An Information-Rich Gospel: Correlation and the Growth and Maturation of the Church

July 22, 2013 | 160 comments
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The gospel of Jesus Christ is a rich, complex, and beautiful thing. It can’t be fully absorbed in one sitting, or one decade, or one lifetime. The gospel is information-rich.

A recent New York Times article talks about Mormons who are led to question their faith by information about the church that they find, e.g., on the internet. The article seems to suggest that the gospel cannot survive in an information-rich environment. Mormons believe, however, that “the glory of God is intelligence” (D&C 93:6), and “It is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance” (D&C 131:6). Information, learning, understanding, therefore are central to what Mormonism is about. The information age should be not only welcome, but ultimately a real strength to the church and the progress of the gospel. I’m convinced it is, though we haven’t grown into it yet.

The NYT article, of course, can easily be read to suggest the opposite. Here is a simple narrative one might derive from it: The LDS church has embarrassing things in its history that it can’t give a good explanation of, which undermine its moral authority, and so in order to preserve its credibility and the faith of members, it has to suppress information about these things. In the internet age, of course, suppressing information doesn’t work any more, so . . . you can draw your own conclusions. There are probably a few people at the NYT who are hoping you will draw the conclusion, “Therefore, fortunately, Mormonism will conveniently disappear amid the superior information of the internet age. Phew! That Romney guy was really scary . . .”

There is a common caricature of faith that sees it as something that can only survive amid grave ignorance. According to Mormon revelation, however, this is a false idea of faith. At the same time, though, faith is a response to limited information, since human understanding is always very incomplete (especially when we’re talking about God), even in the age of the internet. Coping intelligently and wisely with the limitations of our information and understanding as we learn and grow, trusting others who know more when we should, is perhaps the central work of faith. Conversely, helping those with limited information and understanding expand their understanding and their horizon in a constructive and realistic manner, is perhaps the central task of a teacher or spiritual leader.

How, then, should we understand the fact that quite a few highly involved and committed Mormons go for years without hearing about things like the polygamy of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, or Joseph’s use of a seer stone to translate instead of the Urim and Thummim, or what have you? And the fact that official church Sunday School manuals, magazines and the like in recent years, by not talking about them, seem designed to perpetuate this situation? Isn’t the failure to inform members about these things itself an inconvenient and dubious part of our (current) history? Looking to the future, how can we incorporate these puzzling features of our history into a more robust conversation and culture within the church?

These are serious and juicy questions. Here is my interpretation, in broad strokes, as someone who has lived through some very significant changes in the church over the past few decades, and seen the church operating in a wide variety of environments, both across the U.S. and across the world, who has been both a student and a teacher inside and outside of the church. In brief, I suggest we are seeing the unavoidable growing pains that result from a largely necessary and sensible set of developments over time in the way the church presents its message, to be understood within the larger narrative of the growth of this still-young church.

There was a very nuanced, complicated, organic, colorful version of Mormonism that flourished in the Mountain West for generations, roughly from the time of Brigham Young to that of Spencer W. Kimball. Under President Young, the vast majority of converts to the church moved to Utah and became part of Zion, a nation in the wilderness. Mormons were a people first, and a church second.

Up through the time of President Kimball, the great bulk of Latter-day Saints lived in the “Mormon Corridor” of Utah, Idaho, Arizona, and parts of neighboring states in a band roughly from Calgary to the Mormon colonies in northern Mexico. In the Mormon Corridor, many people had been in the church for generations, many with ancestors who had crossed the plains with ox-carts and hand-carts to gather to Zion. At family reunions people knew who was descended from which of the wives of their polygamous ancestors. The history of the church was all around them, at work, school, or play, and a rich and detailed knowledge of it was rooted in the local culture and folklore.

In a pioneer community bound together by economic necessity as well as personal and often kinship loyalty, early church leaders could afford to dispute theology publicly. Heroic faith combined with a robust awareness of the riskiness of faith and the humanity of church leaders. Characters like J. Golden Kimball for whom making light of themselves and other church leaders was an integral part of his leadership style are iconic of this culture, in which the church as a whole was more like a family, where trust and love in a more personal vein compensated for a softer conception of authority and a closer view of one another’s imperfections.

Under President Kimball, however, international missionary efforts were expanded dramatically. Simultaneously, since World War II an ever-larger stream of Western Mormons have spread out, relocating to other parts of the U.S. and the world. In this era it has become more difficult to sustain the intimate Western Zion model of the church and its culture. An ever-larger portion of the church membership had joined as adults, with little prior knowledge of it. The expanding array of languages spoken by Mormons strained efforts even to translate the Book of Mormon for all of them, let alone the expansive body of literature, culture, and personal history enjoyed by those in the Mormon Corridor. Whole congregations were run by recent converts and the children of converts, none of whom had ever lived in a majority-Mormon environment, or even a majority-Christian environment. They had to create functioning congregations and lives of discipleship on the basis of a handful of publications and the guidance of 19-year-old missionaries from across the ocean (and lots of prayer). Even in the U.S., many whose families had been in the church for generations were growing up in environments where they only encountered the church at church or at home, and rarely saw their cousins from that third wife or what have you.

In other words, huge portions of the church membership were living in an information-poor environment during the twentieth-century diaspora, and continue to do so today. This was a huge shift and required some real adjustments. There were major changes to the meeting schedule, to church finances, to the missionary program, and to the design of temples, just for example, extending up through the time of President Hinckley, to respond to geographical and cultural dispersion.

The Correlation Program was an enterprise in creating a streamlined presentation of the Mormon message that would be viable in this information-poor environment—a version that did not presuppose the depth and tightness of community, the organic awareness of a complex history, the cultural loyalty, and the fellowship of many seasoned, mature members and multi-generation LDS families that made Western Mormonism work. Correlation was designed to make an information-lean approach to Mormonism viable. This required emphasizing core principles and minimizing complexity, leaving obsolete practices like polygamy and historical peculiarities like Joseph’s seer stone to be addressed by historians, not Sunday School manuals.

Correlated Mormonism still works for many Mormons, and has to continue to work for them, as most Mormons continue to operate outside of the Zion environment. The Western Zion culture still shapes Corridor Mormons to a significant degree, though it is being diluted even in the heart of Mormon country as non-Mormons move in, institutions become increasingly secular, and national media and culture become increasingly influential.

Correlated Mormonism can be problematic when confronted with the information deluge of the internet, where most of the information is either non-committal or hostile to the church, and much of it is mistaken or skewed. Mormonism is hardly the only human enterprise that is being shaken up by the information revolution. The New York Times itself is keenly aware that all manner of institutions have to re-tool to function in the new environment, especially those for whom information is central to their mission.

So, how should the church respond? I think Elder Ballard’s talk of a few years ago is right on target. He encouraged Mormons to take individual initiative and participate in the internet ecosystem. When people search for information online, they should find faithful interpretations and meditations as well as those that are critical or hostile. The solution to bad or incomplete information, in the long run, is more information, especially good information.

I would add, though: we need more sources of information besides individual members who set out on the information ocean in their personal boats. We need information organizations, foundations, publications, and the like. Early Western Mormonism was not just information-rich; it was cooperation-rich. There were a whole host of auxiliary institutions that mixed spiritual and temporal and community purposes (ZCMI, road shows, etc.), but which were closely tied to the church. Many of these institutions were either spun off or discontinued during the twentieth century, to comport with the changing role of the church in the diaspora, and as Western Mormonism adapted to national Americanism.

On a global scale, the church as an institution can’t maintain such a flotilla of official auxiliaries. The physical and cultural and linguistic distances and so on are too great. Rather, we need more unofficial auxiliaries. In addition to church sources like the Ensign or BYU, we need independent institutions like Southern Virginia University, like FARMS or Interpreter, like the bloggernacle, like Halestorm Entertainment, like the Mormon Scholars Foundation. Okay, we need more and better ones like these!

Perhaps more importantly, though, we also need to cultivate in localities across the globe the strengths that made Western Mormonism work—the communities, the cultural dimensions, and the spiritually seasoned members and member families that make the church less of an institution and more of a people. Correlation was a necessary step as part of the process of expansion, but it is not a long-term model in itself for the church. In the long run, the gospel is inherently information-rich, and church programs and church culture must reflect this.

We all begin from information poverty in the form of spiritual ignorance, but faith is not just about making do with ignorance, or with a streamlined version of the truth that is adapted to our information limits. Rather, faith is about intelligently and wisely expanding our knowledge and understanding, and building this understanding into the way we live our lives, both at a personal level and at the level of communities and societies. The gospel is a recipe for Zion, which is not just an institution, a place, or a state of mind, but a people united by the knowledge of Christ.

