, possibly (given Lehi’s age, and the practice of a father in training his eldest son) as the leader of the expedition. Under the law of the time, Laman stood to step into Lehi’s shoes upon his death or retirement. Think about how you would feel: the world is literally your oyster; you’re rich, you will fill, as a matter of course, your father’s place on the Sanhedrin, you will take over a successful business enterprise in just a few years.

    Then one day, you return from a day at the office and your elderly father says “I’ve had a dream, we’re fleeing to the wilderness and not coming back!”

    “A WHAT?!” But, the same societal strictures that were sweeping riches and power your way dictate that you obey your father at this point. So, you pack up your tent, and sneak out of your hometown in the middle of the night, sure that you can talk you senile old-man down after a couple of days.

    Except that it becomes clear after a couple of days that he’s serious! Very suddenly, you are eating RAW meat, walking away from a fortune, and likely going to die a bedouin in the middle of a ^%$&-ing desert!

    Right at this point, (much to your relief), your buds, Ishmael’s sons (with their cute sisters. . .) show up. Phew! Well, at least you won’t be alone with these wacky church-mice you’ve been afflicted with as a family!

    So, what’s your plan? You’re used to being a CEO, and a man of action and initiative. So, you, obviously, begin a campaign against your absolutely psycho little brother, who, against all logic, reason, and the laws of the land, thinks that HE is going to be in charge of this little expedition, and loses no opportunity to point this out. I mean, come on! You’re the eldest brother. Everything, according to the law of our fathers for generations, is YOURS! What is he smoking?!

    Except he doesn’t give in. Not only that, he does some sort of shockey-mystical thing that leaves you flat on your a$$, and you have no idea how he did it. This is getting serious now. Everything you’ve ‘worked’ for your whole life is slipping away. And Dad’s on HIS side! Today we’d immediately recognize the impending codicil to the will as the product of a defective mental state. . . But you’re weeks away from any court. This is serious. You’ve got to act. Except every time you do something, the little dweeb somehow manages to turn it back on you.

    I have a LOT of sympathy for Laman, and his sycophantic (or perhaps pragmatic) little brother, who was all set to be number two anyway. But ultimately, they couldn’t get it, and the rest is. . . um, non-historistic ? ? ?

  68. Bob Caswell on August 13, 2004 at 1:23 am

    John, I completely agree with what Kaimi had to say. My intentions were not to point out what “an absurd objector to studying the scriptures” you are. As Kaimi pointed out, I think there was an “indication” as to how Lehi conducted his missionary approach that seems to lean more toward “poor example” and further away from “good example”.

    But here’s an interesting thought: Let’s say you’re right and my interpretation is absurd. Well then, logically, anyone’s observation in the opposite direction would be just as absurd. I’m speaking indirectly to Ryan Bell here. If what John says is true (which I’m not convinced of), and “we have no indication at all of what his [Lehi’s] approach was”, then neither I can say that he is a poor example of missionary work nor can Ryan Bell or anyone else say, he is a GOOD example of missionary work.

    In other words, Ryan, when you say, “By the way, John’s point does have to be addressed. Before we proceed farther, someone does have to set out a basis, beyond assumptions, for believing that Lehi’s style was harsh.” How is this more pertinent than the need of a basis for believing that Lehi’s style was NOT harsh?

    This brings us full circle to the real problem. That is, why does the BOM being true imply that the prophets are always the perfect example short of words like “murmur” or extremely obvious situations? I feel like Ryan and the gang think they’re one up on me due to some pseudo-truth that there is no possibility of a recorded semi-ambiguous reference to a poor example? These scriptures were somehow written with no room for two differing interpretations. That’s just too complicated. There’s a right way and a wrong way. And Bob has to be wrong in order for the right way to be right. As if everything written in the BOM is “exemplary behavior” or “wicked evil” with no gray area, which is so common in our daily lives today. Maybe life really was originally in black and white at one time, and color is just here for our generation…

  69. Jack on August 13, 2004 at 2:48 am

    XON: It’s Historical. ;>)

    I collaborated on a stage production about Lehi’s journey to the promised land in which Laman’s character is designed much the way you’ve described him. Except we added a few (significant) details. Laman, as the oldest is on the academic track and hopes one day to sit among the scribes. (Of course we’ve taken a little artistic liscence both in terms of character and context) Lemuel competently (and enthusiastically) manages the affairs of the estate freeing Laman, who is the heir, to pursue his studies.

    Running the risk of burdening the characters with too much theme, we have divided the two into the wisdom of the world and the riches of the world.(fun BoM themes!)

    Laman’s narrative plays out much the way you’ve described above, except we add the element of priestcraft. Not only is he heir of the estate he has the right to govern the house in the place of his father, he will use his influence and training to maintain his position. Again, following you’re thinking, the final blow is dealt when Lehi gives his first blessing (birthright – artistic liscence!) to Laman on the condition that he will hearken unto Nephi, which of course, is completely unsupportable for Laman.

    Finally, we do include a dash of potencial spirituality on the part of Laman. (not so much for Lemuel) In the beginning he is very magnanimous toward his younger brothers. He offers the prayer over supper (as Lehi is out late) He is subtly moved by Nephi’s reaching out to him – all which serve to heighten the tragedy at the end.

    Fun chatting with you!

  70. XON on August 13, 2004 at 3:02 am

    Jack,

    Cheers!

    BTW, have you ever seen the Aluminum Plates of Lemuel? I don’t have a link, but it’s hilarious.

    X

  71. Bob Caswell on August 13, 2004 at 9:54 am

    Ryan,

    As I was thinking about this more this morning, I wanted to ask you if you personally think all of your theories on this subject hold true for all canonized scripture. If the topic of our discussion was the New Testament, then you and I might agree more. Christ was a perfect example, and I have no need to learn from his weaknesses since there really aren’t any.

    But if our discussion brought us to the Old Testament, oh boy, as I’ve mentioned before, there is no way I can read that book with the idea that every situation is “exemplified behavior” or “wicked evil”. Hmm… When it comes to the Old Testament, maybe I shouldn’t even get started…

    I see the Book of Mormon as somewhere in between (although outside of Christ’s teachings, the New Testament may have some “gray” moments).

  72. Adam Greenwood on August 13, 2004 at 12:25 pm

    Bob,
    “In many cases, I may rely on Moroni, but in others, it may be more appropriate to rely on another example or even myself.”

    Why? You’re exalting your own judgment again to make that sort of distinction.

  73. Ryan Bell on August 13, 2004 at 1:00 pm

    Bob, I admit to a slightly increased skepticism toward the Books of the Bible. I actually hold the New Testament below the Book of Mormon, not because I elevate Moroni above Jesus, but because I trust the provenance of the Book of Mormon more than that of the New Testament.

    No, I’m not going to argue that we should follow the Old Testament’s examples as rigidly as those of the Book of Mormon. But the Book of Mormon, which came to us directly from the source, the most correct of any book on earth, shouldn’t be pressed to defend its characters and stories. I just don’t think it would make much sense for the Lord to present a character to us, say he’s a Godly man, make him the mouthpiece of some central and pivotal doctrines (as in 2 Ne. 2), and also allow hope we will conclude, on our own, that we should learn from Lehi’s failures in Jerusalem that a. he was a lousy missionary, and b. we could do much better (and probably could have done much better even in his own time and place). Just doesn’t make much sense to me.

    Again, I don’t think this applies to all prophets. I’m sure President Hinckley would say he’s made mistakes that we could learn from. But his life has not been canonized as scripture, and marked specifically to help us see what is exemplary and what is not.

    By the way, Kaimi, I’m surprised you think we can infer from Lehi’s failure to convert anyone in Jerusalem that he was bad at missionary work. Wouldn’t this imply a failure on the Lord’s part? If there were more conversions possible, wouldn’t the Lord have sent someone competent enough to harvest them? Why would he send such a bumbler like Lehi, when someone else could have done better? Don’t make no sense.

  74. Kaimi on August 13, 2004 at 1:06 pm

    Ryan,

    “If there were more conversions possible, wouldn’t the Lord have sent someone competent enough to harvest them? Why would he send such a bumbler like Lehi, when someone else could have done better?”

