A Reinterpretation of Faith-Promoting History

April 5, 2006 | 64 comments
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Mormons have an ingrained habit of interpreting their history in the rosiest of all possible terms, even when — as a historical matter — a less rosy interpretation makes more sense. Those who worry about such things have offered a couple of reasons as to why this is so. Some have suggested that this is dishonesty, pure and simple. Mormons — or at least some of them — are lying about their history because they don’t want to face the possible consequences of more honest interpretations. A related explanation is that Mormons — or at least some of them — are ignorant of their history, offering ultra-rosy explanations of the Mormon past because they simply don’t know the dark and dangerous details. On either of these views, the will to rosey-ness is essentially apologetic. It is offered as a way of either avoiding intellectual attacks on Mormonism or else as a way of giving “faith-promoting” pabulum to the masses. The arguments against ultra-rosy history are equally familiar. First, there is the straight forward ethical claim that it is immoral. On this view, rosy Mormon history is a lie, and we ought not to be liars. Second, there is a practical argument. Building up faith on the basis of untrue stories is a bad idea because some of those whose faith is so built will find that the stories are wrong, leading them to lose their faith. Much better to be up front about everything.

I think that there is some truth to all of these claims. Mormons have not always been upfront about their history. We do often feed ourselves a Bowdlerized Mormon history that will back-fire when we learn that the past is not as saccharine as our seminary teachers might have suggested. We shouldn’t lie. All of these criticisms as subject to very tricky problems of practice. How exactly ought one to go about teaching a new convert (or an old one) about polyandry or Adam-God?

I do think, however, that it is a mistake to think that the will to rosy interpretations is entirely apologetic. It is not simply about defending Mormonism from attacks, or telling stories to increase commitment to the faith. I think that it is also about doctrine and authority. Much of Mormon theology is worked out in terms of history. The most obvious example of this is the whole doctrine of the Restoration, which is essentially a story about the history of the Christian religion. But there are also other stories that we use to work out our theology, stories about prophets, revelations, the transfer of priesthood authority, and many many other things. At the heart of this concern with history lies, I think, the idea of continuing revelation. By definition Mormon doctrine is a continuing process that unfolds itself in history. Thus, deeply engrained in Mormonism is the idea that the past has a claim on the Saints.

But not everything in the past has a claim on us. This is also inherent in the idea of continuing revelation. There are certain portions of the past that are not normative. Hence, one of the central theological conundrums that Mormons find themselves in is sorting out which bits of the past have a claim on them, and which do not. I think that the rosy interpretations that we offer of the Mormon past are often — although almost never consciously or explicitly — about this search for the normative. As often as not, we are less concerned with understanding the causes and course of past events than with understanding whether or not thet have a claim on us now. Consider, for example, the stories that one might offer about the reasons for polygamy. Most “folk” interpretations of polygamy — e.g. it was practiced because there was a surplus of women crossing the plains, etc. etc. — are appallingly bad as historical explanations. However, this is not, I think, their primary purpose. Rather, I think that their purpose is to show that polygamy is no longer normative on Latter-day Saints. Of course, they are still — in a sense — historical interpretations, but interpretations of a very particular kind. To paraphrase one philosopher:

Church doctrine begins in the present and pursues the past only so far as and in the way its contemporary focus dictates. It does not aim to recapture, even for present church doctrine, the ideals or practical purposes of the prophets who first created it. It aims rather to justify what they did (sometimes including what they said) in an overall story worth telling now, a story with a complex claim: that present practice can be organized by and justified in principles sufficiently attractive to provide an honorable future. (Cf. Ronald Dworkin, Law’s Empire 227-228)

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64 Responses to A Reinterpretation of Faith-Promoting History

  1. Stephen M (Ethesis) on April 5, 2006 at 1:10 pm

    But not everything in the past has a claim on us.

    Nicely said, nicely said.

  2. tracy m on April 5, 2006 at 2:03 pm

    Very interesting, Nate. This history is something with which I am currently wrestling. While I have no pearls to cast, I am one of the converts that had her faith deeply shaken when the sanitized past was shown to be, um, misleading. I’m still working on climbing out of the hole that was blown in my perceptions, and am very interested in what others will contribute on this matter.

    Definately food for thought…

  3. Dave on April 5, 2006 at 2:09 pm

    Yes, it would seem the Church makes history do the doctrinal heavy-lifting that systematic theology does in mainline Christian denominations. That makes Mormon history a battleground and puts LDS historians in the spotlight in a way that is somewhat unique to Mormonism.

    I suppose a parallel to legal practice (I know you’re fond of these) would be when the legislature declines to make clear law on a given point, forcing judges to make law in order to apply an ambiguous statute. If legislators passed clearer laws, judges would be less subject to criticism for their supposedly biased interpretations of ambiguous statutes. Legislators who enact ambiguous statutes should not be heard to complain about what judges end up doing with those statutes. Likewise, if LDS leaders published clearer and more detailed doctrinal statements, LDS historians would be less subject to criticism for their various accounts of LDS history.

  4. Last Lemming on April 5, 2006 at 2:11 pm

    Consider, for example, the stories that one might offer about the reasons for polygamy. Most “folk� interpretations of polygamy — e.g. it was practiced because there was a surplus of women crossing the plains, etc. etc. — are appallingly bad as historical explanations. However, this is not, I think, their primary purpose. Rather, I think that their purpose is to show that polygamy is no longer normative on Latter-day Saints.

    This strikes me as more of an excuse than a legitimate reason. Why not just say we don’t know why polygamy was practiced in the earliest days of the Church, but is not now “normative on Latter-day Saints?” I recognize that my suggestion is pretty close to the correlated party line these days and that nobody finds it particularly satisfying. But at least isn’t digging the hole deeper than it already is.

  5. Hellmut Lotz on April 5, 2006 at 2:11 pm

    To me, inaccurate history is not the issue. The issue is that people who claim divine authority abuse that power when they require historians to deny their research to preserve access to the sacraments.

    If one takes LDS theology at face value that means that the scholars find themselves in a position where the atonement has become an impossibility. If they stick with the truth to the best of their knowledge then they get excommunicated, which results in their damnation. If they recant then they are lying sinners and will be damned as well.

    Rendering salvation impossible, these actions are not only abusive but rendering salvation impossible they amount to a denial of the atonement. That’s the ultimate sacrilege, much worse than what any historian could possibly publish.

    John Paul II recognized that when he apologized for Galileo’s treatment. His predecessors had recognized long ago that disciplining scholarship was problematic. It’s disappointing that our leaders continue to engage in this behavior as late as 2005.

  6. Nate Oman on April 5, 2006 at 2:15 pm

    Lemming: I am confused. Do you think that the women crossing the plains story is just an excuse rather than an explanation, or do you think that this post is an excuse rather than an explanation.

    Interestingly, your proposed solution — “we don’t know why polygamy was practiced in the earliest days of the Church” — is exactly the sort of historical explanation that I am talking about. This is a claim about how the past has a claim on us. It is a pretty bad historical interpretation in that we know quite a bit about why polygamy was practice in the early days of the church, we just don’t have a clear account of how those explanations related to our current obligations.

  7. Nate Oman on April 5, 2006 at 2:16 pm

    Dave: I am not so sure about your faith in clear doctrinal statements. Clarity might simply make it easier to claim that interpretation X is inconsistent with Church doctrine. Some times ambiguity is the best way to go. Furthermore, it is difficult to figure out how to have clearer doctrinal statements without making Mormonism creedal, which is not without its own problems.

  8. J. Nelson-Seawright on April 5, 2006 at 2:19 pm

    Nate, thanks for an insightful post and an interesting idea. The tricky aspect of this arises precisely because Mormon history does so much theological work: what aspects of history are normative? Is it normative, as some would hope, that 19th-century Mormon definitions recognized a category of priesthood among women? Or are reworkings of that history in line with 20th- and 21st-century definitions of priesthood instead normative?

    One function of theology in Christianity generally may be to act as a check on the arbitrary authority of leadership. If we accept that idea, then Mormon history would seem to perhaps play a parallel role. But if decisions about which aspects of Mormon history are to be regarded as normative are made by the leadership, that role disappears. Perhaps that’s a good thing–but if so, then history and theology become unimportant, indeed impediments to our ongoing attention to the only thing that matters: today’s news today…

  9. Nate Oman on April 5, 2006 at 2:21 pm

    “The issue is that people who claim divine authority abuse that power when they require historians to deny their research to preserve access to the sacraments.”

    Hellmut: Surely it is the case that certain historical research is tantamount to denying the faith. Suppose that I conclude on the basis of my historical research that Jesus Christ was not the Son of God, and publish a book to that effect. It does not seem unreasonable to suppose that this might be a ground for denying someone access to the sacraments, which after all involve covenants premised on Jesus Christ being the son of God. This is not meant as a defense of any particular disciplinary action, but only a suggestion that there is something a little odd about the claim that all historical research should be immune from institutional scrutiny on religious grounds. Now it may be that you think that the institution should not scrutinize the beliefs of its members at all, so that disciplining a person on the basis of their public statements is always wrong, but this strikes me as a point that really has far less to do with history than you seem to assume.

  10. Nate Oman on April 5, 2006 at 2:29 pm

    Jason: I think that you are exactly right about the ambigious nature of what is or is not normative about the past. One can construct “liberal” arguments about the normativity of the past, which are limited historical interpretations in precisely the same way that traditional faith-promoting historical interpretations are limited. Both have much more to do with authority in the present than they have to do with pure understanding of the past. (Although motives and goals are always mixed.)