160 Responses to An Information-Rich Gospel: Correlation and the Growth and Maturation of the Church

  1. sam r on July 22, 2013 at 10:29 pm

    Great article, but you lost me when you said the church can’t maintain a flotilla of official auxiliaries. I don’t see why not. It has BILLIONS of dolars to do that. Web sites and and bloggernacles aren’t going to solve our problems. Yes they are helping now and provide an important role, but the church itself must expand its vision as an institution. Community is found in local wards. Online communities provide a niche, but community is found in the congregation. Congregations are run by bishops under hierarchal authority. Thus better community is something the church as an institution must provide, not just the splintering habitats of unofficial Mormon interest groups.

  2. Ben H on July 22, 2013 at 10:55 pm

    It’s true that the church has lots of money, sam r, but money alone is not enough. One institution can only do so many things well. The work of the institutional church as it currently stands is plenty demanding enough for all the expertise, inspiration, and money at the disposal of the institutional church.

    Congregations provide community and are run hierarchically, in part. However, they are also highly participatory, and really good lessons, talks, service, etc. are a product of individual members’ talent and initiative and devotion. Families and friendships are even more essential to a full-fledged community–all the informal relationships that spring up in association with a top-down institution like a congregation–and are not top-down.

    Communities or cultures are not established by institutions and are a fundamentally different kind of thing. Institutions can facilitate them, but they have to be more spontaneous and self-sustaining than that. A robust gospel culture has to well up from the membership, and that kind of participation is essential to the spiritual growth of members as well.

  3. Adam G. on July 22, 2013 at 10:59 pm

    Good stuff.

    New communication media are giving us the possibility of re-establishing a distinct Mormon culture, at least to a degree.

    But not always by using them. My big ‘out there’ idea would be works of art–musical settings, poetry, essays, even literature–that are confined to the temples.

  4. EFF on July 22, 2013 at 11:13 pm

    “When people search for information online, they should find faithful interpretations and meditations as well as those that are critical or hostile.”

    Here’s a wild and crazy idea: instead of faithful interpretations and feeble apologetic defenses, why don’t we try something completely novel: Truth. Honesty. Accuracy.

    With all due respect Ben, no matter how much lipstick you put on this pig, it’s still one ugly porker. The New York Times article laid bare the church’s systematic efforts to conceal and distort its history, the lives of its leaders, the origins of its scriptures, and the evolution of its doctrines. Even well-respected Mormon scholars, such as Richard Bushman and Terryl Givens, have described the correlation materials as “deplorable, replete with errors and disinformation.” And all of this was done consciously over a period of decades, and would have continued unabated but for the advent of the Internet.

    As is so often the case, when an institution engages in concealment, it is invariably harmed more by the cover up than by the inconvenient truths it was attempting to hide. As Terryl Givens astutely observed: “The problem is not so much the discovery of particular details that are deal breakers for the faithful; the problem is a loss of faith and trust in an institution that was less than forthcoming to begin with.”

    Regaining that faith and trust will take years. Perhaps the process could be accelerated if someone in Salt Lake were to stand up and say: “We’re sorry. We screwed up. We will fix this.” Sadly, it is more likely that your lipstick covered pig will sprout wings and fly before that happens.

    The truly sad and regrettable aspect of this whole mess is that it was clearly foreseeable and easily avoidable.

  5. Dog lover on July 22, 2013 at 11:28 pm

    EFF – I agree with you.

  6. James Olsen on July 22, 2013 at 11:29 pm

    Ben, I really enjoyed your post; I think you’re making some great points. It would be great if correlation, having served its historical function, could (significantly) shift in ways to accomodate the things you’re discussing above.

    One note: I wouldn’t emphasize Pres. Kimball’s reign as too definite a historical marker. As you briefly note, WWII might be a better transition marker. The Church was clearly beginning to feel the strain of transition under Pres McKay when Harold B. Lee designed correlation – even if in reality the major demographic/cultural shift took place more under Kimball.

  7. SteveF on July 23, 2013 at 12:16 am

    Adam G. Your ‘out there’ idea sounds really interesting. Could you expound a little more? I’d love to hear how you envision this.

  8. anon on July 23, 2013 at 12:42 am

    Correlation wasn’t just about a consistent message. It was primarily about consolidating power to the q12. The relief society for example is no longer a women’s organization (they no longer choose their own leadership) they are merely an organization for women. The post makes it sound like having non official groups carry the culture was part of the churches plan. That isn’t true at all. We’ve been instructed for example not to have private study groups and the like. Sunstone and Dialogue were given the villian treatment in conference. The church actively sought to keep those in the Mormon corridor in the dark.

  9. Ben H on July 23, 2013 at 1:05 am

    James, as you suggest, there is a lot more detail and nuance one could add to fill out the broad outline I’ve sketched. I highlight Pres. Kimball because of the dramatic expansion of missionary work under his leadership, but there are a lot of other things one could highlight.

    EFF, the first main point of my post is to show why the overall effort to streamline the gospel message was necessary and natural in light of the growth of the church. Issues that are not necessary to understanding the timeless message of the gospel, or the way we should live it today, are of marginal importance and arguably should not take up space in the highly limited curriculum that the church was able to deliver across the world in this phase of expansive outreach. Back in Utah, where a lot of this historical knowledge was taken for granted, a lot of people involved may not have even realized the kind of blind spots they were creating with their laser focus on core principles.

    There are certainly some particulars of how this “information-lean” model was formulated, however, that are very problematic. There have been places in the curriculum where the omissions were simply too glaring to be innocent. For example, where a manual quotes words of an early church president, but changes the words to omit references to his plural wives, while continuing to present the altered words as a straightforward quotation of original material, that crosses the line into being deceptive. I don’t know whose doorstep to lay that at, but it is worse than embarrassing, and at least some of those involved in the editing process are to blame. “Deplorable” is not too strong a word for some of these cases.

    To suggest that the manuals should have been issued with passing references to polygamy that are essentially unexplained, however, doesn’t make much sense either. Manuals are supposed to clarify, not confuse.

    This leads naturally to the second main point of my post: this “information-lean” model is not sustainable, and not only because it leaves out this or that historical puzzle. The minimalistic formulation that correlation has produced is simply too stripped-down to do justice to the Mormon inheritance of revelation, except as an introduction. It is also too stripped-down to satisfy thoughtful members through a lifetime of learning and development. Many members I met in Japan learned English simply because they were hungry to tap into a broader literature about the church. We need to re-create something like the cultural depth of Zion in the West, but in a much more polyphonic form that reflects the far greater diversity of places and cultures where Mormons live today. Doing this while maintaining our unity as a worldwide religious community is no small challenge, but that’s where we need to go, and the institutional church needs to facilitate it, which it has not always succeeded in doing.

  10. Ben H on July 23, 2013 at 1:15 am

    Adam, I’m an enthusiastic supporter of a richer temple culture! As far as I’m concerned, until we have the kind of temple-distinctive art, literature, and discourse you refer to we are a church in the wilderness, like Israel in the desert, even if our temple buildings are more permanent.

    anon, I think the signals from the institutional church on unofficial culture and institutions have been mixed. There have been some rather clear and articulate calls for grass-roots effort as well as the kinds of cautions and discouragements you refer to. And some of these unofficial institutions have been very problematic, worthy of public warnings. We as a people need to develop a culture of constructive initiative, though, and messages from leaders that support this are important to its success.

  11. palerobber on July 23, 2013 at 2:25 am

    the problem with your too tidy explanation is that my pre-correlation, pioneer-descended, Mormon Corridor parents grew up every bit as ignorant of the “troubling” aspects of the church’s history as i did being raised in “the mission field” and on the 3 hour block. of course, for any of the issues which are currently considered embarassing, there was a time at some point in the past when the church was not ashamed. but for most you have to go back much further than pre-correlation.

    in any case, i disagree with both you and with the NYT writers in your head — this is not a significant challenge that the church will either rise to or be overcome by. for the vast majority of people, religion is not an intellectual exercise, so the church’s history is irrelevant.

  12. Russell Arben Fox on July 23, 2013 at 7:03 am

    we also need to cultivate in localities across the globe the strengths that made Western Mormonism work–the communities, the cultural dimensions, and the spiritually seasoned members and member families that make the church less of an institution and more of a people

    Ben, this is an excellent conclusion to an excellent post; a lot of great food for thought here. I suspect that you and I may have very different ideas about how best to go about encouraging or even just enabling the kind of “cultivation” you speak of (for example, I strongly suspect that the rough egalitarianism which obtained, at least to a moderate degree, through generations of Western Mormon life, even after the end of the United Order experiments, was crucial to the kind of trusted information-sharing you refer to, and that absent some move back towards structures which resist economic individualism we’re not going to be able recreate anything like it)–but whatever our prescriptive differences, I agree with you on the diagnosis: it’s the lack of connection which lies at the root of the problem here.