    For the same reason he sent a bumbler like me to Guatemala. A lot of imperfect people are asked to do missionary work. (Or to do various other church callings). Is this news?

  75. Josh Kim on August 13, 2004 at 1:31 pm

    Yeah Kaimi, that may be

    but how many bumblers would the Lord choose to take his family to the promised land and father an entire nation or to????????

    Lehi spoke for the Lord. The Lord spake.

    Kaimi, I think you and Bob are reading too much into the Book of Mormon.

    I believe the reason why Nephi wrote about his dad’s prophetic experiences was so that missionaries could find comfort that as long as they thrust in their sickle with all their mind, might, and strength the Lord will be pleased.

    Lehi was obedient to the commandment of the Lord.

    Just like Missionaries today can be obedient to the mission rules.

    Lehi prayed on behalf of his people

    Just like missionaries pray to be led to people prepared to hear the gospel.

    Lehi could not control the reactions of others to his message.

    Just like missionaries cannot control how investigators and others will react to their discussions.

    You tell me I’m wrong, Kaimi, and I will call Elder Tupo and Elder Melo and tell them they are poor missionaries and that they should really pack up and stop preaching this gospel stuff because its offensive to alot of people.

    People, especially people today, get easily offended by alot of things.

    “For behold, it came to pass that the Lord spake unto my father, year, even in a dream, and said unto him: Blessed art thou Lehi, because of the things which thou hast done; and because thou hast been faithful and declared unto this people the things which I commanded thee, behold, they seek to take away thy life.

    “DECLARED UNTO THIS PEOPLE THE THINGS WHICH I COMMANDED THEE…”

    The Lord commanded Lehi.

    Are you doubting the Lord?

  76. Ryan Bell on August 13, 2004 at 1:31 pm

    But you don’t know that you weren’t competent enough to harvest those who could have been harvested. I would guess the Lord sent you because you were able to get the ones that could reasonably be gotten. Same with Lehi. No argument that he was perfect, but it would be silly to suggest the Lord needed a guy to go in and get 100 ripe converts, and ended up with Lehi, who was unable to get any, because he was just no good at it.

    The burden of proof is yours. You argue that Lehi’s inability to convert people is evidence of him being a bad missionary. But the existence of other possibilities (perhaps there were just no righteous people willing to convert, no matter the skills of the preacher) means that your conclusion is not supported by your evidence. Wouldn’t you agree?

  77. Kaimi on August 13, 2004 at 1:52 pm

    (sigh)

    Josh,

    Calm down. I’m not saying to coddle kids. (Where did that assertion come from?). I’m not saying that any particular Elder should go home. And I certainly don’t think I’m doubting the Lord. The only person saying these things is you.

    “People, especially people today, get easily offended by alot of things.” Well, you certainly seem to be doing a good job at being offended by my scriptural discussion.

    Ryan,

    I’ve satisfied the burden of proof to myself, and explained how above. If you don’t think I have, that’s fine. We’ve got a limited record; I read it one way, you read it another. I’m not claiming that my way is the only way to read it, but I do think it’s one reasonable interpretation — probably the most reasonable, in my opinion — and it leads to some interesting further discussion.

    Your reading is also one reasonable approach, but you seem to think that it’s the only reasonable reading. Your “burden of proof” argument is thus misdirected. I’m not saying that my reading is the only reasonable reading, just that I think it’s the most logical from the text. I’m not ruling out the existence of other reasonable interpretations. I think I’ve adequately made the case that one reasonable reading of the text is that Lehi used a condemnatory method. I’ve met all the burden of proof needed.

    Your argument is that there is only one reasonable way to read the text, and so you’re making an exclusivist argument that I’m not making. The burden of proof here, if you are claiming only one reasonable way to read it, thus falls on you.

  78. Steve Evans on August 13, 2004 at 1:53 pm

    Josh: “The Lord commanded Lehi. Are you doubting the Lord?”

    Good grief! such overblown rhetoric. Settle down, josh.

    “You tell me I’m wrong, Kaimi, and I will call Elder Tupo and Elder Melo and tell them they are poor missionaries and that they should really pack up and stop preaching this gospel stuff because its offensive to alot of people.”

    Go ahead and call them up, and tell them that they should pack up — or at least get with the times, and seek to use the most effective methods at their disposal, if they want be of use. Elders Tupo/Melo should be smart enough to know that good missionaries don’t just work hard, they work smart. Sheesh!

  79. Ryan Bell on August 13, 2004 at 2:32 pm

    Kaimi, I would never say mine is the only reasonable way to approach this issue. I respect you and Bob, and know that you’re arguing in good faith here. I hope I didn’t say anything that would suggest otherwise.

    My point is simple, though: You drew a conclusion: Lehi is a bad missionary. As evidence of that conclusion, you draw on the fact that he failed to convert anyone. I showed how I don’t think your evidence supports your conclusion. By the normal course of debate, I would expect you to feel compelled to defend your point. That’s all I meant by the burden of proof.

    It does seem to me that the default position in this context would be to assume that Lehi, a man chosen by the Lord to preach to Jerusalem, and given great visions of eternal significance, was right in what he did, barring evidence to the contrary. So anyone suggesting otherwise might be expected to show why they hold their opinion. You’ve tried to support your position and I’ve merely shown how I think the support doesn’t hold up.

    Anyway, it does appear we’ve gone about as far as we can go here, so there’s little point in splitting the hairs any further, barring new information. (anyone care to pray about it and report on what answer you receive? :)

    Since you are the one that makes the conclusion, I would expect you to carry the burden of proving it. I made a comment showing how I think that piece of evidence doesn’t prove or even support your conclusion. You responded by

  80. Bob Caswell on August 13, 2004 at 4:56 pm

    “Why? You’re exalting your own judgment again to make that sort of distinction.”

    Adam,

    I must not be speaking clearly or we must think very differently on the subject. I still do not understand why it is never useful for me to “exalt my own judgment” over that of a prophet. Prophets are around to guide and direct us and not necessarily to live our lives for us or to make decisions for us. In many cases, it is ultimately up to us to make our own judgments. True, if we are prayerful and trying to live the gospel, our judgments may align with those of a prophet on many occasions. But I fail to see how this implies that our own judgments are to always be discredited in lieu of a prophet’s. If anything, it’s a good feeling to occasionally question a prophet so as to realize that you are a separate, living and breathing entity with your own mind. This is akin to pinching yourself to make sure you’re not dreaming.

    Ryan,

    When you say, “…I admit to a slightly increased skepticism toward the Books of the Bible.” and then later say, “I’m sure President Hinckley would say he’s made mistakes that we could learn from. But his life has not been canonized as scripture, and marked specifically to help us see what is exemplary and what is not.” I’m not sure if you realize this, but you have a bit of a contradiction on your hands. This is not the first time you have used “canonized” to support your views. Well, now that you’ve admitted to increased skepticism in the Bible, “canonized” can only be part of your reasoning if you treat the Book of Mormon and the Bible the same way. They are both “canonized”. You cannot be more skeptical about one only to turn around and use “canonized” as a reason we cannot be skeptical about the other. At this point, you’ve admitted that it has little to do with canonization, which leads me to question the validity of your argument. What it is about the BOM for you? Does it just come down to the notorious “most correct book” quote?

    “I showed how I don’t think your evidence supports your conclusion.”

    Ryan, what did you think of my point that there WERE converts in Jerusalem who knew of Lehi’s “missionary work” but whom were not converted until a much later time when no interaction with Lehi was involved? I’d be interested in knowing how this evidence does not further support my conclusion.

  81. Ryan Bell on August 13, 2004 at 5:46 pm

    Bob, no, I do not rely solely on the “most correct book” quote, although I see no reason to doubt that statement’s authority. For me, it’s the simple fact that the Book of Mormon came to us without tampering, without human translation or editing error, with the absolute minimum in corruption of any kind. It was written by prophets, edited and compiled by prophets, and translated by a prophet.

