Fruits

March 21, 2007 | 47 comments
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The standard reply to every bad-bishop or awful-ward story is well known by now: “The church is perfect, but the members aren’t.” Your interaction with an awful leader or member or ward — hypocritical, sexist, gossipy, unrighteous dominion, Red Sox fan, or otherwise unpardonable — is due to the humanity involved. The church itself is just fine, and please bear in mind that hide-bound church individuals are hide-bound only in their individual capacity. Why, the scriptures even tell us that unrighteous dominion is sadly inevitable.

How exactly do we reconcile that line of reasoning with Matthew 7?

16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

Now, maybe good members are not the real fruits of the gospel. Maybe those fruits are other things (spiritual experiences, teachings, and so on).

Maybe our fruits really are better than the alternative fruits out there, even if we’re a little fruity ourselves. This argument would be that yes, we’re hypocritical and sexist and exercisers of unrighteous dominion — rotten fruits, really — but we’re still the best fruits that the produce aisle has to offer. (How’s that for a ringing endorsement?)

Or maybe the verses in Matthew really do undercut the rhetorical force of the oft-heard argument that the church is fine, even if the members aren’t. Maybe we should be quicker to try to make ourselves a little better as fruits, and less quick to write off others’ bad experiences as only a problem with “the members.”

Maybe the only fruits of the church that really matter are the actions, good and bad, of its members.

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47 Responses to Fruits

  1. Adam Greenwood on March 21, 2007 at 5:46 pm

    Read Matthew 7 carefully, Kaimi. Christ is telling people how to recognize false prophets. So bad bishops or awful wards would be evidence that President Hinckley is a false prophet. But I’m not sure it makes any sense to to see those as fruits of his ministry unless he did something or preached something that contributed to their badness. Even then, I’d want to know what the net effect of his preaching was. Christ said ‘good fruits,’ not ‘perfect fruits,’ so in my mind he’s not suggesting perfect results as the standard for deciding who is a true prophet.

  2. Adam Greenwood on March 21, 2007 at 5:50 pm

    I’m glad the bloggernacle is mature enough to recognize that some fruits are good and some fruits are bad. Sometimes we talk as if they’re all one or all the other.

  3. Jim F. on March 21, 2007 at 5:54 pm

    Kaimi, I think that the fruits in question in Matthew are the spiritual fruits. However, those are inextricable from the particular kinds of lives that individual human beings live. So, yes, the gospel ought to be judged by the fruits that it yields in people’s lives.

    Nevertheless, you seem to me to use a strange logic: (1) We should be judged by our fruits. (2) The members of the Church are not perfect. (3) So, the gospel ought to be judged by the imperfections of its members. Isn’t that the fallacy of composition? The qualities of individuals are not necessarily the same as the qualities of a group of those individuals, yet you seem to me to be assuming that they are.

    In addition, I think you are conflating the Church and the gospel, though the two are not the same.

    It doesn’t follow from the fact that those who have covenanted to accept Christ’s atonement are not yet perfect that the good news of that atonement has not yielded spiritual fruit in their lives.

  4. danithew on March 21, 2007 at 5:54 pm

    I think in some ways too much is expected of bishops.

  5. KMB on March 21, 2007 at 5:59 pm

    This seems like a false contradiction: the ‘bad fruits’ are only an acceptable way to judge the value of a church as a whole if the badness actually comes from *following* the gospel. Most of those “bad bishop/awful ward” stories I’ve heard involve such obvious examples of NOT following basic gospel principles and scriptural admonitions that they have no inherent value in judging the ultimate goodness of a church–even if in their own minds those ‘bad’ members still consider themselves to be “living by gospel principles”.

    Why can’t we summarize the issue with these two statements:
    (a) Judge the Gospel/Church by the fruits of those who follow it.
    (b) Don’t judge the Gospel/Church by the fruits of those who DON’T follow it (even if their names happen to be on the Church roles and they show up to the chapel every week).

