The best article on Mormonism and politics that I’ve read all year

January 8, 2008 | 172 comments
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That’s faint enough praise for January 8th — but Noah Feldman’s recent New York Times article is strong enough that it would be a contender for that title, even in December. I already described the piece as “remarkable” in my sidebar link. I was surprised, though, to note the negative reaction the article has garnered in some Mormon circles.

First, the article itself. Feldman, who was the keynote speaker at the Princeton conference on Mormonism and politics, does an admirable job of discussing some of the more interesting points of Mormon interaction with the public sphere. Feldman covers a number of interesting and complicated topics — including the interaction between church and Republican party; the place of persecution in LDS culture; the place of secrecy as both a protective and a ritual device; the difficulties raised by the assimilation question — and does as well as any non-Mormon I’ve seen, (other than Jan Shipps, of course) at getting the details and nuances right. (Dave Banack has a good discussion of some of Feldman’s key points here.) At multiple points while reading the article, I thought, wow, he really nailed it. And these are really hard topics to get right — I’ve seen many people, both members and non-members, who aren’t nearly as perceptive.

Feldman discusses these complex topics with dexterity. For example, the difference between superficial Mormon belief and actual Mormon doctrine is a difficult question. It is undeniable that Mormon doctrine is extremely hard to pin down, and not at all fully evident from the texts of scriptures used or the words of church leaders.

That is, Mormon doctrine consists in the Old Testament (except the parts that aren’t doctrine), the New Testament (except the parts that aren’t doctrine), the Book of Mormon (except the parts that aren’t doctrine), the Doctrine and Covenants (except the parts that aren’t doctrine), and the Pearl of Great Price (except the parts that aren’t doctrine). All of these, as augmented by statements from church leaders (except the ones that aren’t doctrine). (It’s very easy to find non-doctrinal examples in every category: The prohibition on eating meat in the D&C, the prohibition on divorce in the New Testament, the prohibition on interracial marriage in various church leader statements, and so on.)

And how do we know which aren’t doctrine? Well, we rely on scripture (except the part that isn’t doctrine) and church leader statements (except the non-doctrinal ones) to determine which ones are doctrine. And finally, there is no one Rosetta Stone giving an explanation of which statements really matter, and which don’t. Thus, determining which statements matter becomes an extremely complicated task for anyone who is not a native speaker.

This point has often been told in one of a few very simplified forms. Sometimes it is observed by Mormon scholars or friendly observers in a lament — how frustrating it sometimes is that LDS doctrine is so protean. Very often, some version of this idea is used by critics as an attack — the church is hiding its secret doctrines from the unwary, and the corollary that even faithful, practicing church members don’t know “real” church doctrine (as defined by some throwaway statement of Brigham Young’s). This kind of duality is sometimes denied by church apologists.

Feldman neither laments the duality, nor uses it as a wedge to attack the church or claim that real Mormonism is tied to some sinister conspiracy. Rather, he observes that the duality naturally springs from church history; that it is something that church members themselves navigate comfortably; and that it creates serious perception difficulties for the church and for Romney, among natural political allies.

Feldman writes, for instance:

Mormonism was born amid secrecy, and throughout its existence as a religion it has sustained a close yet complex relationship to the arts of silence. From the start, the Mormon penchant for secrecy came from two different sources. The first was internal and theological. Like many great world faiths, Mormonism has an important strand of sacred mystery. Mormon temples have traditionally been closed to outsiders and designed with opaque windows. Marriage and other key rituals take place in this hallowed space — a manifestation of religious secrecy familiar to students of world religion but associated in the United States more with Freemasonry than with mainstream Protestantism.

Like Mormon ritual, much of Mormon theology remains relatively inaccessible to outsiders. The text of the Book of Mormon has always been spread to a broad audience, but the text is not a sufficient guide to understanding the details of Mormon teaching. Joseph Smith received extensive further revelation in the nature of sacred secrets to be shared with only a handful of close associates and initiates within the newly forming church.

. . .

Faced with the allegation that they do not believe in the same God as ordinary Protestants, or that their beliefs are not truly Christian, Mormons find themselves in an extraordinarily awkward position. They cannot defend themselves by expressly explaining their own theology, because, taken from the standpoint of orthodox Protestantism in America today, it is in fact heterodox.

What is more, what began as a strategy of secrecy to avoid persecution has become over the course of the 20th century a strategy of minimizing discussion of the content of theology in order to avoid being treated as religious pariahs. As a result, Mormons have not developed a series of easily expressed and easily swallowed statements summarizing the content of their theology in ways that might arguably be accepted by mainline Protestants. To put it bluntly, the combination of secret mysteries and resistance in the face of oppression has made it increasingly difficult for Mormons to talk openly and successfully with outsiders about their religious beliefs.

This analysis is neither hostile nor sensational. It starts with a keen observation, and follows it to reasonable and interesting conclusions. (This is not to say that Feldman’s article covers every possible angle. There are other points I think he could have fruitfully explored, though these are not major omissions.)

I can’t say how thrilled I am to see that Feldman’s article is on the NYT top-10 list. I’ve been often disheartened by the (poor) quality of some of the discourse about Mormonism in the public sphere. Some of it has been very good, but it seems that for every Damon Linker or Richard Bushman giving nuanced analysis or discussion, there has been an equal and opposite Lawrence O’Donnell. The NYT has been as bad as any other venue. They’ve had pretty good (if short) analysis by David Brooks which relied on well-regarded scholars, and also a thoughtful article by Laurie Goodstein in the week in review, citing to Richard Mouw of the Fuller Theological Seminary. But until now, I believe the most widely read Mormonism-and-politics piece in the NYT this electoral cycle was a Maureen Dowd op-ed which relied almost exclusively on Jon Krakauer’s oversimplified claims. I was so sad to see the juxtaposition last month of Dowd’s column in the top-10 while Goodstein’s wasn’t even a blip on the radar screen. (See, e.g., my blog discussion here.) And so I’m thrilled to see that Feldman is providing a correction of sorts — a nuanced, well-researched, thoughtful piece on Mormonism and politics, that people are actually reading. I really liked and appreciated Feldman’s article. He deals with a lot of complicated topics, and does so very well.

I was surprised by the strongly negative reaction from some LDS blog quarters. Adventures in Mormonism makes the startling assertion that church doctrine is easily accessible through any missionary or through quick and simple perusal of Deseret Book or LDS.org. (This claim is astonishing. Vast swaths of church doctrine aren’t in the basic scriptures. As for Deseret Book, it contains everything from Elder McConkie’s non-doctrinal Mormon Doctrine to Sperry Symposia, FARMS books, older works like the Lectures on Faith or the Journal of Discourses — it is simply mind-boggling to suggest that a well-meaning non-member could navigate that terrain with anything less than a very skilled team of guides.) The Romney Experience blog, meanwhile, seems to have mistaken Feldman for a run-of-the-mill Evangelical anti-Mormon. The mere mention of secrecy makes the blogger (is it Ryan?) become defensive and assert that there is no secrecy. (And the comments on Deseret News are predictably bad, and range from assertions that polygamy had nothing to do with celestial marriage — um, have you read Section 132? — to various testimony-bearing comments. Sigh.)

This response seems wrong-headed. Feldman is not engaged in the classic anti-Mormon claim that the church is a secret conspiracy. He’s observing, correctly, that the existence of a complicated set of doctrines, not ascertainable on the face of any one document, creates a form of inaccessibility — and that that inaccessibility in turn creates suspicions among some outsiders.

The reactions to Feldman’s article themselves provide a fascinating window into some Mormon thinking. As Mormons, we have become so used to having our beliefs mischaracterized and held up for ridicule that we become chary of any outsider analysis that looks at all hostile. I don’t believe that Feldman’s article was at all hostile, but he does discuss certain ideas and perceptions about Mormonism that have been used before (by others) in attacks on the church — the “Mormonism is a secret cult/conspiracy” variety of attacks — and that is apparently enough for some LDS bloggers to label his article as an attack, and respond accordingly.

It reminds me of the overreaction to Helen Whitney’s documentary. Again, a thoughtful and perceptive outsider gave a well-researched and reasoned account of Mormonism — and again, that outsider was treated by many church members as an enemy.

I’m saddened by this phenomenon. I wonder if suspicion of the hostile outsider is such among church members that any outsider offering any account that deviates from Sunday School history will immediately be labeled an enemy. (It doesn’t help that Sunday-School history is so impoverished that many rank-and-file LDS members are woefully underinformed about their own history — and so objective accounts of real events, like Whitney’s discussion of the Mountain Meadow Massacre, may be viewed as anti-Mormon lies.)

I hope that the negative response from some Mormons doesn’t deter Feldman from continuing to focus on some of the interesting questions raised as church doctrine and culture go under the microscope of public scrutiny. We know our own terrain relatively well, and are certainly quick to defend it. But if we never bother to take seriously how it looks to reasonable outsiders, our own discussions and perspectives will remain hopelessly parochial. And so we can certainly use more of the sorts of thoughtful outsider analyses and observations that outsiders such as Feldman provide.

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172 Responses to The best article on Mormonism and politics that I’ve read all year

  1. Katie on January 8, 2008 at 2:01 am

    Right on Kaimi. I felt just as you did about this article. It is really is excellent.

    I think one of Feldman’s most interesting points was on whether the church would continue to assimilate and become more like mainstream Protestantism in order to make itself seem less kooky. My immediate reaction was “oh, of course not, if anything they will hunker down more.” But this line has had me thinking since I read the article: “If this hypothetical picture of a future Mormonism seems unimaginable to the contemporary LDS faithful, as it may, today’s Mormon theology would look almost as different to Brigham Young.”

    Whether or not Feldman is right about the future of the church, such a point is truly insightful.

  2. Ray on January 8, 2008 at 3:04 am

    This was a fabulous article. It really is as good an “outside” analysis as I have read in a long,long time. I was impressed particularly by his grasp of the elasticity and evolution of Mormon theology – something that absolutely flummoxes most outside the Church.

  3. Jonathan Green on January 8, 2008 at 4:05 am

    It was a good article, but I think its suggestion of contemporary Mormon secretiveness is misguided. The historical episodes of secretiveness (largely involving polygamy and its aftermath) really play no role at all in current church discourse. The concept of doctrine has a different function for Mormons than it does in other religions, and Feldman may have interpreted the different status of doctrine as a reticence to talk about doctrine. But those are just a few weak points compared to many perceptive observations about Mormonism in the article.

  4. norm on January 8, 2008 at 4:14 am

    well said, Kaimi. I read the article at work today and was amazed with Feldman perception and ability to communicate the nuances of Mormonism. Indeed, I decided I should forward the article to all my LDS friends just so we can better understand ourselves. Glad also to see that a broader audience is taking note.

  5. Dave on January 8, 2008 at 6:00 am

    Yes, the Feldman essay is the first I’ve seen that really displays how the Romney candidacy has activated troubling issues for the Republican party and for Mormons. Kind of like how a heavy rainstorm in the desert might wash away soil to reveal old dead bones come back to trouble the living. I don’t think anyone, including Romney, quite expected this.

  6. john f. on January 8, 2008 at 6:37 am

    I thought the article was very good. Feldman gets a few things wrong but one cannot be expected get everything right when writing as an outside observer; the minor details that were a little off did not really affect his thesis or arguments at all either. Honestly, Feldman’s theory of Mormon secrecy is actually quite flattering and gives Mormons the benefit of the doubt on numerous levels.

    I agree somewhat with Jonathan Green in an evaluation of Feldman’s theory of secrecy though. On the one hand, the effort to “mainstream” the Church can be readily observed and is a fine endeavor to the extent that it jettisons items that were only ever mere enthusiastic speculation arising from exciting restored and new doctrines. But it is perplexing to think that Church leaders really wish to look more like American Protestants. I really do not think this is the case; even protestations that Mormons are Christians do not force this conclusion because, after all, Mormons are Christians even if they’re not Trinitarian or creedalist Christians.

    This is to say that Feldman doesn’t have me convinced about his hypothesis but his was certainly a good faith and well informed treatment of a religion to which he does not belong but which happens to be my religion.

  7. Dan on January 8, 2008 at 7:35 am

    Kaimi,

    I’m saddened by this phenomenon. I wonder if suspicion of the hostile outsider is such among church members that any outsider offering any account that deviates from Sunday School history will immediately be labeled an enemy. (It doesn’t help that Sunday-School history is so impoverished that many rank-and-file LDS members are woefully underinformed about their own history — and so objective accounts of real events, like Whitney’s discussion of the Mountain Meadow Massacre, may be viewed as anti-Mormon lies.)

    Mormons have been in a defensive position vis a vis their religion for such a long time, the reaction becomes habitual and second nature, I think. I’m glad that this particular article is widely read, but I think the reaction among non-Mormons may be proportionally equal to that of Mormons, just opposite. It may reinforce their own views of Mormons.

  8. Marc on January 8, 2008 at 7:55 am

    I likewise thought, all-in-all, that it was a remarkable article. If I were to point to my biggest issue with it though, it wouldn’t be the secrecy angle, it would be his discussion of the possibility of the Church potentially altering in the future its doctrine to become more mainstream if Romney’s faith is what prevents him to obtain the presidency. I found it odd and it really seemed to miss the boat on the Mormon idea of revelation. I don’t buy the line that Mormon theology would look “that” different to Brigham Young today. Certainly, there have been changes (polygamy, blacks and the priesthood, a change in emphasis on some doctrines), but that’s what you get when you have a Church guided by revelation. In my mind Brigham would have expected some change to come with the passage of 130 years (look what happened in his nearly 50 years in the Church). Moreover, I think the idea that the Church has merely changed to enter the mainstream misses the mark. While polygamy was certainly abandoned upon pressure, I don’t really see the priesthood ban in quite the same way, nor do I think this focus on “pressure” divorced from a discussion of the Mormon view of revelation can capture fully Mormon belief. In any event, in view of the entire article, this issue is a little nit-picky. I fully agree with Kaimi that it was they type of a thoughtful, serious exploration that we as members should encourage and use as a stepping stone for the discussion of broader issues.

  9. Adam Greenwood on January 8, 2008 at 9:18 am

    I think you ought to extend the same charity to those responding to Feldman that you extend to Feldman, KW. Your reading of him is defensible but a little strained.

  10. Joel on January 8, 2008 at 9:56 am

    I think that the biggest problem that Mormon’s find with Feldman’s or any other scholarly treatment of Mormon thought lies in his humanist assumption that revelation could not play a historical role in the creation of doctrine. The presumption of Divine intervention in Mormon history breeds hostility toward any approach that rejects this teleology. To be fair, non-believers make the same assumption about faithful Mormon scholarship. I would argue that this divide creates much of the tension between apologetic and “objective” humanist approaches to Mormon history

  11. Kirk Reid on January 8, 2008 at 10:12 am

    The presumption of Divine intervention in Mormon history breeds hostility toward any approach that rejects this teleology.

    That’s certainly true, but it’s also the exclusive claims of current revelation that breeds hostility. Church leaders no longer experience or claim to experience revelation on the audio-visual scale of the First Vision. Gordon B Hinckley – along with most modern Church Presidents – has spoken quite honestly of how he prays and receives revelation through the spirit rather than through receiving divine or angelic visitations, though the latter are by no means out of the question if God should deem it necessary.

    To the non-Mormon – particularly the non-Mormon Christian – this seems no different than the guidance and inspiration they themselves or their leaders receive through prayer and it’s the insistence that Church Leaders receive revelatory inspiration from God that is more direct, authoritative and privileged that irks and breeds hostility. If the Church did not insist upon this then I suspect that to the non-Mormon the original revelations experienced by Joseph Smith might be more tolerable and treated as ‘harmless’ foundational myths.

  12. Seth R. on January 8, 2008 at 10:38 am

    So Kirk, revelations from God are OK, unless they actually matter?

  13. Kirk Reid on January 8, 2008 at 11:02 am

    Well that’s not my own personal view Seth and I’m not sure you’re responding fairly to the issue. I don’t know how to answer people who make the argument I’ve described and to say what you’ve just said would appear – quite rightly – as disingenuous, if not pompous. These are my friends we’re talking about. They’ll simply reply that of course revelation from God matters but why should our Church’s revelations matter more. Because the inspiration and guidance they get through prayer matters deeply to them, as it should. I just don’t see any way out of the impasse without indeed appearing to privilege not only revelation received by Church Leaders – which I’m bound to do – but any that I or any Mormon might receive personally. I usually try to squirm out of it by saying that I don’t regard any guidance I might receive myself from God to be better or truer than their’s, which is actually the truth. But that still leaves the revelation received by Church Leaders a festering sore in the conversation.

    Any advice on this would be helpful to me. Perhaps to all of us. It’s a thorny issue that needs a humble response more appreciative of the non-Mormon point of view. We’ll not gain much by avoiding it or making snappy replies.

  14. Adam Greenwood on January 8, 2008 at 11:04 am

    As per my recent post, I don’t know that there is any good way around the offense of saying that we think the revelations recieved by the prophets are better or truer or more authoritative.

  15. Kirk Reid on January 8, 2008 at 11:18 am

    So it seems to me as well, Adam. I’ve basically said to my friends that I have no evidence or no argument to offer in response to their point, other than my inner feelings. I’m preferring for the Church’s authority to actually speak for itself through what it is and does rather than to assert it. This I think it can amply do and when it comes to my testimony I’m trying to find a way of expressing it that’s true and unapologetic but not so blunt and ‘mantra-ish’.