  13. Steve Smith on July 23, 2013 at 8:05 am

    I agree that Mormonism evolved and emerged as more of a community/people than a theology/religion. The sociology of Mormonism was a much stronger glue that bound the Mormon community together than sheer doctrinal claims. Although the LDS church authority has attempted, largely through correlation and its missionary effort, to exploit the thick ties of Mormon culture to its advantage and impose its doctrinal worldview on the membership, and to prevent bottom-up Mormon culture from overtaking, if not overwhelming, the LDS church. It has been largely successful at doing this. It has managed to edge out many popular folkloric beliefs and use meetinghouses and ward organization to re-create a aura of the ‘good old Mormon community’ in many wards outside the Mormon corridor.

    But I can’t help but get the sense from your post that the way to preventing collapse among the Mormon community is by reinforcing a space within which a ‘cultural Mormon’ identity can both survive and thrive. The problem is that the LDS institution has pushed the issue of its doctrinal claims for so long that there is not much space left. I have gotten the sense from the many LDS communities that I have been in that you either believe or you don’t. And if you don’t believe, then you either strengthen your testimony (in other words unquestioningly accept a set of core doctrines and make an open assertion to that effect) or you get treated as second class, at best, or eventually face ostracism, at worst.

    Lastly, you seem to be conveying the idea that defection is based on information poverty. Sure, maybe in some cases. But some things just can’t be resolved by more information. The evidence overwhelmingly suggests that Joseph Smith had secret romantic relationships with young teenage girls and other men’s wives that he attempted to keep from the knowledge of Emma and others in the Mormon community. The evidence also overwhelmingly suggests that Joseph Smith claimed to be able to translate texts that he actually couldn’t. The translations that Egyptologists have rendered of Facsimile 3 of the Book of Abraham show that Joseph Smith’s explanation of the facsimile was wrong. Believing many of the claims of Mormonism involves accepting a lot of inconvenient truths that many, like Hans Mattsson, just can’t reconcile in their minds.

  14. Howard on July 23, 2013 at 8:07 am

    The LDS church has embarrassing things in its history that it can’t give a good explanation of, which undermine its moral authority, and so in order to preserve its credibility and the faith of members, it *has to* suppress information about these things. Ironically because it lacks leadership at the top that can effectively lead around this issues without hiding them and because in spite of Christ himself standing at the head of the church micromanaging minutia such as the age of missionaries our prophets can’t seem to get revelation in the form of an explanation.

    It seems pretty contradictory doesn’t it?

  15. Nathaniel Givens on July 23, 2013 at 8:25 am

    Ben-

    Just wanted to say that I loved this post. Thanks for the work that you put into it.

  16. Scott Campbell on July 23, 2013 at 8:42 am

    Your presumptions seems to be that it is a church of men and people of reason rather than a church of God and a people of faith whose purpose it is to “Bring to pass” and “be ye perfect”. The temporal church will be affected by man and its spiritual gospel will be interpreted by man but the end result will be as designed. Even though the inclination is to aggregate the intent is to discriminate between worthy and unworthy. The rewards in heaven are personal not collective. The journey private, the effort singular, and the challenge to be selfless in service to others. Life has a habit of getting in the way but that was by design as well. Instead of assuming that God is not in control or that the present circumstances are outside of the intent it is better to assume that God is in control and the present circumstances are as intended if not dictated.

  17. Rachel Whipple on July 23, 2013 at 9:34 am

    But correlation remains a problem. Is the answer to expand the correlated material available for lessons, while attempting to maintain institutional control of what is taught in church, or is to offer the lesson materials as starting points and encourage teachers and students to explore beyond the manuals? Because right now, the list of sources that are acceptable to present in Sunday School are pretty slim. I was once even chastised by a Sunday School president for using scriptures in my lesson that were outside of the prescribed list for that lesson. It seems that we are not now to be trusted to have a discussion in church outside of the very narrow confines of the manuals.

  18. T&S Dave on July 23, 2013 at 10:50 am

    Very helpful discussion, Ben H. You said: “Correlation was a necessary step as part of the process of expansion, but it is not a long-term model in itself for the church.”

    Which leads to the interesting question: What does a post-Correlation Church look like? What parts of Correlation are relaxed or eliminated? What doctrinal and cultural changes happen? Online, we complain about Correlation a lot, and there is a general sense that its costs are beginning to outweigh its benefits, but we haven’t thought much about exactly how we would fill the void if it went away. That seems like the discussion you are pointing to in this post.

  19. Nathan Whilk on July 23, 2013 at 11:07 am

    From the NY Times:

    “But when he discovered credible evidence that the church’s founder, Joseph Smith, was a polygamist . . ., Mr. Mattsson said he felt that the foundation on which he had built his life began to crumble.”

    From the Church’s official 1982 Swedish edition of Joseph F. Smith’s _Gospel Doctrine_:

    “Här följer namnen på några av de unga damer som beseglades till profeten Joseph Smith i Nauvoo, såsom de själva under ed har intygat–detta under profetens livstid: Eliza R Snow, Sarah Ann Whitney, Helen Mar Kimball, Fanny Young (syster till Brigham Young) och Rhoda Richards (syster till Willard Richards som var med profeten under hans martyrskap i fängelset i Carthage).”

  20. Clark on July 23, 2013 at 11:25 am

    I suspect those raised in the mission field encounter anti-Mormon material far more frequently than others. With the rise of the internet and Google searches in particular that’s changed. I had my iPad at church on Sunday and was doing some quick searches for a lesson. Several times anti-Mormon stuff popped up just getting that stuff. So I’m sure many in the so-called “Mormon corridor” are encountering the material that didn’t before.

    That said, I really didn’t like the NYT article for a variety of reasons. If nothing else it’s about 10 years too late. To the degree this was significant it started happening long ago. However I think “the internet” as a cause of falling away, while an element, is simply overstated. Growth rates started changing in the 90′s and were part of larger sociological moves towards secularism. While some might freak out because they discover Mountain Meadows, Fanny Algers, or Zina Huntington the bigger shift is almost certainly due to the problem of evil and reconciling God to the world and society around us. If it was just controversial history so many who leave the Church wouldn’t be becoming agnostic or atheist. Rather we’re being affected by a larger trend that’s affecting Christianity in general and most likely is just a delayed adjustment that Europe already went through.

    I’m not saying we can’t engage with our history better. Just that ultimately I think the crisis of faith many encounter deal with deeper issues ultimately. (And ones far harder to explain away than 19th century history)

  21. Steve Smith on July 23, 2013 at 11:46 am

    Here’s a translation of the Swedish (comment 19) from translate.google.com.

    “Here are the names of some of the young ladies who were sealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith in Nauvoo, as they themselves have testified under oath-that during the Prophet’s lifetime: Eliza R. Snow, Sarah Ann Whitney, Helen Mar. Kimball, Fanny Young (sister of Brigham Young ) and Rhoda Richards (sister of Willard Richards, who was with the Prophet during his martyrdom in Carthage Jail).”

    Listen to Mattsson’s interview on mormonstories.org, particularly Part 4, where he gives the finer details of what prompted him to disassociate himself from the LDS church.

    I often hear the idea conveyed in Mormon circles that the critics’ claims that the LDS church is suppressing information about its past is unfounded, and then they give some vague out-of-context examples of mention of polygamy or the seer stone in the hat in past writings by church leaders and church-sponsored publications.

    Look, the LDS church downplays the more embarrassing details about its past, there is no doubt about that. Sure, polygamy is mentioned in passing references in church talks and publications once every five years or so, but none of these give the details of nature of JS’s relationship with these women. These references promote the image that JS’s polygamy was simply a command of God, not lust-based or even consummated, and merely symbolic. Hardly. Were it not for the labors of historians who dug through archives, searched for letters, deciphered and verified handwriting, compiled relevant details into an organized written framework, and published articles and books, JS’s polygamy would have successfully been forced by the LDS church into the realm of the irrelevant. But alas, I find it hard to believe that JS’s polygamy was incredibly noble when I read a letter like the one he wrote to Sarah Ann Whitney telling her about his “feelings are so strong for [her],” to be “careful of…Emma [coming, for] then [she] cannot be safe,” and then telling her to “burn…the letter as soon as [she] reads it.” I find Mattsson’s frustration understandable.

  22. Aaron T on July 23, 2013 at 12:05 pm

    Steve – #21 – you nailed it.

    Great discussion….

  23. Nathan Whilk on July 23, 2013 at 12:25 pm

    “they give some vague out-of-context examples of mention of . . . the seer stone in the hat in past writings by church leaders and church-sponsored publications”

    From Elder Nelson in the July 1993 Ensign (i.e., 20 years ago):

    “The details of this miraculous method of translation are still not fully known. Yet we do have a few precious insights. David Whitmer wrote:

    ‘Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and on that appeared the writing. One character at a time would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery, who was his principal scribe, and when it was written down and repeated to Brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear, and another character with the interpretation would appear. Thus the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God, and not by any power of man.’ (David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ, Richmond, Mo.: n.p., 1887, p. 12.)”

    What’s vague and/or out of context about this?