    This is in contrast to the book of the Bible, which have been compiled over the centuries by hundreds of anonymous individuals of various beliefs, backgrounds, languages and even religions. There have been all kinds of translations, many doubts about authoritativeness of documents, and difficulty verifying what was written/translated/edited/compiled when. Beyond this obvious evidence, we find an emphatic suspicion of the process by which the Bible was put together in the writings of Nephi. There is absolutely no reason in the world to doubt that everything in the Book of Mormon was written by who it claims wrote it, and translated in the most accurate and faithful way possible.

    Your argument about my reliance on “canonization” is stretching. We believe in the Bible as far as it has been translated correctly. that means that there are some unspecified parts of the Bible that are not canon. This mere fact makes the whole thing just a speck more unreliable than the Book of Mormon. Therefore, I would never stake everything on a claim of any single verse’s doctrinal or narrative divinity. These points seem to be pretty bedrock, mainstream belief.

    Finally, your point about Nephi being able to get Ishmael to come when Lehi couldn’t might support what you’re saying. But I think it’s much more likely that something else happened. For example, maybe Lehi never got to Ishmael. Maybe he wasn’t prepared until Nephi came back and Ishmael was then able to see how serious Lehi was about it. Maybe Ishmael was on vacation. There are a thousand scenarios in which Ishmael never heard the message or wasn’t prepared. Or maybe Lehi sowed the seed that Nephi later harvested. Again, the fact that Ishmael did not initially leave Jerusalem with Lehi’s family doesn’t say anything about Lehi’s efficacy as a missionary. Either way, do you really think that Ishmael would have rejected Lehi’s preaching, only to accept that of his near-adolescent son, even though that acceptance meant that he would then put his life in the hands of Lehi, whose preaching he’d just rejected? Is there any chance at all he would do this if Lehi had offended him with his condemning prophecy?

  82. Frank McIntyre on August 13, 2004 at 6:10 pm

    I am not sure that the posts here are well informed by the text itself. Might I suggest that everybody carefully read through 1 Nephi 1 and 2 and make sure we are all on the same page?

    Lehi was not the only prophet in Jerusalem. Nor is there any reason in the text to think that his purpose was to lead a bunch of people out of Jerusalem. Thus it is rash to say that he failed. He may well have succeeded at exactly what the Lord wanted. Thousands of unmentioned people may well have later repented due to his message. Or maybe the Lord knew that no one would repent. I am well aware that the text does not explicitly say that people repented. But I am willing to believe that the record only records “a hundredth part” of what happened. It would not be a big stretch to say that Lehi’s words may have had effects unmentioned in Nephi’s very brief overview. After all, we lack 116 pages of Lehi’s tale.

    We know that “the Jews did mock him because of the things which he testified.” And we know these people wanted to kill him. But for a prophet, those are par for the course. They certainly are not signs of failure. What did the Lord think of Lehi’s job? Here is what He says to Lehi immediately after his preaching: ”Blessed art thou, Lehi, because of the things which thou hast done.” And remember, Lehi preached what he saw in his vision (see v19), so he was saying what the Lord wanted him to say. After calling him blessed, the Lord then goes on to commend him because he had been faithful in declaring what the Lord told him to declare (see 2:1). All we know from the text is the substance of what he told them, and the Lord specifically says that the substance was correct. On what basis is his unobserved delivery judged lacking?

    The counterargument is that he is lacking because he converted no one, but Nephi did when Lehi was not present.

    First off, as I noted above, since we have so little of the account I think it is rash to assume there were no converts from Lehi’s preaching. It is also rash to assume that some other method would have been better for the Lord’s plan.

    Second, Nephi compares the behavior of the angry Jews to those that killed past prophets (v20). So it would appear that he felt the blame was on the people for not listening to Lehi. Since we were not there, is there some reason to second guess Nephi and Lehi?

    Third, Lehi was told to take his family and flee into the wilderness (2:2). He was not told to gather the righteous and flee into the wilderness. So his failure to bring others is not an indication of failure at missionary work. He did what he was commanded to do. The one other family he was commanded to bring, Ishmael, came. Since Lehi was being hunted by those that wished to kill him, it is not surprising that he did not return to Jerusalem.

    Fourth, the other conversion provide no evidence for or against Lehi. I’m not sure that Zoram had many other options. He was not necessarily converted at the time by Nephi. Nephi convinced him not to go back to Jerusalem. Ishmael had his heart softened by the Lord. And so he came with his partially rebellious family. But what does this show about Lehi? Nothing. Lehi didn’t ask Ishmael to leave and get refused. Lehi never asked anybody to leave Jerusalem except his own family. He told people to repent. Perhaps Ishmael heeded his message and repented, then was ready for Nephi’s invitation later on; perhaps not, we don’t know. Why assume in the way that makes Lehi look bad, when the Lord says he did a good job?

    What we know is that in the text, the Lord and Nephi both show signs of approving of Lehi’s job as preacher. Why argue?

    On the broader question of condemnatory prophesying, it seems to have its place at times. Some of Jesus’ language is quite inflammatory. Abinadi only had one convert that we know of. He was inflammatory. Samuel the Lamanite was too. Enoch, the “Wild Man”, was inflammatory and converted enough to fill a city, while enraging the wicked. Jonah’s preaching may have actually been very similar to what Kaimi accuses Lehi of, judging from the account we have. But Ninevah repented. Alma and Amulek come down hard on Zeezrom, and he repents. But Korihor does not. Is the difference in Z and K, or in the way Alma taught? Bob wants to hammer Lehi hard for having no converts, but his original example on his website was of Corianton and Alma, and Corianton did repent. So the door swings both ways…

  83. Davis Bell on August 13, 2004 at 6:47 pm

    Calling Abinadi “inflammatory” spurred the creation of several jokes in my head, none of which I will inflict upon you here.

  84. Ryan Bell on August 13, 2004 at 7:04 pm

    lol, Davis. And shame on you.

    Frank, man, where have you been? You could have saved me a lot of time and words if you’d shone up yesterday.

    Very well stated.

    By the way, all of the theorizing and hypothesizing about Lehi (bt Xon and Frank, particularly) has had an interesting effect on me– I’ve started to think about him in a whole new way, as a person, with motives and quirks and a life. Thanks all for this discussion. Even though we disagree on how much of Lehi the Book of Mormon displays, I’ve gained a new appreciation for the man, and remembered the depth we ought to be seeking in all our scripture study. It also reminds me how great a good Book of Mormon could be. And makes me all the more angry about the extant efforts.

  85. Bob Caswell on August 13, 2004 at 7:08 pm

    Frank,

    Three things:

    1) My goal was never to “hammer Lehi hard for having no converts” but rather, to discuss inquisitively the different implications associated with Lehi’s condemnatory prophecy. I had presented one potential interpretation, which as others have noted, seems logical. This is not to say that you or Ryan doesn’t have other interpretations, which can also be logical. But I’m saddened by the assumption that my goal is to make Lehi look bad.

    2) “He was not told to gather the righteous and flee into the wilderness…Lehi never asked anybody to leave Jerusalem except his own family.”

    Although that may be true, I still think there is an indirect invitation to leave the city or at least discuss further options with Lehi. After all, if a prophet popped up in Provo and said, “repent or this city will be destroyed” and I saw that no one else was repenting, I might consider leaving to being destroyed (or at least discussing my options with the prophet – that is, if I had any reason to believe him – open question, has anyone felt the spirit while being condemned? I suppose it worked for Alma while Abinidi was condemning. But tied with my original question, although we have scriptural accounts of this happening, I still don’t see the logical leap to assuming that’s one of the most effective ways to preach the gospel. In my experience, condemnatory situations should rarely happen if we’re trying to accomplish anything more than just telling a person, “you’re a doodoo head”).

    3) When you mention Corianton repenting, it sounds as if you’re assuming that this is a direct cause of the lecture from his father. Is it not also possible that Corianton could have repented independently of his father’s lecture? This has happened to me in my personal life. My father has lectured me on something only to irritate me and not help the situation only for me to come around and realize my wrongs on my own, but not because of the ineffective way my father presented them to me. Don’t assume causation when there is none.

