Once upon a time on earth: the Church in a changing world

October 19, 2010 | 35 comments
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photo credit: Paul

In debates over controversial religious issues, one often encounters a certain kind of argument from history, a sort of “once upon a time” argument. Once upon a time, it’s argued, the Church considered a given practice or belief, from witchcraft to usury to the heliocentric cosmos, to be immoral, unbiblical or otherwise forbidden.  The particular practice or belief in question varies, but the structure of the argument and its implication are nearly always the same: the Church once considered such-and-such to be evil, but now it doesn’t; thus by means of a progressive trope of enlightenment, the argument proceeds, the Church should also de-stigmatize and embrace the controversial topic at hand. (Often, it should be noted, these arguments are made with a great deal of care and nuance and insight.)

In one sense, I’m sympathetic to this argument. I share the view that knowledge of and from God is a profoundly historical and historicized knowledge—and it that sense, it is a profoundly christological knowledge as well, as Christ is God embedded in human history.  And I agree with the suggestion that any human understanding of the cosmic order, including our own, is biased and provisional. Doctrines, even doctrines that seem to be central, can change, have changed, will change.

But the argument from history can’t do much more conceptual work than that. And it raises its own questions about the relationship of the Church (speaking broadly, as Christianity, or narrowly, as Mormonism) to society at large. In particular, one wonders why, if the Church is God’s instrument of enlightenment on the earth, it is so often a follower, not a leader, in human history. After all, in each of the examples above, science or economics or politics “got there first”—that is, staked out what was to ultimately become the generally accepted moral wisdom. The Church eventually got on board, but not without some delay and resistance. Is the Church merely a retrograde cultural parasite on a fundamental moral relativism?

I don’t think it is.  It may be that the Church stands in a particular position relative to broader society, functioning not as the driver of history but instead as its interpreter. Thus as society at large moves in response to technological and economic shifts, the Church will also move in relation to those social trends but will continue to do the same important—eternal, godly— interpretive work: this is a kind of moral relativism, yes, but one that fixes the Church in relation to human experience and in that sense is not merely drifting along the tide of history.

One way we might understand the Church’s interpretive role is to provide myths and practices, suited to the current social structure, that establish the greatest possible degree of relatedness, obligation and shared welfare among individuals. This is certainly the case in our own communal- and kinship-focused religious tradition, and it’s fundamental to the broad swath of Christian traditions, as well. Under this principle, the Church will not be a leader in social change, as structural change is nearly always socially wrenching and, at least in the short term, destructive of the established social fabric of institutions and trust relationships. But once society reaches a kind of tipping point, in which the new order has incorporated a majority of the populace, it then becomes the Church’s work to provide a new set of practices, meanings, and motivations that will establish new ways of relating, new kinds of obligation, and new ways of entwining individuals’ welfare.

But there are limits to the flexibility of the Church’s myth and practice. The Church not only works to bring individuals into relationships of trusting obligation in the present, but it must also negotiate the present’s relationship and obligation to the past.  Thus a successful innovation in myth or practice will build a bridge of continuity with the past, preserving key narratives and saving interpretations of key texts. This work takes time, and it requires generational collaboration. But this patient, incremental work brings the Church intact through the turbulence of social and global change, prepared to continue its role for and in history.

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35 Responses to Once upon a time on earth: the Church in a changing world

  1. Ben S on October 19, 2010 at 2:49 pm

    Very nicely expressed. One might similarly point out, for example, that Jesus apparently said nothing about slavery. That slavery has come to be seen as an unmitigated evil might create some tension for some readers, but Jesus appeared to work largely within the cultural system of 1st century Greco-Roman Judaism. One exception might be the inclusion of women among his donors and disciples, but this only pushed the envelope; it didn’t tear it up.

  2. NorthboundZax on October 19, 2010 at 3:13 pm

    “…functioning not as the driver of history but instead as its interpreter.”

    There is a lot of wisdom to this. A natural implication of this line of thinking is that it actually lends more credence to the initial historical type argument laid out in the beginning of the post. If we could let go of insisting we are the driver, we would be far better suited to responding to new information and social advancement than our current righteous recalcitrance offers.

  3. Adam Greenwood on October 19, 2010 at 4:40 pm

    I liked this very much.

