The Protestant Reformers and “Prepared Ground”

December 2, 2004 | 36 comments
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I want to start a discussion using one of Rosalynde’s comments as a launching point. In a comment on my first post, Rosalynde reminded us that we in the church often talk about the Protestant Reformers as though they helped lay the groundwork for the Restoration. She used the term “proto-prophets” to describe the talk. Names like Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and Tyndale can be dropped from our lips without anyone blinking an eye in discussions about the preconditions necessary for the “coming forth” of the Restoration. We often talk about the framers of the Constitution or explorers like Columbus in the same terms, as people who had some vital part in the Restoration project long before Joseph Smith was born. Our own scripture calls the framers “wise men whom I raised up” (D&C 101:80).

Bracketing for a moment the question of whether Mormons should be talking about Reformers as proto-prophets, I want to reflect upon our practice of talking about them in such ways. The examples are enough, I think, to suggest the more general point that Mormons believe they have room in their history (and perhaps also in their theology) for non-Mormons who help make the grand work possible. The question then becomes why we stop with reformers, explorers, and framers. Does our own logic demand that we continue past 1820 to consider outsiders who did other lines of work useful to the church? If we talk about non-LDS “preparing the ground” for the beginning of the Restoration, why do we not talk about non-LDS preparing ground for the middle, the end, and points in between?

Nothing in our talk requires proto-prophets to be perfect; we can admit the private failings of Jefferson and Franklin even while allowing them to be “raised up” for special purposes. Why, then, are we not extending the idea to the 1820s when the Palymra ministers provoked Joseph Smith to read and ponder the Bible; to the 1830s when temperance reformers prompted questions leading to the Word of Wisdom; to the 1840s when eastern womens’ societies inspired the founders of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo; to the 1860s when British mercantilists lit the imaginations of our cooperative enterprisers; to the 1930s when FDR’s welfare state sent our apostles looking for alternatives; to the 1970s when women’s lib opened the way for LDS women praying in sacrament meeting? The examples could go on and on, branching off from people–the proto-prophets–to more recent cultural movements akin to older streams like religious liberty or the dignification of the common man.

I am not denying revelation in our doctrines and practices; nor am I advocating that we approach our history in this way. I am, however, interested in our speech practices, specifically, the implications in our speech about the Reformers.

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36 Responses to The Protestant Reformers and “Prepared Ground”

  1. Pete Donaldson on December 2, 2004 at 3:49 am

    Nice posts Jed. It sounds like you are doing well.

    C.S. Lewis and Soren Kierkegaard come to mind as two of the greatest (or at least most popular in Mormon circles) “neo-prophets” who lived concurrently with the restoration. They laid no “groundwork” for the restoration, yet their thinking (especially Lewis) has played into Mormon theology in significant ways. Outside of these two, we as LDS seem to pay little respect to Christian thinkers who have continued to push for the advancement of a good portion of Christ’s message or otherwised fostered a climate of christian religiosity up to our day. Luther and Calvin are lauded, what, if anything do we say about Emerson, Mullins, Graham, or even Fallwell? (Interestingly, last conference, Elder Holland mentioned Roger Williams propounding the necessity of genuine apostles, Emerson stating the need for revelation was never greater than now, and Edwards reasoning that it is only logical that on God would speak with his children.)

    Is it simply theological substance to that leads us to think warmly upon the contributions of the reformers, Lewis, and Kierkegaard, while ignoring the American contemporaries of the post-restoration prophets or do our LDS absolute truth claims prevent us from embracing the merits of christian theologians who have undoubtedly had access to the claims of the restored gospel? The theory might go that Luther and the reformers get a pass because they lived during the apostasy and had every reason to err in doctrine. Kierkegaard, and to a lesser extent, Lewis are excused because they lived outside of the U.S. and really had no meaningful exposure to mormonism, but educated American theologians living while the Mormons were an ever-growing recognized force in the public eye, yet never giving a second thought to mormonism, cannot be credited.