  24. Cameron N on July 23, 2013 at 12:43 pm

    So Steve, if we take Joseph’s own story at face value (and I think no matter what people think of his actions, we can take him as sincere), what would *you* do if God told you to restart the polygamy thing? I have absolutely no idea how I would handle that paradigm shift…

  25. Cameron N on July 23, 2013 at 12:45 pm

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that I think people’s personal feelings about polygamy are coloring their perception of polygamous events more than what little we think we know about those events can honestly give us a fully accurate picture of what he did and the state of his soul when making those decisions.

  26. CarlH on July 23, 2013 at 12:59 pm

    If the Correlation Committee didn’t exist, Times and Seasons regulars (and so many others in the LDS pontificating class) would have to have invented another boogeyman. I’m sorry but these recurring ruminations about why “it’s all Correlation’s fault” are becoming as predictable, and as helpful, as the “it’s Bush’s fault” mantra. I guess I fall into the class of seemingly benighted minds for whom “Correlated Mormonism still works.” (What on earth is that supposed to mean, at least if you strip away all of the barnacles that have been attached to the Correlation bête-noir?) And yet, somehow, I’m still quite aware of most, if not all, of the hobgoblins of LDS history and theology that “Correlation” is supposedly hiding from me.

  27. Rachael on July 23, 2013 at 1:38 pm

    Awesome post, Ben– great food for thought in here– and the kind of thought that translates into a lot of proactive work on our part (the best kind!)

  28. Mark Brown on July 23, 2013 at 1:40 pm

    CarlH, think of it another way. If correlation didn’t exist, T&S and probably the bloggernacle itself would not exist.

    It isn’t that the official manuals offer only a lean version of our history, the correlation process actively discourages people from looking at other sources and participating in discussion groups or other fora where questions can be addressed and ventilated.

  29. Casey on July 23, 2013 at 1:49 pm

    I wonder which has a greater influence: a two-decade old conference address quoting David Whitmer’s account of the BoM translation–the only detailed reference to it I could find on LDS.org since 1977–or this picture:

    http://www.lds.org/bc/content/shared/content/images/gospel-library/manual/36617/36617_all_001_04-translating.jpg

    Would anyone take bets on which of the two most church members are familiar with? Guess which one is in Peach My Gospel? CarlH is no doubt as stalwart in the face of murmuring as he proclaims, but it’s really not hard to understand why some people may have felt misled by our correlated gospel at times!

  30. Nathan Whilk on July 23, 2013 at 2:17 pm

    “Peach: to give incriminating evidence against; to inform against, betray.”

  31. Steve Smith on July 23, 2013 at 2:24 pm

    Nathan, I concede that you have found the one church-published reference that is candid about the seer stone in a hat. But that appears to be the only instance in the vast sea of church publications and media where you will find reference to a witness statement of such a translation process. Yet we find dozens of church-approved paintings hanging up in church buildings or published in church magazines of Joseph Smith sitting in front of golden plates with pen or some sort of spectacles either alone or with a scribe. The seer stone in a hat method of translation is undoubtedly downplayed. It is also unknown to a great number of members, and comes as a shock to many as well. If anything the LDS church appears to be uncomfortable with the image of JS’s face in a hat lest it give people the impression that 1) the unearthing of the golden plates was not necessary for JS to render a translation of them and 2) that the BOM text may have been a product of JS’s imagination. Hence the strategy that the LDS church pursues in regard to the question of the translation method is make a passing reference so as to be able to deflect criticism that it is suppressing the relevant details of its history, but vamp up imagery and historical rhetoric that are favorable to overall image. So you’re right that the church does indeed make mention of polygamy and the seer stone in a hat, but I’m still right in saying that the church downplays these issues as irrelevant, when in fact evidence and historical context strongly suggest that these are highly relevant in explaining the LDS church’s historical experience.

  32. Old Man on July 23, 2013 at 2:25 pm

    I’m sorry, but are there any educated Latter-day Saints out there who SERIOUSLY does not know that Joseph Smith engaged in plural marriage? Or the rough details of the need for the revelation on the priesthood through Spencer W. Kimball?

    I teach high school history classes in a Wasatch Front community. Today’s LDS teenagers know about EVERY issue mentioned in the NY Times article. They discuss these issues with their parents and in their LDS Seminary classes. I am the father of two teens and they know about these issues.

    I don’t think the problem we have today is correlation. Nor is it the Internet. The problem is that people are so brittle with their expectations of church leaders and the church that they fly apart like glass whenever their paradigms are challenged. We behave like spoiled children or fair-weather sporting fans, expecting every issue to be easily resolved, every concern to be answered immediately or we will take our toys and go home. But spiritual and emotional maturity take time.

  33. Adam G. on July 23, 2013 at 2:31 pm

    *Adam G. Your ‘out there’ idea sounds really interesting. Could you expound a little more? I’d love to hear how you envision this.*

    Dude, you’re weird.

    But here goes. Absolutely the easiest parts to implement would be more endowment videos (more interpretations of the same story) and more temple-specific artwork. The artwork especially. I would like to see universal implementation of the hybrid scheme they have in some temples where you still have the filmed endowment but you move from one room to another–or even more! Each room would have paintings and murals that fit its theme. I would also like an expanded notion of artwork that is appropriate–I don’t mean modernist stuff, that’s all played out. I mean sculpture, textiles, stuff like that. Why not have custom-made chairs with sculpted creatures curling around them. And I would like to see artwork change from time to time. Paintings, sculptures, textiles can be swapped in and out. You could say to yourself, ‘I need to do an endowment this month before the Walter Ranes creation exhibit ends.’

    More later.

  34. Mark Brown on July 23, 2013 at 2:37 pm

    “I’m sorry, but are there any educated Latter-day Saints out there who SERIOUSLY does not know that Joseph Smith engaged in plural marriage?”

    Well I don’t know how educated they are, but Joseph Smith’s polyandry was news to the missionary couple I met in Nauvoo last month. It sounds really weird, but I spent three days there and the ONLY place I heard about JS’s polygamy and polyandry was from the Community of Christ people. They have dealt with this in a more straightforward manner than we LDS have.

  35. Nathan Whilk on July 23, 2013 at 2:38 pm

    “I concede that you have found the one church-published reference that is candid about the seer stone in a hat.”

    So you don’t think the September 1977 Ensign article by Richard L. Anderson is candid?

  36. Steve Smith on July 23, 2013 at 2:39 pm

    Cameron, 24, you raise a valid question, but probably one for a different discussion. I’m trying to validate LDS church members who are shocked by what they read in academic historical research about the LDS church and who express the belief that the LDS church misrepresents its history. Nathan Whilk is trying to convey the image that dissenters are ignorant people who jump to conclusions too quickly and have not actually done enough reading. I believe that to the contrary, people who disassociate themselves from the LDS church over historical issues generally tend to be more well-informed about LDS church history than the average member. While many of them may not be as well read or articulate as many of the LDS church apologists, it isn’t fair to compare them with the apologists or to expect them to have read everything that the apologists have to say or everything that has ever been published by the LDS church. Besides many of them do read what the apologists say and just can’t swallow their rather mealymouthed and disingenuous explanations/justifications of the more embarrassing moments in church history. Many of the disaffected aren’t even actively seeking out literature that expounds on polygamy or other matters, but they are confronted on it by someone else. And it is in the process of trying to explain the issue to the doubter that they run across a vast body of historical information that is glossed over in the way the LDS church presents itself.

  37. Steve Smith on July 23, 2013 at 2:45 pm

    OK, you found the two church-published references. You still haven’t undermined my central point or dared to confront it.

  38. Nathan Whilk on July 23, 2013 at 3:03 pm

    In the September 1974 issue of _The Friend_, there is reference to Joseph using an “egg-shaped, brown” seer stone to translate the Book of Mormon.

  39. JT on July 23, 2013 at 3:15 pm

    Steve, what exactly is your central point?

  40. EFF on July 23, 2013 at 3:15 pm

    Two weeks ago, I had dinner with some friends, one of whom is a former bishop. He is about 55 years old and a lawyer who works for the Social Security Administration. He was incredulous when I mentioned that Joseph had 30+ wives, around ten of whom he “knew” in the biblical sense.

    Since the advent of correlation, the church has presented a homiletic, dumbed-down, incomplete version of its history, the lives of its prophets, and the evolution of its scriptures and doctrines. Those who questioned the accuracy of these materials were assured that their source was true, perfect and infallible (at least that is what I was told). When some persisted in asking questions, the church archives were closed and six Mormon scholars were purged from the ranks of the faithful in order to send a message to anyone else who was thinking about publishing something inconsistent with the one and only true Mormon narrative.

    Then came the Internet. Now comes the backlash.

  41. Nathan Whilk on July 23, 2013 at 3:20 pm

    In the October 1939 issue of _The Improvement Era_, Francis Kirkham quotes the same statement from David Whitmer (about a steer stone in a hat) that Elder Nelson quoted in the July 1993 Ensign.