  4. Thomas Parkin on October 19, 2010 at 5:57 pm

    ” In particular, one wonders why, if the Church is God’s instrument of enlightenment on the earth”

    I don’t think the church _is_ God’s instrument of enlightenment. I think the role of the church is to administer and safeguard ordinances, and contain the scriptures. Those two things are essential in one field of knowledge: knowledge about God. Through them, if we place ourselves in the way by ‘being obedient’ to the ordinances and accompanying ‘laws’, we can individually penetrate, through faith, study and other kinds of effort, what otherwise are ‘mysteries’, and acquire knowledge about God through direct personal experience. (Accompanying this learning, and dependent both on it and for it, is bound up a process of personal transformation, but that isn’t my point.) The church is totally unnecessary to every other field of knowledge: philosophy, all branches of science, all the arts, etc. This is easily seen with the briefest glance the progress of human understanding.

    It seems to me that we are, collectively, simply the people who have coalesced around this process of coming to know God (Christ, really). (The fact that many or, more likely, most members of the church are not participating in the process doesn’t change the fact that they’ve gathered in the vicinity.) I still prefer the model of building Zion among ourselves – that if we are anything collectively it is the people are committed to learning how to live in such a society, and then becoming that society. I don’t think the church has much swag in interpreting social changes, or even commenting on them except in so far as they threaten the ordinances it is designed to keep. The dominant paradigm in the church is augmenting Satanic darkness culminating in the Second Coming. Within that paradigm _any change_ is likely to be viewed very cautiously. But I simply ask, are we Zion? No, not even close. What’s more, has the church ever resembled Zion? No. So that acquiring a vision of the future is at least as important as the currently stronger motivation to preserve, let alone look to imaginary days of the faithful. Gaining that vision (of Zion) will also tend to free us from the pressure currently felt to interpret (dwell to death on) social change.

  5. palerobber on October 19, 2010 at 6:18 pm

    a couple of thoughts:

    1.
    you pretty accurately describe how religions attempt to adapt to human progress — whether moral, social, or scientific — in the interest of self-preservation. however, you don’t offer any argument why these innovations, and the preservation of religious narratives and texts they enable, are in any way necessary to human society.

    2.
    the point of this “progressive trope” is not to persuade religions to embrace a certain moral, social, or scientific advance (though that would certainly be in their best interests), but rather to persuade humans how little credibility religions have when they weigh in on such matters.

    3.
    “a certain kind of argument from history”? i think you mean an antidote to certain kinds of arguments from history.

  6. chris on October 19, 2010 at 6:31 pm

    “Christ is God embedded in human history”
    Just my thoughts on reading this…
    1. Christ become God as a result of his work here on earth (DC 93).
    2. He invites us to follow him and through his grace receive the same inheritance he has earned of the Father by his own efforts.
    3. So we should emulate him and strive to become like him as much as we are able, relying on his atonement to strengthen and cleanse us as we fall.

    So anything we can jettison from our historical practices that enables us to do just that in our own day can fall in the “once upon a time we did this…” category. Ones opinions or scientifically researched facts on evolution, sexuality, diet, genetics, etc. (vs. following revealed truths about what we should “go and do” in our everyday lives) have little bearing on points 1-3, which seem to point to a major destination in LDS theology.

    With that in mind, it’s surprising how much we disagree on things that don’t really matter in the grand scheme of LDS doctrine as it relates to what we should do (and hence become) on a daily basis. There is quite a lot we need to jettison I think…

  7. gwenydd mccoy on October 19, 2010 at 6:59 pm

    Ben S – I am utterly confused by your comment.

  8. Ben S on October 19, 2010 at 7:49 pm

    Gwenydd-

    Just as the Church today is not pushing at the cutting edge of cultural or ethical change of society (Rosalynde’s point as I understood it), neither was Jesus (my point). In his case, I believe it was deliberate.

  9. Chino Blanco on October 19, 2010 at 9:34 pm

    Fantastic discussion. I explore many of these same themes in my new musical Jesus Christ Theocon.

  10. gwenydd mccoy on October 20, 2010 at 5:23 am

    Ben S – so you are saying that Jesus let some things slide? like slavery? (perhaps he did condemn it, though, as your comment suggests)

  11. Paul on October 20, 2010 at 8:56 am

    Not to speak for Ben, but it seems the Savior’s mission had its priorities (for instances, Jews first, then Gentiles). We do not know the Savior’s view of slavery from his words in the New Testament, and we do know that revealed truth (such as in Alma) suggest that the eternal blessings of the gospel will apply to bond and free. So maybe slavery was not the priority in that three year ministry.