  2. Chris O'Keefe on December 2, 2004 at 9:24 am

    A great set of questions. It certainly seems as though you’ve identified a common way of thinking about “proto-prophets” and those who are contemporary with the restoration. I’ve thought that most Christians do, in fact, do us a great service in introducing people to what truth they have. After a point, however, their truth has decreasing marginal returns. That is, they can only teach the truth that they have, so their teachings reach sort of an asymptotic point (sorry for all of these math terms, when you study a bit of econ you start to think this way) which they just can’t rise above. If other Christians could just stop at that point, I think it would be a lot easier to see other churches as preparing the ground for us.

    The problem I see, however, is that other churches have a limited amount of truth combined with a lot of untruths which I think have a tendency to pull away from the gospel’s teaching even as they do a great work in bringing people closer to Christ. For example, not only do we have churches that focus on railing against the church, but doctrinal relativism is strong among the Christians that I’ve met (that is, it doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you believe). I’ve met others whose ministers (a Catholic woman from my mission comes to mind here) whose parishoners accept their authority even when he discourages them from reading sacred texts of other religions. Ministers like that can serve a dual purpose: pushing people toward the gospel by provoking questions like Joseph Smith’s on one hand, while insulating the others who aren’t willing to ask those questions. We ought to take those effects into account.

  3. Mark B on December 2, 2004 at 10:11 am

    There is actually a passage of scripture that supports our looking to non-LDS contributors to the building up of the Church.

    D&C 35

    3 Behold, verily, verily, I say unto my servant Sidney, I have looked upon thee and thy works. I have heard thy prayers, and prepared thee for a greater work.

    4 Thou art blessed, for thou shalt do great things. Behold thou wast sent forth, even as John, to prepare the way before me, and before Elijah which should come, and thou knewest it not.

    5 Thou didst baptize by water unto repentance, but they received not the Holy Ghost;

    6 But now I give unto thee a commandment, that thou shalt baptize by water, and they shall receive the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, even as the apostles of old.

    Note the statement that Sidney has been prepared for “a greater work,” which suggests that the work that he had been doing previously, as a Campbellite preacher, was great. This reading is supported by the statement that he had been sent forth to prepare the way, even though he didn’t know it.

    If Sidney Rigdon, why not others? Why not, for example, the “Jesus freaks” of the early 1970′s, who may have been the means of starting some on the road to seeking greater truth about Christ? (I remember an ultraconservative (politically) Sunday School teacher who was sure I was on the road to hell for suggesting such a thing back then.)

  4. Jonathan Green on December 2, 2004 at 10:22 am

    Jed, I agree that broadening our concept of preparing the way is a good idea. One area where this already happens is in the realm of technological advancement. That the invention of satellites and TV and radio make directing the course of the church much easier is a point that has been made many times before, as is the similarity between prophetic revelation and scientific discovery.

    It’s harder to view something as a precursor to some event in the ongoing Restoration when the church reacts against the thing in question and turns away from it, but you raise some good points. If the prophets receive answers to questions, what factors influence the questions they are asking? Would the civil rights movement have prepared the way for OD-2 in this sense?

  5. Ronan on December 2, 2004 at 10:45 am

    I can’t be sure of this, but I think that CS Lewis would be horrified to be called a proto-Mormon prophet. Not that we can’t use him, but remember he was a committed Anglican and saw no reason to change his faith. We should not forget the non-Mormon aspect of these people lest we be accused of religious chauvinism of the worst kind.

  6. Russell Arben Fox on December 2, 2004 at 10:54 am

    “Would the civil rights movement have prepared the way for OD-2 in this sense?”

    Great thought, Jonathan (and great question, Jed). As the old orthodoxy regarding the apostasy slowly begins to break down, I think it’s likely that we’ll have to accept, if not a “pluralism” in God’s purposes (though I’m not sure that’s necessarily inconceivable either), than at least a real diversity and multiplicity in the “tracks” which God’s historical works are operating one. Who knows from what direction the “preparation” for any given labor will come? Regarding the civil rights movement in particular, looking at how crucial and specific a role which Martin Luther King was able to fill–in both uniting many often mutually antagonistic civil rights factions, and in casting their united movement in a confrontational yet also civil religious language which could not be ignored–makes it impossible, in my view, to grant any other mantle besides that of “prophet.” God was doing something with and through that man, something that, I think it is fair to say, no other religious leader in America–to say nothing of any general authority in the Mormon church–was at that time prepared to do or even capable of doing.