    I actually think that history constrains current authorities quite a bit. For example, I think that one of the reasons that we don’t have a good clean repudiation of some of the rather nasty pre-1978 racial theology is because authorities are not quite sure how to construct a story that makes sense of things, and they think that silence and confessions of ignorance are the best that they can do. This doesn’t mean that things can’t change, it just means that the interpretation of the past is always an issue. The best analogy, I think, is to a common law judge. A common law judge generally follows precedent, but he has the authority to depart from it. He can over turn precedent. He can announcing entirely new law. However, a really masterful common law judge — Cardozo comes to mind as the virtuouso — departs, reverses, and announces precedent in a way that maintains some continuity with the past. Furthermore, he realizes that there are limits to the extent to which the law can tolerate discontinuities. Mormon theology is the same way. Prophets have the authority to announce new doctrine and offer new revelations to the Church. However, they never do so against a blank slate.

  11. StealthBomber on April 5, 2006 at 2:38 pm

    Nate,

    So when will you be writing the 1st Restatement of Mormon Theology? (I guess Bruce R. McConkie beat you to it). The 2d Restatement then?

  12. Kimball Hunt on April 5, 2006 at 2:49 pm

    You’re privileged to watch it unfold right here, StealthBomber.

  13. Nate Oman on April 5, 2006 at 2:52 pm

    Tracy M.: One way of thinking about the “misleading” picture of an exclusively rosey Mormon past that you were presented with is to understand that picture not exclusively in terms of history but in terms of Church teachings. The point of the rosey picture of the past is to show those aspects of Mormon history that have a claim on you as a Latter-day Saint, which are part of the present structure of Church doctrine. The exclusion of certain elements from the story was a way of saying that those are not things that are part of the present structure of Church teachings. Obviously, this is hardly a perfect defense of Bowlderized Mormon history, but it is a way of charitablely interpreting the view of Mormon history that you were offered. It is also ultimately optimistic, in that it in effect denies that polygamy or other discomforting 19th century practices have a normative claim on you.

  14. Nate Oman on April 5, 2006 at 2:56 pm

    Stealth bomber: I am conflicted about the Restatements. I think that in many areas they served to ossify the development of the law (e.g. Contracts), in some areas they got too far ahead of the law and become irrelevent (e.g. Third Restatement Torts?) or simply serve to assist in the promulgation of bad law (e.g. Second Restatement of Conflicts).

    If you want to rationalize the common law, I prefer something like Williston or Corbin, a massive treatise that organizes and interprets without ossifying or misstating.

  15. TMD on April 5, 2006 at 3:03 pm

    Helmut:

    Umm, the Catholic Church disciplines scholars all of the time–that’s what the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (Congregatio pro Doctrina Fidei, Benedict’s old hunting grounds) does to this day. (See, for instance, the Liberation theologians (for advocating violent revolution) and Hans Kung (for his assaults on infalliability and papal authority, which he claims is man-made (and thus reversible) rather than instituted by God.)

    When it comes to expressing the teachings of the church–whichever church that is–I think it is imperative that the church maintain this kind of a function; people can and should be able to say what they think, but if their teachings conflict with the core doctrines of that church, they should not be able to do so from a position which suggests that they have a kind of magisterium assoicated with their teachings.

    Given, as Nate has well expressed here, history has a function rather akin to theology in our teaching of the faith, such vigilance is appropriate.

    In this context, too, there is a more fundamental and deeper theological issue, relevant to the scholar of church history: is it possible to discover simple facts that could ultimately question revealed truth, or is this ontologically impossible–does the hard core of the faith ultimately rest on revealed grounds unaccessable by any historically uncovered fact or constellation thereof, or does it not? I would argue for a kind of reduced Thomism: rationally understood facts can give much truth, but ultimately cannot touch revelation. In this context, the scholar of church history need maintain a humility about the scope of their claims; and for the church to open itself to scholars lacking this fundamental humility is to expose those whose faith and understanding of their faith is less grounded in the personal experience of revelation, priesthood power, and divine confirmation to debateable interpretations of facts. (In this sense the comparison with GG is also inapt: the implications of facts are much more theory-laden, and much more subject to debate, in human and divine history as opposed to physics.)

  16. mullingandmusing (m&m) on April 5, 2006 at 4:20 pm

    Tracy M.
    I have a friend who has experienced this same struggle recently. There was a while there where she was going to stop going to church, was full of questions (that just led to more questions, and more distress….) She finally realized that she knew the fruits of the Spirit in her life, and that she had felt the confirmation of the Spirit, and she started to trust in that again. She still has questions, but some of what she is realizing is that we have to CHOOSE faith. And some of the other stuff really doesn’t matter when considering what the gospel is for in the first place — it’s for our salvation, our cleansing from sin, our overcoming the two deaths to be able to live with God. I know I may be a minority voice here, but I would say leave the history alone for a while. Rediscover the Spirit and let Him come back into your life. Feed the roots of your testimony.

    If you were taught be missionaries, their specific responsibility is to teach the simple truths of the Restoration. Regardless of who brought the gospel to you, that is the charge – to teach the basic truths and invite you to discover the truth of those things through the Spirit. That is the most important thing you could ever be taught, really, because the Spirit can lead you to truth. But the best way to tap into the Spirit is to study the truths of the gospel, not to go (or let someone lead you) wandering in history for reasons to doubt. I have a hard time feeling like those who bring up troublesome aspects of our history somehow want to build faith. I have seen too often those, even in the Church, who really are wolves in sheep’s clothing, seeking to undermine the basic truths of the restored gospel — Joseph Smith’s prophetic role, the truthfulness of the BoM, the reality of divine revelation and authority — all which are designed and given to us to bring us to Christ in HIS way.

    Pres. Benson said that we are eventually all backed against the wall of faith. I personally believe that coming face-to-face with some aspects of our history, or someone’s weakness, or scientific issues that seem to contradict our faith, or whatever might test our faith is just that — a test of faith. In the end, all the historical or scientific facts or any other intellectual pursuits in the world won’t save us. I’m not trying to minimize how great it is to learn in proper order, nor how difficult it is sometimes to deal with the dissonance between “facts” (in quotes because often they are not really pure facts, but tainted by bias and sometimes even malice) and faith. But I am of the belief that this is part of the journey – to see how deep our roots of faith are.

    I love what Al. 32 says about this process. Sometimes we have to go back to the desire to believe. And he says, if we don’t cast the seed out by unbelief (almost as though he just knows that either we will choose faith or choose unbelief — a critical juncture in our journey) THEN the seed will grow. We have to CHOOSE to believe first, before we experience the growth of the seed — and then we have to feed that seed. We have to choose faith even when our brains are spinning in circles and questioning things — things that we often can’t understand anyway because we aren’t there to KNOW what really happened and why. So, hold on to those basic things you were taught. Is the Book of Mormon true? Has the Spirit witnessed this to you? If so, hold onto that and continue to feed that. If not, (re)discover that truth. Feed the roots and leave the branches alone for a while (or forever — they don’t really matter to your eternal journey and purpose anyway!) If the BoM is true, then really, nothing that happened in our history matters, because if the BoM is true, Joseph Smith really was a prophet, the priesthood and ordinances restored through him are real and bind you to God, and the Church you are a member of is led by the Savior Himself. At some point, in my very strong opinion, all the other stuff becomes noise — and I personally think we have to be very, very careful that we don’t let the adversary use that noise so that we miss the still, small voice. In my experience, anyone who casts doubt on our history without also focusing on the faith-promoting aspects of it, has motives that may not be trustworthy — and, from what I have seen, usually aren’t. And, if motives aren’t pure, then the information cannot be pure or reliable, either…(which is often the case!) which means that often, it’s awfully difficult to get a real, clear answer about the perplexing aspects of our history anyway. After all, none of us were there, and, as Nate as so clearly explained, the aspects of our history that usually cause us grief don’t have any bearing on us today, so, should we really spend a lot of energy trying to understand it? How reliable is any interpretation of history that is just that — an interpretation, affected and influenced by the person interpreting? Our leaders focus on those things that will save us. I don’t think we should fault them for that. No matter what they would or could say about our history, nothing would satisfy everyone anyway. I think we should be grateful that they focus on the things that matter to our eternal well-being. Someday we will know the end from the beginning. Our test is to live the simple principles of the gospel in their purity.

    In addition, there is a tremendous opportunity cost to seeking to understand things that we may not be able to understand. Why not spend more energy seeking more truth from the Spirit through studying doctrine and the sweet truths of the gospel (which, with time, bring light and truth beyond the basics in glorious ways!)? Such study strengthens the roots of faith, which overshadows doubt…and it’s an upward spiral. On the flip side, too much focus on the doubts just breeds more doubt and tends to quench the Spirit, which makes it harder to have faith. Call me an ostrich if you want to, but I would much rather study that which giveth light — the promise is that if we receive that light, the light will grow brighter and brighter until the perfect day (D&C 50:24). If we receive the truth, we will get more. I don’t get the feeling that digging up old bones of history is a source of much spiritual light at all. So my recommendation is to try to leave it be and seek for the light.

    I have had my own struggles with weird parts of our history that leave my scratching my head. But what I am learning is that all that does is remove me from the Spirit, zap my energy, take up time that could be better spent, and make me forget all the sweet experiences with the basic, pure doctrines of the gospel. We could spend our lives seeking to understand more about our history, but without a testimony through the Spirit of the truths that matter to our salvation, NONE of that will benefit us. And, come judgment day, all the facts that we know won’t matter. Who we have become (which becoming is best achieved with the Spirit’s help and with full access through the Atonement through priesthood ordinances) is what will matter most. That and how well we have come to know and become like the Savior. It helps me to remember those basic and essential purposes of life, and then to seek for those things that will help me to that end. Anything else, in the eternal sense, frankly doesn’t matter.