    Ben, I think I like where you’re going (if I’ve got it right).

    Rosalynde, I also like where you are going. I agree with Thomas that the church is principally the keeper of the ordinances and the scriptures. But to the extent that we have and teach a living prophet, it is not a far stretch to expect him to speak on all matters of importance.

  12. Thomas Parkin on October 20, 2010 at 1:19 pm

    “But to the extent that we have and teach a living prophet, it is not a far stretch to expect him to speak on all matters of importance.”

    I’m certainly not going to argue against Priesthood Authority speaking on whatever they feel they should speak on. Almost any subject is a matter of importance to someone, somewhere. But, if I want to know how about how to transplant a heart, I’m not going to ask the prophet about it. If I want to more fully engage a work of art, my first source (after myself) isn’t necessarily going to be an apostle. Etc. They don’t need to be everything to everyone, God attempts to ‘pour out His Spirit upon all flesh.’

    Cool. ~

  13. Paul on October 20, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    “But, if I want to know how about how to transplant a heart, I’m not going to ask the prophet about it.”

    Yes (Elder Nelson’s miraculous experiences notwithstanding).

  14. Jax on October 20, 2010 at 2:57 pm

    A few thoughts on the church, Mormonism in particular, isn’t a “driver” in the cultural realm:

    1. The LDS Church, as the “only true church”, is rejected by the world. If they don’t like us, why would they emulate us? Hard to be a driven when you are historically despised.
    2. The church has been commanded to keep aloof of all cultures except the celestial one. The commandments and directions given in D&C give a really very clear view of what a celestial culture HAS to look like, and if we don’t follow the laws of that culture, we aren’t fit for a Celestial kingdom.
    3. There are some things that happen culturally upon which the Church has no stance because it is of no importance. Examples: It doesn’t matter the pattern and color of your clothes, as long as they are modest; since neither Republican nor Democrats support the building up of the Kingdom of God and the establishment of Zion the Church supports neither of them – both groups have agendas contrary to the Church’s.

    Question for Thomas:

    Do you really think that all knowledge except religious knowledge is independent of God? That knowledge of from “all branches of science” would have advanced without his assistance and guidance? Do you give any credence to prophetic statements that advances in science have occurred to help foster the restoration of the gospel? Or to the many scientists, almost all of the greatest from history, who say that their knowledge and insight came in a flash of knowledge and credit God for it?

    You may not go to an apostle to get knowledge for medical school, but I still believe that God gave the knowledge contained in those medical school books to mankind as a gift. He didn’t give it through an apostle, but the LDS Church doesn’t have an exclusive claims to God’s gifts to his children. He gives knowledge to whom He will.

  15. Mark A. Clifford on October 20, 2010 at 3:37 pm

    This post is intensely wise. Wise enough to print, wise enough to save, and to share.
    Thank you.

  16. SLO Sapo on October 20, 2010 at 4:24 pm

    “Question for Thomas: Do you really think that all knowledge except religious knowledge is independent of God? That knowledge of from “all branches of science” would have advanced without his assistance and guidance? Do you give any credence to prophetic statements that advances in science have occurred to help foster the restoration of the gospel? Or to the many scientists, almost all of the greatest from history, who say that their knowledge and insight came in a flash of knowledge and credit God for it?”

    Um, maybe you should go back and reread Thomas’s two posts. This isn’t at all what he was saying or implying.

  17. Raymond Takashi Swenson on October 20, 2010 at 7:05 pm

    The post seems to assume that culture as a whole gradually makes progress in a positive direction, and the “Church” (Christian or Mormon) is given the task of figuring out how to evaluate and respond to that change.

    To the contrary, as the bloody history of the 20th Century makes plain, it is not at all clear that there has been any kind of consistent forward movement in human culture over the length of its history. The situation is different in each time, and in each nation and community.

    The 13th Article of Faith not only invites us to embrace that which is “virtuous” and “praiseworthy”, but implicitly it tasks Latter-day Saints to REJECT aspects of neighboring cultures that do NOT meet those criteria. We can certainly identify aspects of current culture, such as rampant pornography and sexual amorality, that are emphatically rejected by the Church. Maintaining this filtering function means that the Church will not rapidly adopt any aspect of popular culture, but will instead take its time holding such changes at arms length until the nature of such changes, as either good or evil, beneficial or damaging, becomes clear.