  16. Nate Oman on January 8, 2008 at 11:47 am

    For those interested, Times & Seasons played host to a brief discussion of Mormonism and esoteric meaning a year or two ago. Here it he post. FYI.

  17. Dave Kitchen on January 8, 2008 at 12:28 pm

    Kaimi,

    I am new to this board, so I am not sure how long this post will take to appear. I agree with your overall sentiments. I think the Feldman article is far above average, particularly in that he took the time to understand the church rather than merely pasting from other sources.

    May I offer some thought as to definining our doctrine? I too see that our teachings, and especially emphasis, have changed over time. This will continue to be the case. However, I do not believe that leads to the conclusion that we do not have a “doctrine”. Bushman and Givens describe the LDS view of the scriptures as a collection of stories, rather than the law from on high. While I think there are some exceptions (the 10 commandments, beatitudes, etc.), I believe this is generally true. When I confront an issue in life, I do not turn to the scriptures as a “manual”, but instead to find someone who faced something similar and see what they did.

    We see a similar dichotomy in the legal world. Much of the world follows the civil code model (Hammarabi, Napolean) that tries to write a statute for every possible circumstance. The English world generally follows the common law model, where judges rule based on cases from the past. So for instance (I am an attorney), when I write a brief to the court, I will say “the law is X” and then explain that conclusion by citing to similar cases. Of course, opposing counsel will then argue that my cases are not on point and the court should instead look at her cases. In our system of law, there is often no hard “law” – just stories we call caselaw. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have a law. Similarly, our use of the scriptures as stories does not mean we do not have a doctrine.

  18. JWL on January 8, 2008 at 12:32 pm

    I concur with Kaimi’s view of Professor Feldman’s article. I am told by an NYU law student (Feldman taught at NYU law school before moving to Harvard this year) that the word is that Feldman ensconced himself with Mormon texts every day for three months straight in preparation for his Princeton lecture. I think another factor that perhaps gives him an insight others might not have is that he had a strict Orthodox Jewish upbringing (although he is less observant now) which may help him empathize with other deeply religious people and how they interface with a secular world.

    When Professor Feldman speaks of our modern hesitancy to elucidate our doctrine, I believe he is not referring to the content of missionary lessons, but rather the doctrines arising from Joseph’s “vision of the eternities” (Richard Bushman’s term) which he taught in the late Nauvoo days. Whether we like it or not, people are fascinated by Joseph’s teachings on the history of God, the possibility of a heavenly Mother, and the future of humankind. These are fundamental theological questions, and for outsiders President Hinckley’s response to the question about the first half of the Lorenzo Snow couplet (“as man is God once was”) that we just don’t know that much about it is at best unsatisfactory and at worse looks like dissembling. How can we say we “don’t know much about it” when it was being presented as accepted doctrine in General Conferences as recently as President Kimball?

    When Professor Feldman speaks of us retreating from our historical doctrine to more closely approach Protestant orthodoxy, he is basically asking whether we are going to renounce these “vision of the eternities” doctrines that are utterly and irreconciliably heretical from the perspective of tradtional creedal Christianity. There is simply no way you can harmonize the King Follett Discourse with the any traditional creedal Christian theology.

    Contra comments 3 and 8, I think Professor Feldman is point on. Outside fascination with the teachings of the King Follett Discourse and related late statements by Joseph is not going away (there are reasons why Harold Bloom called the KFD the greatest American religious sermon), and our continued hesitancy about their status is going to continue to look like embarrassment at best and secrecy at worse. My own view is that at some point we are going to have clarify the doctrinal status of the King Follett Discourse and related teachings. I see two paths open to us:

    (1) the current prophet seeks a revelation confirming and clarifying the KFD and prophetically edited excerpts are added to the D&C and we then teach it unflinchingly to the world, or

    (2) we continue to downplay it along the lines of what one BYU religion professor told me — that he viewed the KFD as an incoherent flight of fancy by Joseph trying to describe a vision which we are incapable of comprehending in this life, so we best just ignore it.

    I think Professor Feldman has done us a great service by pointing out how the forest looks from the outside which we inside the forest can easily overlook even though we may know the trees better than he.

  19. Russell Arben Fox on January 8, 2008 at 12:45 pm

    My own view is that at some point we are going to have clarify the doctrinal status of the King Follett Discourse and related teachings. I see two paths open to us:
    (1) the current prophet seeks a revelation confirming and clarifying the KFD and prophetically edited excerpts are added to the D&C and we then teach it unflinchingly to the world, or
    (2) we continue to downplay it along the lines of what one BYU religion professor told me — that he viewed the KFD as an incoherent flight of fancy by Joseph trying to describe a vision which we are incapable of comprehending in this life, so we best just ignore it.

    For what it’s worth, JWL, the single most interesting discussion I observed (I didn’t participate myself) at the Princeton conference came during a lunch on Saturday, when several big-name LDS participants in the conference argued, partly in reaction to Feldman’s presentation, which esoteric/confused/heretical/cool/whatever doctrines and teachings which the present-day church has inherited from its past would truly last, and which would get downplayed/forgotten/outright repudiated. I was assuming most of the argument would be about the priesthood ban (have we apologized enough?) or polygamy, but no: the biggie was the KFD, with a couple of participants insisting that it’s right there in the BoM and D&C, and is essential to any kind of Mormonism worth the name, and others insisting just as strongly that Jospeh Smith was clearly just winging it, there was no support for it in the canonized scriptures, and that it’ll never fly as a persuasive selling point for the gospel anyway, so we’d best just let it go. (I confess that I am more in the latter camp than the former.)

    Incidentally, I like your suggestion that the prophet go seek a clarifying revelation on the matter, but I strongly suspect the current leadership just isn’t inclined to seek for those kind of purely doctrinal revelations any longer.

  20. Timer on January 8, 2008 at 12:50 pm

    “If Mormonism were to keep Romney from the nomination, the Mormon Church hierarchy may through continuing revelation and guidance respond by shifting its theology and practices even further in the direction of mainstream Christianity and thereby minimizing its outlier status in the culture. Voices within the LDS fold have for some time sought to minimize the authority of some of Joseph Smith’s more creative and surprising theological messages, like the teaching that God and Jesus were once men. You could imagine Mormonism coming to look more like mainline Protestantism with the additional belief not in principle incompatible with Protestant Scripture that some of the lost tribes of Israel ended up in the Americas, where a few had a vision of Christ’s appearance to them. If this hypothetical picture of a future Mormonism seems unimaginable to the contemporary LDS faithful, as it may, today’s Mormon theology would look almost as different to Brigham Young.”

    This is a very perceptive well written passage from the article. The “God and Jesus were once men” doctrine has never been repudiated, but to say that some seek to “minimize its authority” (including President Hinckley, who was unwilling to defend the doctrine when recently asked about it in public) is very accurate. If members start to say, “If President Hinckley himself is unsure about this doctrine, isn’t it almost blasphemous for me to declare that I have a personal testimony of it?” and the number of confident believers in the doctrine continues to shrink, then it is conceivable that over the next decades “God and Jesus were once men” could go the way of Adam-God, blood-atonement, blacks as pre-existence fencesitters, Jesus as literal product of God-Mary coupling, etc. It is not altogether difficult to imagine the same fate for the doctrines of Heavenly Mother, the war in heaven, and the Garden of Eden in Missouri.

    On the other hand, I think it is also at least possible that Mormons will take the opposite message from a Romney defeat: namely, that changing your positions to try to win the love of evangelical Christians is a fool’s errand — it only makes you look weak, as though you don’t know who you are and don’t truly believe in yourself. They may conclude that in the long run “wishy washy and dissimulating” is less appealing than “heterodox but confident and clear about it.”

    My sense is that the response the wounding of Mormon pride by Romney’s defeat could be a stronger Mormon identity, a re-affirmation of the uniquely Mormon doctrines, and a greater reluctance to compromise doctrine for the purpose of “mainstreaming” Mormonism — and perhaps a greater hostility to the whole idea of “mainstreaming.”

    Does anyone else think this way?

  21. Joel on January 8, 2008 at 12:56 pm

    #11 Although I think your observations of non-Mormon hostility toward Mormonism’s claim of modern revelation hold much merit–I think this is what Givens has been saying for some time now, my statement was geared more toward the Mormon hostility toward intellectualism. I think that historians, for the most part, have rejected the supernatural as unknowable and unquantifiable and thus, unreal in a historical sense. At times this trend in secular history demonstrates open hostility toward religion and at times sympathetic secularism. Because both sensibilities undermine, or at least cannot take seriously, the Mormon sense of God-driven history, Mormons tend to reject the work of both types of scholars and they feel more comfortable with Ethno-historical foundational stories and apologetics.

  22. Adam Greenwood on January 8, 2008 at 1:04 pm

    (I confess that I am more in the latter camp than the former.)

    Yikes. Beshrew thee.

  23. Dave Kitchen on January 8, 2008 at 1:10 pm

    Timer -

    I tend to see the opposite. While we do not trumpet some of the “meat” as we used to do, it has not gone away. Case in point – Heavenly Mother. This doctrine is not found in the scriptural canon, but is very strongly implied in the 1995 Proclamation on the Family (we are all “sons and daughters of heavenly parents”) (by the way, how long until the Proclamation is canonized?). The Proclamation shows to me that the doctrine of Heavenly Mother is not only staying around, but that the brethren really believe it. (I do too). Similarly, I think the doctrine of eternal progression is way too imbedded to be walked away from. Not a Sunday goes by that it is not taught in some way in my ward.

    That said, I do get the sense that the other half of the couplet – namely, “as man now is, God once was” – may be thought about differently. It is that half in particular that drives mainstream christianity bonkers. It is my belief that the phrase would be better stated “as Christ was once mortal, so too God once was”. That at least removes their claim that we believe God once was a sinner.

  24. Nick Literski on January 8, 2008 at 1:24 pm

    Interesting statements about BYU religion professors and others casting aspersions on the KFD. I wish we had names of who is teaching such things, especially since my daughter is attending BYU. I’ll confess that it’s things like what Joseph taught in the KFD that make Mormonism worthwhile at all to me. Others have noted above the de-emphasis or “forgetting” of other relatively minor doctrinal points, but the marginalization of the KFD as “not valid doctrine” would, in my mind, affect significant Mormon doctrines. How do you all think the membership would respond (and yes, I realize there would be a variety of responses)? Would the vast majority be glad to see change, with a few fringe types protesting, as was the case with the 1978 revelation? Would there be a larger shift toward Mormon Fundamentalism? Would significant numbers choose to turn away? I know what my own response would be, but I think many LDS today are far more focused on praxis than doctrine, so perhaps my response would be the anomaly.

  25. bnielson on January 8, 2008 at 1:36 pm

    I loved this article in the NYT and the analysis here. As someone that was very critical of Dowd, I have to trumpet the good articles to show a little balance.

    It seems to me that no one is really discussing the real issue here, however. Mormons are non-creedal. I.e. we have many “beliefs” that people are allowed to hold differing opinions on. We exist with our members holding conflicting beliefs on many subjects, and that is okay. In facts, that’s the whole point!

    It seems to me that Mormons have done an incredible job of being up front with their “standardized” beliefs: faith, repentance, baptism, Holy Ghost, continuing revelation, modern prophets, etc. There is nothing inaccessible about these beliefs. There is no “secret” around them at all. (And thus I can see why some bloggers may have disagreed with this article not realizing he isn’t talking about our basic beliefs.)

    The other thing that should be further discussed is the role other religions, particularly Evangelicals, play in this. There is a strong need for certain religions (Evangelicals in particular) to define themselves in light of other religions. This need, that I believe is an inherent flaw of not having any “borders” to their religion, means that they will intentionally misinterpret other religions to bouy up themselves. How could they do otherwise?

    Example: Evangelicals believe one needs to accept Christ to be one of them. Mormons accept Christ. Thus Mormons are Evangelicals. But we all know it isn’t true. Thus Evangelicals have no choice but to define Mormons as being non-Christians believing in another Jesus. Even calling us “heretics” won’t do because that might imply we are still saved and thus within their borders, but we are just a little bit off in some areas. Even calling us heretics might have the problem of essentially ending the border between them and us. Mormons, of course, do not have that problem in reverse. Imagine the hey day Mormon missionaries would have if Evangelicals considers us “one of them” while we didn’t consider them “one of us.” See my point?

    In other words, I think this article nails it that Mormons have avoided talking about some of our “open for interpretation” doctrines (i.e. all of the non-basic ones) where we have varied views to avoid being persecuted by Evangelicals and others. However, we have gone too far in doing this.

    In my opinion, we need to simultaneously emphasize where we are the same as other religions and stop trying to differentiate ourselves from them in these areas (e.g. we believe in salvation by faith through Jesus Christ) while simultaneously emphasizing our differences. (e.g. we define faith as “active” not “passive”)

    I see no other way for us but to walk this fine line and accept that we’re going to screw up on a regular basis. So long as other religions have no incentive to try to understand out non-creedal nature, this will always be an ongoing problem that can never really be fixed.

  26. Jeremiah J. on January 8, 2008 at 1:45 pm

    Timer: “My sense is that the response the wounding of Mormon pride by Romney’s defeat could be a stronger Mormon identity, a re-affirmation of the uniquely Mormon doctrines, and a greater reluctance to compromise doctrine for the purpose of “mainstreaming” Mormonism — and perhaps a greater hostility to the whole idea of “mainstreaming.””

    I don’t think that Romney tried to mainstream Mormonism any more than it’s already mainstreamed. He spoke as a thoughfully and as carefully as he could about Mormonism. And I don’t think he lost the race because of impossible-to-please anti-Mormonism. His share of the evangelical vote in Iowa was pretty close to his overall percentage, and it was second behind Huckabee, the evangelical candidate (how did Huck do among Mormons I wonder?). So I think it would be wrong to draw some conclusion about Mormonism in general from Romney’s troubles.

    Indeed he did have a problem with being “wishy-washy”, or more precisely over-eager to please his intended audience, but I think it had nothing to do with his religion. He didn’t play to his strengths–he’s a pragmatic, energetic problem-solver–but rather tried to do his best impression of a red-meat GOP nominee seeker. He could have offered up any number of interesting ideas about any number of issues, but he didn’t really do that. I think he got some bad advice from people who thought his resume and his willingness to play the role, rather than his unique talents, would allow him to coast to the nomination against a field of flawed alternatives.

    So I’m not sure about the the idea that he changed his policy positions to suit evangelicals (I presume you’re speaking about abortion–his shifts on immigration, tax pledges, and other issues were not toward an “evangelical” position). I think his conversion on abortion may have been just as he says it was, or if calculation had anything to do with it it was probably based on the fact that the whole party, not just evangelicals, is pretty pro-life.

  27. Nate Oman on January 8, 2008 at 1:47 pm

    RAF: I recall that discussion as well, although as you know I am on the opposite side of the issue from you. In my mind the KFD is part of the crown jewels of the Restoration. I am fine saying that it is open to multiple interpretations and I am also fine saying that we are frequently mistaken in our visions of the heavens and our “cosmological speculations” as one of the big names put it. But, to my mind a Mormonism fully acceptable to mainline Christianity isn’t worthy of the name. If I wanted Mormonism as warmed-over Methodism, I would become a Josephite. The KFD for all of its ambiguities and problems is a central part of what makes the Restoration compelling for me.

  28. Nate Oman on January 8, 2008 at 1:53 pm

    I should point out that the people at Princeton who were uncomfortable with the KFD were not, in my mind, motivated by a desire to be loved by evangelicals. I think that they had good faith objections to KFD, but as I recall it was less about the possiblity of human exaltation than it was about the speculation that God was previously not God. There is a long line of folks who had problems with this doctrine, which includes names like Orson Pratt and Anthon Lund. So it is not as though the only folks uncomfortable with KFD are Josephites or Protestant-panderers. There is a long-standing and legitimate strand within Mormonism that has long been uncomfortable with certain readings of the KFD.

  29. Ryan Bell on January 8, 2008 at 1:53 pm

    Kaimi,

    I know that you didn’t write this post in direct response to me, so I don’t expect you to have addressed the central message of my post at RomneyExperience. Still, because you mentioned my post I want to point out that you haven’t engaged the crux of what I’ve said.

    If I’m reading you right, you are saying the following: No one can act like Mormon doctrine is perfectly clear. It’s a mix of concepts drawn selectively from a great variety of sources, all of which is somewhat elastic and dependent on various authoritative claims. In short, Mormon doctrine is hard to pin down, so criticism of Feldman’s thesis is unfair.

    However, my quibble with Feldman is not his contention that Mormon doctrine is intrinsically hard to pin down (he may have made this point, but I don’t think it was nearly as central to his piece as you make it out to be). My problem (and please note that I went out of my way to state that I think he approaches Mormonism in good faith, with some insight and even flattery) is that he thinks Mormon doctrine is hard to pin down not because of the difficulty of ongoing revelation, but because Mormons are *purposely* making it so. The smoking gun paragraph, in my mind:

    “The Mormon path to normalization over the course of the 20th century depended heavily on this avoidance of public discussion of its religious tenets. Now that plural marriage was out of the picture, the less said the better about the particular teachings of the church, including such practices as the baptism of the dead and the doctrine of the perfectibility of mankind into divine form. Where religious or theological conversation could not be avoided, Mormons depicted themselves as yet another Christian denomination alongside various other Protestant denominations that prevailed throughout the United states.”