    Sorry for the long post. I’m sorry, too, if I sound like I think intellectual pursuits are useless. I love to learn. And to be learned is good — IF we don’t do that at the expense of our testimonies. If intellectual pursuits snuff out spiritual light, then I firmly believe we can put ourselves in harm’s way…seeking for things that we can’t understand which, as with the Jews (Jac. 4:11-16), can make us stumble and miss the Savior’s basic, beautiful, saving truths. The gospel is so exciting, so wondeful, so sweet — I just want you to rediscover what brought you to the Church in the first place. Therein lies light!

    Godspeed, sister.

  17. Hellmut Lotz on April 5, 2006 at 4:39 pm

    Nate and TMD, Küng’s example is instructive. Küng who challenges much more fundamental doctrines, such as the divinity of Christ, lost his approbation. That means that Küng’s classes no longer count towards the training of priests.

    Küng was not excommunicated. He can partake of all Catholic rites and sacraments. What’s more, Küng was not even defrogged. He remains a Catholic priest and can administer all the rites and sacraments.

    According to Catholic theology, the discipline that Küng had to suffer did not affect his salvation. LDS historians, on the other hand, are not only excluded from the sacraments but they are put in a position where they are required to lie.

    (By the way, one of the first acts of Pope Benedict was to meet Küng for dinner).

    The proper way to engage research is with reasons. Religious organizations can say that some ideas do not reflect theology properly without denying authors access to saving ordinances. Power plays implying that there is no atonement are much more heretical than anything any historian can ever say.

  18. Nate Oman on April 5, 2006 at 5:00 pm

    “The proper way to engage research is with reasons. Religious organizations can say that some ideas do not reflect theology properly without denying authors access to saving ordinances.”

    I basically agree with this. My point, however, is that it is not unreasonable to suppose that one might hold beliefs or make statements that disqualify you from particpating in certain ordinances, and the fact that one holds those beliefs because of one’s scholarlly research is niether here nor there. I am not in favor of using Church discipline as a way of controlling academic discussions. I think that the real question is whether one believes that it is ever appropriate for to have ecclesiastical discipline on the basis of beliefs or public statements. If the answer is no, then it follows one should never discipline a person for their scholarship. If the answer is yes, then I don’t see that the fact that a person’s heretical beliefs or statements result from scholarship matters much one way or the other.

    BTW, I do not understand LDS theology to imply that one who is excommunicated is beyond the reach of the atonement, quite the contrary.

    What exactly do you use as your standard of heresy for saying that the Church is heretical? Is this simply a way of saying “wrong” or “bad,” or do you have some lurking theory of authority that I don’t understand?

  19. Frank McIntyre on April 5, 2006 at 5:17 pm

    “LDS historians, on the other hand, are not only excluded from the sacraments but they are put in a position where they are required to lie.”

    I am not sure who you mean here. Most LDS historians are either free to take the sacrament or (in some cases) have left the Church of their own volition. No LDS historian is required to lie to avoid excommunication. Members, as a general rule,not excummunicated for saying nothing but for speaking out publicly or for some grievous sin.

    And this part about denying the atonement is just crazy talk. Excommunication is about repentance and protecting the Church and its members. Even the excommunicated will be re-baptized at some point, either in this life or the next. That’s the cool part about ordinances for the dead!

  20. Aaron Brown on April 5, 2006 at 5:33 pm

    Nate —

    You offer one reason for Mormon rosy-ness in historical interpretation as “because they don’t want to face the possible consequences of more honest interpretations.” You contrast this with the ostensibly non-apologetic desire to determine what is and is not normative. But I’m not sure I buy your distinction. My sense (and I’ve always thought you agreed) is that to face the consequences of honest interpretation is to confront the reality that we don’t really have an adequate set of tools to definitively determine what is and is not normative. So I’m seeing two different ways of describing the same phenomenon.

    Aaron B

  21. D-Train on April 5, 2006 at 5:34 pm

    Nate, I don’t have a lot to add except to say that I think you’re pretty much on the money.

    In my view, the discussion between Hellmut and Nate boils down to whether or not it’s ok to set theological and behavioral standards for fellowship. If it is, then there are going to be disfellowshippings and excommunications due to unorthodox views. If it’s not, we should be able to say and think what we want.

    I don’t think it’s unreasonable for an organization to set those standards. We wouldn’t argue with the Democrats refusing to admit Nancy Pelosi to the party caucus if she goes off and votes for Hastert for Speaker, would we? We can quibble at the margins, but if you just don’t believe that the Church is an inspired organization, why would you care if it kicks you out? More generally, if you’re unjustly denied participation in ordinances, why would you believe yourself to be in danger of hell? In my experience, anyone who is making scholarly arguments about Mormon history in at least semi-reputable fora is going to have a nuanced enough view of the gospel to understand that if he/she is treated in an unjust way, that will be dealt with later. If you think the Church is wrong in disciplining you, you certainly won’t think that God will stand by that decision and condemn you as well. That doesn’t mean that being excommunicated or whatever isn’t important, it’s just that if it’s done unjustly, the eternal ramifications are nil (although it might cause some discomfort now).

  22. Kermit on April 5, 2006 at 5:54 pm

    “Küng was not even defrogged.”

    I should hope not!

    Almost as bad as being defrocked.

  23. Hellmut Lotz on April 5, 2006 at 6:20 pm

    D-Train, your point is not relevant to this discussion since I am not imposing an alien but an LDS standard.

    Nate, isn’t it Mormon theology that membership, baptism, and a series of other sacraments are necessary for salvation? Isn’t it the case that excommunication cancels the effect of sacraments essential to salvation?

    Beliefs are not necessarily scholarship. I don’t understand why you would mean them to be the same. My argument is limited quite carefully to scholarship such as conducted by historians.

    Scholarship matters because if it’s done well, it constrains the statements of scholars. Ideally, scholars subject their personal preferences to reasons. That’s of course very difficult and sometimes impossible. Nonetheless, one can observe how scholars are compelled to change their minds.

    Notice, that history is not subject to the most intractable epistemological problems because history is primarily about existential rather than universal statements.

    For example, a Mormon historian might believe that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Abraham from the papyri but find that the texts depicted in the Pearl of Great Price cannot be reasonably translated that way. In that case, the historian’s personal preferences were trumped by scholarship.

    If one excommunicates researchers for this statement then they would have to deny their research to recover membership privileges. That would be a lie unless new evidence comes to the fore. In the latter case, conscientious scholars would adjust their views regardless of ecclesiastical discipline.

    Hence excommunicating scholars creates a situation where logic precludes salvation. That’s sacrilegeous.

  24. Hellmut Lotz on April 5, 2006 at 6:25 pm

    Thanks, Kermit! :)

  25. Seth R. on April 5, 2006 at 6:28 pm

    There’s nothing inherently moral about truthfulness.

    It simply is.

    Blackmail is truthful. That doesn’t make it moral. Truth is morally neutral. How we use truth is what is morally charged.

  26. Kimball Hunt on April 5, 2006 at 9:11 pm

    Concerning the seat-of-the-pants creedalism of Mormon theology, the only theological story, the only history that matters is “We claim authority,” the rest’s window dressing. (But that’s the way it is really with all religions. And the real question is, given faith that some certain instance of such religious authority should be taken as a given, what should such a belief then entail for that religion’s believer?)

    But any such immutable leap of faith is from its inception a contradiction of the scientific process, as in science all presuppositions must be counted as claiming a right for a hold on us only as long as the explanations deriving from them can be seen to be the most “elegant.” And the problem with any faith history of whatever faith is simply that they aren’t truly very elegant and don’t tend to fare well under harsh and exacting scrutiny.

    So, as such fascinations with things temporal yield less than favorable results, it will be found that a better question is, What is the nature of faith itself? From which approach there will result perhaps a greater, if more nuanced, creedalism — exchanging the all too “rosey” of histories for some form of “rosaries.”

  27. Frank McIntyre on April 5, 2006 at 9:26 pm

    Hellmut,

    There are plenty of perfectly faithful LDS historians who’ve managed to be true to their beliefs and their scholarship. This is probably because you are putting forward as black and white something that simply isn’t and never has been.

    There is no historical position so certain that reason requires one to trumpet it, if counseled not to do so. Having worked a fair bit in the social sciences, your view of scholarship requiring one to have certain views is simply not correct. There are practically no scholarly positions that do not rely upon a host of assumptions which a disciple scholar would see no need to take as more definitive than the tenets of his faith. And there are likely none that would get one excommunicated. A well established position is one that is “likely” or “very likely”. But if such a position is contrary to the revealed word, well it stops being very likely, doesn’t it? Unless you lack faith, in which case the real problem emerges.

    Here’s an example, suppose I do research and discover, shockingly, that all the people in my historical sample die. Based on this (and assuming that my sample denotes the universal truth) I publicly deny the ressurection. In such a case, my mistake is not in the empirical work or historical research, but in a lack of faith in God and too much faith in the universality of the regularities I’ve uncovered. It is bad science and bad faith.

    Kimball,

    I agree that science prefers elegance, but there is no proof that shows that elegance is positively correlated to truth for any given question.

  28. Kimball Hunt on April 5, 2006 at 9:51 pm

    Frank, in a certaub tribe in Africa (which served as the background for a African idividual’s memoir I read), they beat drums and the older men of ceremonial calling and rank and make noises that sound like certain wild animals and the people tell the youth that these noises come from certain mystical entities in order to impart certain cultural and religious meaning to them. Or, that is, this is the elegant explanation of what transpires in this instance, gained from when these youths become older and themselves participate in such to impart meaning for yet younger gerations of the tribe. The less elegant explanation is that the mystical entities themselves make the fearsome sounds — which, by extention and through their earthly adherents holding ceremonial rank, I suppose they DO. Anyway, I obviously believe ther’s much in any religion analogous to the above situation; and so I believe it would be more profitable to ask what morals, what ideals, what altruistic imperatives are imparted through whichever religious template than to merely be speculating the exact number of angels as can dance on the head of a pin from it (Well, a bad analogy since, after all, this angels question was the Medieval form of speculation about atomic theory, though . . . ).