    This process acts as sort of a “Maxwell’s Demon” that gradually gathers positive cultural characteristics within the boundaries of the Church, fighting against the entropy of the larger society. The Church is slow to adopt because time is necessary to both understand and evaluate a cultural practice. Since “80% of everything is crap”, this methodology of confronting popular culture keeps a lot of crap out of the Church.

    Communism was virtually a century of crap that persisted in certain cultures, especially those that lacked institutions, like the Church, that could evaluate such experiments in human social organization. The fact that America has avoided such blunders as National Socialism and Communism is largely due to the filtering effect of its many churches and social institutions like political parties and the Boy Scouts and the armed forces.

    We all know of churches that have been so uncritically welcoming of all pop culture that they have become mere adjuncts to popular entertainment and therapeutic relationships. They thus lose the entire raison detre for their existence as separate institutions, and go into decline in both membership and enthusiasm.

    Those churches that have prospered in membership are largely those that offer the benefit to their members of helping them to filter the popular culture, so each person does not need to do so from scratch. Good things in popular culture are gathered in and preserved, while the worhtless and even harmful, like communism, are kept at bay.

  18. Bob on October 20, 2010 at 9:39 pm

    What I have disliked most about this post are the ideas that The Church is some kind of gated community that God created to protect his people against the ‘World’. If all of Mankind__through all of history__ are God’s children, then this doesn’t make sense to me.

  19. Ed Goble on October 20, 2010 at 9:42 pm

    Every so often there is a really cool post on the bloggernacle, and this is a really cool post that really gets it right.

  20. Thomas Parkin on October 20, 2010 at 10:49 pm

    “Question for Thomas:

    Do you really think that all knowledge except religious knowledge is independent of God?”

    Nope. I really don’t think that all knowledge except religious knowledge is independent of God. Thanks for provoking my clarification. *wink*

  21. Alison Moore Smith on October 21, 2010 at 12:48 am

    Great read, Rosalynde. I’d be interested in clarification of what you deem the church’s “myths.”

    My kids and I talk about this kind of stuff a lot as they try to sort out good and bad. Pioneers in Petticoats (I think?) is a favorite starting point for conversation. It’s the church’s campy old movie about Brigham Young’s Retrenchment Association. In a nutshell, it was a movement to remove all worldliness from “diet and dress” of women in the church. (No more prom dresses!)

    The dress standard is interesting from a teenage perspective, particularly because the modest dresses of today, such as those worn by the general auxiliary leaders in General Conference, would have been utterly scandalous back then. Today’s “modest one-piece swimming suit” would have been pornographic.

    So what really is God’s standard of modesty? It seems to simply be a standard that is conservative *compared to the society in general.*

  22. Mommie Dearest on October 21, 2010 at 2:34 am

    I very much enjoyed this.

    It reminds me of a conversation I had decades ago, with my high school english teacher, a bona fide Renaissance woman who also served as our town’s elected representative to our state legislature. She was explaining to me why she respected the church’s decision, at the late date of 1978, to grant the priesthood to all worthy male members, well after the flames of the civil rights conflicts had burned off. Though she wasn’t a member, she respected the church, along with all churches, as necessary institutions useful in preserving and transmitting beneficial values and positive behaviors to each new generation.

    How I wish I could remember her exact words, but I only recall her ideas. (Those which successfully penetrated my mind.) She said that she was perfectly ok with institutions reactively changing their policies more slowly after society at large had gone through the messiness of working out the kinks, and that this protected a society’s institutions (not only churches) from being damaged or destroyed from being on the leading edge of societal change. I remember her expressing the idea that institutions that changed too easily with the whims of society left it (society) vulnerable to violent change and also weakened the institutions themselves, leaving society less able to endow the rising generation with long-established values.

    In the years since, as I remember these ideas, I have come to associate with this the image of society blown about by every wind of doctrine.

    While the Church may be seen as “God’s instrument of enlightenment” I think it is more one of those venerable societal institutions that can teach about God’s instrument of enlightenment, the Holy Spirit. At least, it can teach about it as long as it survives. And, through ordinance, transmit it in a more powerful way than merely teaching.

  23. Mark D. on October 21, 2010 at 2:35 am

    So what really is God’s standard of modesty? It seems to simply be a standard that is conservative *compared to the society in general.*

    I seriously doubt that God’s standard of modesty includes (for example) mandatory burqas for women, which would (in that case) make it liberal relative to some societies.