  7. Russell Arben Fox on December 2, 2004 at 11:01 am

    “I can’t be sure of this, but I think that CS Lewis would be horrified to be called a proto-Mormon prophet.”

    I’m sure you’re right, Ronan. Similarly, Ezra Taft Benson (or at least the Elder Benson of the 50s and 60s, and probably much later too) probably would have been horrified by the suggestion that Martin Luther King (an adulterer and borderline socialist) may well have played a central role in preparing the mentality of the general authorities of the church for a revelation granting priesthood blessings to all men. If we expand our notion of “preparing” as Jed suggests, then we’ll have to deal with the fact that not all of these prophets, both actual and “proto,” are going to be able to understand the different tracks they are on as complementary. Enemies (both perceived and maybe even real) can sometimes prepare each other for later works just as much as allies might.

  8. Charles on December 2, 2004 at 11:02 am

    I think we should also consider possible future examples as well. Presently, president Bush seems to get a lot of flack, especially for the war. Now I know this is speculation, but concsider 10-20 years from now Missions being opened up in the middle east. Wouldn’t we have to consider the liberation of Iraq as one of these circumstances. Same could be said for anyone opening up otherwise closed doors. China via Nixon?

  9. Nate Oman on December 2, 2004 at 11:10 am

    Charles: I am sure that Russell was about to post something on how Nixon too can only be described as a prophet…

  10. john fowles on December 2, 2004 at 11:24 am

    One problem is calling these people “proto-prophets.” There is no basis for such nomenclature.

    Also, Ronan, your comment is quite unbelievable. Sure, what you’re saying is true. But don’t you argue elsewhere and frequently that Mormons should be more inclusive and endorse broader conceptions of truth, etc.? Now all of a sudden, you are admonishing against incorporating Lewis lest we seem “chauvinistic.” Unbelievable. If your only beef is with the lame nomenclature of “proto-prophet” or “proto- Mormon prophet,” then I think you are right. But honestly, I haven’t heard these people called such outside of this thread, so the danger of chauvinism is pretty low.

    I think Latter-day Saints have every right to use the writings and insights of non-Latter-day Saints if they are inspiring and contribute to our search for righteousness. Also, contrary to Russell’s statement above, I give President Benson enough credit to have been able to see the value in MLK’s work and to value it for what it was without endorsing King’s faults.

    Peter D. is right on noting Lewis, Kierkegaard, Emerson, Williams, etc. There are many more, so I even think that Jed is perhaps somewhat inaccurate in saying that we limit in the way he describes. But, of course, you all know me–just too willing to give the Church the benefit of the doubt. . . .

  11. Mark B on December 2, 2004 at 11:26 am

    It’s time to get back to Isaiah.

    That way we can, if we want, speculate about God working his purposes through the wicked, and we don’t have to hold our noses and change our personal opinions about Nixon or others.

    Isaiah 10


    5 ¶ O Assyrian, the rod of mine anger, and the staff in their hand is mine indignation.

    6 I will send him against an hypocritical nation, and against the people of my wrath will I give him a charge, to take the spoil, and to take the prey, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets.

    7 Howbeit he meaneth not so, neither doth his heart think so; but it is in his heart to destroy and cut off nations not a few.

    8 For he saith, Are not my princes altogether kings?

    9 Is not Calno as Carchemish? is not Hamath as Arpad? is not Samaria as Damascus?

    10 As my hand hath found the kingdoms of the idols, and whose graven images did excel them of Jerusalem and of Samaria;

    11 Shall I not, as I have done unto Samaria and her idols, so do to Jerusalem and her idols?

    12 Wherefore it shall come to pass, that when the Lord hath performed his whole work upon mount Zion and on Jerusalem, I will punish the fruit of the stout heart of the king of Assyria, and the glory of his high looks.

    13 For he saith, By the strength of my hand I have done it, and by my wisdom; for I am prudent: and I have removed the bounds of the people, and have robbed their treasures, and I have put down the inhabitants like a valiant man:

    14 And my hand hath found as a nest the riches of the people: and as one gathereth eggs that are left, have I gathered all the earth; and there was none that moved the wing, or opened the mouth, or peeped.