  29. tracy m on April 5, 2006 at 10:15 pm

    Little voice here in a very deep pond- way over my head deep. But let me see if I understand: Because we cannot reconcile either the sanitized version of our history, or the “actual”, distorted though it still undoubtably is (as is all history), we need not worry about it, and we are freed from being effected by it? Or in six-penny words, it is “non-normative” for us modern day Saints.

    A personal snag in this tends to be: Historically, how much of the doctrines of man are mixed in with what I do truly believe are divine things? The doctrine of man changes, the Church has changed, too. Let’s say I have a substantial testimony of the BoM being true. I do. This would then deem I must allow JS was in fact a prophet of God. Ok. But this allowance does not necessarily mean that everything JS did was divinely inspired- how much of what he did was Joseph the man, and how much was Joseph, the Propher, Seer and Revelator? Does it even matter? It is a reasonable assumption that, taking into account the myriad of changes in the century and a half of the Church, some of what was put in place was not, in fact, of the Lord- This makes these things very much pertinent, or “normative” today- because how much of what we today consider doctrine will one day be “non-normative”?? This is what catches me up, snags me, and causes me pause.

    That said, it is understood there are questions we do not and will not have answers to on this earth. In trying to be ok with that, my faith grows. The bottom line is, I beleive it is true. I sincerely hope it is true, and my personal experience has taught me that the Fruits of the Gospel are undeniable- even when I cannot apply logic to my experience. So here I am. And here I plan on staying.

  30. mullingandmusing (m&m) on April 6, 2006 at 12:23 am

    Tracy,
    Glad to hear you plan to stay. ;)
    Seriously, you sound so much like where my friend was a couple of months ago. She was asking so many of the same questions. Personally, I think more often than not, we will find that what JS did was inspired as prophet. If you are thinking about polygamy, for example, there are decades of witnesses after the fact who attested to the divinity of that law. It also has scriptural support, if that matters to you. (I’m only assuming this is one of the issues of concern with JS because it’s usually at the top of someone’s list who has questions about him. Forgive me if I assume amiss.) Our current prophets have never denounced the practice when it was practiced. They simply say it is not part of our doctrine now, so we don’t practice it.

    We can’t try to guess what may or may not be normative in the future, because we will be judged on what we are given now. We are expected to look to our prophets (and, as Elder Eyring says, to pay particular attention to what is repeated by our prophets — to “rivet our attention” to such things).

    In a nutshell, the past and the future really don’t matter in a “normative” sense (I’m in over my head here, too! ) because we are expected to live according to what our prophets say today. I think it’s dangerous ground to try to second-guess Joseph Smith and what he did, and especially to second-guess current prophets. If we are constantly looking for loopholes, we are missing a great deal of peace and protection that comes from simply trusting that the prophets will keep us in the right way. Keep on nurturing your tree, and it WILL continue to grow! And maybe you can know that you aren’t alone in your journey and struggles…I think many have had similar questions. But the solution isn’t intellectual or historical or…. It’s spiritual. Those basic things you were taught are the foundation for keeping your faith alive.

    Blessings to you. I’ll include you in my prayers. :)

  31. Jed on April 6, 2006 at 12:27 am

    A powerful argument. It works because it explains the behavior of so many without the assumption of dishonesty. I hate the argument that people are intentionally covering up the historical record. Most laymen don’t know enough to cover up history.

    There is also, I think, an argument from human nature to be made. And that is quite simply that people tend to remember and emphasize the extremes (positive and negative), which is often the most useful in the present, in their accounts of the past. The murkiness, the complication of history gets forgotten.

    This fact helps explain why the tendancy to whitewash history is not a peculiarly Mormon trait.

  32. mullingandmusing (m&m) on April 6, 2006 at 12:34 am

    Jed,
    yes…for example, I don’t remember hearing any serious dirt from my American History classes from way back when…and I’m sure there has to be some dirt on some of our leaders somewhere…. But does it matter to the critical elements of our history? Nah….

  33. Hellmut Lotz on April 6, 2006 at 8:26 am

    Seth, #25, history has nothing in common with blackmail.

    Frank, #27, the fact that some historians don’t have problems is morally irrelevant. It’s abuse if one historian is asked to lie. The theological paradox emerges with a single case.

    Publication is part of research and should not be religiously sanctioned. We tried that until the seventeenth century with poor results.

    I agree with you that researchers cannot escape subjectivism entirely. Since lying does not require the possession of objective truth but oly the denial of what one deems to be true, the presence of subjective elements in research are irrelevant to my argument.

    Anyone who requires historians to deny the results of their best efforts without historical reasons is pushing them to commit a sin.

    With respect to the poverty of faith, that applies much better to those who deem it necessary to suppress research. If ecclesiastical leaders were confident then they would not need to fear history. They would insist to make their case on the merits.

    That was actually the position of Hugh B. Brown. He had faith and lived by it. He told us not to fear but to embrace history. So did many of the early apostles.

    The actions since 1993 undermine the credibility of contemporary LDS leaders who claim to have faith but do not act like it. Compared to the implications of abusive excommunications for LDS salvation theology, the lack of a living testimony is a lesser problem.

    Mulling & Musing (30): One of the greatest Mormons of the twentieth century was the martyr Helmuth Huebener. He knew that he responsible for his choices and lived the lessons of the parable of the talents. Huebener lost his life but preserved his dignity when he confronted the Nazis.

    We shall be proud him and his sacrifice for centuries to come.

    Contrast that with the men that participated in the Mountain Meadows Massacre because followed their priesthood leaders and their peers rather than their conscience.

    It’s our responsibility to safeguard our virtue. Blind followers have to accept partial responsibility when they become implicated in the abuse of power.

    The dangers to our souls from unquestioning allegiance are much greater than those that could possibly come from asking questions.

  34. Nate Oman on April 6, 2006 at 9:42 am

    “My sense (and I’ve always thought you agreed) is that to face the consequences of honest interpretation is to confront the reality that we don’t really have an adequate set of tools to definitively determine what is and is not normative. So I’m seeing two different ways of describing the same phenomenon.”

    Aaron: Re-read the paper that I sent you. I believe that we lack a simple rule for determining what is or is not normative. This is quite different than saying that we lack “an adequate set of tools to definitively determine what is and is not normative.” I think that we actually have such a set of tools in the normal methods of interpretation. This, however, requires that all statements be made in the context of an understanding of the whole and vice-versa. It also means that our judgments about what is or is not normative in the past are always contestable. We are always going to have arguments about what is “church doctrine.” This does not mean, however, that church doctrine does not exist or is a meaningless concept any more than the fact that morality is a contestable concept means that it doesn’t exist or is meaningless. We can still make better or worse arguments about who the past should be interpreted. Nor am I suggesting that most of the rosy interpretations of the past are even good interpretations; most of them are not.

    Rather, I am trying to make a simple point about the sort of question that most of these interpretations seek to ask. When a Mormon says, “Why did the Saints practice polygamy?” she is not really asking for a historical explanation, or least is not exclusively asking for such an explanation. Rather, she is asking for some story that explains the extent to which the polygamous past has a claim on her. One of our problems is that we are never clear about what we are asking about, with the result that we often get very confused and confusing answers.

  35. Nate Oman on April 6, 2006 at 9:54 am

    “It is a reasonable assumption that, taking into account the myriad of changes in the century and a half of the Church, some of what was put in place was not, in fact, of the Lord- This makes these things very much pertinent, or “normativeâ€? today- because how much of what we today consider doctrine will one day be “non-normativeâ€??? This is what catches me up, snags me, and causes me pause.”

    Tracy M: I think that you have placed your finger on a key issue. If figuring out what is normative involves offering global interpretations of Mormon history, scripture, and practice (and I think that it does), then we must fess up to the fact that we may well be wrong and things can change in the future. This will require a certain flexibility in our thinking that is difficult if we think of “church doctrine” as providing fool-proof guidance on every issue. I suspect, however, that it actually serves a different purpose. First, it orients us out of ourselves by pointing toward an authority that is beyond us. Second, it also forces us to continually make individual judgements about what is or is not a good interpretation. The word “good” here suggests that even in obedience to the normative we are required to make independent judgments. (This, among other reasons, is part of why Hellmut’s chest pounding is rather overblown.) Third, we are continually thrown back upon God and the Spirit because their is no simple, non-problematic way of answering doctrinal quandaries Fourth, it suggests that getting our doctrine right is not God’s highest concern. To be sure, there are certain limits within which things must be kept. It is not the case that anything goes. On the other hand, the Church and the scriptures do not solve the problem of interpretive difficulties by offering a magic method for resolving all difficulties. Rather, we have moral injunctions to avoid harsh and divisive disagreements, e.g. Christ in 3 Ne teaching that “contention is of the devil.” In addition to moral injunctions, we have the idea of jurisdiction within the Church. Priesthood authorities can resolve the practical problems of diagreement by fiat because of their office, even if the underlying issues giving rise to the disagreements are not intellectually resolved.

  36. Frank McIntyre on April 6, 2006 at 10:34 am

    “Since lying does not require the possession of objective truth but oly the denial of what one deems to be true, the presence of subjective elements in research are irrelevant to my argument.”

    This is silly. You act as if the historian should do his science in a vacuum ignorant of his faith. But if he believs his faith, it should inform him a great deal about the objective truth (and therefore inform what he believes to be true). I already went through this with the ressurection example.