    But in such an instance would not God inspire pragmatism relative to the local culture, even if his ideal standard is significantly different, whether more liberal or more conservative, as the case may be?

  24. Aaron R. on October 21, 2010 at 7:34 am

    I’d like to pick up on Raymond’s comment and expand it slightly. Though the Church may have seemed slow to respond to Race from a US-centric perspective, perhaps they were ahead of the curve in other nations of the world. A Church that presents a worldwide message will find that message situated in various degrees of tension in different parts of the world. Being too far ahead can cause unnecessarily increased alienation just like being too far behind.

    However, this still assumes an ethical teleology in the moral compass of the Church, even if that direction can take various detours. Therefore my comment is still susceptible to critique.

  25. Peter on October 21, 2010 at 3:24 pm

    I feel to praise you as you have dug deeper at what colors the world-view concepts of many in the Church that see Church stances in line with a certain narrative of what is perceived as a historical trend. We always seem to talk above this pesky problem with ideological perspective. When one views progressive historical trends, the tide tends to overwhelm objections and the Church appears to stand in the way. People who view progressive trends in a general positive light will subordinate the Church because they see it as reactive, not proactive, which does not fall in line with the concept that God should be proactive. On the other hand, the world-view of most likely the majority of Church Saints view the progressive trend as a race towards the edge of the cliff on one hand, a trend that needs a dialectic shift (thus making the Church proactive). History as a educational study has a Marxian bias in that there is an inevitability towards state and equality, even if one isn’t a Marxist, most progressives would admit seeing or believing in such trends. On the other hand, others view history as cyclical, and could envision a return to “dark ages” as much as a utopia. Mormons also have a vision of utopia, a millennial view that is proto-historical from a Marxian standpoint, but comprehends dialectics as well (the pride cycle). So others view historical trend narratives in this way will see the world in a down-cycle, and the Church is promoting the up cycle (the proactive view).

    Politics and ideology will be the result of these undergirding trend narratives. This in turn will predict whether people view the Church as proactive or reactive to cultural trends.

    The question is which is the most rational historical trend narrative to believe?

  26. Jax on October 21, 2010 at 3:50 pm

    To Thomas:

    I re-read your posts are realized that you were making the same point I was. My mistake.

    To Peter:

    Why can’t both trends be correct? Some people have made such progress that you have achieved an actual “utopia” that lasted for hundreds of years. Other groups of people have made cyclical patterns of progress and mistakes where they make things better and later fall off the edge. I don’t think it is a question of which view you think is true (since they both CAN be).

    What really matters is a group/society’s ability to find that path that leads to “utopia” and then being able to stay on it. It doesn’t really matter how you ‘believe’ things will end if you are on the wrong path!

  27. Jax on October 21, 2010 at 3:56 pm

    talking about the “world”/society/ and the cultural relationship with the church I seem to remember a talk by Elder Oaks called “Preparation for the Second Coming” in which he says that the responsibility of all saints is to discard all cultural traditions/roles/behaviors that conflict with gospel principles. He says something along the lines of ‘we don’t want people to join the church to be Americans or Europeans or Asians, we want Americans, Europeans, and Asians to join the church to become Saints.’

    I think the point is this: embrace any cultural tendencies you wish as long as they don’t run contrary to revealed truth!

  28. Michael on October 22, 2010 at 12:40 pm

    “…the responsibility of all saints is to discard all cultural traditions/roles/behaviors that conflict with gospel principles.”

    JAX, the problem is that many members interpret this to mean that saints need to discard all cultural traditions that conflict with THEIR interpretation of Gospel principles which mainly consist of Mormon cultural strictures, not true Gospel principles. For example, the multiple earrings issue – is it in conflict with Gospel principles or is it in conflict with Mountain West Mormon cultural norms? The same for the unique interpretations of the word of wisdom. Or the playing of face cards. Or the wearing of Halloween masks.

    There is so much private interpretation here that one would go crazy trying to think through it all.

  29. Frank Bisti on October 22, 2010 at 4:35 pm

    A life-long, and still “active” Mormon…All this comes from a perspective that ignores some basics: The Church is all about administration, acculturation (elsewhere it would be referred to as indoctrination and propaganda). In other words, teaching–and controlling the teaching of–doctrine and practices. While the overarching objective is to help us be good and righteous people, it is by (seeming) necessity constraining, slowing, and overly structured. There are a good number of open-minded thinkers and philosophers among our number that “reveal” emerging and/or ancient–but unrecognized–truths, but they are purposely marginalized. So, the Church doesn’t interpret or lead us to new truths–though individuals do, if we happen upon their teachings. In this regard (slowing change, slowing the adoption of truthful new realities (womens’ rights, blacks and the priesthood, the rights of gays) will always be significantly behind “the times.”