    15 Shall the axe boast itself against him that heweth therewith? or shall the saw magnify itself against him that shaketh it? as if the rod should shake itself against them that lift it up, or as if the staff should lift up itself, as if it were no wood.

    16 Therefore shall the Lord, the Lord of hosts, send among his fat ones leanness; and under his glory he shall kindle a burning like the burning of a fire.

    17 And the light of Israel shall be for a fire, and his Holy One for a flame: and it shall burn and devour his thorns and his briers in one day;

    18 And shall consume the glory of his forest, and of his fruitful field, both soul and body: and they shall be as when a standardbearer fainteth.

    19 And the rest of the trees of his forest shall be few, that a child may write them.

  12. Russell Arben Fox on December 2, 2004 at 11:47 am

    “I am sure that Russell was about to post something on how Nixon too can only be described as a prophet…”

    Well Nate, he did suggest instituting a guaranteed minimum income and universal health care. Maybe that doesn’t qualify as prophetic, but it’s good thinking all the same.

    And John: I certainly can’t claim any insight into President Benson’s specific political thinking as prophet, or even for a while beforehand (while he gave plenty of patriotic talks about the constitution and such, I don’t think really ever talked seriously about America’s civic or economic condition later than the 1970s, though perhaps I’ll be proved wrong on this point). But given his affection for and support of the John Birch society and other similar organizations in the 50s and 60s, and given that Elder Benson described the civil rights movement and its leaders as hypocrites and communist subversives on more than a few occasions, I think it is at least fair to question exactly how receptive President Bension might have been to Jonathan’s suggestion about the “preparation” for OD-2 above.

  13. Kristine on December 2, 2004 at 11:48 am

    John, President Benson really had nothing good to say about MLK. He just didn’t. I wish as much as you do that Pres. Benson hadn’t had that particular blind spot, but he did, and I don’t see any reason why we can’t say so without diminishing our respect for his prophetic authority.

  14. Amira on December 2, 2004 at 11:58 am

    The First Presidency Statement in 1978 ties into this. I agree that the Protestant Reformers’ actions had a bigger impact on early Church history, but there are others mentioned in the Statement that haven’t yet.

    Can Muhammad and Confucius be considered proto-prophets whose impact has not yet been realized?

  15. john fowles on December 2, 2004 at 12:08 pm

    Kristine, condemning someone for adultery and (what he believed) to be an ulterior, communist agenda is not the same as being otherwise unable to see the value in aspects of someone’s work that are not tainted by the criticisms. We don’t know if Pres. Benson saw any value in MLK’s work outside of what he saw as questionable in it. My point was that I am willing to give Pres. Benson enough credit (just as a person, not even because of the fact that I believe he was a true prophet of God) to have been capable of seeing such value despite his criticisms of other aspects of MLK’s actions.

  16. Frank McIntyre on December 2, 2004 at 12:14 pm

    “Well Nate, he did suggest instituting a guaranteed minimum income and universal health care. Maybe that doesn’t qualify as prophetic, but it’s good thinking all the same.”

    Nixon thought he could control the economy and was wrong. Perhaps he thought he could control the press and government too. He was wrong again. Nixon was never a free-market guy. Carter, on the other hand, oversaw a great deal of government de-regulation. Clinton pushed through NAFTA but Bush imposed steel tariffs. Presidents are a funny lot.

  17. Frank McIntyre on December 2, 2004 at 12:20 pm

    There is a sharp distinction to be made between “preparing the way” and being a proto-prophet who delivers a message of truth. Certainly Hitler helped prepare the way for the modern state of Israel, but not in a good way. I don’t see any reason to use the word prophet, proto or not, just because God used to them bring to pass His purpose. I think Mark B’s quote is very useful in that context. Bad people get used as do good people. If we wish to use “proto-prophet” for those who, without preisthood authority, delivered true messages to those around them, I guess that might be okay. To call all “preparers” “proto-prophets” is a bad idea.

  18. Kristine on December 2, 2004 at 12:32 pm

    John, Pres. Benson is my cousin, in a distant, roundabout, big-polygamist-family sort of way, and my father worked closely with him in the European Mission at the height of the civil rights movement. My dad won’t say a lot about it, but does allow that Benson’s public statements were a pretty tame version of his privately expressed sentiments about MLK. I really think it’s safe to say that President Benson did not appreciate MLK’s work.