    It is not lying to say that I have the following evidence, but I recognize that I could well be wrong ; and consequently to be concerned about whether or not to publish said evidence given one’s uncertainty. Suppose I flip a coin twice and it comes up heads twice. Based on the “evidence”, and using standard maximum likelihood estimation techniques, I should infer that the coin only comes up heads. But that is because my method is flawed when using limited evidence (2 data points). _All_ historical inquiry is based on limited evidence. It is all suspect. Thus any good historian would recognize this and would not be “lying” to be careful about publishing partial evidence (which is all we ever have).

    So do you have any actual examples of where non-polemic, humbly presented facts without any agenda were the cause of disciplinary evidence of an LDS historian? Maybe then I can get a better sense of what you are claiming.

  37. Nate Oman on April 6, 2006 at 10:42 am

    “Nate, isn’t it Mormon theology that membership, baptism, and a series of other sacraments are necessary for salvation? Isn’t it the case that excommunication cancels the effect of sacraments essential to salvation?”

    Not really. Rebaptism is required, but temple and priesthood blessings are “restored” without having to redo the endowment and other ordinances, suggesting that the effect of the sacraments has not been canceled. Furthermore, given the possibility of posthumous rebaptism and restoration of blessings, the eternal consequences of excommunication are ultimately indeterminate. You are offering a very strained and harsh version of LDS theology in order to make your rhetorical point. Fortunately, the real Mormon world is not as bleak and nasty as you make it out to be.

  38. Hellmut Lotz on April 6, 2006 at 11:17 am

    Notice that in these cases rebaptism is not available unless the historians commit the sin of lying, hence the paradox.

  39. Nate Oman on April 6, 2006 at 11:18 am

    Hellmut: If that is so, you know much more about the conditions of rebaptism than I do…

  40. Hellmut Lotz on April 6, 2006 at 11:34 am

    Frank (#36), Grant Palmer fits your decription. So does Michael Quinn in 1993.

    You are demanding that historians limit their professional activity to satisfy the constraints of their religion. That’s lousy history.

    There is no analogy between the problems of sampling and history.

    Historians are typically concerned about existential statements. There is no logical reason why existential statements cannot be verified. If they are specified in terms of time and space then existential statements also become falsifiable.

    The only challenge to Mormon history is whether or not evidence is available. In some cases, it is not. For example, it will be impossible for historians to determine whether or not Joseph Smith had the first vision. In other cases, the evidence is easily accessible. The Book of Abraham translation would be a case in point since parts of the original text are copied in the Pearl of Great Price.

    The bottom line is, Frank, that the methodological challenges of historians are comparatively modest compared to those disciplines who are concerned about uncovering laws and regularities.

  41. Hellmut Lotz on April 6, 2006 at 11:37 am

    Nate, how do you repent from saying the truth? That’s the problem that Grant Palmer cannot figure out. He was disfellowshipped for his synopsis and meta-analysis of Mormon history. Palmer considers his work a good faith effort of analysis. To regain full membership status, he would have to say against his better judgement that his research statements are false.

    That would be lying.

  42. Nate Oman on April 6, 2006 at 12:00 pm

    Hellmut: How is Palmer’s situation any different than someone who cannot gain full membership in the Church because, after carefully studying the issue out, he concludes that there is no God and publishes a book arguing for this conclusion?

  43. Frank McIntyre on April 6, 2006 at 12:05 pm

    If you think Grant Palmer and Michael Quinn fit the definition I gave then it is obvious that you have a very low standard for “non-polemical, humbly presented facts without any agenda”. MIchael Quinn’s exommunication is not a matter of public record, but let’s face it, his homosexuality book is hardly non-polemic, fair minded research. And Grant Palmer’s work is far from non-polemical fact finding. His claims are all highly disputed.

    In neither case were these men presenting uncontroversial objective facts. They were, in fact, both sampling from the historical record and doing so rather selectively. And when they came to different conclusions than others, they did not allow that this meant they might well be wrong. They published books and went public with their version. I don’t see why you think it is good truth-seeking to ignore things you can learn from revelation.

    “There is no analogy between the problems of sampling and history.”

    Since history never uncovers all the facts, it is clearly a case of sampling facts from the available universe of facts. I am not sure why you have trouble seeing this. And I have to say that your view of history as being so easily and readily determined is not one I ever hear from historians. Good historians seem to think it is rather tricky business.

  44. Frank McIntyre on April 6, 2006 at 12:11 pm

    “The Book of Abraham translation would be a case in point since parts of the original text are copied in the Pearl of Great Price.”

    I know of no general agreement on whether we have the original text from which Joseph made the translation. And without that assumption we have nothing to which we can compare the POGP.

  45. DavidH on April 6, 2006 at 12:20 pm

    I think the Church may be moving more in the direction Hellmut advocates, deferring indefinitely any discipline for Thomas Murphy, being quite careful that the reason given for Simon Southerton’s discipline was for personal conduct rather than his book on DNA and the Book of Mormon, and allowing Grant Palmer to remain a member of the Church rather than terminating his membership.

  46. Christian Y. Cardall on April 6, 2006 at 12:36 pm

    Nate, I’m sure you realize this, but your explanation of rosy history applies even more directly to something you’ve lamented in the past: that the Teachings of the Presidents of the Church are a grab-bag of selective quotations rather than entire talks.

  47. Ben McGuire on April 6, 2006 at 2:12 pm

    Nate wrote:

    “The arguments against ultra-rosy history are equally familiar. First, there is the straight forward ethical claim that it is immoral. On this view, rosy Mormon history is a lie, and we ought not to be liars. Second, there is a practical argument. Building up faith on the basis of untrue stories is a bad idea because some of those whose faith is so built will find that the stories are wrong, leading them to lose their faith. Much better to be up front about everything.”

    We tell lies when we say something that we believe is inaccurate. Usually, we like to think that we believe factually accurate things, and disbelieve factually inaccurate things. But the case that this is so in any given instance is in fact quite accidental. It is quite possible for us to believe something that is factually inaccurate (actually this is pretty normal) and to state otherwise – even if we are stating what is in reality the factual truth, would be telling a lie. Lieing actually has very little to do with reality.

    I think, for the most part, that those who present the church in a certain light do so because they genuinely believe it to be the case (both from the faithful and from the critics). And this isn’t just about our Mormon history. A few Sundays ago, I taught the Gospel Doctrine lesson on Joseph in Egypt. And I introduced an issue which I read into the text (it is quite a drama). When Joseph reveals himself to his brothers there is this stunned silence on their part. Why? Because Joseph has (knowing the whole time that he was doing this – and the text is quite clear in the questions that Joseph asks his brothers and their responses) put his own need to discover whether his brothers were changed over the welfare of his father. He shows an absolute willingness, for example, to bring his father near to the grave in requiring him to send his younger brother so that he can test his other brothers who were responsible for his own slavery. Of course, say my branch president – that could never happen. Joseph was close to God, had no real imperfections, etc. Interpretation occurs on the basis of what we believe without ever really considering the text. And of course, our prophets must be perfect, and the church must be perfect, and our texts must be perfect. These beliefs are held by many (similar beliefs occur elsewhere – it is not an LDS phenomenon). For them to express the history any differently would be for them to lie – for them to say something that they really do not believe.

    It seems to me then, that there is something to be said for rosy histories. Certainly they will not meet the expectations of those who believe that they themselves are capable of absolute objectivity when it comes to such matters. But this should not be seen as an issue of dishonesty. The same could be said for a critics version – no interpretation of history – particularly a written history is going to be capable of presenting only fact, and to be able to escape bias of some sort. But this doesn’t make these histories dishonest. They only become dishonest when we presume (in our typical egocentric fashion) that everyone should follow me as the model of rational thought – and that if they know the facts (like I do) then the conclusions (which I draw) are the only reasonable conclusions – and thus either they are unaware of the facts or they are irrationally approaching them, or they are hiding the truth – lying (I think Nate got two of these three in his comments). There is little room to see these rosy histories as being rational responses to the facts interpreted through a different lens of belief and environment. Mormons often call the claims of critics “lies” – yet the same can be said of them. And usually, the heart of the debate is often a flawed and shared assumption. Whether it is the idea that the “Gospel” rests on the infallibility of it leaders (and so the faithful present them as being infallible while the critic presents them as being only too fallible) or on some other issue, the question is whether either presentation can really give us what we want to know.

    When we get into these discussions, I am reminded of the Book of Mormon, and Nephi. Nephi reads his Old Testament, and finds that he has some real issues with what he finds there. So much so, that he suggests that he isn’t going to teach his people the things he was taught – (2 Ne. 25:2,5-6)

    For I, Nephi, have not taught them many things concerning the manner of the Jews; for their works were works of darkness, and their doings were doings of abominations. … Yea, and my soul delighteth in the words of Isaiah, for I came out from Jerusalem, and mine eyes hath beheld the things of the Jews, and I know that the Jews do understand the things of the prophets, and there is none other people that understand the things which were spoken unto the Jews like unto them, save it be that they are taught after the manner of the things of the Jews. But behold, I, Nephi, have not taught my children after the manner of the Jews; but behold, I, of myself, have dwelt at Jerusalem, wherefore I know concerning the regions round about; and I have made mention unto my children concerning the judgments of God, which hath come to pass among the Jews, unto my children, according to all that which Isaiah hath spoken, and I do not write them.