    This is the true church of Christ, but it isn’t a “true” church–as meant in the almost universal declarations on Fast Sunday: “I know the church is true.” If the church really adopted truth from all and any source (as Joseph Smith, and even Brigham Young taught), then it might call itself “true.”

  30. Alison Moore Smith on October 22, 2010 at 5:26 pm

    Mark D. #23:

    I seriously doubt that God’s standard of modesty includes (for example) mandatory burqas for women, which would (in that case) make it liberal relative to some societies.

    I understand your point, but not sure I agree — even though to *us* burqas seem extreme. If US culture and church leaders (not too long ago) required women be covered ankle to wrist to collar bone, it’s not a huge stretch to cover a few more inches.

    To the best of my knowledge, missionaries and other representatives are expected to abide by local customs in a way that would be considered appropriate and acceptable. I can’t think of a time they recommended or suggested anything that would be considered edgy to the culture in question. If the prophet and his wife were to visit the Middle East, would Sister Monson dress as she does in conference?

    I’m no expert on such things. It seems to me that modesty isn’t a hard line, but one that is relative to what people, in general, are accustomed to. If a woman walks around topless down most US streets, it creates a huge stir. If she did it in some other countries, no one would bat an eye. If the latter is immodest, then pretty much anybody who’s read National Geographic is into porn. ;)

  31. Liberty on October 23, 2010 at 5:03 pm

    Doesn’t this theory limit the concept of revelation within the church? It can lead one to believe that “The prophet can’t seem to get things right about same-sex marriage or evolution or whatever, but I understand because I am more enlightened than he is.”

    It also places great emphasis on the alleged role of the church to protect the existing social fabric and trust relationships. While such a theory temporarily qualms concerns which have arisen over paradoxes such as racism and slavery within Christianity and specifically the LDS Church. I’m afraid that the Savior or the LDS church could ever be really accused of doing that. It wouldn’t take much a scriptorium or a historian to cite instances in which the church I’ve read some Christian theology and apologists and this sounds suspiciously similar. like apologists for the Catholic It also places an inordinate value upon current and past social structure and creates a false sense of trust in social institutions. I would describe this concept as Darwinian in the sense that there is a deep-rooted trust in what is describes, which is essentially an evolutionary process.

    The scriptures are quite clear in that they declare that there are moral absolutes. It also repeatedly cites circumstances in which truth came to earth won’t even bother to cite scripture or prophetic leaders

  32. Liberty on October 23, 2010 at 5:04 pm

    Sorry, for some reason my work was posted before I was completed. Please ignore the above post.

  33. Huh on October 24, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    If I understand this article, the church will accept gays once a majority in society does. Why make divisive statements, why doesn’t the church just stay quiet for now?

  34. SUNNofaB.C.Rich on October 25, 2010 at 10:16 pm

    Also, once society accepts people who become emotionally/romantically dependent on computer generated interactive cartoon characters, the LDS church will as well. I read your book. I think you have a few scriptures that address that issue. Unfortunately you also had Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, who discovered the universal truth that when you run a religion you can “make stuff up” Chalk it up to lack of discipline and principle in the primitive incarnation of the church but it’s still problematic today.

  35. Mark D. on October 26, 2010 at 12:12 am

    I understand your point, but not sure I agree — even though to *us* burqas seem extreme. If US culture and church leaders (not too long ago) required women be covered ankle to wrist to collar bone, it’s not a huge stretch to cover a few more inches

    Face veils with eye slits seem like more than a stretch to me. That aside, my point is that both US culture and church leaders a century or so ago, could very well have preferred a level of covering that would be more conservative than an inspired ideal, _even_ if God himself for pragmatic reasons inspired individuals to dress that way and the Church to uphold such standards to one degree or another. Changing standards of dress without endorsing other unwelcome changes sounds like a tricky thing to me, if only due to the connotation that even subtle changes often carry.

    As a consequence, I don’t think we can automatically make a jump from inspiration and divine guidance appropriate to time and circumstance to the standards that would or should prevail in a divine society. I do think we can rule out certain extremes, but within a relatively broad range in the middle it seems like anyone’s guess to me.