  19. Jed Woodworth on December 2, 2004 at 12:54 pm

    Frank draws attention to the perils of the term “proto-prophets.” That term is not hallowed. There are other respectful terms we use for the reformers, words like honest or noble. We might use the scriptural term applied to the framers–”wise men.” Are there wise men or women living after 1820 who seemed to prepare the ground for the new gospel understandings or practices? If so who are they?

    I am not talking about discerning the hand of God in the lives of people, trying to figure out who God “raised up” and who He did not. I am talking about the preconditions, the horizons necessary for the church to unfold as it did. We talk about religious liberty, access to the Bible, and so on, as preconditions necessary for an uneducated boy living in rural New York to even have the cultural possibility of finding an answer on his own–and to found a church once he got that answer. After the church was founded, Joseph Smith did not have to invent the idea of tinkering with the Bible. That was already a cultural possibility–Webster was doing it and before him Jefferson. You get the idea.

    Thinking provocatively, can we imagine the Civil Rights Movement as a precondition for priesthood being extended to African Americans? If so, does that then make Martin Luther King Jr. a “wise man”?

  20. Charles on December 2, 2004 at 1:18 pm

    Its difficult to argue about a term that has only recently been coined. Its more difficult to discern God’s intent in the raising up of anyone. Surely, there were many people whos actions may have been inspired even if thier entire life was not.

    Civil Rights as an example, was not a completely new idea. MLK just articulated himself in a manner that most of the country was ready to hear at that time. For that he was able to bring the issue to the fore front. As to whether those actions were a precondition to the Priesthood extension to all men, I would have to disagree. The extension could have been made at any time in the dispensation. MLK raised awareness to the point where more of America was ready to accept it. Maybe that made it easier and God foresaw the timing to be best suited for His plan. But it was still on His time and His terms.

    Likewise with my GW and Nixon comment. I don’t think they were inspired leaders but I think some of thier actions will have a greater impact in the future than some people consider in the present.

  21. Kristine on December 2, 2004 at 1:20 pm

    Jed, “wise man” seems unobjectionable enough, but also dilutes the power that you originally wanted to impute to these “preparers.”

    I think the idea that God is using these people, but having them do their work outside the structure of the Church becomes less and less comfortable for us as we move into the 20th century, when many of the people you’re talking about would reject the church. After all, if God could inspire them to do important and necessary work for the building of the Kingdom, couldn’t/wouldn’t He also inspire them to join the church? Or do we have acknowledge that the church can’t (yet?) do the work God needs done on the earth?

  22. Keith on December 2, 2004 at 1:43 pm

    President Hunter’s talk “The Gospel–A Global Faith” contains this: “Elder Orson F. Whitney said: “[God] is using not only his covenant people, but other peoples as well, to consummate a work, stupendous, magnificent, and altogether too arduous for this little handful of Saints to accomplish by and of themselves. …
    “All down the ages men bearing the authority of the Holy Priesthood—patriarchs, prophets, apostles and others, have officiated in the name of the Lord, doing the things that he required of them; and outside the pale of their activities other good and great men, not bearing the Priesthood, but possessing profundity of thought, great wisdom, and a desire to uplift their fellows, have been sent by the Almighty into many nations, to give them, not the fulness of the Gospel, but that portion of truth that they were able to receive and wisely use.� (In Conference Report, Apr. 1921, pp. 32-33.)

    The most recent Sperry Symposium was directed towards preparation for the Restoration. Some of it gives attention to other things (rather than only Protestantism) that prepared the way.

  23. Frank McIntyre on December 2, 2004 at 2:25 pm

    I don’t know that the civil rights movement was a positive thing for OD-2. As soon as civil rights became a front-burner issue, moves to give the priesthood to all worthy men became suspect as a political response without inspiration. Without Brown v. Topeka, who knows when God would have given us OD-2? I certainly don’t know. And I don’t see any reason why God couldn’t have given the message (or the prophets asked for it) sans MLK. The issue of Priesthood is not one that is ever far from the minds of the prophets. I think it was the matter of a fair bit of concern to many of them all through the century.