    Stated like this, what’s the contradiction? Judging a church by the members who *don’t* follow the gospel is like passing judgment on Republicans based on what Michael Moore believes…

  6. joe m on March 21, 2007 at 6:30 pm

    the common statement that \”the church is perfect but the members aren\’t\” is misleading. The gospel is perfect. i don\’t think you can say that the church is perfect. as has been already stated, judge by the fruits of the gospel. to judge by the fruits of the church is wide open to all kinds of interpretation.

  7. Naismith on March 21, 2007 at 7:16 pm

    “…even if in their own minds those ‘bad’ members still consider themselves to be “living by gospel principles”

    Let’s keep in mind, too, that good bishops don’t go on trees (okay, bad pun). In any job, it takes some time and experience to find one’s groove. I was a much better Relief Society President during the second year of my tenure than the first year, and unfortunately the members paid the tuition for my training period. At any given point in time, I genuinely felt I *was* living by gospel principles, and certainly sought for that. But my fruit was a bit unripe, and perhaps thus not so sweet to the taste. The ripe fruit the next season was better.

    But such training is part of the why we have the church.

    BTW, to illustrate how this may have nothing to do with living gospel principles or not, one of my struggles was that people thought I didn’t care. I did care, I just didn’t express it in a way that was acceptable to them. I don’t like being touched by strangers, and so I followed the golden rule, which is a gospel principle. But I learned that to be effective, I had to force myself to hug people, etc. Then I was seen as behaving more appropriately.

  8. Seth R. on March 21, 2007 at 7:26 pm

    I’ve always read Matt 7 as a justification for an individual in opting-out of church participation and the sin be upon the heads of the members or leadership responsible.

    The problem is who the intended audience is. We tend to confuse audiences whenever we discuss this topic.

    Assume that I have been offended by some egregious conduct among my fellow ward members and I am questioning whether or not I should continue attending this particular ward, or even the LDS Church meetings in general.

    Now the analysis for me personally would be thus:

    “Should bad behavior by church members be allowed to drive me away from the LDS religion?”

    For me, I would likely answer that question no, since I don’t like the idea of allowing other people to control my own personal religious commitments to God.

    OK, fair enough.

    But there is another analysis in play here – the offending members. What should their analysis be?

    The typical ward member analysis I hear whenever there is a “falling away” is essentially, “What a sissy! If he had a REAL testimony, he wouldn’t have allowed “bad behavior X” to drive him away from Church participation.”

    The problem is that ward members are opportunistically using an analysis that has nothing to do with them to give themselves a free pass on acting like turds.

    Who gave said ward members the right to use “offended member A’s” own personal issues as an excuse for acting like self-righteous, stuck-up, unfriendly, interfering no-goods?

    Does anyone here honestly think that God at the judgment bar is going to be incredibly impressed with the protestation – “But, he shouldn’t have left just because I insulted his wife! That’s HIS problem!”

    The appropriate response from God would probably be:

    “By my fruits shall they know Me. You have misrepresented me, my Gospel, and all those faithful and caring saints who worked so hard to reach out to those in need of my Word. You know neither my Church, nor me. Depart from me ye workers of iniquity.”

    This Church will be known by the bad apples within it. Outsiders have every right to judge this Church by its fruits, good and bad. We can’t apply doctrines selectively only when it suits us.

  9. Bookslinger on March 21, 2007 at 7:40 pm

    One of the concepts in the scriptures that I think is left out in these discussions is D&C 42:88-89,
    88 And if thy brother or sister offend thee, thou shalt take him or her between him or her and thee alone; and if he or she confess thou shalt be reconciled.
    89 And if he or she confess not thou shalt deliver him or her up unto the church, not to the members, but to the elders. And it shall be done in a meeting, and that not before the world.

    also in Matt 18:15-16,
    15 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.
    16 But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.

    In other words, don’t suffer in silence. The bishop, EQ pres and RS pres are still brothers and sisters, so I believe this concept applies to them too. If you’re hurt or offended, tell them about it. And if you don’t get satisfaction, take it up the chain of command.

  10. Kevin Barney on March 21, 2007 at 9:47 pm

    I don’t think I accept the rhetorical premise that the church is perfect. The church is basically a bureaucratic superstructure, and it changes all the time. For me, the perfection of the church as an institution is simply not an article of faith.