    Truly, I think this paragraph is careless and indefensible, made the more so by the defenses offered here which suggest that Feldman did his homework on the Church. As lawyers, you and I both know enough to smell something fishy when a broad derogatory statement is put out there without any support. And I trust my nose on this one, because not only does Feldman fail to cite support, as a lifelong Mormon, I can’t find any!

    You are correct that Feldman’s writing strives to be fair and is by and large valuable reading. I should have done more to show that he deserves to be dealt with on a whole different plane than the run of the mill Anti-Mormon. But I just can’t see how to justify the claim that Mormons are purposely hiding teachings like Baptism for the Dead and Exaltation.

    As for Baptism for the Dead, I just can’t see how one makes the case for that idea. Sure, it’s not the first thing that comes up, but this is a core teaching that is thoroughly part of the doctrinal and proselytizing fabric.

    You could make a slightly better case on the charge of hiding our doctrine of exaltation. In fact, maybe I’m just following my own subjective bias here. But my sense (as I said in my post) is that we discuss this less because no one has a clue what exactly the correct doctrine is. That said, in my experience, Mormons and Mormon leaders are always more than willing to state what they know about it- that we believe we are of the same species of God and were created with the intention that we may someday be like him. Is this something you think we’re hiding the ball on? If so, is it because of a true desire to keep it hidden from others, or just because we are careful in making pronouncements on doctrines we don’t fully understand?

    I’ll cede the floor for now. I admit I’m surprised this article has received so much praise. It’s got some good stuff, but the idea that Mormons engage in “soft secrecy” is just unfair in my mind. I do not argue that the Church hasn’t tried to move into the mainstream, and that that has involved some image-polishing. But when it comes to trying to obscure our core doctrines, I just don’t see it.

  30. Adam Greenwood on January 8, 2008 at 2:10 pm

    Very well done, Ryan Bell.

  31. California Condor on January 8, 2008 at 2:43 pm

    SUNDAY INTERVIEW — Musings of the Main Mormon
    Gordon B. Hinckley, `president, prophet, seer and revelator’ of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sits at the top of one of the world’s fastest-growing religions

    San Fransisco Chronicle
    Sunday, April 13, 1997
    Don Lattin, Chronicle Religion Writer

    Q: There are some significant differences in your beliefs. For instance, don’t Mormons believe that God was once a man?

    A: I wouldn’t say that. There was a little couplet coined, “As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become.” Now that’s more of a couplet than anything else. That gets into some pretty deep theology that we don’t know very much about.

    Q: So you’re saying the church is still struggling to understand this?

    A: Well, as God is, man may become. We believe in eternal progression. Very strongly. We believe that the glory of God is intelligence and whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the Resurrection. Knowledge, learning, is an eternal thing. And for that reason, we stress education. We’re trying to do all we can to make of our people the ablest, best, brightest people that we can.

  32. bnielson on January 8, 2008 at 2:47 pm

    ” It’s got some good stuff, but the idea that Mormons engage in “soft secrecy” is just unfair in my mind.”

    Hey, we praise anything close to fair to encourage people to be more fair. :)

    You make a good point here, Ryan. I do think that some Mormons do avoid some topics, and sometimes by duplicit answers. Thus I can’t disagree with him entirely. However, the idea that this is common or in the genes so to speak is not true.

  33. Kirk Reid on January 8, 2008 at 2:59 pm

    #21 I realised only afterward that I had switched over to commenting on non-Mormon hostility when you were speaking of Mormon anti-intellectual hostility, but decided to let the point stand for itself anyway.

    I agree with what you’re saying about the rock and hard place of secular historical attitudes between which Mormons are left with only a narrow corner to fight from, the broader field having been pre-empted by certain assumptions. And I think you’ve expressed one of these assumptions excellently in your formula: unknowable + unquantifiable = unreal. When put that way the fact that it’s a baseless (and unscientific) assumption seems crystal clear. And of course the ‘unknowable’ part of it is also an assumption, perhaps the more difficult one, since discussions about ‘knowing’ are where my conversations with non-Mormon friends get stickiest, as I mentioned in my comments above.

  34. Jason J on January 8, 2008 at 3:08 pm

    Ryan Bell,

    I am puzzled by your objection to this “soft secrecy” angle. It seems like a perfectly natural interpretation of our behavior. Whenever doctrines like exaltation and baptisms for the dead come up in public discourse certain scriptural phrases always come to mind: “line upon line,” “milk before meat,” “pearls before swine,” etc. Many things in the gospel seem shocking or just silly to the uninitiated, so we are often cautious in the way and the extent to which we discuss these doctrines with outsiders and newcomers – as we should be. Sure, we don’t bury baptisms for the dead in the basement of the temple, but we don’t exactly have the missionaries start off the first discussion with salvation of the dead either. If a missionary ever starts into deification or Heavenly Mother in the discussions, chances are his/her companion will kick him under the table.

    From my experience, it seems that many Mormons simply object to the term “secret” or “secrecy” in connection with their worship. It just sounds subversive somehow. But we oughtn’t expect the outsider to think in terms of “milk before meat.” “Secrecy” is probably the most natural way of understanding our behavior in connection with these ideas. As long as our reticence is treated favorably, as it is with the Feldman piece, we should not get too worked up about it. We shouldn’t expect them to view it the same way we do precisely because they are not ready for the meat.

  35. K L Hunt on January 8, 2008 at 3:32 pm

    Cut and paste the link http://www.princeton.edu/~csrelig/mormonism&politics.html#Keynote for the podcast “Persecution and the Art of Secrecy: An Interpretation of the Mormon Encounter with American Politics”–Feldman’s keynote at Princeton conference organized by Melissa Proctor

  36. Adam Greenwood on January 8, 2008 at 3:35 pm

    I’m pretty sure baptism for the dead comes up in the discussions. No?

  37. Rosalynde Welch on January 8, 2008 at 3:52 pm

    Ryan, I think you’re misreading the tone of that paragraph. Feldman makes it clear that he sees Mormon secrecy as having two roots: the esoteric theme intrinsic to our rituals (and, he takes pains to point out, this is not unique to Mormons but a widespread feature of many religious traditions) and a defensible (and defensive) response to soft bigotry.

  38. john f. on January 8, 2008 at 3:52 pm

    Responding to several comments on the point of retreat from the KFD, my view is that stressing that we believe we can become like God is not dissembling or softening/mainstreaming our doctrine. I believe it is a more accurate description of how strong of a doctrinal claim we can actually make based on what has been taught. We believe that we can become like God in a much more real and literal way than creedal Christians who posit that God is a different species than man. The important knowledge from the KFD is that God and man are the same species and that the whole point of existence is to progress in intelligence and righteousness, through the grace of Jesus Christ, until we become like God. But beyond that we don’t exactly know what that entails precisely — which is what President Hinckley was teaching when he said we don’t understand a lot about it, meaning the mechanics of the first half of the Lorenzo Snow couplet (”as man is God once was”).

    As Nate points out there is a long strain of legitimate dispute with this assertion within Mormonism. I don’t think that President Hinckley is in the camp of those who dispute the first half of the couplet; rather, he is taking a more realistic and perhaps more honest stand on what we actually know or understand about that point, rather than allowing natural enthusiastic speculation to result from awareness of an exciting restored doctrine (“as God is man may become”). But importantly, as President Hinckley demonstrated, the latter half of the couplet “as God is man may become” is still as openly taught today in the Church as it ever has been (I concur with a commenter above that hardly a week goes by in Church where someone does not raise this point of belief in any given lesson or talk — the point about returning to live with Heavenly Father and become like God). President Hinckley did not shy away from that principle in his interviews and our General Authorities don’t downplay the idea of “becoming like God” in their discourses. It follows from verses in the New Testament (e.g. 1 John 3:2) and the Book of Mormon (e.g. 3 Ne. 28:10). So I don’t agree that saying we believe we can “become like God” is a retreat from “core doctrine” as has been suggested above.

    In the end analysis, although I enjoyed and applaud the article, and although I do not really have the same reaction to its discussion of soft secrecy that Ryan Bell has, I agree with Ryan that “But when it comes to trying to obscure our core doctrines, I just don’t see it.” I also reject the idea that our people suddenly started talking about Jesus Christ in the 1980s, which is a curious argument I have repeatedly seen around the blogs and forums, argued by several people whom I greatly respect and admire.

  39. JWL on January 8, 2008 at 3:54 pm

    CC — Thank you for posting the relevant text.

    RB — I suggest that you try to see this from the perspective of a fair-minded outsider who has just come from immersing himself in historical and modern Church literature. Until very recently the Church, its leaders and members were quite unabashed in proclaiming the distinctive doctrines of the Restored Gospel. Then in very recent years (the last 20-30 maybe) mention of these doctrines diminishes markedly and there is a significant increase in what we might refer to (I hope not disrespectfully) as Jesus-talk. Numerous observers both inside and outside the Church have noticed and remarked on this shift. Now you make a fair point that some of these distinctive doctrines are uncertain, and that others are still regularly taught inside the Church. And perhaps the term “soft secrecy” is not the best way to describe it. However, the shift in the Church’s public self-presentation is very real, and I think that it is not unfair for an outsider to perceive that shift as a deliberate effort to appear more compatible to mainstream Christians.

    In connection with all this I jumped onto lds.org and searched the Lorenzo Snow couplet and came up with one citation — a talk to mission presidents by President Packer in 1982 (interestingly reprinted as recently as January 2007). In contrast, in my childhood recollection the couplet was ubiquitous in Church teaching.

    I was struck by the anecdote in which President Packer used the couplet, which I am copying here because I find it so telling. In it a nervous new missionary blurts out the couplet on his first door approach. The fact that he would do so illustrates how universally it was accepted and taught in earlier times in the Church. The fact that he could not find it in the Bible illustrates our dilemma in representing Mormonism’s distinctive doctrines to other Christians. The lady at the door’s receptiveness illustrates at least to this Mormon that restoration of these distinctive doctrines might be more effective in representing the Restored Gospel than our current practice of downplaying them.

    Quoting President Packer:

    “There is great power in this work, spiritual power. The ordinary member of the Church, like you, having received the gift of the Holy Ghost by confirmation, can do the work of the Lord.

    Years ago a friend told this experience. He was 17 years old and with his companion stopped at a cottage in the southern states. It was his first day in the mission field and was his first door. A gray-haired woman stood inside the screen and asked what they wanted. His companion nudged him to proceed. Frightened and somewhat tongue-tied, he finally blurted out, “As man is God once was, and as God is man may become.”

    Strangely enough, she was interested and asked where he got that. He answered, “It’s in the Bible.” She left the door for a moment, returned with her Bible. Commenting that she was a minister of a congregation, she handed it to him and said, “Here, show me.”

    He took the Bible and nervously thumbed back and forth through it. Finally he handed it back saying, “Here, I can’t find it. I’m not even sure that it’s in there, and even if it is, I couldn’t find it. I’m just a poor farm boy from out in Cache Valley in Utah. I haven’t had much training. But I come from a family where we live the gospel of Jesus Christ. And it’s done so much for our family that I’ve accepted a call to come on a mission for two years, at my own expense, to tell people how I feel about it.”

    After half a century, he could not hold back the tears as he told me how she pushed open the door and said, “Come in, my boy. I’d like to hear what you have to say.”

    http://www.lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=024644f8f206c010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD&locale=0&sourceId=9f7325292eaef010VgnVCM100000176f620a____&hideNav=1

  40. JWL on January 8, 2008 at 3:56 pm

    With regard to Mitt Romney (may his soon-to-be late presidential campaign RIP), in downplaying the differences between Mormonism and creedal Christianity my view is that he was simply mimicking for political purposes this shift in the Church’s self-presentation. However, the evangelicals didn’t buy it politically, any more than they have bought the Church’s and some BYU professors’ efforts to narrow the theological divide by minimizing the distinctives of the KFD, etc. I agree with Timer that we may at a point where the continuing Evangelical hostility towards us, as illustrated by their rejection of Romney’s candidacy, may lead us to reconsider whether continuing this shift is worthwhile.

  41. Rosalynde Welch on January 8, 2008 at 3:59 pm

    The “Jesus talk” largely correlates with the rise of the Book of Mormon in prominence in GC addresses. This is not surprising, as the BoM contains so much christology. Thus the “Jesus talk” is positively linked to a foregrounding of one distinctive doctrine—the BoM—not to its cover-up.

  42. Clark on January 8, 2008 at 4:06 pm

    Kirk: Church leaders no longer experience or claim to experience revelation on the audio-visual scale of the First Vision.

    I don’t think that’s accurate. Certainly Pres. Hinkley has insinuated that he hasn’t had something like that. But others have insinuated they have.

  43. bnielson on January 8, 2008 at 4:12 pm

    >>> I agree with Timer that we may at a point where the continuing Evangelical hostility towards us, as illustrated by their rejection of Romney’s candidacy, may lead us to reconsider whether continuing this shift is worthwhile

    good point

  44. Ryan Bell on January 8, 2008 at 4:13 pm

    CC: I\’m well aware of that passage from President Hinckley\’s interview. Not sure to what end you posted it, but I think it supports my point rather than hinders it. That is: to the extent we don\’t discuss exaltation, it is due to our lack of complete understanding. However, I do think we discuss it publicly, albeit modestly.

    More responses later . . .

  45. Ray on January 8, 2008 at 4:18 pm

    If we can’t agree on many of these things among ourselves, how can we expect an “outsider” to write about them in such a way that we will agree with it? As others have said, I think we need to analyze this article as if it came from an outside observation (as it did) and not from Elder Bushman (as it did not) – and focus on reading it to learn how others perceive us.

    In that regard, I have a hard time finding much of anything for which the author deserves criticism.

  46. JWL on January 8, 2008 at 4:20 pm

    Rosalynde –

    Increasing emphasis on the BoM may be a fair explanation of the shift in GC addresses, but it doesn’t account for moves such as changing the Church’s logo or the seemingly ubiquitous spread of copies of the Christus statue. Obvious PR-like moves such as these are very noticeable and seem very transparent to outsiders.

    Let me emphasize that I do not object to putting more emphasis on Christ. I am just saying that there are indeed trends toward downplaying some of our most distinctive doctrines which to an outsider that can look like a retreat from them. Outside interest in these doctrines and spreading knowledge of them through the media and Internet may not permit us the luxury of a “milk before meat” approach. The KFD was, after all, the primary April General Conference address of the then presiding Prophet of the Church (and his last). Harold Bloom rightly has called it one of the greatest religious sermons ever delivered by an American. Even if we would prefer to avoid discussing its doctrines with the uninitiated, Professors Feldman, Bloom and virtually every non-Mormon who writes seriously about Mormonism aren’t going to let us avoid dealing with them. And to the extent that we continue to do so, suggesting that that is “soft secrecy” may be the mildest way of putting it how that appears to outsiders.

  47. Kirk Reid on January 8, 2008 at 4:21 pm

    #42 Thanks Clark, I didn’t realise that, though it’s not surprising since I think we all tend to assume the First Presidency’s inspiration has sometimes gone a bit further than ‘guidance by the power of the spirit through prayer’, more so than they’d usually discuss. I’d like to check those instances out if you have references, because it would interesting to look at the phrasing and context (although ‘insinuated’ is the last thing I’d want to have to go back to my interlocuters with.)

  48. Hellmut on January 8, 2008 at 4:27 pm

    Thanks for your thoughtful response, Ryan #29.

    Notice, Feldman does not say that Mormons obfuscate Mormon doctrine on purpose. Feldman says that Mormons have reasons to be concerned about outsiders and address that concern with secrecy. One effect of that behavior, Feldman suggests, is doctrinal ambiguity.

    I am a little bit concerned that you are misreading Feldman. He does not make the claim the doctrinal ambiguity is intentional.

  49. William Morris on January 8, 2008 at 4:30 pm

    “You could make a slightly better case on the charge of hiding our doctrine of exaltation. ”

    The first few chapters of Gospel Principles, the full text of which was even available in Romanian while I was serving a mission there (back when we had just a few hymns and selections from the Book of Mormon), is pretty clear on our doctrine of exaltation, imo.

  50. Jason J on January 8, 2008 at 4:30 pm

    Adam,

    Of course baptisms for the dead are taught in the discussions; my point was about when it comes up. Under the old program it was the 5th discussion, not a conversation starter. The missionaries usually start with the most basic truths before getting to the more complex or difficult to accept – baptisms for the dead, degrees of glory, and even the word of wisdom and law of chastity. The most complex and controversial – deification, etc. – never come up in the missionary lessons at all.

    Has this changed under the new program? Or is it still fair to say that the Church introduces itself line upon line with the milk before the meat?

  51. Adam Greenwood on January 8, 2008 at 4:39 pm

    If the claim is that we’re ‘hiding’ the doctrine if we don’t put it in the first two or three discussions, I’m not buying it. Anything that is taught and must be taught before baptism isn’t hidden at all.