    Also, Jed, are you saying that women never prayed in Sacrament meeting before some announcement in the 1970′s?

    Kristine: “Or do we have to acknowledge that the church can’t (yet?) do the work God needs done on the earth?”

    I guess I’ve always assumed that this must be the case. It’s a big world, and there are lots of people who would never listen to a member of the Church. Also, would it not be a tad suspicious if all the good works and smart/spiritual people were born or converted into the same relatively small U.S. church? Isn’t that sort of a cosmic giveaway as to the truth of the gospel?

  24. Kristine on December 2, 2004 at 3:53 pm

    Frank, I think I’ve always made the same assumption as well, but it’s not necessarily something one could say in Sunday School without raising some hackles (not, mind you, that that has stopped me from saying it :))

    And, Jed can probably answer better, but it is true that women were often forbidden from praying in Sacrament Mtg. (not sure how uniform the practice was, though). As recently as the early 90s, there was a directive issued in some areas that women were not to say the opening prayer in Sacrament Mtg.

  25. Ronan on December 2, 2004 at 3:59 pm

    John F.: you have an uncanny knack of offending for a word. But that’s another point. I like Lewis, I read Lewis, we should read Lewis. But being inclusive doesn’t mean claiming other people as our own, thereby robbing their work of its non-Mormonness. Sometimes the same Mormons who love Lewis give the Anglican church (and Protestantism in general) such a hard time.

  26. Lisa on December 2, 2004 at 4:14 pm

    “Or do we have to acknowledge that the church can’t (yet?) do the work God needs done on the earth?”

    Great question. Who will be able to bring peace to the Palestinians and Jews except the Palestinians and Jews? I would guess that it won’t be a Mormon prophet, but one prophet, or some, that God will raise up out of their own nations. I believe in a broader definition of prophet when we look at people like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ghandi. I think that these men (and there are women too) are what the Book of Mormon prophets are talking about when they speak of prophets being raised up in every nation, and truth being given to all nations as they are ready to receive it. (1 Nephi 13:42, 19:17; 2 Nephi 26:13, 29:7,11-14; Alma 12:9-11;13:22-26, 29:8)

  27. Frank McIntyre on December 2, 2004 at 4:24 pm

    Kristine,

    I suppose the hackles raised depends on how one says it. I just don’t see how this idea could be objectionable.

    As for Woman and Sacrament Prayer, here’s some guy on the web’s comment. He has a nice little quote from a First Presidency message. He claims the restriction was actually about having the Melchezidek priesthood administer the sacrament meeting, and by extension the prayers for that meeting, not about forbidding women because of their women-ness. No mention is made of whether the practice of exclusion was universal or particular to region. Also, the 1978 statement would seem to make any regional 1990′s prohibition contra-Church, and so presumably it did not last. There are certainly some nice things about having general authority oversight of local areas!

    ________________

    It is true that for a long time only Melchizedek Priesthood holders were the only ones who gave the prayers in Sacrament meetings. The likely reason for this was because the Sacrament is a priesthood ordinance, and therefore all prayers given in the Sacrament meeting were restricted to priesthood holders.
    During the 1970s women’s lib was getting into full swing and a few women were complaining that they were not being allowed to participate as much as they should in church meetings and leadership positions. The Church leaders did not change any doctrine or official policies because of this, but I think they did realize that there was no scriptural reason for why women could not pray in Sacrament meeting. It was mostly out of tradition that only priesthood holders would give the prayers. It was then that they decided to encourage Bishops to call on both men and women to pray. In 1978 the following announcement was made:
    “The First Presidency and Council of the Twelve have determined that there is no scriptural prohibition against sisters offering prayers in sacrament meetings. It was therefore decided that it is permissible for sisters to offer prayers in any meetings they attend, including sacrament meetings, Sunday School meetings, and stake conferences. Relief Society visiting teachers may offer prayers in homes that they enter in fulfilling visiting teaching assignments.�
    (Marvin K. Gardner, “News of the Church,� Ensign, Nov. 1978, 100)

  28. Rosalynde Welch on December 2, 2004 at 6:07 pm

    What an interesting thread! Jed, it seems like you’re proposing an alternative to the constructionist hypothesis for the origins of the restoration, which argues that Joseph, consciously or un-, constructed the restoration out of ideologemes already in circulation in the 19th century–thus naturalistic and contextual readings of the BoM, and so forth. Under your proposal, Jed, Joseph may in fact have utilized discourses and ideas already in circulation, but did so under divine direction (or at least tacit divine approval); furthermore, those discourses and ideas may themselves have been introduced into Joseph’s context by the divine hand, in order to provide cultural referents that would ease the introduction of such radically new artifacts and theologies into this last dispensation.