    This is like the rhetoric from Pres. Woodruff that the Prophet will never lead the people astray. There’s a lot of room for interpretation in that statement, but it gets close to infallibility, and I don’t buy that.

    I don’t think perfection is quite the rhetorical virtue we make it out to be.

  11. Sideshow on March 21, 2007 at 11:48 pm

    I think Joe M (#6) and Kevin (#10) have an important point: even if people say the church is perfect, it isn’t. Something more abstract than the church organization is perfect, whether you call it the gospel or something else. As D&C 121:39 states, it is the nature of _almost_all_ men to begin to exercise unrighteous dominion _immediately_ after getting even a little authority. The number of people who exercise unrighteous dominion at some point in their authority must then be something more than almost all of them.

    Where does this leave us? With an organizational structure and congregations almost completely filled with people who will exercise unrighteous dominion at some point given half a chance. The only way it could be worse is if we ourselves did the same thing. Oh, wait…

    And yet, if the gospel or our ideals and beliefs are perfect and more complete than anyone else’s, it seems like there ought to be an impact on the membership of the church that people observe. I believe many have, which is why we have many faith-promoting stories of that kind of thing circulating around the Internet that I’m sure are all true. I have seen a lot of good fruit produced by members of the church and by leaders, even by some who had also produced bad fruit at other times. And I’ve received the good fruit promised by Paul in Galatians 5, which is why I believe the LDS church to be true.

  12. Rand on March 22, 2007 at 12:37 am

    What if the fruits of the members are their judgments, good and bad?

  13. DavidH on March 22, 2007 at 1:00 am

    For me, the fruits are what I feel by being a part of the Church and striving to follow God and His teachings as I understand them.

  14. Aaron Brown on March 22, 2007 at 2:52 am

    Kaimi,

    For what it’s worth, check out my previous take on this topic here: http://www.bycommonconsent.com/2005/10/by-their-members-ye-shall-know-them-or-dont-judge-the-church-by-its-fruits/.

    Seth,

    We must have been separated at birth, for you make a point that I often do at your comment #8. Too often, the boneheads who do much of the offending in our wards end up speechifying about how others shouldn’t take offense at the very boneheadedness they dish out. Their time would be better spent ending their own boneheadedness, rather than chastizing those they offend.

    Aaron B

  15. Norbert on March 22, 2007 at 3:23 am

    Aaron B, I can’t believe you just called me a bonehead! I’m leaving, and I won’t be back until I get a personal apology.

  16. Geoff B on March 22, 2007 at 7:31 am

    Kaimi, could I suggest that perception is everything in cases like this. If your bishop it a \”bad bishop\” it may be because you choose to see him that way. If I wanted to, I\’m sure I could find ways that my bishop is a \”bad bishop\” and my stake president is a \”bad stake president\” and the GA\’s in my area are \”bad GAs\” and on and on. There are obvious exceptions, such as misappropriation of funds and other serious problems, but presumably those bad priesthood leaders will be reprimanded (and probably excommunicated) for such behavior.

    My point is that much of what happens around us is open to interpretation. We can choose to concentrate on the positive or the negative. Many people concentrate on the negative and therefore see their bishop as bad, whereas others concentrate on other things and don\’t agree.

    I think a great example is the perception of Joseph Smith in 1837 and then again in 1842-1844. There were many Church leaders who chose to see him as a fallen prophet and \”bad.\” There were others (Brigham Young, Heber Kimball, etc) who chose not to concentrate on those issues but instead on their testimony that he really was a prophet despite the current problems. I believe we can make the same choice in how we see our bishops and other leaders (all the way down to home teachers and quorum leaders): you can concentrate on the positive or the negative, it\’s your choice.

  17. lamonte on March 22, 2007 at 8:26 am

    Several years ago we moved to a new stake in a different part of the country. I obtained a bad impression of the Stake President primarily by the things he said, or that he assigned others to say, in Stake Conference and other such venues. I found him to be cold, insensative and otherwise not very compassionate when it came to dealing with members and their human issues. He was released when he and his family moved away just a year or two after we moved out of the area and I admit that I was glad to see him go.