    Nephi also speaks of likening the scriptures unto ourselves, and displays a deep distrust of the historical records he has (in the Brass Plates). It seems to me that this sounds very similar in a way to the idea of providing “rosy interpretations”. I think it is important for us to realize that for some, this is perfectly fine. They have no need for more, they do not want more, and it is not our job or our responsibility to burst their bubbles and force them into conflict where it is unnecessary. At the same time, if we want to discuss these issues and present them, then it is our job to do so. And I think that it is possible to do so in a voice of faith. And if we have lost our faith (as per Helmut’s examples), then why are we evangelizing?

    And finally a comment for Helmut –

    I think that there is a difference between “the church” and “the gospel”. Like any other institution, one of the needs of the church is to protect itself. In the example which was given earlier, the Catholic church has treated heretics in different ways – not all of them were as congenial as the one discussed here. Likewise, the LDS Church has dealt with issues in the past (consider Brigham Young and Orson Pratt). I think though, that the church doesn’t have (yet) any way (or pehaps even a desire to express) the idea that a body of material is unorthdox to the point where it is incompatible with church membership. I think that the church has every right to exclude individuals. I think it is appropriate for the church to suggest that either material is recanted or else membership may be taken away. I think it is necessary at times for the church to excommunicate individuals so that people become aware that their teachings are heretical. You suggest that it is wrong for a person to claim divine investiture as a reason to deal harshly with a member, yet, in suggesting this, I don’t get the feeling that you believe that it is also wrong for these scholars to use public venues in an attempt to bully the church into accepting their own personal points of view. If a person finds themselves at such odds with the long standing beliefs of the church that they believe such action is necessary, then perhaps they should consider leaving on their own. And no, I am not really that sympathetic to the social issues. I also suggest that you are displaying a rather fundamentalist streak in your language (intentional or not). The church is not the ultimate arbiter of salvation. And if the greater good is served by excommunicating one, then perhaps it becomes necessary – even if not deserved. Further, I do have a real challenge with your black and white thinking when it comes to those excommunicated. After all, your comments are tantamount to a declaration that Gileadi is a liar. But again its all a matter of perspective.

    You defend Grant Palmer. Bravo. I suspect that Palmer genuinely believes what he writes. But it doesn’t make it accurate. His claim, for example, that the King Lamoni conversion narrative is based on the New Testament narrative of Lazarus being raised from the dead is demonstratably flawed beyond recovery (I imagine I could even convince you). But this doesn’t make Palmer a liar (see my comments above). And my rejection of much of what Palmer wrote is based on my personal experiences and knowledge. But, the fact that Palmer believes something doesn’t automatically grant him the privilege of being able to challenge the church without a risk of reprecussions. And since Palmer portrays himself as “an insider” and since he is essentially making claims which are incompatible with some of the fundamental beliefs of the Mormon faith, the church I think has every right to censure him in a public fashion. And if he really believes that the church is essentially the product of Joseph’s imagination, then I am certain that what you view as the denial of salvation is largely meaningless to him – and your comments on his behalf are misplaced.

    Ben

  48. Hellmut Lotz on April 6, 2006 at 3:12 pm

    Ben (#47), I have no problem with the Church defending itself and censuring historical work. There are a lot of ways to defend oneself that are compatible with the gospel. The most obvious one would be to say that Palmer is wrong.

    Are you suggesting that people do not need to be members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be redeemed? That’s neither what I was taught by the missionaries nor what I taught myself as a missionary. In fact, you would be the first believing Mormon known to me if your belief is that baptism is not necessary.

    The necessity of sacraments to salvation is a basic belief in LDS theology. If you don’t believe me, check the Articles of Faith or any set of the missionary discussions.

    Finally, it may be unfair to evaluate LDS leaders by Palmer’s standard. It’s fair to evaluate them by their own standards. Therefore we do not have to ask ourselves not what does Church discipline mean to Grant Palmer but what does it mean to LDS leaders. If their behavior generates a logic that removes redemption from the universe of possible outcomes then there is a problem.

    Frank (#43 and 44), I certainly agree that history can be a tricky business for empirical reasons. For logical reasons, the epistemological challenge of historians is less problematic than for physicists or economists and other scholars concerned about the laws of nature and society.

    Grant Palmer and Michael Quinn won prices for their work. You can believe that their research is selective and manipulative. It will be difficult to reasonably sustain that belief because historians’ societies deign their work top notch.

    With respect to the Book of Abraham, I did not refer to the papyri but to Facsimile 1-3 in the Pearl of Great Price. The translation of those copies published by Joseph Smith, turn out to be breathing permits. But that’s only an example that I used to make another point.

    Nate (#42), while there are certain parallels between Palmer and someone who argues that there is no God, those authors are engaging into an essentially different enterprise.

    Existential statements taking the form of
    “There is a black swan,” or
    “There is a God,” cannot be falsified.

    Hence neither logic nor evidence can engage faith when existential statements are the subject of dispute. Rather logic provides an impenetrable bulwark for those who subscribe to existential statements.

    Therefore, your hypothetical belongs into a different category than scholars who operate in a framework that requires them to submit their opinions and conclusions to reasons.

  49. Frank McIntyre on April 6, 2006 at 3:55 pm

    “Grant Palmer and Michael Quinn won prices for their work. You can believe that their research is selective and manipulative. It will be difficult to reasonably sustain that belief because historians’ societies deign their work top notch.”

    Did they win Bancrofts? Because I am assured that all Bancroft work is perfect (except, in some cases, when it is utter garbage, like the guns book.). If you think winning “a prize” in history makes you right or assures your objectivity, I have some horrible, horrible, news for you. I doubt any of the prize givers would make that claim for their prize, and if they did, why should we have faith in their correctness? I mean that is just silly. Even the best historical work is subject to major revision by later scholars. Thus the sampling comes into play even without agendas– just because historical records are incomplete.

    And if you think Egyptology is something to base faith (or lack thereof) on, I have even more bad news for you. Why do you place such faith in these mortal institutions as if they produced work that should be trusted above anything said by God’s authorities on Earth? Surely you recognize that they make mistakes and do stupid things and/or have agendas too? Why do you reserve so much of your cynicism for Church leaders? I find this baffling.

    To put it another way, suppose God came down and told you that those books were a load of rubbish and completely wrong. Would you then insist that this could not be the case because the “blah blah society of whoever Mormon historians” gave it an award? Of course not. Because mortals make mistakes all the time. In fact, we shouldn’t be at all surprised to discover in the next life that we were wrong about all sorts of things. Thus we should take our conclusions with some humility– especially when our mortal and tentative conclusions start contradicting people with the authority to speak for God.

  50. mullingandmusing (m&m) on April 6, 2006 at 6:03 pm

    Hellmut,
    Why do you think that ordinances for people who don’t believe in the fundamentals of the Church would have any meaning for them? Or even any binding anything in the eyes of heaven? Just partaking of ordinances is not sufficient for salvation — the heart and conversion are required. Indeed, one like Palmer was most likely damning himself by partaking of the sacrament, or else he wouldn’t have been disfellowshipped. He cut himself off from the ordinances. Don’t blame the leaders for acting in response to his open denial of what members are expected to believe (or at least hope) to be truth. Quinn is in a similar boat.

    In short, open rebellion against prophets and against fundamental doctrine makes ordinances essentially null and void…and could be more damaging to one’s soul than not having access to them at all.

  51. Hiram Page on April 6, 2006 at 6:56 pm

    Thanks to Nate Oman for an interesting piece on Mormon history. I agree that there is definitely a place for ‘devotional history’ in the Church. In a way such history is very similar to the NT Gospels. These are written witnesses of Jesus and hardly historical writing in the vein of a Thucydides. I do not believe that the LDS Church can be expected to promote and to publish histories that contradict its more fundamental missions of spreading the Gospel and redeeming the saints.

    I also agree that the LDS Church has the right to discipline scholars that it determines to be contradicting or threatening the core missions of the Church. They also have a duty, according to their own beliefs and procedures, to discipline those whose beliefs venture far from the core doctrines of the LDS faith. Hellmut, however, presents us with an interesting paradox. Is it a scenario, however, that has actually occurred?

    I have a difficult time understanding the reactions to the excommunication of D. Michael Quinn voiced here. I find it interesting that so many comments on this thread reflect an ill-founded assessment of him as an apostate when he was actually excommunicated. What Quinn has done since that time, or the lifestyle he does or does not lead, is immaterial to the subject of his excommunication. Quinn maintained a fervent testimony of the Restored Gospel throughout this process. His mistake was to refuse to attend. Who knows what would have happened if he had actually shown up to defend himself? I wish the court had never been convened in the first place. I find nothing in his pre-excommunication writings that contradicts core principles of the Restored Gospel. Now people can claim that he was excommunicated for disobedience in not attending.

    As for Grant Palmer, yes he did not want to be disciplined. He wanted to remain a member of the LDS Church. And he does. I had never considered the point that because Palmer does not believe in the unique efficacy of LDS sacraments that the denial of them would hardly be the blow that Hellmut envisions. In principle I think we can say that Hellmut’s scenario is a real possibility. When has it actually played out in reality? I mean, Palmer pretty clearly wanted to stay in the LDS Church, not because he was afraid of losing its saving ordinances, but because it represented his community of tradition.

    Hellmut, can you shed some further light on the history of these excommunications? When has the scenario you present actually occurred?

  52. D-Train on April 6, 2006 at 8:00 pm

    Hellmut,

    I’m not sure where you’re getting the idea that you must receive of certain ordinances in this life to be saved. We certainly argue that they’re needed, but we would certainly admit that those who were unjustly denied ordinances (if there be any) would not be punished by God. Excommunication is not a final divorce from God and we don’t pretend that it is.

    I’m also not sure why an organization can’t set standards for membership. Can you answer this question? We can disagree about what those standards should be, but the Church seems to be saying that you have to be either doctrinally orthodox or quiet. That seems rationally related to the Church’s mission. It seems that you’re saying that there is nothing a person can say that should make him ineligible for Church membership.