    I’ve made similar hypotheses myself, when grappling with constructionist readings of the BoM (my knowledge of 19th -C American cultural history is sorely lacking, so I don’t always know how to evaluate those readings).

    One problem with this approach is the relentlessly teleological vector it makes of history–everything pointing inevitably to the restoration, to our theology, our church, ourselves. Rather than a sort of pluralistic embrace of other conduits of truth, it tends to further absolutize history. Maybe that’s what our truth claims require us to believe, but I’m not totally convinced of that; I still feel very uneasy with teleological grand narratives.

  29. Jed Woodworth on December 2, 2004 at 9:15 pm

    Kristine: “people you’re talking about would reject the church. After all, if God could inspire them to do important and necessary work for the building of the Kingdom, couldn’t/wouldn’t He also inspire them to join the church?”

    Mormons do seem to feel more comfortable sacralizing the dead more than the living. It is easier to turn Gutenburg into a Mormon than to turn Billy Graham into one; Gutenburg is not around to object, Graham is. Upon the same principle we baptize the dead, not, behind their backs, the living who will one day die. So I agree with your point about our feeling “uncomfortable” folding moderns into the gospel plan.

    But there is no reason to believe outsiders must convert to play an important role in the church’s growth. Howard Hunter believed to the day he died that Teddy Kollek, the Jewish mayor of Jerusalem in the 1980s, was raised up to help us acquire land for the BYU Jerusalem Center. Thomas Monsen loves to talk about the Spirit moving upon the East German officials who permitted the Dresden temple to go up behind the Iron Curtain. And it is not altogether clear the Great Basin Kingdom would have ever existed without the help of Thomas Kane, the nineteenth-century Pennsylvanian elite who befriended the Mormons but never saw the baptismal font. Kane’s widely-distributed 1850 address to the Philadelphia Historical Society on the wrongs suffered in Illinois may have done more anything to convince Congress that Utah should be granted territorial status with BY at the head.

    These stories are not new. I guess one implication of what I am saying is that the way we tell our history may include more stories of collaboration as we seek to build bridges with outsiders.

  30. Kristine on December 2, 2004 at 9:23 pm

    Jed, I agree that we talk that way, and I think we should. I only meant that we should be conscious of the way such talk rubs up against our claims to exclusive truth, and in particular, our notion that people cannot be saved by being good people or even good Christians if they don’t submit to authoritative ordinances. I’m frankly delighted when I hear stories of cooperation and collaboration (just ask Nate and Adam! I’m a wishy-washy Eastern-educated pluralist who ought to be an Episcopalian), but I think we too quickly dismiss the theological questions raised by the rhetoric of people being “raised up” to do important work outside of the church.

  31. Jed Woodworth on December 2, 2004 at 9:30 pm

    As a matter of historical record, feminist gains in the church usually happen in feminist times. As I’ve mentioned, the Nauvoo Relief Society was founded at a time when women like Catharine Beecher were seeking to move female roles into the public realm. LDS women started speaking in public meeting in the 1890s, dubbed the decade of the “New Woman” by people living in that day. Temple garments were truncated in 1920s as hemlines rose with the flapper generation. And BYU founded an endowed chair in behalf of Camilla Kimball, the matron of Mormondom, in the middle of the 1970s.

  32. Russell Arben Fox on December 2, 2004 at 10:08 pm

    “One problem with this approach is the relentlessly teleological vector it makes of history–everything pointing inevitably to the restoration, to our theology, our church, ourselves. Rather than a sort of pluralistic embrace of other conduits of truth, it tends to further absolutize history.”