    Frank, in all honesty, I think you’ve done a great job in showing an interpretation that could potentially fit with what really happened. Your interpretation, my interpretation… they are just interpretations. My goal is to become a better person as a result of what I learn from the scriptures, and I’m not sure that I’ve seen any benefit from Lehi’s condemnatory prophecy.

  86. Bob Caswell on August 13, 2004 at 7:18 pm

    I feel the need to clarify my last thought. That is, I do see one benefit of Lehi’s condemnatory prophecy: the need for us to potentially take into consideration those that condemn us rather than just roll our eyes. The Lord may just be with them, but it is up to us to find out. But where I DON’T see a benefit is in the potential assumption that based on scriptural references, we need to find a way to fit more condemning into our lives to be more righteous like Lehi.

  87. Bob Caswell on August 13, 2004 at 7:27 pm

    “It was written by prophets, edited and compiled by prophets, and translated by a prophet.”

    Ryan,

    This is true. But being a prophet does not give you “exempt” status with regards to imperfections in writing / editing / compiling / translating scriptures let alone “exempt” status with regards to imperfections in the way you deal with your fellow man. We’re all human, even prophets.

  88. Ryan Bell on August 16, 2004 at 1:02 pm

    Yes but there is a presumption in the specific case of the Book of Mormon, that everything that went into it– writing/editing/compiling/translating was done with as high a degree of perfection as possible, since the Lord seems to have set out to write and deliver this book to us himself, and guided the entire process. Combine that with his promises to Nephi, Jacob, Enos, etc., that their records would be preserved and transmitted to their descendants and others. THe Lord just seems deeply committed to getting it right on this, despite his use of human instruments.

    I would never say that everything Joseph Smith wrote is absolutely true. But I would say that everything he wrote and put in the Doctrine and Covenants is true. There’s a difference, because we’ve officially recognized that latters as truth, where we only approach the rest of his writings as pretty darn reliable. Same with the Book of Mormon.

  89. clark on August 16, 2004 at 1:53 pm

    “Yes but there is a presumption in the specific case of the Book of Mormon, that everything that went into it– writing/editing/compiling/translating was done with as high a degree of perfection as possible…”

    Doesn’t Ether 12 contradict that view? It seems that while the Lord through his spirit can make the words mighty for us, that even Moroni was all too acutely aware of his limitations.

    I see the danger in your view, Ryan, that you’ll see everything as “perfect” or worthy of emulation and will thus treat weaknesses as strengths improperly. While the book is a perfect book, without the spirit to discern these things, it can often be a sealed book. That is not in the least to suggest that you read it without the spirit. Merely a worry that it is all too easy to read and through ones assumptions see perfection where it may not be.

  90. Bob Caswell on August 16, 2004 at 2:07 pm

    Ryan, the presumption you speak of and the promises to the prophets you mention should definitely be taken into consideration. I can agree with the idea that BOM is probably more accurate than other scriptures. But if on a scale from 1 to 100, with 100 being perfection, let’s say that the Old Testament is 65 and the New Testament is 75. I could see how the Book of Mormon could be higher than both the books in the Bible, but I don’t see how that directly causes it to be 99.9, which is the impression I get from your views. Of course, these are just arbitrary numbers to prove my point, which is that although the BOM may be higher on the scale than other scripture, there is still plenty of room left for imperfection.

    You seem to treat it like it’s so close to perfect that we should just round off the decimal and just call it perfect. If I were to ask you, Ryan, to point out a possible imperfection of a prophet trying to do a “good” thing with the best of intentions (i.e. Alma with his son) but still not necessarily going about it in the best way, I don’t think you would be able to find one. It seems like the best you could do would be to say something like, “I’m sure there might be one somewhere” as if you’re scared to face some sort of lightening-bolt consequences of learning from a prophet’s imperfections even when the prophet has good intentions.

    If you can indulge me a little longer, I want to give you an analogy. I served in the office on my mission in an Eastern European country that, at the time, was one of the few missions allowing email. My mission president, who has stewardship over all functions within this mission and the ability to receive revelation for the missionaries, came to me one day and said that after praying and pondering about it for quite some time, he decided that the missionaries were no longer to use the Internet under any circumstances, but were only to use email. I can’t tell you how long it took me to explain to him that the missionaries have to use the Internet in order to get to their email (all missionaries pretty much had Yahoo or Hotmail accounts). After the two of us talked about it for quite some time and he understood how the Internet worked, he decided it would be wise to caution the missionaries to use the Internet only for certain appropriate activities. This is a classic example of someone who has the best of intentions only to fall short because he is no expert in what he is dealing with. It’s ok to point this out and learn from it. Alma was in a very similar situation; he had the best of intentions in talking with his son. But his prophet status in no way implies his expertise in the field of parenting. He could very well be someone like my mission president, that is, someone with the best of intentions who falls short on execution.

    Ryan, the reason I’m so adamant about this sort of thing is because of behavior I’ve seen as a result of people extrapolating from scriptural references only to do something that is flat out wrong in their daily lives. This includes everything from the missionary saying, “that person who just slammed the door on us has now had his chance to accept the gospel and refused it” based on an extrapolation of Lehi’s example to “the best way to teach my child a lesson is to condemn him/her and ask redundant questions like ‘don’t you know what you did is wrong?’” based on Alma’s example. Such behavior falsely labeled as “the best” based on scriptural references is what makes be become a stickler on these sorts of issues whenever a discussion is started.

  91. Bob Caswell on August 16, 2004 at 2:13 pm

    “Merely a worry that it is all too easy to read and through ones assumptions see perfection where it may not be.”

    Well said, Clark.

  92. Ryan Bell on August 16, 2004 at 3:29 pm

    Before I continue this interminable debate, I’d just like to say that I think it’s rare that a discussion in the nacle has been so hotly contested but remained so tonally harmonious. Bin fun.

    Bob, this is why I resist your attempts to find imperfections: WHY? Why on earth would I ever want to read this book, so full of eternal wisdom and hidden truths that require faithful, humble, spiritual searching, only in search of what some great men did badly? What would I ever have to gain from that? I know what you’re thinking as you read this– you’re answering my question by restating your fear of people taking the scriptures wrong. I’ll get to that in a second. But I want to emphasize my position that I do not see ANY value whatsoever in seeing flaws in the actions or words of the prophets, even when done with hope of improving, like you do. I can pick up all kinds of media to see what mistakes people are making. If that’s really a reason we have the book, it’s no better than any other book from which I can learn from someone’s mistakes.

    So yes, I admit there may be a few flaws in that .o1 percent that is not inspired by God. But you’re right, I’d never want to specify where they are, nor look for them, nor draw any conclusions from them. I don’t trust myself to identify on sight a mistake by a prophet. I’m sure many things prophets do appear to be mistakes that are in reality commanded by God. So it’s a dangerous game to play. Admit there may be mistakes in there, sure, maybe. But pick them out and analyze them and try to learn from them? I don’t think I have the sense to do it.

    Finally, your major point seems to be that if we rely on the scriptures as perfect, we may actually build on some part of the scriptures that is flawed. I’m not convinced that ever happens. The examples you use are not examples of someone drawing correct conclusions from incorrect scripture, they happen because so many people wrest the scriptures. The fault is not in the book, but in the reader.

    And this risk exists in all truth. Sure, I can read Nephi’s experiences as a justification of killing unconscious drunks in the street. And if I go killing drunks in the street, does that mean Nephi made a mistake? Of course not! I read it wrong. As Clark argues, we must get the spirit in interpreting these things and figuring out how they apply. But that’s a very different thing from saying we must get the spirit to find out which parts of the Book of Mormon are right and which are wrong. The Lord meant this book to be a safe place where we could set aside the filters we use in daily life, and feel safe in the thought that the lessons are not boobytrapped. The book contains truth, and if we read it correctly with the Spirit, we will not be misguided. It would be an unjust irony if I read Alma’s experiences in good faith, seeking the spirit in applying them, only to find out that Alma’s sermons were actually included as a lesson in how NOT to teach my kids. Why would the Lord do that?