    As I look back on that time, I also admit that I was not a fully committed member at that time. By that, I mean that I didn’t hold a current temple recommend. Eventually I got my own act together, went back to the temple and have since been able to serve in leadership positions in the church. I wonder now if my feelings toward that stake president would be the same, now that things have changed in my life. Like every other human in the church, I am often frustrated and sometimes offended by things said or done by other members, whether they are leaders or otherwise. I know that I am often too easily offended and I recognize that as a flaw in my own life. But I wonder if most of our feelings about bad wards, bad bishops, bad stake presdents, etc. comes from our own feelings of insecurity of inadequacy. In our church, perhaps more so than other churches with paid clergy, isn’t it important that we NOT put our leaders on a pedestal and expect too much of them? Afterall, they are just one of us, often with less qualifications for their positions than many of the ward members (believe me, I know this from personal experience). If we witness behavior in others that we find distasteful, shouldn’t we, in the perfect world, look upon that person with sympathy or empathy rather than disgust?

    I’m saying all of this as though I practice these concepts every day, which is certainly not the case. But I think it is worth a try. If we were all perfect, if any of us were perfect, we wouldn’t need the church or each other. Thank goodness we have both.

  18. Geoff B on March 22, 2007 at 9:38 am

    Lamonte, #17, what a great comment. I wish I saw a lot more comments like that in the Bloggernacle.

  19. Adam Greenwood on March 22, 2007 at 11:02 am

    I do believe that the church is perfect, clear as the moon, fair as the sun, terrible as an army with banners. But the temporal church that exists in the here-and-now, centered in SLC, is only a subset of that church. The here-and-now church, for reasons consistent with the perfection of the whole, is not itself perfect.

  20. danithew on March 22, 2007 at 1:02 pm

    Adam Greenwood has either been reading Song of Solomon or the Doctrine and Covenants.

  21. Adam Greenwood on March 22, 2007 at 1:06 pm

    I’ve been reading a remix that layers cuts from both over a reggae beat.

  22. danithew on March 22, 2007 at 1:33 pm

    Adam Greenwood, seated in Mt. Zion, he rules all creation, yeah ….
    (we’re jammin’, we’re jammin, we’re jammin’, we’re jammin’)
    I want to jam it wid you
    (we’re jammin’, we’re jammin, we’re jammin, we’re jammin’)
    And I hope you like Section One-Thirty-Two …
    (we’re jammin, we’re jammin, we’re jammin, we’re jammin)
    Abraham was sealed to all his wives and to all his concubines …

  23. Jordan F. on March 22, 2007 at 8:51 pm

    In my opinion, the “fruits” are the “fruits” of the restored gospel, such as the Book of Mormon and Temples, etc.

    Of course, the “fruits” I also watch out for are the way things make me, personally, feel and act.

    The way Bishop Schmo acts is, in my opinion, more likely a fruit of something not quite right going on in his life than it is a fruit of the Gospel. Also, perhaps Bishop Schmo has brought forth good fruit when he is fully living the gospel.

    I don’t consider that “reconciling” anything, though.

  24. manaen on March 22, 2007 at 9:20 pm

    Were my comments today #23 and #24 intentionally deleted or lost?

  25. Seth R. on March 22, 2007 at 9:44 pm

    No danithew,

    If it were Song of Solomon, he’d be comparing his beloved’s breasts to the pinnacles of the Salt Lake Temple, and talking about her very fine teeth.

    It would kinda fit with the pattern of his commenting so far though…

  26. Matt Evans on March 23, 2007 at 1:36 am

    It is eminently fair to judge the church based on its members, just as it’s fair to judge any other institution or program on its results. Consider weight loss programs, or reading curriculum, etc. Most diets work if the person sticks with the diet, so what distinguishes diets isn’t the results of the their best users but the results for their average user. Anything can look good if you cherry-pick the sample.

    The “don’t judge the church by the members” is just highlighting the pitfalls of relying on anecdotal evidence. Here’s what people mean by the two maxims: (1) Do judge the church by its (average) members; (2) Don’t judge the church by its (anecdotal outliers who’ve offended you) members.