  52. JWL on January 8, 2008 at 4:52 pm

    On this issue, I think the key paragraph in Professor Feldman’s article is this:

    “What is more, what began as a strategy of secrecy to avoid persecution has become over the course of the 20th century a strategy of minimizing discussion of the content of theology in order to avoid being treated as religious pariahs. As a result, Mormons have not developed a series of easily expressed and easily swallowed statements summarizing the content of their theology in ways that might arguably be accepted by mainline Protestants. To put it bluntly, the combination of secret mysteries and resistance in the face of oppression has made it increasingly difficult for Mormons to talk openly and successfully with outsiders about their religious beliefs.”

    The issue is not missionary lessons, or new member lessons. The issue is how do we discuss our distinctive doctrines with people who already have heard about them, which is going to be more and more and more people because they are just so darn interesting. I don’t know that such explanations have to be “easily swallowed” (in fact, I hope they can’t be) but I think that it is a valid point that we have no “easily expressed” way “to talk openly … with outsiders about” our distinctive beliefs. Inceasingly President Hinckley’s “milk before meat” approach from that 1997 interview isn’t going to fly with outsiders who want to know more about what distinguishes us from other believers. If we are uncertain ourselves about these doctrines, this trend may force us to strive for more understanding. If we are comfortable about these doctrines, I think we are going to need to explore better ways of explaining them to outsiders, and to realize that avoiding or delaying discussing these subjects is no longer an option in the age of the Internet.

  53. Jason J on January 8, 2008 at 5:07 pm

    It’s a question of degree. Baptisms for the dead is not as up-front as say, the First Vision, which is not as up-front as Heavenly Mother. I only used baptisms of the dead to illustrate that the discussions proceed on a line upon line basis, not to claim that we “hide” them. (I distinctly said that we do not.) As far as I know, the other doctrines mentioned – god-like potential and Heavenly Mother – are not required reading before baptism.

    JWL may very well be right that my milk before meat attitude is less appropriate in the internet age. But I don’t believe I’m the only one to have taken this approach, which would mean that Feldman’s observation is on target.

  54. Ryan Bell on January 8, 2008 at 5:12 pm

    Jason J, #34: You seem to be talking about the order in which we present our message. If exaltation and baptism for the dead don’t make it into the first conversation, that’s hardly secrecy. “Milk before Meat” (though I’ve rarely if ever heard that concept applied to teaching non-members) is not the same as “milk always, never meat.” Does the Church try to put its best face forward? Absolutely. Does it keep important doctrines underground in order to do so? I’ve seen no evidence that says it does.

    Rosalynde: I’m not sure I’m misreading his intention in this paragraph. (Note this passage: “where religious or theological conversation could not be avoided . . .” Translation: the LDS Church reeeeally dislikes having to talk about doctrine. Come on!)

    However, even if I am, (1) it’s still incorrect that we are secretive about our core doctrines, things like exaltation and baptism for the dead, and (2) regardless of Feldman’s intentions, I think the average American reader sees things like “soft secrecy” even in context of his explanations and thinks “yep, I knew it, those Mormons sure are hiding something.” The result is an incorrect impression of Mormonism, even if Feldman means us no harm.

    JWL: You have encapsulated what’s really going on: The Church is attempting to look attractive to those in the Christian mainstream. I completely agree with your version of it. There’s no question that in terms of emphasis, the Church has pivoted somewhat, focusing on the core doctrine of Jesus Christ and the atonement and laying aside other truths less central to immediate salvation. From the perspective of a church member, I believe this is because the Lord has refined the message he wants us members focusing on. But sure, an outsider could believe that’s a matter of P.R. However, does it necessarily follow from your mostly non-controversial observation that the Church is engaging in secrecy about its other doctrines, or hoping to get people not to talk about them? That’s the problem I have with Feldman. He acts as if the Church’s attempt at mainstream acceptance and its P.R. blitz necessitate an abandonment of our differences in doctrine. I think that’s hogwash.

  55. Ryan Bell on January 8, 2008 at 5:23 pm

    Ray (#45): I see your point. We can’t expect perfection from outsiders on such complex topics. I am willing to give people the benefit of the doubt. But I don’t think it takes into account what we’ve been accused of, and I don’t think anyone else here really is doing so either.

    I don’t know Feldman. I am willing to posit that he’s a very nice man, and I know he’s made a lot of effort to be fair to us. However, he has told the NYT Magazine’s readership that Mormons engage affirmatively in what he terms “soft secrecy” in describing the tenets of their faith. Why isn’t this offensive to you people? Do you do that? Have you ever been part of a systematic attempt by the Church to get you to? I concede that there must be members of the church who don’t know enough about the doctrine to portray it accurately, and that there must be a handful of others willing to lie to gloss over difficult doctrines, but as a matter of general fact, it’s just not true. It’s a shame to concede to the (in my view) scurrilous charge that we basically lie about what we believe in in order to make people like us. I don’t. I suspect none of you do. And I think it’s quite ungenerous to say that any of the Church’s leaders do.

    Given your emphasis on the perspective of an outsider, let’s do a little thought experiment: Imagine you’re an average American with little to no knowledge of the LDS Church. Let’s say you read this article. What do you walk away with? Whatever other points you take away, you will surely take away the notion that Mormons have a tenuous relationship with the truth and probably can’t be trusted to describe their beliefs. Set aside whether that’s a good or bad thing for the Church, whether it’s nice to Mormons or not. The question is: is that impression *true?* Do we hide our core doctrines or don’t we?

  56. bnielson on January 8, 2008 at 5:26 pm

    >>> Given your emphasis on the perspective of an outsider, let’s do a little thought experiment: Imagine you’re an average American with little to no knowledge of the LDS Church. Let’s say you read this article. What do you walk away with? Whatever other points you take away, you will surely take away the notion that Mormons have a tenuous relationship with the truth and probably can’t be trusted to describe their beliefs. Set aside whether that’s a good or bad thing for the Church, whether it’s nice to Mormons or not. The question is: is that impression *true?* Do we hide our core doctrines or don’t we?

    Okay, I change my mind. I hate this article now. Ryan’s convinced me. :) (I’m only half joking.)

    I do see your point, Ryan.

  57. Ray on January 8, 2008 at 6:27 pm

    Ryan, In the context of how Feldman phrased the “soft secrecy” explanation, I personally have no problem with it. I see it all the time at all levels of the Church – and I have no problem with it. I do it myself when I feel like the person with whom I am talking just won’t get it, will misunderstand and mistakenly think the doctrines I believe are quite logical are, in fact, weird. In a very real way I “hide” the doctrine – make it a “soft secret”. I wouldn’t lie about it, but I certainly am not going to talk about it unless asked point blank or feel inspired. That’s almost exactly how Feldman phrased it.

  58. Aaron Brown on January 8, 2008 at 6:34 pm

    Great post, Kaimi. I agree with your sentiments completely.

    Aaron B

  59. Kaimi Wenger on January 8, 2008 at 6:36 pm

    Ryan,

    I’m not sure I can agree with you, even on the paragraph you suggest is most egregious: “Now that plural marriage was out of the picture, the less said the better about the particular teachings of the church, including such practices as the baptism of the dead and the doctrine of the perfectibility of mankind into divine form.”

    That paragraph seems to be, at worst, half-right. It seems incontrovertible that church has moved away from the King Follett Discourse. Just a few years ago, President Hinckley publicly stated that he’s not even sure whether we teach it! How exactly would you describe that, other than as a minimization or shift away from that doctrine?

    Baptism for the dead is trickier. You’re right, that we have always been relatively open about the practice. I think that Feldman’s phrasing is probably incorrect, as stated. But I suspect that may be due to oversimplification of a correct point. Our doctrines for the _reason_ for baptism for the dead have shifted significantly. Joseph Smith taught a very tribal understanding — we could not be saved without “our dead.” That understanding still plays a role in our view of baptism for the dead, but has largely been superceded by a more universalist underpinning. So we _are_ de-emphasizing the original doctrinal links to baptism for the dead.

  60. Rosalynde Welch on January 8, 2008 at 6:38 pm

    Ryan, could the disagreement be in the meaning of “soft secrecy”? A “systematic attempt by the Church” to cover up doctrine would, I think, be something like “hard secrecy”—but admittedly the qualifier “soft” is poorly defined. I took “soft secrecy” to mean reticence and accommodation. I freely admit that both in graduate school and now here in evangelical red-state America—contexts where Mormonism is met with hostility and exclusion—I have been both reticent to discuss my religion and also eager to find common ground with my interlocutor when I do, that is, accommodating.

  61. Bob on January 8, 2008 at 6:46 pm

    #56: “Do we hide our core doctrines or don’t we?” To a degree. See resent posts on BCC such as ‘Stone in the Hat”, “Biting One’s Tongue”, where there appears an unwillingness to be open even among ourselves.

  62. ed johnson on January 8, 2008 at 6:47 pm

    According to “Preach My Gospel,” baptism for the dead appears in the 5th “lesson,” which is normally supposed to be taught after baptism. (And, like Kaimi said, the “universalist” view is given, rather than the “tribal” understanding.)

  63. JWL on January 8, 2008 at 6:54 pm

    Ryan –

    Professor Feldman’s use of the word “secrecy” is clearly putting you off with its popular implications of deliberate deception. Would you react differently to Professor Feldman’s argument if he had simply said that Mormons are hesitant to discuss more outlying doctrines of their religion when trying to fit into non-Mormon settings, and are therefore unpractised at explaining them when they have to discuss them with someone who has heard about them? What if he had said that the Mormon Church has been trying to relate more closely to other American Christians and has therefore downplayed discussion of some of its more distinctive beliefs in its official presentations?

  64. john f. on January 8, 2008 at 6:57 pm

    Kaimi # 59, It seems incontrovertible that church has moved away from the King Follett Discourse. Just a few years ago, President Hinckley publicly stated that he’s not even sure whether we teach it! How exactly would you describe that, other than as a minimization or shift away from that doctrine?

    I think you’ve missed the mark a little in your reading of President Hinckley’s interview: I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on my comment # 38.

  65. ed johnson on January 8, 2008 at 7:00 pm

    Some more examples of what I would consider “soft secrecy.” Here’s a response to a 2001 Newsweek article found on lds.org.

    (God) also has a divine wife, whom Mormons call the Mother.”

    “The Mother” is not a term that is used among Church members, in Church meetings, classes or lesson manuals. While the official Proclamation on the Family affirms that each human being is a beloved son or daughter of heavenly parents, there are no teachings about a Heavenly Mother in Latter-day Saint scripture.

    I think it’s very interesting, and a bit confusing, that current church leaders are willing to take a firm stand on “heavenly parents,” but steadfastly avoid using the phrase “Heavenly Mother.”

    Here’s another one from a recent response to Fox News:

    Q: Does the Mormon Church believe its followers can become “gods and goddesses” after death?

    A: We believe that the apostle Peter’s biblical reference to partaking of the divine nature and the apostle Paul’s reference to being ‘joint heirs with Christ’ reflect the intent that children of God should strive to emulate their Heavenly Father in every way. Throughout the eternities, Mormons believe, they will reverence and worship God the Father and Jesus Christ. The goal is not to equal them or to achieve parity with them but to imitate and someday acquire their perfect goodness, love and other divine attributes.

    By the way, this has been a very interesting discussion. Thanks, Kaimi.

  66. Adam Greenwood on January 8, 2008 at 7:07 pm

    Our doctrines for the _reason_ for baptism for the dead have shifted significantly. Joseph Smith taught a very tribal understanding — we could not be saved without “our dead.” That understanding still plays a role in our view of baptism for the dead, but has largely been superceded by a more universalist underpinning. So we _are_ de-emphasizing the original doctrinal links to baptism for the dead.

    That’s really disingenuous, KW. You’re saying its ‘secrecy’ for Mormons to openly teach their current understanding of distinctive doctrines?

  67. Ryan Bell on January 8, 2008 at 7:44 pm

    Adam’s comment (#66) approaches the heart of our disagreement here: some people seem to think “secrecy” is a term to be applied in the following circumstances:

    1. When we explain doctrines in the terms in which they’re understood and lived in modern times, rather than in the terms understood 100 years ago (baptism for the dead)
    2. When we downplay doctrines that no one believes anymore (Adam-God, blood atonement)
    3. When we emphasize belief in Christ over less central doctrines (“Jesus-talk”)
    4. When we grow hesitant to discuss doctrines that are not well understood (exaltation)
    5. When we do not publicly discuss doctrines publicly that are not even discussed or widely agreed upon privately (Heavenly Mother)
    6. When we do not emphasize doctrines publicly which are held only as minor trivia in private (Kolob)

    I think that is the complete list of the examples people have offered in which the LDS Church is secretive about its doctrines. In my mind, for us to be secretive and unwilling to be forthright about our belief, it must mean that we either act like we believe something that we really don’t, or we act like we don’t believe something that we really do. To fail to discuss Heavenly Mother in public, when we almost never discuss her in private (keeping in mind the chasm of difference between the bloggernacle and the rest of the Church) is no act of duplicity, nor is it to stay mum on Kolob, which functions in the heart of Zion only as a vague curiosity without any theological consequence.

    I am convinced by Ray (#57) and Rosalynde (#60) that perhaps I’ve been a bit hard on Feldman, given the tendency that all of us have to be quiet in the face of anticipated disrespect. If this was truly all that Feldman was suggesting, I have no argument. Everyone is familiar with the experience of being teased for things they hold sacred, and only the bravest overcome hesitancy in such circumstances. But if that’s really what Feldman’s talking about, isn’t that a point about humanity in general? Why is it particularly true of Mormons to say that we grow quiet around those we do not expect to understand our beliefs? “Soft secrecy” must mean something more than that (and as I said upthread, I am confident that it will be read to mean much more than that by the average reader).

    Kaimi, (59) you say that it seems certain that the Church has moved away from the King Follett discourse. If that is true, it is not alone sufficient to make a claim of secrecy. It must have moved away from the KFD publicly, while privately maintaining its confidence therein. That would be the duplicity we’re being accused of. However, the mere fact that the Church has evolved in its belief is explainable in much less ominous terms. If it evolved, maybe that’s just because it evolved. Even saying it did so specifically to fit in with the rest of religious America is not to say we are secretive, but merely conformist (which, though I do not concede it, is a whole different argument). However, I don’t agree with you that President Hinckley’s words show a move away from the KFD, merely an admission that we don’t fully comprehend its doctrine, as I noted above, and as John F. did as well.

    JWL (63) You are correct in locating the crux of my objection. I would agree wholeheartedly with your first sentence re-phrasing Feldman’s position, and would also sign on, with minor reservations, to your second. Remember, my objection is not only based on how Mormons read this, but on how the rest of the world reads it. I think the use of the word “secrecy,” as well as related words, confirms some sleazy, and very untrue things in the minds of many, many people. Thus, regardless of Feldman’s intentions, it unfairly does damage to the popular conception of the church.

    Ed Johnson: (65) Maybe I’m crazy, but both of the examples of “soft secrecy” you offer, I take to be fairly forthright statements of our precise belief. The one regarding Heavenly Mother perfectly encapsulated the position of the Church, and could come directly from a letter to the membership, in my mind. The latter one (re: exaltation) doesn’t say everything, but does a decent job of explaining the doctrine in a mild way without deception. In what way do those statements hide the ball?

  68. Mark Brown on January 8, 2008 at 8:22 pm

    Ryan,

    Did you see the video of Helen Whitney when she described her tour of the Beehive house? She described how odd it was to walk past dozens of bedroom doors without hearing her tour guide ever once mention polygamy. Even though we might understand and agree with the reasons tours of the Beehive house never encounter the p-word, can we not also understand why outsiders might think we are being a little too coy?

  69. Clark on January 8, 2008 at 9:33 pm

    Kirk, #47, I’m more thinking of statements made in smaller groups and not statements made in public. I think one can debate whether Apostle in the early 19th century entailed proclaiming on the mountains what one had seen. However given how little Joseph emphasized his First Vision and how little other GAs talked in the 19th century I’m not sure the conflict some set up between 19th and 20th century prophets holds. Which isn’t to deny some elements of degree. (Certainly overt ‘miracles’ were discussed much more in the 19th century publicly whereas they tend today to be told in smaller groups)

    I should add that this does get at the comments in the essay. In the 19th century Joseph held to a very masonic styled view of secrecy and indicated on at least a few occasions that more was revealed to him because he could keep a secret. The famous Snow couplet was, of course, kept in private until the Saints were in Utah. Likewise most of the Nauvoo doctrines were kept secret. And this secrecy can be found in scripture as well. (Think Alma 13 among others)

    It seems like more was taught publicly mainly in the Utah period when the Saints were isolated. Now that we’re more mixed less is taught publicly. I don’t think that’s something one can miss. While I think a lot of 19th century Utah teachings end up being heavily doused with speculation and interpretation certainly more was discussed.

  70. Clark on January 8, 2008 at 9:45 pm

    To add a bit more regarding this element of “privateness” (which I think is more apt than secrecy – no one would say that not telling the world about my sex life is secrecy for instance). I think that the ‘enchantedness’ of the world (to use a term from a few posts from here a couple of years ago) ends up being a near de facto element of privateness that verges on secrecy.

    Even if there has been a long and steady move to making the spiritual private directly to the level we as a people are ‘in the world’ that entails that we see an enchantment about the world that most don’t. It is, in effect, a hidden world.

    What’s interesting is how rarely this hidden world gets discussed publicly. When miracles are typically discussed they are either vague and nebulous (i.e. getting better from a disease) or else are in the past. Yet get in smaller groups in most wards and you’ll find at least a few people telling more immediate encounters with this world which makes it enchanted.