  93. clark on August 16, 2004 at 3:38 pm

    “…only in search of what some great men did badly? What would I ever have to gain from that?”

    I think you err if you think the only useful examples are positive examples. The scriptures are filled with bad examples as well. We can and must learn from both. Let us not forget the example of David, of Job, of Jonah and many others. Even in the D&C the Lord felt it important to include his criticisms of the prophet Joseph Smith at times as well as the criticisms of others.

    The danger in only looking at the positive examples is that of hubris. All too often the scriptures function to call us to humility and to let us see our errors. One of the great lessons of the Book of Mormon is the cycle of pride. I truly believe that by seeing the mistakes the Nephites make we can see the mistakes that we and our society also make.

    Those who neglect those teachings in the Book of Mormon can be in danger of missing some very important lessons that the Lord felt inspired to give us. To assume that the book teaches only through good examples is, I feel, to miss a lot that the Lord inspired his prophets to include.

  94. Ryan Bell on August 16, 2004 at 3:44 pm

    So I disagree that my take is dangerous at all. The overzealous missionary, for example, doesn’t rely wrongly on incorrect scripture, he relies wrongly on correct scripture.

    But now let’s discuss the dangers I see in your aproach. We all know that it’s human nature to pick and choose the parts of the gospel we like, and subtly dismiss those parts we don’t agree with. If I have the added freedom of being able to reject parts of the Book of Mormon, what are the chances I’ll do it without those biases creeping in? Isn’t it very likely I’ll find ‘mistakes’ by the prophets in those areas where I just don’t agree with the gospel as much?

    For instance, you’ve found two ‘mistakes’ on the part of two prophets, saying they’ve been too harsh. Is there a chance that you personally don’t agree with harshness? What would you say if I condemned a few prophets for being a bit too soft? Maybe I’m just a harsher person who feels free to read my own world view into what the prophets ought to be doing. By your view of the Book of Mormon, how can this be avoided? Aren’t the scriptures there to be the bedrock arbiter of right and wrong on many points? Can’t we ‘wrest’ them much more easily according to our own gospel hobbies if we loosen them up by your approach?

  95. Ryan Bell on August 16, 2004 at 3:51 pm

    Clark, you may have missed some of the earlier comments, but I feel like I’ve answered that argument numerous times.

    In short, it would be downright stupid of me to say that every behavior by every character in the BoM is automatically laudable and exemplary. OF course there’s lots of bad stuff in there to learn from too. But It’s always tagged as such. Everyone knows that Alma’s preaching against the church is bad, that Nephite materialism was wicked, etc. etc. etc.

    Where it would be dangerous is if we started looking at non-tagged behaviors, say the preaching method of a wholly endorsed prophet, and drawing our own conclusions about what he did wrong. That’s where it gets muddy, as explained above.

  96. Bob Caswell on August 16, 2004 at 4:09 pm

    Ryan, oh yes, even for being an eternal struggle between “good” and, er, “good”, this endless debate has been good for me (and I hope others).

    Now, to respond:

    “I do not see ANY value whatsoever in seeing flaws in the actions or words of the prophets, even when done with hope of improving, like you do.”

    Well, Ryan, not to draw a line in the sand where you and I are very different, but what if I were to say that I, in fact, HAVE improved and gained VALUE from seeing flaws in the actions or words of the prophets. So, in other words, just because you can’t see how this could ever happen, doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Now, at the expense of sounding slightly rude, before having this rather lengthy conversation with you and really trying to understand you, my only understanding of why people could never see this or gain any value from it was the assumption that most just read the scriptures like Julie mentioned earlier, glossing over everything because it’s the billionth time they’ve read 1st Nephi.

    “The fault is not in the book, but in the reader.”

    Well, yeah!! Exactly. The fault is definitely with the reader if he/she uses the “gloss over” method of reading never to find out if any particular item is necessarily applicable to him/her personally because he/she prayed about the whole book being “true” years ago, which must mean that Alma is “the best” example of parenting available. No, but really, Bob’s sarcastic tone aside, I don’t think this is a question of “fault in the book”. The book can be the “most correct” book and still have examples of less than “the best” techniques for any number of things.

    “…to find out which parts of the Book of Mormon are right and which are wrong.”

    Must we always talk in terms of “right” and “wrong”? What ever happened to “good”, “better”, “best”? As if, by questioning Alma’s parenting techniques, I’m labeling him as a servant of the devil. Nonsense. He’s just an example I choose not to follow because I’ve found much better examples in my life.

    “It would be an unjust irony if I read Alma’s experiences in good faith, seeking the spirit in applying them, only to find out that Alma’s sermons were actually included as a lesson in how NOT to teach my kids. Why would the Lord do that?”

    I’m not sure. The Lord works in mysterious ways. You only have to read a couple chapters most anywhere in the Old Testament to ask yourself what the heck was going on. But again, Ryan, what happens when someone like me reads Alma’s account seeking the spirit only to find out that this is not an appropriate example of how to teach my kids. I’m fine with that. But are you? Could this NOT be appropriate for my kids? But appropriate for yours? I think that could be a possibility. But I don’t think you like the idea of two different people getting a confirmation of the spirit when they are applying the scriptures in exactly opposite ways.

  97. clark on August 16, 2004 at 4:36 pm

    “In short, it would be downright stupid of me to say that every behavior by every character in the BoM is automatically laudable and exemplary. OF course there’s lots of bad stuff in there to learn from too. But It’s always tagged as such. Everyone knows that Alma’s preaching against the church is bad, that Nephite materialism was wicked, etc. etc. etc. Where it would be dangerous is if we started looking at non-tagged behaviors, say the preaching method of a wholly endorsed prophet, and drawing our own conclusions about what he did wrong. That’s where it gets muddy, as explained above.”

    Yes, I recognized that. I just believe that in these “untagged” texts that the Lord also teaches us. I provided several examples. But you appear to be arguing that anything with any subtlety of interpretation ought to be discarded.

    In effect, it *sounds* fairly similar to what I hear from Evangelical Protestants relative to the Bible and their arguments for inerrancy. Those slightly more sophisticated will argue that it is only inerrant in these parts that anyone would be able to interpret. Therefore in *those* parts it ought to be straightforward in meaning and not open for misunderstanding.

    I simply don’t believe that. Indeed this is why I think the spirit is so necessary. Because it always *is* possible to misread scripture.

    I’m certainly not arguing that these more subtle aspects of the text are things everyone will notice or be interested in discussing. Yet they are there and I think that often they are there intentionally. (Although I find the unintentional stuff nearly as illuminating, such as the place of the Gadianton Robbers and secret combinations in Nephite society)

    I fear that you are simply rejecting the subtle aspects of the text and further missing out the teaching lessons the Lord provides even in the weaknesses of his servants. When Moroni worries so extensively about his weakness and the Lord tells him how it will turn to strength, I think that is a strong indication that there is much more to the text than you assert.

  98. Bob Caswell on August 16, 2004 at 5:01 pm

    “What would you say if I condemned a few prophets for being a bit too soft?”

    I hope you’re not trying to imply with your example that I’m “condemning” Lehi and Alma. That would go against my point entirely and make me look like a hypocrite.

    “Is there a chance that you personally don’t agree with harshness?”

    Yeah, probably about the same chance that you personally AGREE with harshness. A few comments back, I asked the following question:

    “open question, has anyone felt the spirit while being condemned? I suppose it worked for Alma while Abinidi was condemning. But tied with my original question, although we have scriptural accounts of this happening, I still don’t see the logical leap to assuming that’s one of the most effective ways to preach the gospel. In my experience, condemnatory situations should rarely happen if we’re trying to accomplish anything more than just telling a person, “you’re a doodoo head””

    So far, no one has provided me with an explanation as to why “condemning” is every a superior method of teaching children and/or preaching the gospel. What does it accomplish? Why would I ever want to use it? I want a practical answer with no reliance on “because the Lord does it”. Until someone gives me a good reason, I still hold that the only benefit from examples of “condemning” situations is to realize that, for whatever reason, the Lord has been known to be on the condemner’s side. But to use it as an example of a superior way to teach others? Why? In most cases, it seems horribly ineffective.