  27. Norbert on March 23, 2007 at 7:17 am

    It seems like we are talking about bad bishops, members etc. like they are The Other. (Forgive me if I am using this term incorrectly.) Isn’t it conceivable that they might be us? I consider myself a kind, sensitive person, but it is easily conceivable that something I say or do (or that I fail to say or do) might make someone question the role of the gospel in my life. Are my ‘fruits’ consistently good enough to be representative of the gospel of Jesus Christ?

    An anecdotal example:

    I was a YM president in a ward I had only lived a few months. At our first basketball night, the brothers of family X refused to be on the same team as the brothers of family Y. When I asked why, they explained that they just didn’t like them. I told them that if they were unwilling to play on the same team as other quorum members, they wouldn’t play. Brothers X left and never returned. (It turns out families X and Y had been feuding for three generations.) The entire family of eight stopped coming to church even after I apologized for my lack of tact. They told the HT they would not come to church if I was in the ward, but I know they did not return after I moved. While everyone assured me that it was not my fault, I am the reason they went inactive, at least from their perspective. At times I feel a strong sense of responsibility about a quick and insensitive response to a situation I did not understand.

  28. Geoff B on March 23, 2007 at 8:27 am

    Norbert, you may want to read Elder Bednar’s talk in Oct. conference:

    http://lds.org/conference/talk/display/0,5232,23-1-646-32,00.html

    Bottom line: you may have been tactless, but they are in the end responsible and accountable for their own actions.

  29. manaen on March 23, 2007 at 1:20 pm

    Dallin Oaks spoke on the “The Challenge to *Become*,” we have the Law of Eternal *Progression*, this life is time to *prepare* to meet God, and our life is *prolonged* so we’ll have time to repent (*change*).

    In this life, it’s about change/movement, not where we stand at the moment. That’s the purpose of the earthly Church: it was given ’til we all *come* to unity in faith, unto perfection, unto the stature of Christ.

    The time to saw off and declare filthy stays filthy and righteous stays righteous comes later.

    The potential of change is a two-edged sword, though:

    A righteous person is one who is repenting; a wicked person is one who is not repenting. A righteous man is not one who is all good. There is no such person at all. We all have this mixture. And a wicked man is not one who is all bad. We don’t have any of either. If you are repenting, it’s like being on the stairway. A person at the bottom of the stairs facing up is better off than the person at the top of the stairs facing down. It’s the way of repentance. So this is what we are told. It’s never too late, and that’s a marvelous thing. But Satan wants to discourage you and say it is too late. Why not go through with it? (Hugh Nibley, “Teachings of the Book of Mormon,” Semester 1, pp. 112-114)

    To answer your question about how to reconcile sins and weaknesses of Church members with the verses you cite from Matt 7, the good fruit is how the Church accelerates a person’s movement towards perfection, or retards that person’s movement away from perfection, instead of where that person stands on Hugh Nibley’s stairs. In my own life, I did things that hurt other people and had severe consequences for me. Some people asked how the Church could be true if I, an HP/RM/etc., could do what I did. My answer is twofold: (1) the times I stopped what I was doing because of the competing influence of my testimony – without that, I would have done much worse – and (2) the change of nature I now words enjoy after what I did.

  30. greenfrog on March 23, 2007 at 6:44 pm

    Norbert,

    We all affect one another, all the time. None of us acts in a vacuum, and none of us acts perfectly.

    Might your actions have affected the entire X clan’s decision to leave the Church for a time? Yes, of course they could have affected them. If we couldn’t affect one anothers’ thoughts and actions, the gospel would be meaningless, indeed. The fact that we affect one another for good or ill should be a reason to seek to see more clearly, to act more consistently with our understanding of truth.

    D&C 93 teaches us that All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence, also, otherwise, there is no existence. But I suspect that within that sphere into which those truths and intelligences are placed together, they are inter-dependent upon one another, not independent. A child feeds at his mother’s breast. A Samaritan crosses the road to help the victim of the attack. A bishop’s skilled counsel draws a soul back to Christ. Without that inter-dependence, these actions are meaningless to the one succored. I can’t find a way to make sense of such a gospel. Of course, with true inter-dependence, we without them, cannot be made perfect, but then we who worship a Weeping God already knew that, right?