  42. Nathan Whilk on July 23, 2013 at 3:23 pm

    The same Whitmer account is quoted in Milton V. Backman’s _Eyewitness Accounts of the Restoration_ published by Deseret Book in 1983.

  43. Marie on July 23, 2013 at 3:24 pm

    I’ll fess up and say that while I did know about Joseph Smith’s polygamy, I was almost 30 years old when I found about the polyandry. It wasn’t until I was on my mission that I found out Emma didn’t know about his other wives, while I knew she wasn’t supportive of polygamy, I hadn’t realized that he hid it from her. Anyway, I can easily see how a convert or someone who has only read church approved histories would be surprised by some of this information.

  44. Nathan Whilk on July 23, 2013 at 3:31 pm

    In the January 1997 issue of the Ensign, Elder Maxwell said: “Martin Harris related of the seer stone ‘Sentences would appear and were read by the Prophet’”.

    Elder Maxwell then said: “If by means of these divine instrumentalities the Prophet was seeing ancient words rendered in English and then dictating, he was not necessarily and constantly scrutinizing the characters on the plates—the usual translation process of going back and forth between pondering an ancient text and providing a modern rendering. . . .The constancy of revelation was more crucial than the constant presence of opened plates, which, by instruction, were to be kept from the view of unauthorized eyes anyway.”

  45. T&S Dave on July 23, 2013 at 3:35 pm

    Nathan Whilk, please forward your references to Correlation — they obviously missed a thing or two. Might get someone fired.

    Most agree the LDS curriculum (everything that goes through Correlation) is over-correlated. Exactly what to relax and how to proceed is more complicated, but the status quo is no longer sustainable — the attrition rate is rising. So something has to change. That change has to come from the top in a fairly public way, repeated regularly in Conference and in the Ensign, otherwise most of the membership will never hear about it. The Church is generally about twenty years late with needed change, so in about ten years a big change will come. Until then, there is FAIR and FARMS and the Interpreter and the Bloggernacle and Dialogue.

  46. T&S Dave on July 23, 2013 at 3:49 pm

    In a free country, where people can buy and read any book they want or check almost any book out from their local library (or pay $1 for interlibrary loan) … why is someone’s ignorance so often blamed on the Church? I understand the LDS curriculum should be upgraded, but that’s not the only problem here. If someone is surprised by this or that event in LDS history, the reasonable response is: So, you haven’t read much LDS history before, have you? Sorry you’ve previously shown so little interest in such an important topic. Here are a couple of titles you ought to go look up and read to get started so at some point you can catch up with the rest of us.

    I understand that some Swede thinks the government or the Church ought to take care of him and tell him everything he thinks he needs to know. But this is America — if you don’t want to be surprised by LDS history, take a little responsibility and educate yourself. It’s too bad Deseret Book offers so little assistance in the enterprise, but that’s not much of an obstacle. That would be a nice first step, wouldn’t it? Upgrade the inventory at Deseret Book? Maybe add a “Real LDS History” section to complement the current “LDS History” section.

  47. wowbagger on July 23, 2013 at 3:55 pm

    Now Now Steve S

    There is a third reference

    http://www.lds.org/friend/1974/09/a-peaceful-heart?lang=eng

    Er, wait, this actually makes your point. The Friend teaches the young’uns about the stone, but implies it is used in conjunction with the plates, not in isolation with the hat.

  48. Tharles on July 23, 2013 at 3:58 pm

    I found out the extent of Joseph Smith’s polygamy post-mission. I found out that Brigham Young didn’t consider Adam-God a “theory” about two years ago. I learned more about seer stones from South Park than I ever did at church. I’m also a lifetime member, 30 years old, and was even a big FARMS fan for a few years. To suggest that the church deals with issues like this openly…it’s stunningly naive or mendacious.

  49. EFF on July 23, 2013 at 3:58 pm

    T&S Dave, I pretty much concur with your assessment, though I’m not exactly sure how the church moves forward. I don’t know that it is institutionally equipped to handle this type of situation. And I fear that the church is in denial—that it believes there is nothing wrong with its correlation program. But I hope I’m wrong.

    While you may be right that most of the existing membership may not hear about this (not too many of them read the NYT), a lot of recent and prospective converts certainly will. Also, young adult members who are Internet savvy are probably more likely to do investigate these issues on their own and then, perhaps, decide to join the ranks of the disaffected. My own son went this route, which saddens me greatly and leaves me somewhat bitter. This weekend his daughter (my granddaughter) turns eight; she won’t be baptized.

  50. Ben H on July 23, 2013 at 4:16 pm

    There’s a lot to respond to, but here is one round of replies:

    palerobber (#11), I’m sure your parents are not the only ones in that situation. I am writing in broad strokes here, and the detailed and nuanced knowledge I talk about as natural in Zion becomes less natural the farther one gets from the original events, so by your parents’ time it is thinning out.

    As for how significant the challenge is based on church history, I don’t know how to measure it. However, my point is broader. Regardless of how many people may or may not leave the church over Mountain Meadows or what have you, I think it is important to understand Correlation as a response to particular circumstances in a particular time frame and not a permanent model for church culture.

    My argument for moving back toward a more information-rich approach to the gospel applies to scripture study, theology, politics, and the intellectual life of members quite broadly. It involves relying more again on community and culture to express and reinforce the life of discipleship for which the institutional church and its programs provide a blueprint.

    Russell (#12), I agree that economic individualism can be a serious headwind for the kind of community that we would want to support discipleship. Finding viable alternatives is no small task, of course; a topic for another post.

    Steve Smith (#13), I can see why you might think that from my post, but I am actually not thinking about ‘cultural Mormons’ here, where by ‘cultural Mormon’ I think we mean someone who wants to participate in the community and the culture but not the theology or covenants. Actually, my point is the opposite: the kind of culture and community I am talking about are a natural expression and outgrowth of the theology and the covenants, and I am concerned about them primarily because I think they are needed to support precisely the specific kind of growth and lifestyle that discipleship calls us to. So, I am talking about a community that is deeply shaped and structured by theology and covenant. It would probably increase the sense of non-Mormons and lapsed Mormons that they are out of synch, rather than decrease it, because more of people’s lives outside of Sunday church would be shaped by their discipleship. I think we are called to love the strangers among us and include them where we can, but also and more importantly to be a peculiar people.

    As for dealing with the particular historical concerns you and others have mentioned, for now I’ll just say: when we understand properly what a church is supposed to be, what a prophet is supposed to be, and what faith is supposed to be, and what the historical record actually shows, those issues can all be reconciled rather harmoniously with faith in the LDS Church. It may require some rethinking, but that rethinking is fundamentally a positive development when it happens in a constructive manner. This richer process of thinking and rethinking is much of what I have in mind when I say the gospel is inherently information-rich. You may or may not agree; the details and disputes there are a subject for another conversation.

    Howard (#14), the church is not just top-down but also bottom-up. Jesus can’t do everything; he has to leave space for us to be active participants, in ways that we are ready to step into. So sometimes he has to just wait for us to work some things out.

    Rachel (#17), basically my answer is yes: we need to expand the range of our lesson material, both in the sources that inform us and the topics and questions and themes and levels of complexity and nuance that we address. Individual instructors are invited to use their prayerful judgment in crafting lessons that are appropriate for their audiences. The Sunday School president you refer to was mistaken; last I checked, the instructions at the front of the manuals clearly invite more latitude. A gospel doctrine class in Sandy will be different from one in Cincinnatti will be different from one in Prague or Nigeria. The manuals are designed to provide something that will probably work in any of those places. Varying from that example can be done very well within the current framework, but requires individual skills and awarenesses that any given teacher may or may not have. We need more teachers with those skills and informed and thoughtful minds who can do this. Programs like BYU and Institute can contribute to developing such teachers, but unofficial channels and a culture of learning are essential in the long run.

    This leads to T&S Dave’s question (#18). We could pursue this much further of course, but briefly: I think we will need the correlated materials, or something rather like them, for the forseeable future, to articulate a core message that unites all of us and that is judged appropriate for all church audiences. This is why expanding that message needs to rely heavily on unofficial sources and initiatives by individuals and groups. How much more than the correlated program is appropriate, and of what kind, is a question that has to be answered differently from one congregation and individual to the next. The church has to provide a general framework, but must leave a great deal of the variation and elaboration to individual members and wards and other informal associations, including families. We need to take more initiative independent of institutional channels, but also get better at doing so in a way that adds rather than detracting or distracting.

    While I was a missionary in Japan, the church in Japan began relying primarily on locally produced church videos, rather than on over-dubbing material produced in the States. I would like to see the various regions of the church exercise more of this kind of independence, localizing their work and their message. I would like to see more publishing houses, more academic programs in Mormon Studies, including niche journals for particular disciplines, more Mormon-themed bands and movies, more charities with distinctively Mormon goals, more restaurants and retailers whose business model and product line is aimed at Mormons. SVU is planning to build more independent schools like itself in due course; I see this kind of development as vital to our intellectual development. The gospel is a recipe for a whole society.