  99. Ryan Bell on August 16, 2004 at 6:39 pm

    Bob, I don’t think I have to prove that condemning is a good thing to prove my point. Again, it comes with how we read and interpret in the light of the spirit. It’s quite possible that the Lord is teaching us something, through Lehi’s or Alma’s trenchant tones, besides 1)that they were making mistakes by using that tone or 2) it’s a great thing to condemn. My point is that if every time we run across something that’s hard for us to digest, we have the option of just saying “oh, well that must have been them just being human and flawed,” then we’ll never ponder enough to find out what the message really is.

    Also (sorry, no time for a longer response), you assume incorrectly that I am personally disposed to favor harshness. Not so at all. In fact, my personal preferences lean toward yours on this matter. However, I don’t feel free to simply opt out of any moment in which my world view conflicts with that of a prophet. IT makes me challenge myself, question assumptions, and work at my understaning. I feel like I’m repeating so many arguments over and over again, but I do really want you to my question above: if I open the door to questioning the actions or words of a “Book of Mormon endorsed” prophet, don’t I open it wide enough that I might dismiss lots of things just because I disagree wtih them? How to draw the line, my friend.

  100. greenfrog on August 16, 2004 at 8:31 pm

    So far, no one has provided me with an explanation as to why “condemning” is every a superior method of teaching children and/or preaching the gospel. What does it accomplish? Why would I ever want to use it?

    I can imagine a number of circumstances in which it might be useful…

    1. Because it is associated with the interpersonal conflict that it frequently generates, condemnation is, if nothing else, likely to be remembered clearly and for a long time.

    If I were in circumstances in which I was relatively certain that those I was talking to weren’t going to persuaded any time soon that they were engaged in wrongdoing, I might choose condemnatory rhetoric. Would doing so change their course? Not today. Probably not tomorrow. But it will likely stick with them for some time to come. And if the events that occur during that passage of time are the sort that might lead them to re-evaluate their course, they might be more likely to remember a clear condemnation than they would a half-veiled, “So whaddaya think about maybe, possibly considering starting to revise your current path?”

    2. I might choose condemnatory rhetoric in speaking to one group if I thought there was a reasonable chance of persuading (or reinforcing the beliefs of) a different group. That practice is hardly a new one to participants in on-line fora.

    3. I can imagine circumstances in which one might choose such rhetoric in order to get a point across in “no uncertain terms.” This could be effective if one is viewed as an authority figure, but one that has developed a reputation for waffling a bit or for changing her/his mind. In such a situation, clear, ringing condemnation may persuade listeners that the ideas being expressed are significantly less likely to change over time than other issues previously addressed might have been.

    Just some ideas. I imagine others could develop their own hypothetical situations in which clear condemnation would be preferrable to some kinder, gentler manner of communicating.

  101. Bob Caswell on August 16, 2004 at 10:01 pm

    “IT makes me challenge myself, question assumptions, and work at my understaning. I feel like I’m repeating so many arguments over and over again…”

    Wow, I feel like I’m talking to my reflection or something. This is so crazy, Ryan, because I feel the same way on both accounts. But no matter, let me try to answer your question:

    “if I open the door to questioning the actions or words of a “Book of Mormon endorsed” prophet, don’t I open it wide enough that I might dismiss lots of things just because I disagree wtih them?”

    Well, apparently, that’s a risk I’m willing to take and you’re not for fear of… not trusting your own judgment? You like to stay as far away from “the line” as possible whereas I don’t mind venturing over yonder to figure out for myself (using the spirit) if the GA’s message is necessarily applicable. I feel like I’m the one “challenging myself, questioning assumptions”, etc. Honestly, I’m not sure how you are if you revert back to “this is an apostle speaking in General Conference so EVERYTHING he says must be true” or “red alert! BOM endorsed prophet”, etc. That kind of gospel living is not necessarily a bad thing, but is loaded with non-questionable assumptions up the wazoo. So where’s the questioning if the decision is already made before the apostle opens his mouth? There is no challenge or new understanding for me in reading the Book of Mormon if I can’t dissect the different nuances of the stories presented. I already prayed about it once, and it’s true. Therefore, by some universal code I’m unable to find, I have to abide by these unwritten rules of etiquette when reading the BOM lest I become a flaming apostate otherwise.

    I hate to bring in any more to this discussion, but I think this is very similar to the rated R discussion T&S had a while back. Gordon mentioned that there always seem to be two sides, which think the following:

    R Rated Watchers: “If you were smart like me, you wouldn’t hold such inconsistent and irrational beliefs.”

    Non-R Rated Watchers: “You are worldly and unrighteous, flirting with spiritual disaster.”

    Now, this, of course, isn’t what’s really happening between us through our conversation because I’m hoping you don’t think that I present myself as “smarter” for the way I live. And I don’t think you necessarily think of me as “worldly and unrighteous”. But these unintentional undertones can sometimes be hard to dispel. I’m guessing, based on everything else I know about you, that you’re a non-R watcher. And I’m sure you can guess what I am.

    I just point this out because we frequently seem to be on opposite teams although you are one of my favorite bloggers of “the other team”. I just don’t know how long we can go before we realize that one of us probably isn’t going to exclaim, “He was right all along!”

    I almost feel like inviting you and your wife over for dinner sometime. I know, I know, not a standard practice. We here in the Bloggernacle don’t like others to impose on our comfortable boundaries. I don’t expect something like that would happen any time soon (if ever). But can you imagine? A friendship based on such strong disagreements… I always have liked the idea of being good friends with those with whom I disagree with so steadily. Unfortunately, the other party is rarely interested.

  102. Jack on August 17, 2004 at 2:00 am

    Non-R Rated Watcher: You are worldly and unrighteous, flirting with spiritual disaster.

    Observer I: He’s right.

    R Rated Watcher: If you were smart like me, you wouldn’t hold such inconsistent and irrational beliefs.

    Observer I: He’s right.

    Observer II: He’s right and He’s right? They can’t both be right.

    Observer I: You are also right.

  103. Adam Greenwood on August 17, 2004 at 4:01 am

    Bob,
    To put this as crassly as possible (not that I have a choice), I think Ryan and I are wondering how you keep the Book of Mormon from becoming the Book of Bob? To someone with our prejudices, it looks like you started out thinking that ‘Condemnation is a bad idea, and rarely successful’ noticed that Lehi condemned people, assumed that he must not have had any success, applied critical thinking and independent judgment to demonstrate that Lehi wasn’t meant to be a model in this regard because he wasn’t successful, and then concluded that “condemnation is a bad idea, and rarely successful.” I think we’d both be happy if you could explain under what circumstances you would take an idea you had previously and discard it, even if not knowing why, based on something you read in the scriptures.

  104. Kaimi on August 17, 2004 at 10:30 am

    Adam,

    To put it as crassly as possible, why do you and Ryan continue to insist that any reading of the Book of Mormon that isn’t exactly the same as yours must be wrong? Isn’t part of the beauty of the scriptures the fact that they can validly mean so many different things to so many different people?

    Bob’s reading is reasonable, and seems to be a reading that he finds helpful in his life. He’s reading the scriptures, praying, looking for meaning, and he’s found something that resonates with him. And now, suddenly the orthodoxy police descend and tell Bob that his reading is wrong.

    I know that, per your experience, this elephant seems “very like a tree.” And you are certain of that, as the blind man (one of them) with the elephant. I won’t deny the validity of your observation, but would ask the same courtesy (not denying the validity of another’s experience), because to others, this elephant may equally reasonably seem “very like a spear” or perhaps “very like a snake.”

  105. Bob Caswell on August 17, 2004 at 10:54 am

    greenfrog,

    I nearly forgot to thank you for your well put together thoughts on condemnation. I like your ideas although I hope you don’t mind me picking them apart a bit:

    “1) Because it is associated with the interpersonal conflict that it frequently generates, condemnation is, if nothing else, likely to be remembered clearly and for a long time.