    I’m enough of a skeptic so as to think that the majority of such tales are either the result of misinterpretation (i.e. the garments protecting one from fire that is actually characteristic of tight fabric of that sort rather than divine intervention) or gross exaggeration. But I think that these folk tales demonstrate how, as a practical matter, Mormons view the world. Further I think that there are plenty of real miracles, real divine interventions and even real angels and so forth.

    That divide is a huge divide of secrecy/privacy that provides a gap.

  71. JWL on January 8, 2008 at 9:47 pm

    Ryan –

    From your comment #67:

    “4. When we grow hesitant to discuss doctrines that are not well understood (exaltation)”

    is the central point. We have an enormous body of teachings on exaltation. It is well understood in most of its aspects that have been revealed to us. Joseph Smith’s General Conference talk in April 1844 (popularly known as the King Follett Discourse) is many pages long even in the forms which we have, and its teachings have been accepted without reservation by almost all of the Church’s leaders until the present time (I don’t have research but I am willing to assert that the few who had problems with it — Orson Pratt or Anthon Lund, you should add Charles Penrose to the list also — were a very small minority). The Church has set out in modern times under President Hinckley (whose professional background is PR) to “bring the Church out obscurity.” To do so they have felt it necessary to softpedal some traditional doctrines which are frankly weird and heterodox. There may be very good reasons for the Church to take this approach. Maybe prior Church leaders (including Joseph Smith) were too bold in teaching some esoteric doctrines as fundamental, maybe we feel we have to do “milk before meat,” maybe as a matter of resource allocation teaching Christ and him crucified is more important. But intelligent sympathetic observers like Professor Feldman see the softpedaling of what was formerly not softpedaled. You can criticize his use of the term “secret” as being too susceptible to confusion with deception (which any neutral reading of his article I think shows not to have been his intended meaning) but the Church’s de-emphasis of some of its more heterodox teachings, especially those based on Joseph’s April 1844 General Conference talk, is real, and denying it only makes us look, well deceptive.

  72. Clark on January 8, 2008 at 10:16 pm

    JWL, I understand the point you are making. However I’d just note that there is a big difference between the KFD and say scripture. There are some standard parts of the KFD that have traditionally been discarded (and rarely even make it into Church authorized reprints in manuals). So I think it fair to ask how much of the KFD is speculative interpretation from revelation and how much is the key revelations. Given how we simply don’t have anything like D&C styled revelations for most of the Nauvoo doctrines it is easy to question.

    While it is easy to point to most GAs believing these doctrines one must also note that there are lots of things GAs once believed that no one does. (Adam/God, Blacks and the Priesthood, polygamy required for exhaltation, etc.)

  73. Timer on January 8, 2008 at 10:38 pm

    Ryan Bell,

    Okay, prior to the Internet explosion, what percent of converts learned about the following from their missionaries before baptism?

    1. Polygamy
    2. KFD and God having once been a man
    3. Temple garments
    4. Heavenly Mother
    5. Minor but bizarre trivia like Kolob, Garden of Eden in Missouri, etc.

    I can tell you the answer in my mission: essentially zero. If people learned about these things from anti-Mormon sources, then of course we would discuss them, deal with them. But for the vast majority of converts we made NO MENTION AT ALL of these features of Mormon, despite the fact that most non-Mormons consider them MOST of all Mormon doctrines.

    Why didn’t we tell potential converts these things? Because we thought they were uninteresting? No. Because we were uncertain of their doctrinality? No. (Doubting KFD was certainly not in vogue in my mission — we all believed it; we just didn’t teach it.) Because they were complicated? No. The answer is, well, partly because they are sacred but mostly because we were afraid that potential converts would freak out and not join the church.

    Our harshest critics would say we were being dishonest, that we were converting people under false pretenses, that we were no good liars.

    Next to this, I think “soft secrecy” is a pretty mild way of putting it, don’t you?

  74. Kirk Reid on January 9, 2008 at 12:25 am

    #69 Clark, that was genuinely illuminating, and instructive, thanks. I think I know what you mean by the divide set up between 19th century and 20th century prophets and agree that there’s an element of difference but that it is exaggerated. (The divide is actually between the scale of revelation bestowed on Joseph Smith and the comparative trickle thereafter, no?)

    I’m not clear on what you mean by While I think a lot of 19th century Utah teachings end up being heavily doused with speculation and interpretation certainly more was discussed.

    To me it seems that there are inevitably parallels and symbioses between zeitgeists internal and external to the church. I don’t see any problem in this because to speak to the world the church must speak the language of the time – and a zeitgeist is essentially language and communication, thought and feeling, in all its forms during any given period. The early 19th century zeitgeist was actually quite at ease with visionary experience and it seems God took advantage of this to speak a certain way.

    Now the zeitgeist – both within and without the church – is distinctly ill at ease with visionary experience – but passionately absorbed with – and responsive to – dialogue. God no doubt takes advantage of this as well. It’s no suprise that although modern Prophets have access to visionary experience, they properly address themselves to dialogue with the world. And the Church membership is passionately engaged in this as well. And recently Elder Ballard spoke to the propriety of this in his address to BYU students.

    Even though, as you say, ‘much was discussed’, I wonder if early church members might actually have been dismayed and uncomfortable with the way modern members freely debate matters of belief so critically and analytically, but in our age, truth needs to speak to the mind as well as the heart and the Church’s willingness to do this is fitting, I reckon. I think the adaptive communication being discussed here as “soft secrecy” is actually okay and perhaps inevitable since all public discourse takes place this way and the Church is only speaking the language of the time. (Though I deplore the term ‘milk before meat’ because it’s so patronising).

    With respect to Timer’s point above, for instance, I’m not sure that ‘calibrating’ a complex message which itself is in intense dialogue with the world can be justly equated to being ‘no good liars’, though, Timer, I think you’ve pinpointed an accusation to which the Church is nonetheless vulnerable for the reasons you give.

  75. Bob on January 9, 2008 at 12:31 am

    #70: Sorry, I am not getting your sense of ‘privateness’, when 50,000 Missionaries are being sent out to tell people what God wants, and who Mormons are. “Secrecy is the practice of sharing information among a group of people, which can be as small as one person, while hiding it from others.” (Wikipedia)

  76. Joel on January 9, 2008 at 12:37 am

    I just wanted to nominate some alternate terms for “soft-secrecy.” I think that what Dr. Feldman is describing might correspond with the descriptor “mask” that is often used in literature on race. The term comes from the idea that African Americans have historically had to portray themselves in certain way to survive in a white world.(See poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar http://www.poetry-archive.com/d/we_wear_the_mask.html) Feldman makes similar arguments about Mormons and other esoteric traditions–that Mormons portray doctrine differently when in public and private settings.

  77. Bob on January 9, 2008 at 12:48 am

    #74: A Church lead by a Zeitgeist, not a Prophet, calling the world to dialogue not repent? Can you give an example of the dialogue with the world?

  78. JWL on January 9, 2008 at 2:59 am

    Re: #72

    Clark –

    My beginning point in comment #18 was that articles like Professor Feldman’s are harbingers telling us that we may not be able to leave the KFD in the “iffy” status you refer to. Its teachings are too powerful, sweeping and fascinating to expect that non-LDS observers are going to ignore them because we don’t want to talk about them with outsiders. Even to sympathetic well-read outsiders like Professor Feldman our increasing reticence (especially in comparison with our earlier embrace of those teachings) is going to look like “soft secrecy,” and that’s putting it nicely. The examples you cite of bygone teachings (Adam/God, Blacks and the Priesthood, polygamy required for exaltation) have all been specifically and authoritatively rejected. Basically the question posed by the analysis of Professor Feldman and other friendly observers is whether we are going to do the same to the KFD and related teachings, or re-embrace them even if leads to renewed rejection by the American mainstream.

  79. john f. on January 9, 2008 at 6:07 am

    re # 78, JWL, I think you will have a very difficult time making the case that President Hinckley or the Church are downplaying or softpedaling the substance of the KFD: that God and man are the same species and that the purpose of life is for man to become like God. Both of these points still form the core beliefs of nearly all Latter-day Saints and are openly discussed, both at Church and with non-members.

    The most mileage you will be able to get out of this particular track of argument is that President Hinckley and some other Church leaders seem unwilling to make exceptionally strong claims about “as man is God once was”, saying instead that we do not understand this idea very well and that it is not really taught in the Church — which it isn’t. Although the latter half of the couplet, “as God is man may become” is referred to regularly in wards across the globe, people rarely discuss the first part.

  80. bnielson on January 9, 2008 at 8:58 am

    *raises hand timidly*

    I, um, was just reading #73 and nodding my head in agreement that Mormons practice “soft secrecy” when a thought just hit me like a bolt out of the blue.

    Don’t all religions practice “soft secrecy”?

    Do Calvinists explain upfront to potential conversts about their doctrines that God chooses to damn to hell whoever he pleases to show his justice? Or do they, up front at least, spend more time talking about God’s universal love?

    Do Christians in general tell potential conversts about the dark secrets of the Old Testament prior to conversion? (God commanding genocide comes to mind.) Don’t they, more or less, let you find it on your own later and then help you deal with it? (Please note: many Mormons I know don’t even believe these verses because “it’s translated incorrectly.” I disagree, but one could argue that Mormons might be withholding less than a religion that believes in Biblical inerrancy.)

    Do Christians in general expose their members to the possible problems of how the Nicean creed was passed for political reasons?

    Do Catholics explain all their traditions upfront or do they just let you figure them out on your own in many cases? Do they show you upfront the controversy over Mary being a virgin all her life in Catholic tradition vs. the actual Biblical reference in Matt 1 where it strongly implies that isn’t true?

    Do Catholics, upfront, expose their members to the corruptions in their past?

    Ack! Now that I think of it, I can’t think of any organization that doesn’t practice “soft secrecy.” Don’t sales people only tell you the positives? Don’t politicians? Does Greenpeace tell you all the stats on the environment or just the ones that advance their cause? Do lobbyist tell you all their dark secrets that might change your mind to be against them?

    When I take American History in high school, am I being exposes to the full nuanced history of the United States? Or is it a somewhat minimized and whitewashed version?

    Holy cow! I’m starting to think maybe the LDS church is less secretive than, well, just about any body!

    Back at post #25 I mentioned the role Evangelicals and outsiders play in forcing us to be somewhat reticent with all our beliefs due to their strong incentives to misrepresent. Is that, itself, a form of “soft secrecy” being practiced by the Evangelicals? (i.e. they tell you the wild stuff about Mormons but withold the mitigating factors.)

    In fact, might it not be safe to say that Mormons are no more secretive (well, if you factor out the temple that is) than any other religion and the only real difference is that because we are so small and those that wish to smear us so large that we simply have to put up with more of our “secrets” being exposed upfront?

    Thoughts? I really did just think of this right now and I’m really curious if anyone else agrees.

  81. bnielson on January 9, 2008 at 9:06 am

    Related to #79:

    I just wanted to print what Joseph Smith actually said in the KFD on God having once been a man:

    “The scriptures inform us that Jesus said, As the Father hath power in Himself even so hath the Son power – to do what? Why, what the Father did. The answer is obvious – in a manner to lay down His body and take it up again. Jesus, what are you going to do? To lay down my life as my Father did and take it up again. Do we believe it?”

    I have wondered for a very long time where the idea that God was once a sinful man came from. Joseph does not seem to teach it at all above. In fact, the implication seems to be that God the Father was once a divine man like Jesus.

    Does anyone read this differently than I do?

    Since the original question to Hinckley was “[was] God the Father was once a man like we are?” I think Hinckley’s answer might also be interpreted as avoiding the idea that God was once a merely mortal and sinful man since that was never actually in the KFD at all.

    In other words, the word “man” might have multiple definitions. To some Mormons it might just mean God has a body. To some it might include the concept of a divine man, while to others it might not.

  82. bnielson on January 9, 2008 at 9:07 am

    Oh, one more thought. The NYT article mentions that Mormons used to believe Jesus was once a man. Don’t we (and every Christian religion in existence) still teach that pretty openly?

  83. East Coast on January 9, 2008 at 9:52 am

    Back to comment #73 “Why didn’t we tell potential converts these things?”

    I recall this coming up only once in my whole mission. A German college student, baptized into the church not long afterward, attended church on Mother’s Day and heard the annual talk mentioning the concept of a heavenly mother. After the meeting we asked him if he had any questions on the subject. He said, no, there’s plenty of time for getting into these doctrines after joining the church.

    He was very interested and wanted to hear in great depth about things like priesthood line of authority, Joseph Smith’s visits with Moroni and other subjects relating to the restoration.

  84. Kirk Reid on January 9, 2008 at 10:12 am

    #77 #74: A Church lead by a Zeitgeist, not a Prophet, calling the world to dialogue not repent? Can you give an example of the dialogue with the world?

    What I meant was that the Church and its message is responsive to and participates in the Zeitgeist, not that the Church is wholly lead by or dependent on the Zeitgeist. I’ve heard many fellow members express in one way or another the idea that the Lord works with the material available and speaks so as to be understood, so that using the Zeitgeist of the world at any moment to do this shouldn’t be seen as somehow compromising the message itself. (And in any case as both members of the Church and part of the human family we ourselves are a lot less “in the world but not of the world” than we think.)

    I think it’s fair to say that changes to our attitudes on polygamy, including Blacks in the priesthood and a substantial reconfiguration in the emphasis and tone of our rhetoric on homosexuality were all revelations that did not compromise the message but clearly took into acccount the Zeitgeist. To me it seems that God is wise and is free to adapt the parameters of communication without backing down on the truth.

    The dialogue with the world is everywhere Bob. We’re having this conversation in one of its many venues. The Church participates in inter-faith forums. Gordon B. Hinckley goes on Larry King Live and is in fact conscious of the need to explain and have a conversation rather than call the viewers to repentance.

  85. Kirk Reid on January 9, 2008 at 10:29 am

    #80 bnielson, I said somewhere up there that ‘I think the adaptive communication being discussed here as “soft secrecy” is actually okay and perhaps inevitable since all public discourse takes place this way and the Church is only speaking the language of the time.’

    In your comments I think you’ve said more or less the same thing, only in a much clearer, more explanatory and far more detailed way. I wholeheartedly agree with you and I’m really glad you’ve made these points and made them so well.

  86. Steve Jones on January 9, 2008 at 11:50 am

    I too enjoyed Professor Feldman’s article and also Brook’s editorial on Romney reviewing the GOP landscape and trying to be everything for everyone in the GOP. I think soft secrecy has a negative connotation but is quite accurate. There are many things we do not go into until we feel a person is well grounded in the conversion process. Has anyone sat in a first discussion with well versed member of the church. As the young missionaries, who have actually been called and set apart to teach the gospel, are giving the discussion, the member often will interact with comments about church doctrines or beliefs which are way beyond the point the investigator is able to assimilate. It is hard for a member to sit and listen to the missionaries teach at such a percieved rudimentary level.
    I think this is perhaps also a reason the prophet and apostles of today might be perceived as shying away from KFD and other doctrines. It is in step with the claim of the “dumbing down of America”. People today inside and out of the church are becoming less informed and reading less and less. People on this and other blogs are obviously the exception. However the average American reads little and gets most of his information not from newspapers, magazines, books and news programs but from movies, the pablum of network and cable TV and somewhat by talk radio. This is perhaps whay a couple of years ago Pres. Hinckley challenged every member to go back and read the Book of Mormon before the end of the year. My brother in law is 50 years old, he took the challenge and read it for the first time. He is a life time member. The leadership of the church may not be avoiding these other sources such as the KFD but rather know their audience and are teaching at a level which they can understand and grow from.

  87. JWL on January 9, 2008 at 11:58 am

    Re: 79 and 81:

    See comments 19, 31, and 65 for examples of soft or back pedaling on the KFD. Even the solution suggested by bneilson’s careful parsing of the text in comment #81 is objectionable to some LDS (see comments 27 and 28) who reject any concept that God the Father was not always the absolute Supreme Being of the universe from eternity. Discomfort over what Joseph meant on that critical subject (and what theological question is more fundamental than the history and nature of God) casts doubt over the entire KFD, which is the primary source for a lot of the other doctrines which you seem to think are well-settled. If those mentioned in comment 19 (and I have met them too) are successful in setting aside the KFD, what happens to those other supposedly settled doctrines which are also primarily based on the explanations Joseph gave in the KFD?

    Here is another example of the softpedaling I am referring to. Compare President Hinckley’s treatment of the Lorenzo Snow couplet in the quote in comment #31 with this unabashed presentation of it by President Kimball in April 1977 General Conference:

    “We remember the numerous scriptures which, concentrated in a single line, were said by a former prophet, Lorenzo Snow: “As man is, God once was; and as God is, man may become.” This is a power available to us as we reach perfection and receive the experience and power to create, to organize, to control native elements.”

    http://www.lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=2354fccf2b7db010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD&locale=0&sourceId=4efd1f26d596b010VgnVCM1000004d82620a____&hideNav=1

    Now I understand that Presidnet Hinckley was in a tight spot with a pushy reporter, but that is precisely the kind of setting where sofpedaling is most obvious. Also, let me be clear that I am not insisting that we canonize the couplet. I personally suspect that the first half of it is a potentially misleading over-simplification of a much more complex truth. My point is simply that we have softpedaled previous teachings on some very important doctrinal issues and outsiders can see it. We may well have very good reasons to do this, but to pretend that we aren’t looks like, well, a form of “soft secrecy.”