    CarlH (#26), apparently you missed the point that my post is explaining why Correlation was necessary and natural and smart as a response to the challenge of expanding to all nations, with the lighter load of luggage (in books, etc.) that mobility requires. To say we need more than that is not to fault the enterprise within its time and place, and as I say, we will continue to need it for the forseeable future.

  51. Mtnmarty on July 23, 2013 at 4:24 pm

    BH:I think we are called to love the strangers among us and include them where we can, but also and more importantly to be a peculiar people.

    I always thought that it was loving one’s enemies that made one peculiar. But we each have our reward.

  52. Steve Smith on July 23, 2013 at 4:32 pm

    Thanks T&S Dave, you explained that much better than I could have.

    wowbagger, you made my day.

    JT (39), my central point is that the LDS church downplays embarrassing and difficult to explain moments in its history as irrelevant, particularly issues such as polygamy and the seer stone in a hat method of translation. Many would argue that church history can’t be fully explained without polygamy and the seer stone in a hat. Polygamy was arguably one of the reasons that Joseph Smith was persecuted and killed (it was what prompted William Law to publish the Nauvoo Expositor). The seer stone in a hat method of translation strongly confirms the belief that many in JS’s community believed in magic and had a thirst for supernatural mystical experiences; they believed that in seer stones, that they could unlock/decipher divine secrets with rocks. From that it may be deduced that people of JS’s time were particularly prone to the psychological phenomenon of confirmation bias when it came to religion and the divine. Hence it is reasonable for people who disassociate themselves from the LDS church for historical reasons to do cite misrepresentation on the part of the LDS church of its own history as a reason for doing so.

  53. Ben H on July 23, 2013 at 4:40 pm

    Also, I have to add: that comment Elder Perry reportedly made about having a manuscript in his briefcase that would solve everything was surely meant as a joke. It’s too bad it wasn’t received in that spirit.

  54. Ben H on July 23, 2013 at 5:00 pm

    Steve Smith (#52), the point of the church lesson manuals, magazines, etc., is to teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not to teach church history. If you think a person needs to know what the Nauvoo Expositor was in order to be a good home teacher or parent, you are losing touch with reality.

    If you think understanding who Joseph Smith was requires someone to know about the Nauvoo Expositor, you are just disagreeing about who Joseph Smith was, in the sense that matters.

    Do I need to know whether Martin Luther King had a good marriage or not in order to know who he was? No. His marriage is an interesting additional dimension if I am interested in understanding King as an individual person, but if I am interested in King as a crucial figure in the Civil Rights movement, which is what matters to 98% of us today, his marriage is rather marginal. If I am training volunteers to carry forward the cause of racial equality today, I have no need or responsibility to go into the problems with MLK’s marriage. They don’t change the fact that he was a brilliant, heroic leader who accomplished great things through smart strategies that we hope to build on today.

    Similarly, when we understand Joseph Smith as the founding prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there are certain things that are important, and others that are not. If you happen to think that Joseph Smith is not a true prophet, and that we can see this based on certain things he did, then of course you are going to think that those things are the essential things that the church should be telling everyone. If you think, as I do, and as the folks behind Correlation do, that he is a true prophet, despite his various flaws and failures, then his failures are mostly beside the point, rather like MLK’s marital troubles.

    If you want to debate whether Joseph Smith was in fact a true prophet, well, obviously that is a question we are not going to resolve on this thread. If you want to fault people in Correlation for focusing on the things that matter on the assumption that Joseph is a prophet, rather than the things that matter if he isn’t, well, you are not making sense.

  55. Dog lover on July 23, 2013 at 5:44 pm

    This is a lose/lose situation in my opinion. We have taught our children what we believe is more factual history than is taught at church. After watching a RM find out accurate history and felt as if she had been lied to her whole life…wondering what else they withheld from her leave the church, we began educating at home. The artwork and stories we show kids from primary and on just aren’t accurate. This does a disservice to us. If others find out, what does that do?

    When the new curriculum came out I thought it was an opportunity for growth for our kids. That is until the SS teacher was privately explaining to me that our church was the great abominable church and how our leaders are leading us astray. So we now let our high schooler skip SS. His seminary teacher also has some outdated ideas on blacks and the priesthood. Our son argued with him. Luckily lds.org has updated this issue.

  56. Steve Smith on July 23, 2013 at 6:16 pm

    “the point of the church lesson manuals, magazines, etc., is to teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not to teach church history”

    That’s news to me. You should consult the Doctrine and Covenants and Church History: Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual on lds.org. Pages 272-276 of the manual contain a chronology of events in church history, as well as maps, from 1805 to 1998 that the LDS church deems relevant. Here’s what the manual writes in the introduction: “As you study the Doctrine and Covenants and Church history in Gospel Doctrine class and in your families this year…. This study guide has been prepared to help you study the Doctrine and Covenants and Church history.” So it turns out that the Gospel Doctrine curriculum designed by the LDS church includes a section on Church history. That means that at some point as an active member who attends all meetings weekly that I can’t just insist that we restrict discussion to the gospel of Jesus Christ but that I’m forced to listen to, if not engage in, material/discussion about Church history.

    I’m not here to discuss whether or not Joseph Smith was a true prophet or not, so I agree with you that that issue is a topic for a different discussion. But it matters a great deal how church history is presented. There were lots of people who tried to establish religions during Joseph Smith’s time but failed. The reason that Joseph Smith succeeded was that he claimed to have a special connection to God that no one else had and that his translation of the Book of Mormon was evidence of this. So it was Joseph Smith himself along with his subsequent proponents that made his history relevant and built the success of the LDS church on this particular historical narrative. Now of course to be a good LDS member you don’t need to know a thing about history, and I think that it is wrong to try to thrust historical issues upon strong believing members to shake their religious devotion. But by that same token I don’t like being thrust into positions as an active LDS person who gives a lot of my time, talent, and money to the church where I am to present a whitewashed history or go against my own historical convictions. So no the Nauvoo Expositor may not be relevant in all situations. But don’t insist that I explain JS’s death as merely a product of intolerant peoples’ prejudices against his religious convictions (which appears to be the predominant belief of many active members). For explaining JS’s death without mentioning the incident of the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor is like trying to explain how a plane flies without mentioning thrust and drag.

  57. Mtnmarty on July 23, 2013 at 6:25 pm

    BH: If you want to fault people in Correlation for focusing on the things that matter on the assumption that Joseph is a prophet, rather than the things that matter if he isn’t, well, you are not making sense.

    Under your phrasing, the question would seem to turn on whether it “matters” how true prophets are represented as people or does it only matter what they taught.

    In general, I am on your side of the argument in that if one believes in miracles and supernatural entities and true prophets, then their conventional behavior is beside the point.

    On the other hand, if true prophets are held out as examples of a life well lived then it does seem relevant what behavior they actually engaged in.

    Since my true prophet hero-worship has always been more Brigham Young-centric (after all, it is much more difficult to create a good sequel), I find the whole business of Joseph Smith’s polygamy somewhat beside the point; of course true prophets are polygamists.

  58. Ben H on July 23, 2013 at 7:15 pm

    Steve Smith (#56), the manuals do teach history, but I think it’s fair to say that the selection of what and how much history to include is driven primarily by an interest in rounding out a message whose focus is on what it means to live as a disciple of Christ today. In that context, I think my point holds.

    I don’t expect you to explain Joseph Smith’s death in a way that you think is historically inaccurate. I share your impression that Mormons have tended to explain their persecution experiences as a reaction against their religion as such, rather than a response to more mundane factors like their opposition to slavery or the destruction of a printing press. I think these factors are more important than Mormons often acknowledge, and in some cases there are some rather interesting spiritual and moral lessons to be drawn from these alternative accounts. I also think the history is debatable, though.

    There are lots of places where the church curriculum could stand to be enriched by greater attention to scholarship, but a failure to engage with or benefit from the best scholarship is a very different thing from an active suppression or fictionalization of truth. I’m sure the curriculum teams have room to improve on the former point, but I don’t think there’s much of the latter going on. Not bringing something up is just not the same thing as suppressing it.

    Now, Dog lover (#55) brings up a different kind of problem: the fact that people can get to the point of serving a full-time mission without learning about some of these historical zingers. Is that the fault of the Sunday School manuals? Maybe, maybe not. On the one hand, I think we could really use a more advanced curriculum to serve people who have gotten past the first few layers of gospel basics. I’m not sure how exactly it would make sense to implement it, though; do you have an “advanced” class, and how do you decide who should be in it?