    If I were in circumstances in which I was relatively certain that those I was talking to weren’t going to persuaded any time soon that they were engaged in wrongdoing, I might choose condemnatory rhetoric.”

    This presents a bit of a catch 22. If you are condemning someone you don’t know extremely well, then you may not be as concerned with the natural side effect of this potentially being your last interaction with that person. But on the flip side, that person may not remember your condemnation due to the fact that you have not been much of anything to him/her in his/her life. The other example is that of someone you love dearly and who has been with you through most of your life (take my inactive sister, for example). In this case, although your message has a better chance of reaching and/or sticking with its target, you better hope you did dang a good job because it’s likely that you may have just severed any further connection (or attempts) with this person. In either scenario, you’re pulling out a bit of a wild card. I think we’ve established that condemnation isn’t something that we’ve all had practice with. And to think the first or second time we use it, it’s going be useful is about as likely as someone firing a gun for the first time hitting a grape 20 yards a way.

    “2. I might choose condemnatory rhetoric in speaking to one group if I thought there was a reasonable chance of persuading (or reinforcing the beliefs of) a different group. That practice is hardly a new one to participants in on-line fora.”

    Greenfrog, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you (or anyone I’ve interacted with recently) actually do the hypothetical you speak of. So no offense to you, but whenever I see this kind of behavior, I associate it with “low blow”ness and the idea of two people talking past each other. It’s a fairly close-minded way of acting, which I don’t think I’ve ever seen result in two people understanding each other. In fact, it shows just how insecure the person is if he/she needs to “condemn” the other party involved in order to generate support for his/her views. It’s the lazy man approach. Not to turn this into a political discussion, but this is exactly the problem I have with John Kerry. Especially when he talks about the war in Iraq, he’s changed his agenda multiple times with the common thread being “although I’m indecisive and have no idea what I’m actually going to do, let it be know that whatever it is, it’s NOT what Bush is doing!” The amazing thing is that people support him when he talks like this. This is why this form of condemnation, in my opinion, does little: because it’s focused around the “condemner” “looking good” rather than any solution and/or focus around helping the “condemnee”. This is pretty much the opposite of what Christ would do.

    “3. I can imagine circumstances in which one might choose such rhetoric in order to get a point across in “no uncertain terms.””

    And I can imagine circumstances in which one might choose OTHER rhetoric and STILL get a point across in “no uncertain terms”. But actually, this option is the one I’d be most likely to agree with eventually. Reserving “condemnation” for those in authority at least indirectly implies that most of us shouldn’t be looking for a reason to condemn someone today, for we generally don’t have the authority.

  106. Bob Caswell on August 17, 2004 at 11:20 am

    “I think we’d both be happy if you could explain under what circumstances you would take an idea you had previously and discard it, even if not knowing why, based on something you read in the scriptures.”

    Adam,

    I suppose this is a fair enough request due to my request of Ryan earlier:

    “If I were to ask you, Ryan, to point out a possible imperfection of a prophet trying to do a “good” thing with the best of intentions (i.e. Alma with his son) but still not necessarily going about it in the best way, I don’t think you would be able to find one. It seems like the best you could do would be to say something like, “I’m sure there might be one somewhere””

    By the way, the above request is just as valid for you too, Adam. You and I, we’re both trying to see if we can almost force a little bit of our own thinking out of the other person. It hasn’t seemed to work for me. But I’ll see what I can give you:

    Hmm… I have an example that you may not like because it might be the opposite of what you’re looking for. An idea I had at one point (when I was a child) based on scripture alone regarding the Word of Wisdom has to be discarded when I was taught that we have certain interpretations of scripture, which supersede the scripture itself. In other words, when I discovered at an early age that my literal reading of the Word of Wisdom was not in line with the interpretation thereof, I realized that scripture doesn’t seem to be as applicable as “interpreted scripture”. So yes, in a sense, I read the Book of Mormon and by applying it to myself, change it to the Book of Bob. But I think we all do this to a certain degree. And this Book of Bob may be quite different than the Book of Adam you get out of reading your BOM. But somehow, I have the feeling that both of us can end up being good people even if we go about it in different ways.

    I apologize if this didn’t answer your question. Give me some more time, and I’ll see if I can come up with the example you were looking for.

  107. Ryan Bell on August 17, 2004 at 12:03 pm

    Bob, you’ve found the fundamental kernel of our disagreement. I believe that we have prophets here to supercede our judgment. What my judgment tells me, even when I feel spiritually comfortable with it, I hope to be able to suppress when I receive opposing counsel from my spiritual leaders. Please don’t be offended if I’m misreading you here, but I take your last comment to me as saying that you believe we have prophets to offer counsel, and then we need to see if their counsel can be integrated into what we believe, and if not, we may appropriately reject it.

    For example, you and I and Davis and Logan have had debates over at IntellecXhibitionist in which the words of some prophet or other came up. To me and Davis, these words carry a strong presumption of truth, outweighing even the presumption we give our own world views and life experiences. To you and Logan, again if I may presume to put words in your mouths, those words must first be cross-checked against your world view and life experiences, and have the real possibility of being rejected if they don’t jive with what you already believe.

    So this debate goes well beyond Book of Mormon interpretation. It’s about what weight we ought to give the words of the prophets. When I have an opinion that contradicts what a prophet said, who should I trust? Again and again, you seem to suggest that one’s own judgment is the key, and that all external inputs must be reconciled with that. In my life, I’ve never found a reason to suggest that my own judgment should be the litmus test for accepting prophetic advice, or statements of truth. I struggle to see, under your model (as I’ve tried to describe it fairly here), why a prophet is a useful fellow to have around, when any old sage (inspired or not) will do. A prophet is only as helpful as we let him be, by trusting that he speaks the truth, regardless of how it strikes us.

    Finally, I agree that you and I are simply on opposite blogging teams. Not sure what whim of fate decreed that that must be. But I read Kristine’s summation of the Sunstone conference at BCC the other day, and got a twinge of jealousy that she was able to meet some fellow nackers. Not sure if it will ever happen or not, but I do think it would be fun to meet you and all these other people I seek to zealously oppose at every turn in my quest for spirit-crushing orthodoxy and blind allegiance to trivial rules.

  108. Bob Caswell on August 17, 2004 at 1:09 pm

    “…but I take your last comment to me as saying that you believe we have prophets to offer counsel, and then we need to see if their counsel can be integrated into what we believe, and if not, we may appropriately reject it.”

    Actually, Ryan, this isn’t too far from the truth [about me]. Let me give you an example that fits right into this:

    When I was in the MTC, Elder Oaks came to visit and gave a talk for all the missionaries to hear. The talk’s entire focus was on how missionaries need to be careful with picture taking on their missions. It was some good advice, I thought, until his closing… Elder Oaks said that if we were to remember nothing else from his talk, we should remember that we should take ONLY TWO ROLLS OF FILM FOR OUR ENTIRE MISSION. I have never seen so many jaw drops in my entire life! This was toward the end of my MTC experience, and I had actually already used a roll and a half leaving me with 12 pictures for the rest of my mission (I could see missionaries cursing silently, “Why did I bring 24 picture rolls instead of 36?!”).

    No, but really, Ryan, how did I react? Thank you for your concern, Elder Oaks, I’ll remember to be careful and bridle any picture-taking habits. But two rolls of film for my entire mission? I will “appropriately reject it”.

    But this was such a struggle for so many missionaries. It was almost like they wanted to pretend like they didn’t hear it so as to not admit that they were going to reject it.

    If you were a missionary there, Ryan, who had already used a roll and a half of film, what would have you done?

  109. Kaimi on August 17, 2004 at 1:17 pm

    Bob,

    What you really need in that situation is a digital camera with an extended memory card. My digital camera (which is nothing special) holds 300 pictures on the memory card. Many others hold quite a bit more. How’s that for a way to be obedient and also to get those pictures of the cute sister in your district — err, I mean, the cool tourist sites. :)

  110. Ryan Bell on August 17, 2004 at 1:41 pm

    Wow, that is quite a story. I have no idea how to respond.