    I might add here that, as much as we may protest that it isn’t fair, our softpedaling on these doctrinal issues is being painted with the public perception of Mitt Romney as someone who will change his positions as needed to attain his goal. This makes it all the more critical that we do not pretend that nothing has changed.

    With regard to bneilson’s very insightful observation in comment #80, we are not discussing how the Gospel is taught to investigators. I don’t think any fair-minded person can object that we teach the doctrines of our religion in the order which we feel is appropriate. What we are discussing here is how we respond to people (media, scholars, and more and more investigators since the coming of the Internet) who have already heard about the more esoteric points and want some straight talk about them.

  88. Kirk Reid on January 9, 2008 at 12:11 pm

    JWL, good points. I’m wondering – agreeing with you – what we then do. In some instances perhaps we’re vague on esoteric points to outsiders not simply because of softpedaling (I prefer your term to ‘soft secrecy’) but because we’re still vague and in flux on them amongst ourselves. Could that be part of it? We’re perhaps reluctant to make definitive statements on issues that we don’t have definitive statements on. Here on this blog there’s all manner of sometimes widely differing opinion on esoteric doctrinal issues. Any of us discussing them with a non-Mormon would be conscious of distinguishing between what we think the official position to be and yet the huge variance in subjective understandings of them to be within the church. None of us wants to ‘get it wrong’.

  89. bnielson on January 9, 2008 at 12:49 pm

    JWL says: “Even the solution suggested by bneilson’s careful parsing of the text in comment #81 is objectionable to some LDS (see comments 27 and 28) who reject any concept that God the Father was not always the absolute Supreme Being of the universe from eternity”

    Just to clarify, I was not suggesting that the KFD was scriptural. I understand some Mormons accept it lock stock and barrel and others don’t. In a non-creedal religion, that is expected.

    My only point was that the KFD does not seem to suggest that we believe God was once “as we are” which I interpreted at the time of the question as “sinful”. So how this question is best answered is somewhat of an open question. I guess that means I agree with #88. Yes, I think we like to give “we don’t know” answers that the public is going to see as duplicit when in fact it was the straightup overly honest truth.

    Also, I do not see why you say #27 and 28 would object to what I wrote. It seems to me I said exactly what Nate did (or at least in line with his comment). Please explain further. I am suggesting that one of the most common interpretations of KFD isn’t supported by the actual text and that there are actually multiple interpretations, as per #27′s very point. Nate Oman, do you object to my point?

    >>> “we are not discussing how the Gospel is taught to investigators.”
    Well, we are discussing a lot of things, including how it’s taught to investigators. However, I see your point. Let me counter. Do Evangelicals, politicians, sales people, etc. practice less soft secrecy than Mormon when asked questions by the media? Do the republicans when asked about their lack of balanced budget suddenly pipe up and offer the fact that Clinton balanced the budget better than they did? Do Evangelicals, when asked about how they reconcile God’s love to certain of their more militant actions pipe up and explain that maybe “God’s love” as they define it is different than how others might perceive that phrase? I’m not sure my point isn’t relevant to the discussion of how one answers the media in a sound bite, at least.

  90. bnielson on January 9, 2008 at 12:51 pm

    Related question: is “spin” different than “soft secrecy”
    Related related question: is “spin” dishonest? or could spin sometimes be a way of helping people understand something that is true?

  91. AHLDuke on January 9, 2008 at 1:20 pm

    My initial reaction to the last part of the Feldman piece (regarding whether we would see further accommodations and changes in the Church, making it more mainstream, in response to a Romney loss) was to say “Wow, the wheels really fell off there at the end!” As I reflect further on it, and especially in light of some of the comments and examples that have been set forth here, I hear the ring of truth in Feldman’s words. And in my mind, that is unfortunate. I love Mormonism, and being Mormon. I actually love old “classical” Mormonism in all of its strangeness, more than the touchy-feely self-help kind of Mormonism that we currently have. I would count any more moves in that area to be a loss.

  92. Bryce on January 9, 2008 at 1:51 pm

    The problem with Feldman is that he got it wrong on many counts. And when you are wrong, you are wrong.

  93. JWL on January 9, 2008 at 2:16 pm

    Re: 89

    You are very correct in noting that there are “multiple interpretations” of the KFD and that a “we don’t know” answer may be the most correct at this moment in time. My reference to Nate Oman’s comments was to note the same point, so by referring to them I was not trying to refute you. My original point (comment 18) was that pressures both external (articles like Professor Feldman’s) and internal (the discussion mentioned in comments 19 and 27) mean that we may not be able to continue in our diversity of belief on this highly critical issue (the nature of God) but rather will have to settle it by either canonization or rejection. It’s as though our doctrine on the nature of God was a quantum particle in all states of possibility. The observations of insightful outsiders like Professor Feldman are like a measurement event which forces us toward putting Joseph’s teachings into a definite state of either accepted doctrine or rejected speculation.

  94. bnielson on January 9, 2008 at 2:23 pm

    JWL says: “My original point (comment 18) was that pressures both external (articles like Professor Feldman’s) and internal (the discussion mentioned in comments 19 and 27) mean that we may not be able to continue in our diversity of belief on this highly critical issue (the nature of God) but rather will have to settle it by either canonization or rejection.”

    Now I get it. Very insightful. I fear you are right even if I personally find that idea very distasteful. In fact, let me be more blunt. I think putting this kind of pressure on a religion, at least from the outside, is immoral and is a form of presecution.

    But I do see your point that perhaps we do need to “canonize” something so that we can officially stop looking like we are being duplicit. In the case of the priesthood ban, in particular, I think an officially canonized statement coming down in favor of one of the more tasteful explanations, while repudiating past racist statements, would go a long way with the American public. However, I do have a question in my mind over if it’s moral for us to canonize something just because we feel like it rather than waiting for God to reveal something.

  95. JWL on January 9, 2008 at 2:50 pm

    Re: 94

    In view of the textual difficulties with the KFD (we only have incomplete secretarial notes and Joseph never had a chance to review and approve a final text before his death) I would only see canonization coming after a current prophet received clarification by revelation on the KFD.

  96. Ray on January 9, 2008 at 3:42 pm

    #92 – A thread is never complete without a random drive-by shooting.

    I have really enjoyed the latest discussion. The moat and beam are powerful things, and it’s easy to focus on something in one group that happens in all groups – when one becomes obsessed with that one group. That certainly applies to others looking at and judging us, but it also applies to us judging others – and even us judging us.

  97. just me on January 9, 2008 at 5:07 pm

    If Whitney and Feldman went full-bore Jan Shipps with only minimal, muted, fully-contextualed criticisms, peers would have considered them shilling puffballer hacks. So they balance stuff lending toward good p/r with oberservers’ common criticisms. Live with it.

  98. just me on January 9, 2008 at 5:08 pm

    Not to say Shipps is those things–she’s the exception that proves the rule.

  99. Clark on January 9, 2008 at 8:10 pm

    (I’m answering in reverse order as I read – so apologies for missing anything as I answer)

    JWL (#95) The point about the fragmentary nature of discourse is a very good one. Most people, who only read the edited version in the TPJS don’t realize the problems. (Here’s a nice parallel version for those interested) Having said that though I think most of the main ideas are easy to be sure he asserted.

    The bigger issue, as I said, is the distinction between an initial revelation and then how people react to it. There is an assumption that Joseph somehow didn’t interpret to the degree that say people in the 20th century did. I just don’t buy that. I think we assume Joseph had far more revelations than he did and that we sometimes unduly elevate his comments to scripture when they are he in his wisdom working things out.

    I should also note that some things have been canonized that are far, far more fragmentary than the KFD such as D&C 131. (The exact meaning of the three divisions there is unclear – is it three divisions in the Celestial glory or simply our three normal degrees of glory? Context might have established that)

    It is interesting why the KFD or a few other discourses by Joseph Smith were never canonized though – especially in the late 19th century.

    BNielson (#89) My only point was that the KFD does not seem to suggest that we believe God was once “as we are” which I interpreted at the time of the question as “sinful”.

    I think this is an important point. The way most Mormons interpret exhalation and read the KFD is that God the Father was once like us. This is comforting if we are to be like God. However there are many other interpretations including those concurrent with Brigham Young’s readings. (Such as Orson Pratt’s more limited version or Heber C. Kimball’s multiple probations) Further there is always the question of whether God the Father was special in a way beyond others.

    While I tend to favor the more traditional reading and theology (meaning traditional 20th century interpretation – I tend to cringe at a few of the 19th century interpretations) I have to admit that I understand why Blake Ostler and others interpret things the way they do. Short of a clear revelation on the subject (which I just don’t expect any time soon) we’re left with multiple interpretations.

    JWL (#87) See comments 19, 31, and 65 for examples of soft or back pedaling on the KFD. Even the solution suggested by bneilson’s careful parsing of the text in comment #81 is objectionable to some LDS (see comments 27 and 28) who reject any concept that God the Father was not always the absolute Supreme Being of the universe from eternity.

    Well, given that the LDS can be seen as advocating multiple eternities I’m not sure that’s a good objection. (BG)

    However I don’t think that noting the multiple interpretations of exaltation possible within orthodox Mormonism is back-peddling. For instance I’ll acknowledge Blake Ostler’s position even though I favor the traditional KFD readings. But when dealing with new members is acknowledging this variety really backpeddling? Or is it just acknowledging a wide variety of acceptable views with no clear revelation on the subject?

    If a new member were to ask me about it I’d probably list a few of the main possibilities (and leave out the more esoteric and unusual historic interpretations such as Pratt or Kimball) and say we just don’t know. (Much like Pres. Hinkley did)

  100. Bob on January 9, 2008 at 8:20 pm

    #99: When and why did the Church start saying “We don’t know” to the KFD and/or “As man is God once was, and as God is man may become.” seems like only in the last few years(?)

  101. Mark D. on January 9, 2008 at 8:42 pm

    I think much of the complaint here is disingenuous. If the Church does not teach a principle, it is not a doctrine of the the Church. When was the last time someone gave a talk about the KFD in general conference? Where does it figure in the Sunday School curriculum?

    The only reason why President Hinckley’s statement was surprising is that some do not pay attention to the difference between things considered important enough that the Church actually teaches them and second hand knowledge picked up by students of Church history. As far as the Church is concerned, the KFD is history.

  102. Bob on January 9, 2008 at 8:55 pm

    #99: I am sorry, Is there a chart somewhere showing where ” Canonized ends and unusual historic interpretations begins”? In the 1950, 1960s, 1970s, (?), I would have said “As man is God once was, and as God is man may become.” was a basic ‘Canon’ of the average Mormon. But since the word “canon’ is not “canonized” that I know of (?), I am lost.

  103. ed johnson on January 9, 2008 at 8:59 pm

    Mark, have you checked out the Gospel Principles manual? That is the manual used to indoctrinate new members for the last three decades, and it clearly teaches the idea that humans can become gods, equal in power an glory to God the Father. So I don’t see how you can flatly assert that the church “does not teach” this principle.

    It is interesting that you have such a different view than john f. (#79) about this, yet you both insist that church teachings on the issue are clear.

  104. Mark D. on January 9, 2008 at 9:03 pm

    I would add that as a consequence, it is more or less impossible for a Church to be secretive about its doctrines. That which it teaches becomes common knowledge. That which it does not teach is not doctrine.

    The so-called doctrinal ambiguity is largely non-existent. Ambiguity exists on many points precisely because they are not (or are no longer) doctrines of the Church. The very first distinction that should be made when writing an article like this is the distinction between doctrine and belief. It is no wonder that the Church appears secretive when so many members claim doctrinal status for things the Church doesn’t actually teach.

  105. Clark on January 9, 2008 at 9:12 pm

    Mark, while I think what you say is 100% correct I believe you are making more of a semantic issue. The real issue is whether many esoteric teachings were inspired and accepted.

    To give an example, most Nauvoo doctrines were taught only to an inner circle. The vast majority of Mormons were ignorant of them. Were they doctrine in the 1840′s?

  106. Bob on January 9, 2008 at 9:16 pm

    #101: “As far as the Church is concerned, the KFD is history.” Now THAT’S the way to end “soft secrecy”!

  107. Mark D. on January 9, 2008 at 9:23 pm

    ed (#103),

    I don’t dispute that the Church teaches that we can become like God and have the same blessings that he has, including a spiritual posterity of some sort. The controversial part about the KFD is rather that God the Father was once a man like us. Since it is controversial, it is not taught. Since it is not taught it is not a doctrine of the Church.

    Nor is anything to do with having one’s own universe, planet, savior, etc….The simplest reading of the scriptures is that exaltation involves being joint heirs with Christ and living together in a celestial familial society. What I call “photocopier theology” is not a doctrine of the Church. It is an interpretation of the doctrine.

  108. Kirk Reid on January 9, 2008 at 9:45 pm

    I think Mark D. is making perfect sense but Clark (#105) highlights the crux of the matter (especially to non-Mormon critics) when he says The real issue is whether many esoteric teachings were inspired and accepted

    Because if a doctrine is inspired (the criticism will run) and accepted at any point in the history of Church, how is it even possible for it to become “no longer” (you’ve got the most important factor in parenthesis Mark) a doctrine?

    I don’t know how to answer this criticism myself, which is why I’m asking.

  109. Mark D. on January 9, 2008 at 10:16 pm

    Clark (#105), I don’t think anything taught only to an inner circle can be considered doctrine of the Church.

    Kirk (#108), This is a matter of definition. Look at the Random House Unabridged entry for doctrine:

    1. a particular principle, position, or policy taught or advocated, as of a religion or government: Catholic doctrines; the Monroe Doctrine.
    2. something that is taught; teachings collectively: religious doctrine.
    3. a body or system of teachings relating to a particular subject: the doctrine of the Catholic Church.

    It doesn’t matter whether something is or was accepted or is or was considered inspired. If the Church quits teaching something, it is no longer doctrine. That doesn’t mean it is not true or that the Church now considers it uninspired, but simply that the Church no longer endorses and propagates it.

  110. bnielson on January 9, 2008 at 10:21 pm

    100. Bob, you asked about when “We don’t know” become part of Mormonism. Well, okay, you actually asked about it concern KFD. But in any case, “We don’t know” has been one of the more common statements I grew up on with a CES father. There is just a lot we don’t know. Having a father that knew how to differentiate between popular ideas and what was actually taught probably caused this distinction to be more real for me that many others. I’m 37 now, so that’s at least 37 years that “We don’t know” has been a major part of understanding Mormonism.

    103: It seems to me that you might be misunderstanding 101. The KFD is not synonymous with the idea that we can become gods. That idea is in the scriptures. The KFD is not. The idea we can become gods is *also* in the KFD. No one is claiming that some of the principles in the KFD are not “canonized.” They are just claiming the the KFD itself is not “canonized.” Thus some of it’s points could legitimately be debated from a Mormon point of view.

    102 asks how to know if something is canonized. Well, to be frank that just means it’s currently part of the standard works. (Or the temple, I’d argue.) Problem with that is that not everyone interprets the standard works the same. Mormonism is non-creedal. We aren’t too worried about the specific interpretation of anything. We believe you have to be baptized, we don’t really care why it matters. Everyone gets to make up their own answer for that. Mormonism allows for very wide and varied interpretations and all are valid. In general, we do pretty well accepting other people’s ideas. Recently, we’ve attain to this by avoiding discussing “speculations” in Church settings. Hinckley’s answer was strongly in line with this aspect of Mormonism.

    Clark, can you post a bit about Kimbal’s and Pratt’s differing views for posterity’s sake? I like the idea that there have always been a lot of variety in Church teachings. This is the way it ought to be. Everyone gets to work out the answers for themselves.

  111. bnielson on January 9, 2008 at 10:28 pm

    If the word “doctrine” means only that something is taught (which I agree with) than we shouldn’t be at all worried about “doctrines changing.” I seem to remember there being a period where Mormons taught (i.e. it was “doctrine”) that the forbidden fruit was sex and Adam and Eve were kicked out for fornicating. This, of course, was false doctrine (but still doctrine, since the word just means it was taught) and contradicts the scripture that says they were married. As the story goes, the general authorities made a point of correcting this doctrine and a new doctrine was taught.

    There we go, we changed doctrine. Not the first, and not the last.

    The problem with this definition, which I believe is actually correct, is that many Mormons don’t think of it this way. They think of “doctrine” as meaning “the teachings that are right and correct and never change.” The stuff that changes because it wasn’t eternal is “policy.”

  112. Bob on January 9, 2008 at 10:41 pm

    #110: “so that’s at least 37 years that “We don’t know” has been a major part of understanding Mormonism. I would say for the 150 years before that, that phase had no place in Mormonism.

  113. Bob on January 9, 2008 at 10:47 pm

    #112: Sorry I missed the end ” of your sentence, before starting my sentence.

  114. Mark D. on January 9, 2008 at 11:00 pm

    bnielsen (#111), The way many members think of the term is a misconception – on the basis that it makes it impossible to have a rational discussion of the doctrinal history of the Church. There are plenty of other terms that could be used appropriately instead – ‘eternal principle’, ‘gospel truth’, etc.