    But regardless, anyone who thinks that eighteen years of Sunday church meetings is supposed to be enough intellectual preparation for a full-time mission is sadly mistaken. All of us should get used to the idea that we will be learning throughout our lives, and surprises are just part of the ball-game, especially for 20-year-olds whose name tags do not by themselves confer any special knowledge. But more particularly, all of us should get used to the idea that learning about the gospel is primarily an individual and family responsibility and secondarily a process that the church is there to support. Discipleship is a 24/7 process. There is a reason why the church teaches us to have daily scripture study and weekly family home evening. Most of our learning about the church and gospel should be taking place outside of church programming. If we take what is supposed to be 20% of the program and expect it to do 80% of the job, it is not the church’s fault when we are disappointed.

  59. Laura on July 23, 2013 at 7:21 pm

    This is great. I think you’ve done an excellent job of placing correlation within a historical context, and that helps me appreciate its purpose (I’m already good at bemoaning its limitations). I’ve been mulling over your suggestion for more and better “unofficial auxiliaries” since reading this post this morning. I like it, but my initial reaction is that there is significant cultural resistance / skepticism to be overcome. I consider myself to be fairly open-minded, but when I started reading some of the unofficial publications a few years ago, I did feel some hesitancy. Ultimately, my boredom with the bland official curriculum materials was enough to overcome my concerns. I started with things like BYU Studies and Dialogue that seemed pretty mainstream, but I did get push back from family members and friends who were worried about my reading in sources that didn’t come with an explicit church stamp of approval.

    Obviously, I don’t constitute a significant sample size, but I’m sure there are others who would enjoy and benefit from these additional resources, but don’t feel completely comfortable seeking them out. Do you have any thoughts on how to effect a transition so that more of the membership would feel okay about availing themselves of these resources?

  60. Steve Smith on July 23, 2013 at 7:50 pm

    Ben, sure one of the stated ideals of church curricula is to orient members toward a Christlike lifestyle and belief in Jesus as savior. But since people can claim themselves to be trying to orient themselves toward Christ in avenues not prescribed by the LDS church (such as through Catholicism or some personal non-institutional religious practice), the purpose of LDS church’s educational curricula thus also becomes establishing its distinctiveness and necessity. Hence the focus of many church discussions and general conference talks is Joseph Smith, church history, historicity questions, and historical representations. It fact it seems that one can hardly have a Mormon experience without confronting questions about Church history. And yes, history is debatable, but I think it is very clear that the LDS church has a history of whitewashing its history and ignoring/downplaying inconvenient, but relevant truths. For there are representations of history that routinely ignore so many relevant facts for the purpose of damage control that a good case of misrepresentation can be made. In some ways we can arguably come to the conclusion that the LDS church has been more candid and open about its history, but I believe that there are more painful steps that it needs to make.

    Because the fact of the matter is that the shock effect of learning about many historical issues is so great on many LDS members that they can no longer justify their participation in the LDS church. The LDS church’s response: they’re ignorant, foolish, rash, naive, prideful, faithless, cowardly, and lack the spirit. Hans Mattsson seems more like a man of principle to me, not a coward. Yet I believe that if the LDS church had been willing to deliver more open and quality explanations of its past, we could make a stronger case that Mattsson was indeed acting rashly.

  61. SteveF on July 23, 2013 at 8:31 pm

    I’m for Sunday school developing into something more like higher education, having beginning 101 courses in several subject areas, and then being able to advance further in the subjects you wish to pursue up to advanced levels.

    Or maybe rather than Sunday school itself becoming like this, we re-institute the school of the prophets but with church-wide access/participation available for those who wish to join.

  62. EFF on July 23, 2013 at 9:13 pm

    Steve Smith, your observations regarding the church’s approach to history apply with equal force to some of its interpretations of scripture and doctrinal teachings. The church education system assiduously avoids complex doctrinal questions, and is still shackled to the theology of Bruce R. McConkie, which is characterized primarily by its insistence that every scripture should be read through a Mormon prism. Dr. Matthew Bowman accurately characterizes CES as little more than a youth ministry.

    When our missionaries assert that Marin Harris’ experience with Professor Charles Anton was foretold in Isaiah 29—a scriptural interpretation that has been rejected by virtually all biblical scholars, both Mormon and non-Mormon—they do the church and the Book of Mormon a disservice. Gross over-simplifications of doctrine and dubious readings of scripture are just as bad, if not worse, than whitewashing church history.

  63. Marie on July 23, 2013 at 9:22 pm

    TS Dave, I think that is an oversimplification of the problem.

    I will put myself in that category as I am not a scholar or exceptionally well read on the subject. I love to learn however and am always looking for ways to broaden my knowledge.

  64. Ben H on July 23, 2013 at 10:23 pm

    Laura (#59), you probably noticed that I didn’t mention Dialogue or, say, Sunstone, for that matter. I do think there is value in them for the right audience, but I can’t give them a blanket recommendation as parts of a Zion culture, because at least for some significant stretches of their run, they’ve been a rather mixed bag as far as the faithfulness of the content goes. So, I wouldn’t necessarily count them among the “unofficial auxiliaries” I have in mind, even though they were originally conceived in that way. In recent years they’ve taken steps back in that direction, so I’m hopeful (and I’m rooting for T&S emerita Kristine! but haven’t looked closely for a while).

    We need to get better at running these kinds of supplementary operations. For many decades the church itself ran so many institutions that we didn’t need to do a lot of independent organizing. Then, in the case of Dialogue and Sunstone, we had two institutions whose relationship with the church became a bit antagonistic for a while, and the church’s response reinforced the idea that we shouldn’t even try to do that kind of thing. I think we’re getting over that, though, as a people, and church leaders have given clear signals that they welcome self-starting member efforts in various realms. We’re ready to try again, smarter, in various ways, and we’ve been doing so. Near as I can tell, SVU has maintained a very positive relationship with the church and its culture. I think MHA and SMPT have done well, Richard Bushman’s summer seminars have been great of course, and Terryl and Fiona Givens’ recent efforts are a good example as well. There is a lot of room for more of this, though, and as we have more positive examples we will get better and also more comfortable with the idea.

    Steve Smith (#60), there are lots of other sources for these things besides lesson manuals, and I don’t see the church suppressing them. To expect everything it’s important to know to come up in official church sources is not realistic.

    SteveF (#61), what you are thinking of sounds like a better fit for Institute, and for BYU Religious Ed. Unfortunately those two institutions are not everything we would hope for when it comes to actually delivering something more spiritually or intellectually advanced than Sunday School. However, Salt Lake is very aware of this and is working, against a number of serious obstacles, to try to improve things. In general, efforts to mix intellectual rigor with faith have not gone well for Western culture over the last couple of centuries, so it is no small feat they are attempting. I think Mormons can succeed where other Christians have failed, but we are still at the walking stage and haven’t learned to run yet on that front.

  65. Marie on July 23, 2013 at 10:35 pm

    Sorry that above post doesn’t make sense. I was in the middle of rewriting my comment and it published before I could write it out.
    Anyway, I’m not going to rewrite it because I’m having a hard time articulating it.

  66. Warorpeace on July 23, 2013 at 10:44 pm

    EFF (#62),

    It wasn’t any modern church writer who utilized Isaiah’s words as a connection to or even prophecy of the Book of Mormon, it was Nephi himself who did so in 2 Nephi (sorry, I do not recall the chapter). And would you be kind enough to list the LDS scholars who reject a Book of Mormon connection with Isaiah 29?

  67. SteveF on July 24, 2013 at 1:21 am

    @Ben H. You might be right that it may be a better fit for something like institute initially. But I’m envisioning something a little more steeped in revelatory guidance, something that fundamentally and by right belongs to the Priesthood, namely intelligence and learning. I don’t want to turn learning/explanations over solely to the realm of academics. I do envision enlisting the best scholars we have in the process, but ultimately I think this process needs to be far more than unofficial or even official auxiliaries that solve these issues; I think it belongs within the order of the Priesthood with keys that will govern revelatory guidance from heaven.

    You mention, “In general, efforts to mix intellectual rigor with faith have not gone well for Western culture over the last couple of centuries”. But isn’t this exactly what the School of the Prophets was attempting to tackle. I think that we were given a pattern, and pattern that if fleshed out and brought to the general use of the church may prove to solve the vast majority of these problems. That’s my theory anyway.

  68. EFF on July 24, 2013 at 7:07 am

    Warorpeace (#66)

    The problem with the traditional LDS interpretation of Isaiah 29 is that Isaiah is not prophesying of an actual book delivered to a real person. Rather, he is reprimanding the Jews for their spiritual blindness. In verses 11-12, the prophet is not talking about an actual book being delivered to “one that is learned,” much less one that would come forth in the future. The “sealed book” is a figure of speech, a metaphor used to describe Israel’s spiritual blindness: their vision is “AS [i.e., like] the words of a book that is sealed.” In the previous verses, Isaiah had just described how God had “covered” the eyes of the prophets and seers because of wickedness, and therefore the heavens are sealed just like a sealed book no one can read.

    Among the LDS scholars who concur with this reading of Isaiah 29 are Richard G. Grant, “Isaiah in the Book of Mormon,” Robert Cloward, “Isaiah 29 in the Book of Mormon,” and BYU Old Testament Scholar Paul Y. Hoskisson. Also, Professor Harrell’s recent book, “This is My Doctrine,” contains a good discussion of this issue.