  53. mullingandmusing (m&m) on April 6, 2006 at 8:37 pm

    I mean, Palmer pretty clearly wanted to stay in the LDS Church, not because he was afraid of losing its saving ordinances, but because it represented his community of tradition.

    As has been discussed here, however, he could still associate with the community if ex’d. Membership in the Church involves serious covenants, not just a nice social tradition.

    Anyway, I thought he was only disfellowshipped. Did I miss that he was later excommunicated?

    Re: Quinn…obviously I don’t know much about how things were when he was excommunicated…just more about him post-excommunication. Sorry if my comment was hasty with regard to him.

  54. Razorfish on April 6, 2006 at 11:24 pm

    “There are certain portions of the past that are not normative. Hence, one of the central theological conundrums that Mormons find themselves in is sorting out which bits of the past have a claim on them, and which do not”

    Nate – this is really the key issue in understanding and studying our own Church history. So we can understand what parts of our history are normative (binding) and non-normative (non-binding).

    For example, it seems the prophet Joseph was more accepting of extending the priesthood to all people (your post on Elijah Abel for example). Brigham Young apparently was not. That consensus continued until 1978 when the rules changed again. It’s easier to imagine the beliefs of individuals and the culture of the day influencing events, than to believe that a sovereign God “apparently changed the rules” from 1836 to 1849 to 1978. If the latter is the case, I guess I just have to scratch my head and remain perplexed and confused. The more logical (but perhaps mistaken and non-orthodox thought) is if the civil rights movement never happened, would the 1978 revelation have occured or would it still be in embryo?

    My point is I think the culture (unintentionally) colors the doctrine of the day. For example, the Apostle Paul certainly had some warped notions of gender equality in his day with respect to some of his statements about the role of women etc. Continuing in these stereotypes (for women, different races, etc) is to deny the progress and equality that has taken thousands of years to achieve. Deciding what is normative and non-normative requires a lot of wisdom in understanding our own history…the problem is the consequences of this decision tree are enormous.

  55. Hiram Page on April 6, 2006 at 11:32 pm

    #53: mullingandmusing,

    If you go to the top of that paragraph I said with reference to Palmer’s church standing that he remains a member:

    “He wanted to remain a member of the LDS Church. And he does.”

    I later make the mistake of refering to “these excommunications.”

    Sorry for the confusing inconsistency.

  56. Hellmut Lotz on April 7, 2006 at 12:37 am

    Mulling, whether or not the excommunicated individuals experience the discipline relevant to their salvation is immaterial. The beliefs of LDS leaders constitute the paradox.

    Therefore, Hiram, the conditions that bring about the paradox are fulfilled in every case where LDS authorities deny scholars access for no other reason but their research.

    Frank, I don’t know why you keep insisting on objective truth. That lofty standard is not necessary to bring about the paradox.

    I have said that Quinn and Palmer have made a conscientious effort. Their professional peers agree with that assessment. That, however, is a minor point.

    The paradox operates as long as scholars believe that their research is subject to reality. That does not mean that the scholars are right but that their conclusions depend in principle on reasons. In other words, scholars must be willing to change their minds in light of logic or evidence. If that is the case then excommunicated or disfellowshipped scholars can restore access to or validity of the sacraments only by lying.

    D-Train, certainly organizations can set standards for membership. My argument is that the current practice of excommunicating scholars for their research contradicts the core of the gospel, i.e. the saving grace of the atonement. In other words, the practice of excommunicating scholars is a violation of LDS standards.

    The fact that God may not punish scholars exonerates God but not the leaders whose actions are abusive and imply a contradiction of the atonement.

    When we put scholars into a position where the latter must lie to preserve their membership status then we create a situation where repentance is impossible within the framework of Church discipline. Whether or not God may “overrule” the errors of mortals does not absolve us. Nor does it undo the fact that such actions generate an institution beyond the bounds of Christianity as specified in Mormon theology about the role of sacraments and Church membership.

    Even if excommunication has zero influence on scholars’ salvation because God puts things right in the end, the leaders who conduct such discipline are still asking scholars to commit a sin. Even if this form of Church discipline were only a matter of inconsequential symbolism, empty words, the excommunication of scholars for their research remains the anti-testimony of LDS leaders whose actions are denying Christ’s atonement.

    Of course, there is always the possibility that LDS leaders have failed to consider the implications of their actions and are therefore guilty of no more than carelessness.

    If that’s the case, then we should observe that sacramental Church discipline for scholars will come to an end when LDS leaders come to understand the implications of their actions. Catholics who share our assumptions about the importance of sacraments have eventually figured it out. John Paul II even apologized for the abuse that Galileo Galilei had to suffer. That’s classy.

    May be, somebody will some day apologize to Lavina Fielding Anderson.

  57. mullingandmusing (m&m) on April 7, 2006 at 1:35 am

    Hellmut:
    You said: My argument is that the current practice of excommunicating scholars for their research contradicts the core of the gospel, i.e. the saving grace of the atonement.

    You oversimplify this issue that scholars are ex’d for their research. It’s not just for research. It’s typically for open opposition to doctrine and/or prophets. Also, the “saving grace of the atonement” is conditional on one’s obedience and repentance. The Lord Himself is the One who came up with the idea of “cutting people off” from His grace. It is basically the choices of the individuals that cuts them off from the saving grace of the Atonement. The individuals are the ones who should be carefully considering the implications of their actions.

    Even if excommunication has zero influence on scholars’ salvation because God puts things right in the end, the leaders who conduct such discipline are still asking scholars to commit a sin.

    First of all, I think scholars can conduct scholarly research without coming to absolute conclusions that deny faith. I am certain that scholarly research can be done by one with a testimony, even if it appears to contradict doctrine or whatever, and not place one’s membership in jeopardy. I firmly believe there is more to excommunications of scholars than just their research alone. Attitudes and degree of “fighting against the Church” in the process are more at play, IMO.

    Secondly, in your comments, you seem to put denying one’s research as a “sin” worse than denying one’s faith. Since membership is an issue of faith, I do not understand your rationale. If someone has faith and a testimony, I would think that would be more important than any amount of research or worldly accolades. If scholars are not willing to put their research (which is imperfect and is continuously changing) on the altar (if that is what it comes down to, which is very rare anyway), then we need to remember Who asks us to put everything on the altar.

    I think you are unfairly making the church leaders the villains and absolving individuals of any responsibility for humility, faith, obedience and sacrifice. The Atonement is only available on conditions of repentance, which include those characteristics. I am saddened by your apparent lack of trust in the way the Lord has set things up. I’m not saying that mistakes are never made, but I wholeheartedly disagree with your sweeping generalizations.

  58. Frank McIntyre on April 7, 2006 at 8:05 am

    “In other words, scholars must be willing to change their minds in light of logic or evidence. If that is the case then excommunicated or disfellowshipped scholars can restore access to or validity of the sacraments only by lying.”

    Hellmut, changing your mind because you receive a revelation would constitute changing it in the face of evidence. Thus they do not need to lie. They could simply get a revelatory correction, since, as you put it, there is no reason to premise the “paradox” on them being objectively correct. And since we are allowing that they could well be wrong, God can straighten them out. “Ask and ye shall receive”.

    Of course, the idea that objective truth is irrelevant makes the whole thing rather bizarre. If the researcher is any good, they should know what we know, namely that they are not neccessarily accessing objective truth. And that knowledge should have profound consequences on their behavior. I made this point twice above, once with the coin flipping example and also the ressurection example. If you know your research is so uncertain, it is foolhardy to trumpet it as being more sure than revelation, unless you’ve lost your testimony of revelation.

  59. Ben McGuire on April 7, 2006 at 9:28 am

    Hellmut (#48): Are you suggesting that people do not need to be members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be redeemed? That’s neither what I was taught by the missionaries nor what I taught myself as a missionary. In fact, you would be the first believing Mormon known to me if your belief is that baptism is not necessary.

    Ben: Adam wasn’t a a member “of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” and yet we suspect he is redeemed. The same might be said of anyone living before the LDS faith existed. And the church recognizes quite clearly that those who deserve redemption are redeemed – even providing for entire classes of people for whom baptism is not necessary (infants, those with a sufficient lack of mental competence, etc.) The notion that salvation hinges on the circumstances of your life – more so than the way in which you lived your life – is rather contrary to LDS theology. Baptism cannot be a requirement in any universal sense. The church recognizes that there are those who will be saved who will not get exposure to the LDS church, and thus never participate in LDS ordinances or sacrements. Furthermore, I suggest that excommunications which are performed (for whatever reasons) which aren’t deserved, will be corrected by Diety. That is, one person cannot deny salvation to another. The denial of salvation or the gift of salvation belongs with God. And finally, receiving baptism, and participating in the ordinances do not somehow guarantee salvation. And if you have been taught (and believe) that they do, then I think there is a serious problem with your theological perspective.

    Ben

  60. Hellmut Lotz on April 7, 2006 at 9:49 am

    Frank and M&M, notice that your statements reflect the logic that justifies the inquisition of Galilei. There is, after all, scriptural warrant for a geocentric worldview in Judges and other biblical passages. Had Galileo had more faith, been more virtuous then he never would have formulated a heliocentric model. Clearly, he must have been evil and for the benefit of his soul and those of who might be led astray, lets save him from himself.

    It turns out that Galileo knew what he was talking about and had to lie to save his life, which is not an issue here, and access to saving sacrament, which is what we are talking about.

    Today Galileo’s physics has been superseded almost entirely by better theories. He did not need to be objectively right to make a contribution to the pursuit of truth. Remarkably, John Paul II apologized at a time when the dispute over geo- and heliocentrism has become mute in light of Einstein’s relativity theory (all inertial systems are equal).