  115. Kirk Reid on January 9, 2008 at 11:10 pm

    Mark, I know what the dictionary definition of “doctrine” is. But within the Church “doctrine” is indeed understood in the way bnielson says, as “teachings that are right and correct and never change”.

    The Church’s authority rests upon – and leaders have spoken of – ‘eternal truths’. When critics point out that these ‘eternal truths’ seem to be a bit more transient than that, they’ll be no more impressed with having a dictionary opened in their faces than they would be with a Book of Mormon waved at them.

    We need to have a cogent explanation. This statement needs squaring:

    If the Church quits teaching something, it is no longer doctrine. That doesn’t mean it is not true or that the Church now considers it uninspired, but simply that the Church no longer endorses and propagates it.

    If something is true and inspired then why is it not endorsed and propagated? Since it’s precisely truth and genuinely divine inspiration that our whole message rests upon?

    Suppose the Prophet stands up and claims truth and inspiration for a new doctrine or change of doctrine? He’s bound to use the word ‘eternal’ or ‘eternity’ in doing so because all of our faith, belief and power is based on nothing if not ‘eternity’. And he’ll be right to do so. But in 2108 the same thing may no longer be taught as doctrine, no longer ‘endorsed and propagated’?

    I welcome the point of view you’re coming from, but it doesn’t suffice, in my opinion, to answer the charge that our doctrines are matters of convenience and changing with the times and natural evolution of a man-made religion. We can’t just throw up our hands and shrug at this logical conundrum, and yet I can’t see that we have a real answer to it.

  116. Ray on January 9, 2008 at 11:30 pm

    Kirk, sure we have an answer for changing doctrine. It’s called the Bible.

  117. Kirk Reid on January 9, 2008 at 11:37 pm

    ?@Ray

  118. Mark D. on January 9, 2008 at 11:41 pm

    Kirk R. (#115),

    I agree that the question of why former doctrines are discarded or neglected is an important one. However, the debate here was whether the Church was purposely being secretive about its doctrines. I maintain that is not only not true, but that it is essentially impossible.

    As a matter of principle, it is impossible to hold a church responsible for precepts that it does not actually teach – that is what is so ridiculous about the press trying to hold the Church responsible for precepts and practices it discarded more than a generation ago.

  119. Kirk Reid on January 9, 2008 at 11:54 pm

    #118 Mark, I agree completely with what you say in the first paragraph and think you’ve expressed it perfectly. And I can see the justness of the first part of your second paragraph.

    But I don’t think it’s necessarily ridiculous of the press to ask a question that you yourself agree is the important one of “why former doctrines are disgarded or neglected”, especially in light of the issues I’ve raised in #115, and particularly as it has bearing on what we would claim to be the divine provenance, authority and eternal import of current doctrines.

    We can’t have ‘truths’ and ‘doctrines’ be separate things. Or can we?

  120. bnielson on January 10, 2008 at 12:00 am

    110: “I would say for the 150 years before that, that phase had no place in Mormonism.”

    I suppose you are right. Before then, they just all advanced their differing and contradictory views, as per 99′s point. For example, Brigham Young taught about Adam-god (depending on how you interpret that) while Orson Pratt taught Brigham Young didn’t know what he was talking about. People were free to believe what they wanted; Pratt won.

    114: I agree. The word “doctrine” is meaningless now. Don’t even get me started on “Salvation and Exaltation are two different things” nonsense I always here. The scriptures don’t differentiate (except very rarely.) And *yes* the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Jesus bodily! It means “divine nature” for crying out loud. And since when is a “quorum” the same as a “group”? In the D&C it meant you had to have the whole group voting to be equal to the group above. And yes Jesus’ priesthood was untransferable. The word “priesthood” isn’t power, it’s an office. And Jesus’ office as Melchezidec high priest over everyone is still His and He will never pass it to someone else. (And if you know what I’m talking about, I dub thee a Hebrews scholar. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, just ignore me. It doesn’t matter in the least.)

  121. bnielson on January 10, 2008 at 12:15 am

    115: “and yet I can’t see that we have a real answer to it.”

    I beg to differ. The answer just isn’t accepted. The answer is “We are non-creedal, unlike you. We aren’t willing to hold ourselves forever to non-scriptural doctrines like you do to the nicean Trinity or Biblical inerrancy. We might hold non-scriptural teachings (i.e. doctrines) similar to those for a while, but we will always discard them later when we know more. Plus we don’t deport or kill people for holding an opinion different than our own on a non-scriptural teaching. We accept them into the fold and let them hold their opinion.”

    “[Unlike the Latter-day Saints] Methodists have creeds which a man must believe or be asked out of their church. I want the liberty of thinking and believing as I please. It feels so good not to be trammelled. It does not prove that a man is no a good man because he errs in doctrine.”

    Joseph Smith

    Yes, you can get excommunicated for trying to actively recruit people to doctrines that are clearly contradictory to the current teachings of the general authorities, particularly if they are unanimous on the subject. But you aren’t ex-ed for your belief, you are for trying to turn people against the leaders. This is a necessity of any group trying to strive for unity like Latter-day Saints do.

    I suppose what you are really getting at is “how do I know what teachings are ‘scriptural.’” Well, the scriptures say we become gods. So that’s scriptural. The scriptures do not say that woman create lives via being eternally pregant. So that’s non-scriptural. So basically all Mormons, if the want to be inline with scripture, will believe they can become “gods” but there might be any number of opinions as to what that entails. I really don’t see this as a problem. It seems pretty straight forward to me. I do not understand the concern here.

  122. bnielson on January 10, 2008 at 12:19 am

    119 We can’t have ‘truths’ and ‘doctrines’ be separate things. Or can we?

    I think we are saying (or some of us are saying.. or I am saying) that we can. It works like this to me: there is an underlying profound truth taught in the scriptures. We have a hard time really understanding it because we are so much less than God and He had to condescend to even get the basics into our heads. We believe the truth, but naturally have to form the idea about that truth into our minds into something concrete that we can wrap our minds around. So we do. That concrete version of the truth is what gets taught (often with several competing variants) and that is what we call “doctrine.” Because the “doctrine” is really just an approximation of the truth, there is nothing wrong with refining or changing it later so long as the underlying truth is maintained.

  123. Bob on January 10, 2008 at 12:24 am

    #118: I disagree. The Church needs to be held responsible for every precept or practice it declared was the will of God. If it wishes to say it’s chanced, fine. But ‘silence’ is not enough.

  124. Ray on January 10, 2008 at 12:28 am

    Kirk, if “doctrine” is defined as teachings of the leaders – or as what the general membership believes – or as what is put forward as the will of God – or practices that symbolize our relationship with God – or any other definition of which I can think, then the Bible is a perfect example of how doctrine has changed over time. This is true during the time of the Bible itself (from the OT law to the NT law *and* within the NT itself), and it is true of all of modern Christianity (and most of every other major religion in the world, as well,relative to its own sacred text) in what it accepts and rejects from the Bible as still the word of God or merely the opinions or cultural counsel of that day and age.

    When we speak of issues like this in isolation, we often contribute to artificial walls between us and the rest of the religious world that should not exist and only perpetuate the mistaken criticism of us for issues like this – when it is a complaint that could be applied just as well to those who criticize us.

  125. bnielson on January 10, 2008 at 12:31 am

    >>> when it is a complaint that could be applied just as well to those who criticize us.

    Yes, all religions change. But with one really important difference. We allow for change and they don’t. Change is part of our “doctrines” and not part of theirs. (At least not for the western Christian religions I know of.)

  126. Ray on January 10, 2008 at 12:34 am

    #125 – That’s my point, exactly. They don’t allow it but do it anyway; we allow it and therefore do it. When we only focus on ourselves in discussing this issue, we completely miss that point – that they are the ones that have the true conflict, not us.

  127. bnielson on January 10, 2008 at 12:38 am

    Oh! I just thought of a joke:

    What would a Mormon council of Nicean have been like?

    Athanasius, Arian, and Eusebius all show up and start to fight over the nature of the Trinty. Eusebius brings refreshments, Athanasius presides, and Arian conducts. After arguing with each other, Arian finally walks out of the priesthood meeting in disgust. Not wanting to cause Arian to leave the Church, Eusebius and Athanasius finally declare that all of their views are just speculation anyhow and they might all be wrong. However, Athanasius still asks Arian to not teach his views again in a public meeting house.

    Okay, guess it wasn’t that funny.

  128. bnielson on January 10, 2008 at 12:40 am

    126: completely 100% agree. My lame joke at 127 illustrates. In the LDS Church we change without thinking about it because we know it doesn’t really matter that much. Because all the other Christian church’s theorectically can never change, they are forced to essentially remove heretics and declare creeds. Heck, they even have to dig up previously orthodox teachers and excommunicate them three centuries later. If they don’t do this, they can’t maintain the illusion of not having changed.

  129. Kirk Reid on January 10, 2008 at 12:48 am

    bneilson, the non-credality you speak about is something I’m still trying to wrap my head around but I’m glad you pointed to it because it does actually go part way to addressing the concern for me, and I think it should do so – partially – for critics as well.

    What you say in #122 is great. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever heard such a great explanation of the doctrine-truth relationship. I think you’re absolutely right. I agree. I’ve always understood it that way without articulating it clearly the way you’ve done, even to myself.

    At the same time, this is not the way we frame things explicitly or publicly.

    You’re emphasizing scripture, while I’m emphasizing the teachings and inspired pronouncements of Church leaders. These have always been delivered with a huge emphasis on ‘truth’. They are not announced as ‘approximations’ of the truth, but stated to be – or implied to be – ‘eternal verities’.

    In that sense what Bob says in #123 does hold to a degree. At the very least, we need to realise we can’t snort at the press when they do try to hold the Church “responsible for every precept or practice it declared was the will of God.” It’s perfectly understandable why they would do so unless we explicitly define the truth-doctrine relationship the way you’ve done,

  130. Bob on January 10, 2008 at 12:54 am

    #125 & 126: How is it that you so easily say what is doctrine for them, and get so upset when others say what is Mormon doctrine? I know of no church that doesn’t have it’s Top Leaders meeting and making chances, be it meat on Friday is ok, or it’s ok to be Gay and a minister in our church. How many have chanced their Bible? How about the RLDS?

  131. bnielson on January 10, 2008 at 12:59 am

    129: You’re emphasizing scripture, while I’m emphasizing the teachings and inspired pronouncements of Church leaders. These have always been delivered with a huge emphasis on ‘truth’. They are not announced as ‘approximations’ of the truth, but stated to be – or implied to be – ‘eternal verities’.

    I need to find my quote from Brigham Young where he explains that all revelation is an approximation. My Dad will probably remember where to find it.

    “In that sense what Bob says in #123 does hold to a degree. At the very least, we need to realise we can’t snort at the press when they do try to hold the Church “responsible for every precept or practice it declared was the will of God.””

    I agree. What do you specifically have in mind? I think my concern with Bob’s statment is that very little of what they try to hold us to was actually declared definitively to be the will of God. Plus, it’s hard to repudiate much of anything in a religion where anything is a possibility.

    Let me give you an example: Adam-God theory. We don’t know for sure what Brigham Young meant, but it *seems to us* to be contradictory to scripture. Thus we don’t believe it. But we can’t really just say “yeah, we change that” because frankly there are some interpretations of Brigham that are in fact in line with scripture and thus might be true.

    For example, Elden Watson pushed a theory that I currently buy that he was actually just teaching that the “real Adam” was God. I.e. Adam of the Bible was the son literal Son of God. His theory was based on the idea that some of the transcripts on this teaching were recorded wrong. How in the world do you repudiate Adam-God when in fact it might be true… we, um, just aren’t sure. So we usually say (and if I remember correctly, Hinckley said something very close to this) “we aren’t sure what Brigham meant, but we don’t teach something like that today.”

    Well, guess what? That’s the unadulturated non-soft secrecy truth. But the press takes it as shoving them off.

  132. bnielson on January 10, 2008 at 1:02 am

    130: I know of no church that doesn’t have it’s Top Leaders meeting and making chances (changes?)

    Isn’t that what we just said? So we aren’t defining them, we are just observing. And you completely agree with us. If I missed your point, I’m sorry.

  133. Kirk Reid on January 10, 2008 at 1:03 am

    #124 Ah okay, Ray, thanks, that makes more sense. Not being a life-long born-and-bred member, I see both the Mormon and non-Mormon sides equally and while I think critics often flog long-dead horses or just plain bleat nonsense they actually know to be nonsense, at the same time I’m aware that lifelong Church members often are so accustomed to certain ideas that they never think to articulate them. Some criticism arises quite genuinely from bafflement because of this.

    In all this discussion of things in Feldman’s article that the Church ‘softpedals’ or uses ‘soft secrecy’ on, it might have escaped notice that there’s also a kind of ‘silence’ that’s invisible because things are inadvertantly not being explained rather than by deliberate coyness.

  134. Mark D. on January 10, 2008 at 1:19 am

    No one teaches anything that they do not strongly feel to be true. However, experience teaches us that occasionally authorities are wrong. A faith based on strict prophetic infallibility is bound to be dissapointed.

    So it is more like: ‘we believe these doctrines to be true according to the best light and understanding that God has revealed unto us but we do not say that greater light will not be shed on the subject at some future time’.

  135. Bob on January 10, 2008 at 1:26 am

    #132: In #125 you said “Change is part of our “doctrines” and not part of theirs. (At least not for the western Christian religions I know of.)

  136. Kirk Reid on January 10, 2008 at 1:29 am

    #131 I’d love to have the Brigham Young quote reference you mention, if it’s not too much trouble. That kind of statement would resolve a lot.

    What do I specifically have in mind? Well, no particular doctrinal issue because I appreciate that there are unique contexts and historical circumstances – and transcription questions – surrounding the most controversial doctrines. My feeling is that what critics – both sympathetic and unsympathetic – need is almost a “doctrine” on doctrine statement, which doesn’t seem to me to be credal. It’s seems like a wholly legitimate clarification that would answer a whole slew of issues once and for all.

    I think critics should be satisfied with the honest answer that Adam-God is beset by historiographical unclearness. The God once was.. part of the Snow couplet may qualify for ‘soft secrecy’ but since we clearly do accept it as belief, and it has been taught recently, it obviously is doctrinal. Yet it’s moving towards that category of ‘not being endorsed or propagated’, which would then make it an example of an ‘eternal verity’ that actually relates to our cosmology that’s being quietly abandoned.

    I’ve appreciated your responses. They’ve helped answer some of my questions.

  137. Kirk Reid on January 10, 2008 at 1:38 am

    #134 Yep, got it, Mark, thanks. For myself. But I do understand why to even sympathetic interrogators of the Church it sounds like a get-out clause. Not much that can be done about that, I appreciate.

  138. Bob on January 10, 2008 at 1:41 am

    #134: I believe the Church does teach “strict prophetic infallibility”. It also teaches when a Prophet, is not acting as a Prophet, but acting or speaking as a man, he can be wrong.

  139. Ray on January 10, 2008 at 1:47 am

    Bob, see #139.

  140. bnielson on January 10, 2008 at 1:53 am

    135: “Change is part of our “doctrines” and not part of theirs”

    Ah. You misunderstand me. I’m saying that other Christian religions (particularly Evangelicals) claim they do not change but in fact they do. I am not saying they don’t change.

    138: “I believe the Church does teach “strict prophetic infallibility”

    The LDS Church does not teaching anything close to prophetic infallibility. That is Catholic doctrine not ours. We teach (as in 134): “we believe these doctrines to be true according to the best light and understanding that God has revealed unto us but we do not say that greater light will not be shed on the subject at some future time’.”

    A prophet is, as Wilford Woodruff taught, not allowed to lead the Church astray. I suppose some people misunderstand this to be some form of infallibility. But actually, it much more straightforward than that. It just means that if a prophet were to teach something that would cause people (or the church) to lose salvation, God would correct that prophet using whatever means necessary. (Hopefully just a revelation.) The same prophet may in fact teach a number of falsehood that don’t affect salvation and I see no reason why God would feel any need to correct him. He might, for instance, claim that no one will ever walk on the moon, or something like that.

    There is also an idea that a prophet can declare “thus saith the Lord” and thereby declare their words to be literally God’s words to us. This is rarely done. However, even then see my post 122 to understand that even this is not considered “infallible” in the sense most people think of that word.

  141. Kirk Reid on January 10, 2008 at 1:57 am

    #139 Yep, that does it for me. Cheers muchly Ray.

    Bob, I do understand what you’re getting at because it’s undeniable that an ‘impression’ of prophetic infallibility is often given despite the clear statement in the link.

  142. bnielson on January 10, 2008 at 1:58 am

    Kirk: 136: “My feeling is that what critics – both sympathetic and unsympathetic – need is almost a “doctrine” on doctrine statement, which doesn’t seem to me to be credal. It’s seems like a wholly legitimate clarification that would answer a whole slew of issues once and for all.”

    Stephen Robinson was writing a whole article/book on the subject. Never did see it come out though. He was going to emphasize the pyramidal nature of “Mormon doctrine.” Scriptures are the highest, words or living prophets in, say conference, are equal but considered more temporary (i.e. apply for the present), etc. We give different levels of emphasis to each and some are considered more fleeting than others.

    I’ll try to dig up the quote. Can’t promise it will be any time soon. How do I contact you?