    I don’t think this is the only, or even the best way to think about teleology, Rosalynde. First, a telos is an end, but if what we’re talking about here is a greater appreciation of the multiple ways in which God’s hand has moved upon humankind in order to fulfill or make possible new or subsequent ends, I don’t see why we’re obliged to believe that we are, at this moment, the one particular end which gives definitive shape to the teleological pattern. Jed suggested that there has been a lot of preparing going on around and throughout the history of the church; if that’s the case, then it would seem reasonable that such “preparations” continue. We don’t seem to be at the end of history (much less the end times) yet, so there’s no reason to think history has been unduly absolutized. If the book were to be definitively closed on, say, the whole church and racial relations within it, then perhaps one could look back and say, yes, in light of the ends ultimately revealed, Martin Luther King role in the civil rights movement can be wholly placed as a specific historical causal link in the development of the church. But until such books start closing, I think that to be fearful of “teleological grand narratives” is jumping the gun, at least a little bit.

    Second, I don’t think that teleology and plurality are necessarily incompatible. Meaningful historical or natural causality doesn’t have to involve a narrowing as one approaches an end; on the contrary, ends can be expansive. But a lot of heavy ontological argument lies in that direction, so I’ll take a pass for now.

  33. Jed Woodworth on December 2, 2004 at 11:08 pm

    Russell: I understood Rosalynde to be saying that the danger in seeing events in American or world history through a gospel lens is that the events can easily become distorted or reduced to startingly narrow ends. The locomotive, Mormons like LeGrande Richards say, had to be invented to bring early converts to Utah, but are we comfortable saying that it was invented mainly for this purpose or even solely for this purpose? I for one want to look at something for what it is or can be, not for what it must be. When Rosalynde speaks of the “absolutizing of history,” I see her talking about the constriction of meanings, as though all history becomes a funnel with the church at the small end.

  34. Larry on December 3, 2004 at 2:45 am

    Whoe’er hath swayed, or yet shall sway, the world,
    By tongue or pen, by sword or sceptered rule,
    Hath served, or yet shall serve, the sovereign aim
    Of Him who wills the welfare of mankind;
    For or against, promoting still His plan,
    Helping, not hindering, a conquering Cause.
    (Orson F. Whitney, Elias: An Epic of the Ages [New York: Knickerbocker Press, 1904], 25.)

  35. Ben Duarte on December 3, 2004 at 2:55 am

    If anyone does not accept Joseph Smith as a prophet of God, then he is in darkness, so how can he help the LDS church grow? There is a radical difference between The Mormon Church and Biblical Christianity, The identity of God,Jesus and the Holy Spirit, the viirgin birth The Word of God, Salvation, Baptism and other crucial and Cardinal doctrines that are essential for a sound Christian Faith! These differences should be researched and reviewed:) Ben Duarte

  36. Larry on December 3, 2004 at 3:00 am

    And what of him, the fierce inconoclast,
    Agnostic, doubting or denying all
    Ofttimes in hate and horrid ribaldry?
    Maintains he not life’s equilibrium,
    A tempering shadow to the torrid beam,
    A brake upon the wheel of bigotry,
    A jet to cool fanaticism’s flame,
    Unquelled, devouring, devastating all?
    An angel, past control, a demon were.
    Bold unbelief, reform’s rough pioneer,
    Unwittingly a warrior for the Cross,
    A weapon for the right he ridicules.

    God’s perfect plan an ocean is, where range
    As minnows, monsters, of the wide wave-realm,
    Men’s causes, creeds, and systems manifold;
    Free as the will of Him who freedom willed,
    Within the bounds ordained by law divine.
    E’en Lucifer, arch-foe to liberty,
    Is free, though fettered to his fallen sphere;
    Enticing, tempting all, compelling none,
    And aiding aye the Power he fain would foil.

    All human schemes, all hell’s conspiracies,
    All chance, all accident, all agency,
    All loves, hates, hopes, despairs, and blasphemies,
    All rights, all wrongs, to one high purpose bend.
    No backward glance gives progress. Upward! on!
    Life triumphs ever in death’s victory.
    Dross hath its ministry no less than gold;
    And honest, erring zeal, wherever found,
    Hath wrought more good than ill to humankind.

    (Orson F. Whitney, Elias: An Epic of the Ages [New York: Knickerbocker Press, 1904], 35 – 36.)

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