    That said, we can no more change our actions of yesterday than we can make the sun sail backwards through the sky. Live better today for the wisdom you have gained from your experience. If you feel guilt, recognize it, feel it, discover its contours, then purge yourself of it, and live today with the inter-dependent souls within your reach, rather than yesterday among the memories of the past.

  31. Seth R. on March 24, 2007 at 12:45 am

    Yes Geoff,

    But if I were to bet on which person were a better candidate for Christ’s grace:

    1. Weak testimony newcomer who leaves offended, or

    2. Thoughtless long-time member who offends

    My money is on the one who left.

  32. Margaret Young on March 24, 2007 at 1:57 am

    Norbert–we have a family in our stake who all dislike and disapprove of the entire stake presidency. (Bruce is 1st Counselor.) They make this clear at every stake conference when they raise their hands to oppose not only the stake presidency but anyone who had anything to do with calling them. I felt myself disliking them for not sustaining my husband, and the “sustain or oppose” process was always painful for me. I’d look at them, watch them vote, and then I’d glare. (Not a great way to invite the Spirit.)

    But we had a little miracle last Stake Conference. The night before, right when Bruce and I were planning on going to the temple, one of our water pipes broke. This did not appear to be a miracle, of course, just a huge inconvenience. We called a plumber. Lo and behold, the plumber was a young man–and happened to be the oldest son in this oppositional family. My husband got in his “plumbing” clothes and helped with the work. They conversed pleasantly and the young man got to see my husband dressed in something other than a suit, and getting his hands dirty alongside him.

    Well, the family still opposed the stake presidency in everything the next day, but a change had started. I was able to approach the young plumber and thank him sincerely for what he had done to help our family with the water problem. We exchanged a sincere and friendly smile.

    I anticipate there will yet be more votes of opposition at our next stake conference, which will be in April, but I know that something important happened that night. God is surely mindful of even his offended sheep, and can help and heal them as far as they’re willing to accept His healing hand.

  33. Adam Greenwood on March 24, 2007 at 9:55 am

    But if I were to bet on which person were a better candidate for Christ’s grace:

    1. Weak testimony newcomer who leaves offended, or

    2. Thoughtless long-time member who offends

    My money is on the one who left.

    Its a mystery to me which is better and I don’t see that we need to decide.

  34. Seth R. on March 24, 2007 at 11:14 am

    Come on Adam,

    The nacle thrives on these sort of intellectual fishing expeditions!

  35. Austin F. on March 24, 2007 at 2:36 pm

    My sin: being a Red Sox fan. May God and my ward members forgive me.

  36. DKL on March 24, 2007 at 2:42 pm

    There’s no sin in being a Red Sox fan, Austin. Never mind what Kaimi says about it. It’s his way of flirting with apostasy. It’s a proven fact that the superimposed NY symbol that sits on the head of every NY Yankee is the sign of the beast.

  37. DKL on March 24, 2007 at 5:31 pm

    I actually think that if you’re going to keep your testimony, you’ve got to throw the “by your fruits ye shall know them” thing out the window (sorry, Jesus. It’s nothing personal).

  38. Ugly Mahana on March 24, 2007 at 6:09 pm

    What about the point made in #26, regarding the “average fruit”?

  39. greenfrog on March 24, 2007 at 6:49 pm

    There’s no sin in being a Red Sox fan, Austin.

    There’s no pleasure in it, either.

  40. Hellmut on March 24, 2007 at 10:44 pm

    Now, maybe good members are not the real fruits of the gospel. Maybe those fruits are other things (spiritual experiences, teachings, and so on).

    This seems to be a missreading, Kaimi. Matthew 7 is not about the fruits of the gospel. It is about the fruits of prophets or more precisely people who claim to be prophets.

    That matters because we would be asking for too much if we expected prophets to match the fruits of the gospel.

    Maybe our fruits really are better than the alternative fruits out there, even if we’re a little fruity ourselves. This argument would be that yes, we’re hypocritical and sexist and exercisers of unrighteous dominion — rotten fruits, really — but we’re still the best fruits that the produce aisle has to offer. (How’s that for a ringing endorsement?)

    That is an empirical claim that can be tested. Somehow Quakers, for example, have figured out how to be consistently on the right side of ethical questions.