  143. Mark D. on January 10, 2008 at 2:02 am

    Bob, some members may teach that, but the Church itself does not. It would open the door to a long list of obvious contradictions.

    Are prophets infallible when acting in their official capacity? Yes. Was Paul a prophet? Yes. Was he infallibly inspired when he said women should keep silence in the Church? Uh…

  144. Kirk Reid on January 10, 2008 at 2:09 am

    God would correct that prophet using whatever means necessary. (Hopefully just a revelation.)

    Bouncing off your Mormons in Nicea, you’ve given me this image in my head of Gordon B Hinckley declaring in Conference that gay temple marriages are to be introduced, and a sudden brightly glorious glowing being appearing behind him with a slightly annoyed look and tapping him the prophet quite firmly on the shoulder.

  145. Kirk Reid on January 10, 2008 at 2:22 am

    #143 No rush. I may even be able to find it myself. In any case, I’m contactable through my webpage, which I’ve added to this message, just in case you ever come across anything related to this conversation you think would be useful to me. Thanks again for your responses, which have been genuinely helpful.

    #144 Paul surely meant to say ‘babies’ instead of ‘women’

  146. Joe Stanford on January 10, 2008 at 2:46 am

    One comment on the Church being \”non-creedal.\” I think there is some merit in that idea, but it\’s a bit more complex than that. There are influences or streams in the Church towards something that look a lot like creeds. I have watched with interest over the past 10 or 20 years as new statements are developed for Young Women, Young Men, Primary, and Relief Society that are displayed and sometimes recited weekly. This particular manifestation seems like a relatively new phenomenon in Church history, or at least I remember nothing of this sort when I was a youth in the Church. But I don\’t think the impulse is new. It goes back at least to the Articles of Faith and its predecessor statements written by Oliver Cowdrey. It seems to me that there is always an impulse or need in the Church to nail down common understanding. Actually, probably the earliest creedal statements are in the first part of D&C 20, which in the 1830s served the approximate function that the current AF do as a statement of basic doctrines to outsiders and potential members.

  147. bnielson on January 10, 2008 at 10:03 am

    145:ROFL – Stop that! I can’t get that image out of my head now!

    147: “I have watched with interest over the past 10 or 20 years as new statements are developed for Young Women, Young Men, Primary, and Relief Society that are displayed and sometimes recited weekly.”

    I guess I need to explain more of what I’m saying, because actually I see no problem with this at all. The Articles of Faith are a perfect example of nailing down certain beliefs but then not making it a creed because it, in fact, gets canonized.

    I am starting to blog (have yet to start to blog) on MormonMatters.org (and we are looking for more “orthodox bloggers” if anyone is interested.) I am going to do a series on the non-creedal nature of the LDS Church and refine my thoughts here. (And steal from what I’ve written here.)

  148. gecko on January 10, 2008 at 11:06 am

    #31…
    Q: There are some significant differences in your beliefs. For instance, don’t Mormons believe that God was once a man?

    A: I wouldn’t say that. There was a little couplet coined, “As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become.’’ Now that’s more of a couplet than anything else. That gets into some pretty deep theology that we don’t know very much about.

    For the longest time I questioned whether or not man could really progress to the extent of being like God the Father (literally). It didn’t make sense to me. It didn’t click until I read the phrase “As man is, God once was….” in the Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. After that, the eternal progression of man made perfect sense.

    But now, if the Prophet wouldn’t say that God was once a man, then what would he say God once was? If God did not go through the eternal progression as we will, then what truly is the progression that we can achieve?

  149. bnielson on January 10, 2008 at 11:17 am

    147: Let me give a short answer. When the young women get up and state their “oath” or whatever it’s called, it never becomes a ‘creed’ because it’s actually just a series of scripturally based statements. It never attempts to interpret scripture like the creeds of Christendom do. For example, they say “I am a daughter of God. He loves me and I love him.” I can prove beyond doubt that all of that is just straight up scripture. What it does NOT say is what it means to be a daughter of God. If you polled the entire group of young women in the church, I’d find that they each interpret that statement differently. That’s what it means to be non-creedal.

    149: Your issue is resolve the moment you accept the non-creedal nature of the LDS church. The whole point is that for you thinking of God as once having been a man was a way for you to wrap your mind around the concept of Eternal progression. Thus you should choose to believe it and accept it. But you absolutely need to understand that there will be other members of the church that choose to interpet that concept differently than you. You need to be prepared to be okay with that fact.

    Hinckely is simply representing this idea the only way he can. He undestands that the idea that God was once a “man” is itself non-scriptural, but is likely quite true. He knows many members of the church accept it as truth (as do I, at least if you understand “man” to include the concept of a divine man like Jesus) but he also knows that many members of the church do not accept it. He knows both are *right* so to speak. Or at least neither is out of alignment with the revelations of God revealed to us. So how does he explain that to the media? Simple, he says exactly what he said. It was a perfect answer for a sound bite.

  150. David on January 10, 2008 at 11:33 am

    Red is for courage to do what is right,
    Yellow\’s for service from morn\’ until night,
    Blue is purity in thought and deed,
    We will be happy when this is our creed.

  151. bnielson on January 10, 2008 at 11:45 am

    151: ROFL

    If all of our creeds boiled down to “we will perform service and be happy” the rest of Christianity would never have gone astray. :)

  152. Clark on January 10, 2008 at 12:31 pm

    As far as the Church is concerned, the KFD is history.

    I have to disagree. The version from the TPJS was actually printed in full as two chapters in the Relief Society lesson manual as the topic of study in the early 90′s. (Going by memory here) I think the KFD is very much still a matter beyond “mere history.”

  153. Clark on January 10, 2008 at 12:58 pm

    To be fair though I was surprised it didn’t get prominent treatment in the current manual.

  154. Clark on January 10, 2008 at 1:04 pm

    bnielson (#150) While there’s a lot of truth to what you say I’d note that most of the significant creeds aren’t that interpretive. Indeed in the context of the Trinity the lack of interpretation makes them almost meaningless. But they can point to scriptures for each point and it really isn’t that interpretive. Perhaps it’s just a matter of degree (and less degree than I think some might assert)

  155. Clark on January 10, 2008 at 1:11 pm

    Kirk: (#115) If something is true and inspired then why is it not endorsed and propagated? Since it’s precisely truth and genuinely divine inspiration that our whole message rests upon?

    See Alma 13.

  156. Kirk Reid on January 10, 2008 at 1:36 pm

    Clark, I’ve had a satisfactory response to that comment since I wrote it. But still, glancing through Alma 13 I’m not sure which verses you mean.

  157. gecko on January 10, 2008 at 1:50 pm

    #150… Thanks for the explanation bneilson. It was good. I still have a problem wrapping my mind around it, purely because it was the Prophet that said it. I’m ok if others in the faith have a different perspective than I do. But if my perspective is different than the Prophet’s, then I have to wonder where my perspective is wrong. Or maybe I’m just caught up in a soundbite for the media where the Prophet was trying to make a complex issue as simple as possible for the non-LDS listeners. I don’t know. But it does make me question the concept again.

  158. Clark on January 10, 2008 at 2:44 pm

    Whoops. Sorry about that Kirk. I meant Alma 12. (They both are part of the same discourse) Verse 9 in particular. Note how chapters 13 and 12 are related and how that ties to the Temple endowment and our quietness regarding it.

  159. bnielson on January 10, 2008 at 5:34 pm

    158: “Or maybe I’m just caught up in a soundbite for the media where the Prophet was trying to make a complex issue as simple as possible for the non-LDS listeners.”

    Correct. Actually, he was asked this question twice and gave a similar answer both times. He states “we don’t know much about it” not that it was wrong in some way. He’s just leaving the door open. You really have to adjust for the soundbite situation. If you were talking to Hinckley face to face I don’t doubt that he’d say pretty well what I’m saying, that it’s non-scriptural, but he personally believes it to be true nonetheless.

  160. bnielson on January 10, 2008 at 5:36 pm

    158: let me be more forward. What I’m saying is that reading Pres. Hinckley’s response as meaning that he doesn’t believe personally that God was once a man is reading WAY too much in. Actually, I’m curious how you could even think that based on what he actually says.

  161. gecko on January 10, 2008 at 5:59 pm

    #161. “…Actually, I’m curious how you could even think that based on what he actually says.”

    How I thought that was interpreting what he said literally. “Now that’s more of a couplet than anything else. That gets into some pretty deep theology that we don’t know very much about.”

    It just caught me off guard. I’ve only been active in the church for a few short years and before becoming active, this area was a sticking point for my testimony. After reading the phrase in Joseph Smith Teachings, it put it all into perspective for me. But what is catching me off guard now is that I always thought this is what every member believed – from the Prophet on down through the rank-and-file.

    It also caught me off guard cause this is the first time I’ve ever seen the statement: “Now that’s more of a couplet than anything else. That gets into some pretty deep theology that we don’t know very much about”. Since I’ve never discussed this particular subject with anyone other than my Bishop, I just assumed that “As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become.’’ is pretty cut-and-dry.

    Anyway, sorry all for taking this thread off track.
    And thanks bneilson for discussing this with me.

  162. bnielson on January 10, 2008 at 6:29 pm

    Gecko,

    It might help a bit to see the other answer Pres. Hinckley gave:

    Mr. Ostling (the Time magazine interviewer) replied with a handwritten memo stating, “Here’s the transcript of my question and President Hinckley’s response to me. This came just after a long discussion on whether men can become gods, which the President affirmed.”

    Here is the portion of the transcript in question:

    Q: Just another related question that comes up is the statements in the King Follet discourse by the Prophet.

    A: Yeah

    Q: …about that, God the Father was once a man as we were. This is something that Christian writers are always addressing. Is this the teaching of the church today, that God the Father was once a man like we are?

    A: I don’t know that we teach it. I don’t know that we emphasize it. I haven’t heard it discussed for a long time in public discourse. I don’t know. I don’t know all the circumstances under which that statement was made. I understand the philosophical background behind it. But I don’t know a lot about it and I don’t know that others know a lot about it.

    There is no denial here, just a statement of it’s real status in the Church. Also, there is a positive affirmation of the idea that we can become “gods” though this is never really defined what it means. (See intro portion)

    The stumbling block you had was “For the longest time I questioned whether or not man could really progress to the extent of being like God the Father (literally).” You might be interested in knowing that there is room for interpretation even on this. The standard approach here is to affirm that we will have the same power as God the Father, but not the same glory. But frankly, even this rather widespread belief is not technically scriptural either.

    What *is* scriptural is that we will be called “gods” whatever God means by that. See D&C 132:10 – “Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have call power, and the angels are subject unto them.”

    This is as far as the revelations actually go on the subject. All else has yet to be canonized.

    I see your point that as a new member that had his head spinning over this doctrine, you might be shocked that not all Mormons believe it and that the President of the Church considers that “orthodox” so to speak.

    Just think of this a slightly different way. You are now prepared to accept this either way.

    Also, this ought to go a long way towards helping you realize how open the LDS church is to interpretation of doctrine. The key is to always affirm the scriptural teachings but to be open in how they are specifically interpreted. If you do this, you are always “orthodox.”

    I think, as a new member, you would be deeply shocked to realize the wide variety of interpretations that exist on just about every subject you can imagine. I love that about the LDS church. Being non-creedal is so liberating!

  163. Kirk Reid on January 10, 2008 at 6:30 pm

    #159 Clark, I must say I’ve found reading Alma 12 again quite stimulating, so thanks for directing me back to it. (It’s like a mini-version of the encounter with Korihor in Alma 30, which I think one of the most fascinating in the BoM, so fascinating I keep going back to it since it’s got so much profound psychological content).

    I think I can glean what you mean by the connection to the temple endownment and our quietness regarding it. Still, that’s not a topic I’ve asked about. Clearly it’s an instance of ‘not propagating’ certain things (not to mention that Alma gives a well explicated version of the logic and spiritual meaning of ‘milk before meat’).

    The line of my mine you quoted in #156 wasn’t about ‘soft secrecy’, however, although I appreciate that’s the general subject of this thread. It was about changes of doctrine and the truth/doctrine dichotomy. On the latter subject I was quite happy with the link Ray sent me to the church statement in #139.

    Always appreciate your responses Clark.

  164. Kirk Reid on January 10, 2008 at 6:56 pm

    Gecko, I’d worried about taking this thread off topic as well but it seems to have become occupied by just a handful of people trying to iron a few things out like the group who always stay awake talking at a party long after everyone else has gone to bed.

    Not being a life-long member myself either, I really appreciate what you’re saying about the shocks that happen even after you’ve joined. I keep experiencing those “Whaaa…?!” moments myself.

    mneilson and Gecko, I look at the Man becoming God thing by – like Gecko – taking a statement literally. As God is, man may become. Considering the gap between us at the moment that means that by the time we attain God’s present level he will have advanced to a commensurately more exalted state and in that sense we never ‘catch up’. We can become in the future as he is now, but we never become as he is in terms of simultaneous parity. But as you say mneilson, there’s widely varying views and that’s my subjective way of wrapping my head around the idea while retaining some perspective and humility.

    When it comes to the other part of the couplet I have a different thing I don’t understand but it’s complicated and probably would be taking this thread too completely on a tangent. I keep expecting the thread to close down in any case.

  165. Clark on January 10, 2008 at 6:56 pm

    I think Alma’s meant to be taken more expansively. i.e. that often things are revealed but not to everyone.

  166. gecko on January 10, 2008 at 9:36 pm

    Well thanks again, both bnielson and Kirk. I do enjoy diving into the doctrine and looking at it closely. I don’t suspect that there will always be a full understanding of things – which is why gospel knowledge is built “line upon line, precept upon precept”. But the more I know, the stronger my testimony is.

    I love coming here to read the forums. Frankly, the forum here often inspires me greatly. Mostly because people here aren’t afraid to openly discuss matters of the church or the gospel or the plan of salvation, even if their views are different. Individual points of view are accepted – even embraced here. And honestly, the depth of thought that is displayed here is amazing. My first Bishop (5 years ago), is the only member I know personally who has the same depth of thought / knowledge that I see here, and I respect him immensely.

    My newness to the church is one of the reasons why I’m reluctant to weigh in on most of these threads. But every once in a while, I just can’t help but to ask, to try and better understand, or to relay my own little take on things (even in fear of being totally wrong).

    Thanks again.

  167. Meg Stout on January 12, 2008 at 8:54 am

    Interesting article. I was amused by the following:

    “If Mormonism were to keep Romney from the nomination, the Mormon Church hierarchy may through continuing revelation and guidance respond by shifting its theology and practices even further in the direction of mainstream Christianity and thereby minimizing its outlier status in the culture.”

    My initial response was “not bloody likely.”

    By which I mean, Mormon revelation and guidance are unlikely to be conscious reactions to individual events, even an event of as seeming importance as Romney’s candidacy.

    I think the reason for the secrecy (re temple marriage and endowment) boils down to three things:

    1) We’re talking God’s wonder and glory, so limiting it to the expression of people at one point in time limits God. Let people who desire to understand God’s glory go with prepared hearts to the places it is symbolically represented and receive truth from the source via personal revelation. People have a surprising tendency to say, “I already ‘know’ A, B, C, D, …,” and be surprised with the kiddie-level understanding, particularly practical minded folks (like Mormons). Keeping it sacred reduces that probability.

    2) Joseph got the crap beat out of him over and over again both physically, spiritually, emotionally, familially, financially (though not, to my knowledge, literally – but the pistol whipping in June 1842 was close) by those who were not ready to hear what God was commanding him to restore. No wonder he became secretive about it by Nauvoo. They still killed him.

    3) Once Joseph was gone, it took decades for those closest to him to start to understand the core doctrine. For example, George Q. Cannon didn’t understand individuals should be sealed along family lines until circa 1879 (when he “broke” his sealing to John Taylor and was sealed to his own father). Joseph F. Smith didn’t understand the purpose of the New and Everlasting Covenant as the foundation of the salvation of the dead (versus getting lots of wives) until 1918 (see D&C 138:53, realizing that prior to that point he maintained he’d never had a Revelation).

    My opinions, at least.

  168. bnielson on January 13, 2008 at 1:43 am

    Here is my first post on the subject of “creeds” vs. Mormonism being “non-creedal.” This first post just gives some background on the Nicene creed. Pretty standard stuff:

    http://mormonmatters.org/2008/01/12/whats-wrong-with-the-creeds-of-christendom/

  169. bnielson on January 20, 2008 at 1:31 am
  170. Spencer on February 6, 2008 at 11:50 am

    I loved what you said about taking seriously how Mormonism looks to reasonable outsiders. I\’ve been contemplating this more now that I\’ve moved to Texas from Utah. It\’s an enlightening challenge to \”share the gospel\”, or even talk about the Church, in a place where you\’re beliefs are not mainstream and understood by a majority of people. Although I grew up in Oregon where the same thing could be said, I was too young to really engage in any kind of intellectual discussion about the Church. I learning all kinds of quirky things people have been led to believe about us (ie: Coca-Cola is owned by the Church), as well as some of the more serious objections. I hope we can all take an honest look at ourselves and put ourselves in others\’ shoes. President Hinckley set the tone–he never, as far as I can remember, got defensive with anybody asking him questions about the Church, such as with Mike Wallace on 60 minutes. There\’s a lot of work to be done!

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