    Many other “heretics” were wrong as well but contributed nonetheless to the revelatory enterprise of scholarship. Discovery requires error. If we condemn scholars who are wrong then we shall not be able to enjoy the benefits of discovery any longer.

    Your insistence on objective truth in scholarship sets up a straw man that misunderstands the nature of scholarly inquiry. The terms research and discovery assume ignorance. If humans or humanity were omniscient then discovery and exploration would be meaningless concepts. Research is a humbling enterprise because it requires the admission that we do not know. As the effort departs from ignorance, one must expect error. Intolerance for error would end all scholarship.

    Scholarship cannot operate successfully unless scholars have the courage to question their beliefs. The fact that they cannot question everything simultaneously, does not absolve scholars from the obligation to their audience to follow logic and evidence.

    Often that enterprise will not conflict with what we believe our religion to be. At other times, there will be challenges. Insofar as scholars submit to reasons, matters beyond themselves and their tastes, they cannot be in control of their conclusions. That’s why recantation of scholarship in the absence of better reasons amounts to a lie.

    And no, Frank, it is not the function of testimonies and revelations to contradict science. Transcendent revelation can give meaning and value to scholarly discovery but the scriptures, especially the revelations of Joseph Smith, teach that rational effort is the foundation of the testimony.

    D&C 9 is clear that reasoning precedes revelation, not the other way around. When evidence contradicts religious dogma and religious dogma is true then we might be misunderstanding theology. More importantly, a functional “true” theology will be able to accomodate the nature of things.

    Assuming that there is freedom of expression, the truth can take care of itself. Believers who lack that confidence and respond to unpleasant scholarship with excommunication is not an expression of obedience to God but reveals a troubling lack of faith.

  61. DavidH on April 7, 2006 at 11:51 am

    There are two questions at least two questions here: 1. Does the Church have a right to expel members and revoke (subject to God’s review in the hereafter) ordinances? Yes, it does.

    2. Should that extreme sanction be invoked against members whose scholarly writing seems inconsistent with current doctrine? I tend to think not. Otherwise, we may give the appearance of attempting to control or suppress scholarship.

    That is one reason I think it was wise to suspend discipline for Thomas Murphy and to limit the basis for discipline with respect to Simon Southerton to personal conduct. Now Mormon scholars who investigate or debate whether DNA or other evidence contradicts the Book of Mormon can do so without as much fear that if they reach the wrong conclusion (tentative or not), they will be disciplined; moreover, those Mormon scholars who reach the conclusion (tentative or not) that the Book of Mormon is consistent with such evidence can do so, without their conclusions being as subject to challenge that their work was significantly influenced by fear of Church discipline.

  62. Jonathan Green on April 7, 2006 at 12:44 pm

    Frank, your suggestions for would-be faithful historians haven’t been very convincing. Sorry, but thanks for playing, please try again. Historians who do serious historical research should publish what they find.

    But Hellmut, I think you’re overlooking how much of historical writing is a matter of interpretation, and how often even brilliant interpretations can be tendentious. It’s not as if history is simply a matter of discoverying and publishing historical documents. Historians do not merely report findings based on observations and calculations. They have standpoints and perspectives that they have to defend and take responsibility for. Also, Mormon scholars have a responsibility not just as scholars, but as Mormons. They don’t have to bear their testimony in their professional publications, but they do have a responsibility to help the Mormon public make sense of those findings in a way that promotes faith rather than undermines it. Compare and contrast (as examples of public statement, not scholarly writing): “Joseph Smith was sealed to 33 women in some unusual ways, the kind of thing that might well happen as a difficult principle is being revealed line upon line,” with “Joseph Smith was sealed to 33 women in some unusual ways, which CONCLUSIVELY proves that Smith was a FRAUD and the whole LDS Church an EMPTY EDIFICE!”

    Also, which of the disciplined scholars, in your view, have faced censure for publishing something as inarguable as the earth’s revolving around the sun? I’m truly curious here; Mormon history is not my cup of tea.

    I’m generally sympathetic to the idea that scholars should conduct solid research and publish what they find without interference. But I’m not entirely comfortable declaring historical research a field that can have no real-world consequences, either. Vital scholarship has real meaning for real people, and real consequences.

  63. mullingandmusing (m&m) on April 7, 2006 at 2:58 pm

    Hellmut:
    Clearly you and I are talking past each other because we have a different set of assumptions. I will never put more faith in reason over revelation. I think you misunderstand D&C 9, and seem to make reason more reliable than revelation.

    Neal A. Maxwell: The need for operational inspiration and revelation in our lives and in our families cannot be overemphasized. Regular communications from one individual to another must pass through our finite filtering screens of past experience, our stereotypes, and our prejudices. Little wonder, for instance, that an idea so grand and so new as the resurrection was hard for even those who were close to Jesus to understand. Such powerful ideas require us, in a sense, to leap outside the confines of time, space, and experience. One of the vital roles of revelation is to help us to do just this—something neither reason nor experience can do for us, for these other two vital methods of knowing have this serious limitation.

    Bruce R. McConkie:
    If the sole source of one’s knowledge or assurance of the truth of the Lord’s work comes from reason, or logic, or persuasive argument that cannot be controverted, it is not a testimony of the gospel. In its nature a testimony consists of knowledge that comes by revelation, “for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Rev. 19:10)….

    and

    …however much any mortal man by finite means seeks to find and know the Infinite, yet he has failed and shall fail for this one reason: God is known only by revelation. God stands revealed or he remains forever unknown.

    and

    Light and truth and knowledge may be gained in many ways. They come through the senses, from experience, and by reason. When so received, man, of course, may be deceived. In their pure and perfect form they are manifest by revelation, through a process of Spirit speaking to spirit, of the Holy Spirit whispering to the properly attuned spirit within us. This also is his work, mission, and assigned ministry. He is a revelator. According to the eternal laws that govern all things, he has power to convey and reveal truth to a human soul with absolute finality. There is never any deception or uncertainty when the Spirit speaks. (emph. added))

    Spencer W. Kimball:
    Faith precedes knowledge. Faith must come first, then follows knowledge. Faith, then the miracle. Jesus said: “If any man will do the will of the Father, he shall know …” (See John 7:17.) Call it blind faith if you like, but it is faith. It is not the product of reason. The gospel will be found to be reasonable, but we do not take it because of reason. Logic is the father of hundreds of sects; it is the mother of the great apostasy. Revelation is the rock and the Lord has given us the key above. By faith, do the will of the Father, and the knowledge follows.

    Charles W. Penrose:
    Now this gift of the Holy Ghost, as I before remarked, is the greatest boon that can be conferred upon mortal men, because by it they can discern and comprehend the things of God, and without it they cannot. They may reflect upon them, ponder upon them, speculate about them; they may come to certain conclusions in their own minds by reason and logic, but they cannot obtain a knowledge of these things unless it is by the power and gift of the Holy Ghost, which is the spirit of revelation.

  64. Hiram Page on April 8, 2006 at 10:17 am

    #62: one thing that interests me about this discussion is that the examples of opposing interpretations that you offer seem to be pretty clear cut. If a person’s interpretation of Church history is expressed in such a way that one can clearly see an intent to defame the Church and destroy faith, that person, as a member of the Church, ought to be subject to the disciplinary mechanisms of the organization.

    What I sometimes see in practice, however, is a much tighter control on the presentation of the Church in the public sphere. It seems as though the Church is saying, “we (the leaders) control the Church’s image, not you.” The more I read Quinn’s work, the more I am struck at the complete lack of anything that says “this Church is bunk, don’t you get it?” I see nothing there that is intentionally designed to defame the Church. I see historical work that presents facts that sometimes present a less than rosy or a more complex image of the LDS Church. The fact that it is not flawless is not evidence that it was written with malicious intent. Some would say that what this provides is a dose of healthy reality in what could otherwise be (if historians could be controlled) a banal panegyrical approach to the LDS past that makes it seem like the Church has almost no interaction with the human world as we know it.

    If you look at some of the BYU firings, the same principle seems to be at work. It is not OK for a BYU professor to take a public pro-choice stance. It is not OK for a BYU professor to have written a book that is suddenly deemed doctrinally questionable (Epperson). Were these activities undertaken with an intent to defame the organization and destroy faith? Are we an avowedly pro-life Church? What’s up?

    When taken in the context of other image-shaping policies, like the efforts to determine by what name the media will refer to the Church, or efforts to dissociate the Fundamentalists from the Church, certain actions, even disciplinary actions, seem to be more about controlling the Church’s image than the repentance process. This may sit well with some of you, but I think it is troubling.

    Some of you also seem to be arguing that the Church does not represent the only means of acquiring salvation, and that excommunication is not the damning mechanism that some think it to be. While I applaud the ingeniousness of these views, which can certainly be extrapolated from Mormon doctrines, I would argue that they essentially nullify our reasons for being baptized, receiving the other ordinances, exercising the priesthood, participating in the LDS community, serving in wards and stakes, paying tithing, and fearing Church discipline as anything other than a social inconvenience.

    There must be room for LDS people to use scholarly tools to examine Mormonism without fear that their discoveries will land them outside of the faith. Their scholarship may rightly get them in trouble if it is clear that it is being used as a tool for spiritual activism of some kind, but honestly striving for a more accurate interpretation of the past is possible. Should the Church kick out those who lack a negative agenda? Are they being taught repentance for so doing? Is the Bushman model (which clearly benefits from the work of others who have been ex’ed) the only way to be a faithful historian? Is it utterly impossible for a faithful historian to write a secular (not devotional) history of his faith tradition?