    If we were to stipulate a number of indicators of goodness, I expect that it would be difficult for us to demonstrate that we are really generating better results than Quakers.

    In light of our heritage with respect to racism, for example, we should be careful with assertions that we are better than others. At best, they are dubious.

  41. Matt Evans on March 25, 2007 at 1:15 am

    That is an empirical claim that can be tested…[i]f we were to stipulate a number of indicators of goodness

    That’s the challenge — prophets disagree about the definition of goodness. What metrics should we look at: Charitable donations? Time volunteered? Daily prayer? Procreation? Alcohol consumption? Chastity? Patriotism?

  42. greenfrog on March 25, 2007 at 7:19 pm

    That is an empirical claim that can be tested. Somehow Quakers, for example, have figured out how to be consistently on the right side of ethical questions.

    If we were to stipulate a number of indicators of goodness, I expect that it would be difficult for us to demonstrate that we are really generating better results than Quakers.

    I agree with Matt Evans that the defining qualities would be very controversial. But it seems to me that there’s another significant defect with this kind of thinking, and I think Jim F. suggested it (at least, when I read his comment above, it suggested such a thing to me): the measurement should not be whether the average of Mormons is higher on some scale than the average of some other group. That would only be the right metric if members of each group being measured started in the same position, ex ante. Given our missionary work practice, it is perfectly clear to me that the average member of the LDS Church does not start in the same position as the average Quaker (or some other religious tradition that doesn’t do missionary work).

    If we want to go through the practice of defining the right characteristics, and then measuring them, we have to determine not the average position of a member of the Church, but rather the average improvement to the members that results from the Church’s teachings.

    Right?

  43. greenfrog on March 25, 2007 at 7:29 pm

    One further thought (yes, my brain is not efficient in the slightest):

    I’ve been assuming, erroneously I suspect, that all religions should be evaluated based on how they would affect a particular person. Here’s the mistake: one could be exceptionally good at bringing one class of people (“class” being a word for a grouping of people with a common characteristic, not “class” as a socioeconomic function) closer to the gospel, but could be largely ineffective at that for a differently situated group. While the LDS Church positions itself as “the” religion, it isn’t clear to me that it’s right about that. I suspect that the LDS version of Mormonism is distinctly valuable to some people, but I suspect that other religious traditions are more likely to yield good fruit for other classes of people.

    I have for some time begun to believe that missionary work tends to “catch” some people in its nets who have characteristics susceptible to “catching” in such nets, but not, by any means, all. And I’m quite certain that the gospel would be a decidedly bad fit for some who can be readily improved by other means.

    If I’m right about that, then Kaimi’s question becomes, entirely I think, functionally untestable.

  44. grego on March 26, 2007 at 4:57 am

    Naismith,

    I really enjoyed your “ripeness” addition of thought.

  45. Norbert on March 26, 2007 at 5:28 am

    ‘I suspect that the LDS version of Mormonism is distinctly valuable to some people, but I suspect that other religious traditions are more likely to yield good fruit for other classes of people.’

    Is the point of organized religion to produce the sort of fruits we’re talking about? Isn’t the fruit an incidental as one approaches salvation? Or are we suggesting this is the same thing?

  46. greenfrog on March 26, 2007 at 11:08 am

    I don’t think Mormonism distinguishes between temporal and spiritual salvation. I know that I do not.

  47. manaen on April 2, 2007 at 1:04 pm

    I just noticed Mitt Romney’s quote(scroll down to “The Mormon Factor” section),

    “The term ‘Christian’ means different things to different people,” Romney says. “And so I don’t try and describe my faith in terms of categories. Instead I tell them what I believe. And I believe in God. I believe in marriage. I believe in family. I believe in helping people, in service and compassion. I believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God and is my savior.

    “But there are people of other faiths who don’t believe that, and that’s of course their right. But I don’t try and describe my faith other than in terms of the fact that it has made me a better person than I would have been, and it has made my kids better than they would have been.”

    This puts well what I attempted to explain in #29 when I wrote that “the good fruit is how the Church accelerates a person’s movement towards perfection, or retards that person’s movement away from perfection, instead of where that person stands.”

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