    Knowing the state of my gospel development I was in at that point, this honestly would have posed a real challenge for me. I’m sure I would have felt just the same way as those others you describe– that I wished I would never have heard it. The MTC was so hyped up about perfect obedience, it was my goal, and that of most other missionaries I knew, to try to be perfectly obedient. Yes, a bit naive, but well-intentioned.

    I would have decided to go by that creed for a little while, and then quickly forgotten it, with a subconscious gnawing that lasted another few weeks, guilting me for my decision.

    I have no idea where that exhortation from Elder Oaks comes from. It’s an amazing thing for an Apostle to focus on.

    On the other hand. . .(and here is where Ryan finally gets laughed out of T&S for good), I would submit that those few people who did try to follow it, as meaningless and trivial as it sounds, did receive blessings for their faithful diligence in trying to obey the servants of the Lord. Not sure if those blessings would have been tied directly to great consequences that arose from only snapping two rolls of pictures :), but I do think the Lord must have smiled on them in their zeal to obey.

    Again, though, Bob, you have to admit that there could be many examples of prophets commanding strange and unusual things, but which actually state the Lord’s true will on the subject, don’t you? Or shall we always assume that if it doesn’t make sense to us, it’s not the Lord talking?

  111. Kaimi on August 17, 2004 at 1:50 pm

    From a google search, here is a link to the text of the Blind Men and the Elephant poem I referenced above:

    LINK.

  112. Davis Bell on August 17, 2004 at 3:24 pm

    I’ve actually been putting my mission photos in an album this summer, and given the quality of pictures I took (“Here’s me next to a street sign in Argentina! Now here’s me next to a different street sign, still in Argentina! Hey, look, a dog in Argentina!”) I wonder if Elder Oaks’ counsel was given more in an effort to improve the missionary photo albums of the Church rather than improving missionary work (I imagine he’s been subjected to thumbing through quite a few –“Here’s me dusting off my feet at the door of an unfriendly woman”).

    This debate has been interesting, although I myself am much more partial to the rhetorical fireworks show going on over at “A Detour to St. Blog’s Parish.” I’m going to spice things up a little and tell Bob he needs to leave the Church.

    Anyway, this debate, like so many others, boils down to one central issue: what are we to do with the words of prophets and Church leaders; To what degree are these men, and ocassionally women, speaking God’s mind and will? The manner in which one answers this question is central to how one lives the Gospel and conceives of the Church and its doctrines (as well as serving as the principal indicator of where one lies on the liberal/conservative spectrum, as determined by one informed and erudite observer here, Slate)

    I imagine if Bob truly thought that Elder Oaks was speaking the mind and will of God in telling missionaries not to take more than two rolls of film that he would have complied; Bob evidently did not think Elder Oaks was speaking the mind and will of God. Many in that situation, myself included, would have been inclined to think Elder Oaks was speaking for God. And therein lies the debate.

    This question crops up in many, if not most, debates regarding anything Church-related; abortion, gay marriage, Zelph, etc. It is my belief that one’s answer to the question is typically more a function of one’s personality and upbringing than it is actual study of the question (i.e. one is pre-disposed by personality and upbringing to lie at a given point on the conservative/liberal spectrum, and then collects quotes and scriptures that support his or her position).

    I think it’s an incredibly important question; I just fear that many of us, myself included, answer it perfunctorily and in an attempt to justify our deeply-held beliefs and tendencies, rather than in an attempt to determine what is true and what is not.

  113. Davis Bell on August 17, 2004 at 3:29 pm

    Whoops, the link code my brother gave me is messed up; the above link, entitled as Slate, actually takes you to our blog. Sneaky, sneaky, Ryan.

  114. Bob Caswell on August 17, 2004 at 7:45 pm

    “Or shall we always assume that if it doesn’t make sense to us, it’s not the Lord talking?”

    One of the things I like most about the Church is that it DOES make sense. As for “the Lord talking”, I can’t say that I have issues (unless we get into the specifics of the Old Testament, but that’s another conversation). But the assumption door swings both ways, Ryan, we shouldn’t assume it’s the Lord talking every time a Church leader opens his/her mouth over the pulpit, be it sacrament meeting, stake conference, or general conference.

    By the way, an example to disprove your implication that I assume it’s not the Lord talking if it doesn’t make sense:

    The Word of Wisdom. The way in which we are required to live in order to be worthy dictated by the Word of Wisdom does not necessarily make sense to me. But guess what? I’ve prayed about it and live it accordingly. Call it my small contribution to the “blind obedience” crowd. :-)

  115. Bob Caswell on August 17, 2004 at 11:39 pm

    “What you really need in that situation is a digital camera with an extended memory card.”

    Kaimi,

    Too bad that technology wasn’t readily available when I went on my mission!

    Ryan,

    Not to give you another reason to roll your eyes, but I can’t help it, I have to ask you… Based on my story in the MTC and your firm believe in Lord-spoken-extremely-applicable-talks in most all cases, I have to ask, for whom was this particular talk applicable? Just answer a simple yes or no after each category:

    A) A missionary who left the MTC a day before.

    B) A missionary who entered the MTC a day after.

    C) A missionary who was sick that day and not present.

    D) A missionary who took a bathroom break during that part of the talk.

    E) Ryan Bell’s son.

    F) Any missionary, but only those who are told about this or come across it.

    G) Etc, etc, etc.

  116. Jack on August 18, 2004 at 12:19 am

    Bob: Of course you know that this little debate over Elder Oaks’ talk at the MTC is based on your memory of the situation. Unless you have some sort of corroborating evidence as to the “fact” that your take on Oaks’ council was received in your mind precisely as he intended to deliver it, you put your opponents at an unfair disadvantage.

  117. Bob Caswell on August 18, 2004 at 12:44 am

    “Unless you have some sort of corroborating evidence as to the “fact” that your take on Oaks’ council was received in your mind precisely as he intended to deliver it…”

    First of all, I have record of this from my missionary journal, which I referred to before posting my story. And second, can I quote you on this? I think I agree with you. I’m not sure any of us ever have some sort of “fact” that undoubtedly shows that what we are receiving in our mind each time a GA speaks is that which was “precisely intended”. This is why generally speaking, the scriptures, talks, etc. are left to interpretation before they can put to use in our daily lives. This interpretation is, of course, going to vary from person to person because none of us have the “fact” you are talking about.

    So my previous comment was asking Ryan what his interpretation is. I wasn’t asking him to tell me what Elder Oaks “precisely intended” because I know he doesn’t know.

  118. Jack on August 18, 2004 at 1:18 am

    Bob: Yes, but at least both parties can refer to the same text and thereby stand on equal ground during the debate.

    Also, we have to be careful not to send our opponent on a fool’s errand by expecting them to find a meaningful answer to a question that is removed from the context which made it meaningful in the first place.

  119. Bob Caswell on August 18, 2004 at 1:30 am

    Jack, you’re making it sound like the previous or following sentence Elder Oaks said would somehow shed some incredible light on the subject.

    I’m not trying to be sneaky here. The context you speak of is what I’ve already mentioned: Elder Oaks speaking to missionaries in the MTC and telling them to remember to take only two rolls of film for their entire mission. Oh, and the jaw dropping of all the missionaries was part of the context. :-)

    You’re not missing any part of the equation by the information I’m giving you. The next sentence wasn’t, “now let me give you a list of stipulations to help you understand how this is applicable”.

    It was pretty straight forward. If I had the the text of the entire talk, I would post it freely. But I don’t, and I’m not sure it would change much.

  120. Jack on August 18, 2004 at 2:27 am

    Bob: I’m not entirely unsympathetic to your position on this thread. And, as I look back at your comment I confess that I misread it the first time. I see that you are trying to convey the idea that Elder Oaks’ talk can only make sense with in the narrow context that emerges by answering the questions you ask of Ryan. My bad.

    Of course you want to be careful not to hang yourself by adding to the list of questions:

    A missionary who was present when the talk was given. :)

  121. Bob Caswell on August 19, 2004 at 12:10 pm

    Hmm… I guess this thread’s officially over. That was fun.