    As to the passage in Nephi to which you refer (2 Nephi 25:7), many LDS scholars now concede that the prophet Nephi was only drawing on the language of Isaiah to construct his own prophecy. In other words, he wasn’t interpreting Isaiah but merely “likening” or adapting the words of Isaiah to the Nephite situation and the latter-day coming forth of the Book of Mormon. But as Professor Harrell explains in his book, even this approach is problematical.

    Our church, like most others, is often guilty of “proof-texting”—lifting a scriptural passage out of its original context and giving it an interpretation other than that which was originally intended—in order to advance our own narrative. This is disingenuous and impedes our acquisition of the truth. It is also unnecessary. The Book of Mormon does not stand or fall on whether Isaiah predicted it or whether Ezekiel’s reference to the “stick of Joseph” and the “stick of Judah” was a reference to the Bible and the Book of Mormon (which, by the way, many scholars believe it was not). When we twist scriptural meaning in an effort to validate our doctrines and beliefs, we undermine our credibility in the eyes of would-be converts and we deceive ourselves. At the very least, we should humbly acknowledge that other faithful interpretations may be equally or more valid than our own instead of insisting that a Mormon construction of the text is superior to all others.

  69. sam r on July 24, 2013 at 7:42 am

    My first comment goes along with what SteveF is saying. Continued development of unofficial auxiliaries is just a continuation of what we already have, which is largely a stop gap measure to give a place for intellectually minded people who did not find refuge under the umbrella of the priesthood. THe priesthood umbrella itself needs to broaden, and higher level learning needs to be happening in church on Sunday if the church wants to pull through this era. IMHO

  70. Mtnmarty on July 24, 2013 at 8:57 am

    “In general, efforts to mix intellectual rigor with faith have not gone well for Western culture over the last couple of centuries”

    Based on the link, Ben H. seems to mean by this that the efforts fall into 2 camps and that the 2 sides do not mix so well or agree with each other. I’m not totally convinced that means things haven’t gone well. Most of the people on each side seem pretty happy with the split. But I agree that from an LDS perspective it is inadequate.

    I think Ben and many of the others that are looking to promote some vision of “mormon studies” (broadly conceived as efforts to have a reasonable mormonism) are slicing the cultural trends into 2 pieces when I think it is more usefully seen as a 3-way split.

    Consider the split between the humanities and science triangulated with faith. Even for those that have downgraded faith, there is still a split between natural science and the human studies. Science has either ignoreed as irrelevant or has failed to deliver a solid meaning of “truth” in the areas of consciousness, aesthetics, morals, political theory, psychology, etc. Are human sciences are not good science. It is not just faith that hasn’t been mixed with reason, causal law has not been mixed particularly well with human behavior. We have the start of mixing in neuroscience and cognitive psychology and evolutionary psychology but for the most part we can’t predict humans as well as we can predict planets or atoms.

    I think Ben is entirely correct that LDS doctrine is not tied to historical Christian approaches to reconciling faith, science and the humanities. However, I believe that LDS doctrine is thoroughly universalist in its understanding of truth. There is not one truth for science and one for religion and another for art in LDS doctrine.

    This is what confuses me about attempts to apply the standards of the humanities (be it literature, religious studies, philosophy, or cultural studies) as a type of sophisticated apology for LDS beliefs. To me seeing LDS beliefs as culturally bound is a contradiction from the start. It is the same challenge faced by Western believers in universal human rights – how does one reconcile belief in culturally relative values and the universal truth as a cultural value itself?

    Either the truths are universal or you have a culture founded on a falsehood, which is tough on Reason.

    So back to the three camps. As an LDS person, if you make faith primary and say human understanding via science is unimportant and/or a temptation to pride, you are not being true to God as creator and revelator of truth. However, if you make science primary, you have a lot of explaining to do about what free will is and how bodies interact with minds and souls and about what ways God is causal.

    If you try the humanities leg of the triad and retreat into reason as being primarily a culturally specific belief or value system, you may maximize your specific understandings but you lose the universal relation to both faith and science. The “inward turn” seems incompatible with missionary work, with being a participant in political space, and with the explosion of scientific knowledge. We can’t be a chosen people in isolation like a spoiled child who takes his game and goes home when challenged. We must be Joseph with a coat of many colors and accept the mantle of believing in a universal church with universal truths to which we have unique access and also accept all the envy, anger and danger that come with being favored.

    The problem is just that we are completely inadequate to the task. I believe that the crisis of faith has relatively less to do with historical inaccuracies than with the failure today to live up to the current challenge of being a chosen people in an age of complexity, knowledge and yearning for faith.

    Restored religion ain’t beanbag.

  71. Ben H on July 24, 2013 at 9:23 am

    SteveF (#67) and sam r (#69), I like this idea. I certainly agree that learning and teaching the gospel at the highest level is a responsibility that belongs fundamentally to the priesthood and the membership. Of course, I also think that the full measure of promise of the priesthood and of discipleship generally is something that none of us can fulfill completely as individuals in mortality, since the full measure is to become like Christ and his Father. So, inevitably some folks will make more progress in this area than others, as with all spiritual gifts. I’m not sure exactly how to structure or manage or respond to this. As a first pass, we often assign those with gifts in this area to teach, but they can only go so far based on where their audience is at. We need to raise the general level if we want to make major progress beyond where we are, in a group context. One nice thing about the priesthood is that there is an advanced class–the High Priest’s group, as contrasted with Elders’ Quorum, and it really does function in this way to an extent; perhaps it could much more. But we can’t dice up Sunday meetings into very many levels without losing critical mass, so a lot of this project is likely to require some separate venue, perhaps something that operates at the level of a stake, like Institute does.

    Ultimately, in principle, one of the places I would look for this is within the temples. Jesus taught a lot of things in the temple; why don’t we? We have a certain, set script for the ordinances, and beyond that we don’t say a lot. People meditate or pray individually in the celestial room for a few minutes after an endowment, and usually that’s it. There are copies of the scriptures around in the temples; I would like to see us expounding them to one another. This is more what I was thinking of in connection with Adam G’s comments about temple poetry and such.

    But when we call some of the more thoughtful and learned local members to teach Institute, like, say, a Julie Smith, or like my mom did for several years, this is a step in the right direction, and if we can strengthen the integration of faith and learning at places like BYU, that will help to set a model for a higher level of study/teaching/learning among the membership generally. At the same time, I think when members write books or blogs or set up journals and such to think more deeply about our faith and its implications, I see this as falling within our responsibility as disciples and priesthood holders too, just as much as things that are channelled through the institutional church.

  72. Kristine on July 24, 2013 at 9:36 am

    ” I do think there is value in them for the right audience, but I can’t give them a blanket recommendation as parts of a Zion culture, because at least for some significant stretches of their run, they’ve been a rather mixed bag as far as the faithfulness of the content goes.”

    That’s EXACTLY the problem, Ben. I daresay you haven’t looked seriously at Dialogue in the last decade, and the sort of paternalistic quest to declare what is and isn’t ideologically pure enough to belong to “a Zion culture” is what brought us to where we are now. Drawing the lines a tiny bit wider while keeping the same modus operandi and attitude will be insufficient to effect the kinds of change that would really create a thriving and robust intellectual culture in the church.

  73. Ben H on July 24, 2013 at 10:56 am

    Kristine, thank you for dropping by, and offering me a good-faith rebuke! Let me put it differently:

    I have not read enough of either Dialogue or Sunstone lately to have much of a sense on how well they fit into the picture I’m sketching here these days. I know in the past there have been years when they fit well and years when they didn’t. But I know they have both made solid steps in the right direction in recent years, one of the best of which was hiring Kristine, and I am hopeful. How is it going, Kristine? I have a hard time imagining a better editor to make Dialogue the kind of publication I would hope for. My only doubts are about the contributor base, which is a limitation for any journal, especially in a relatively small community like the Latter-day Saints.

    I didn’t set out with the intention to make a list of who’s “in” and who’s “out.” Once it was brought up, though, I did feel I had to acknowledge that depending on which issues of Dialogue our commenter Laura was looking at, I may share her “hesitancy”.

    I also know some of the key people involved at Sunstone in recent years, but was more up to speed on its content some years ago than I am now, and so it’s awkward to try to comment there as well. I am happy to hear from others as to how it is doing.

    Kristine, do you see it as central to Dialogue‘s mission to promote the Church, build a Zion culture for its people, and/or put into action the gospel of Jesus Christ? How do you see Dialogue relating to my sketch?

  74. BHodges on July 24, 2013 at 1:40 pm

    Ben, FARMS hasn’t existed as an entity for half a decade or so, but the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship has some exciting things in the pipeline (/shameless self-promotion).

    It seems to me your approach here reflects and perpetuates a situation where groups and publications are identified as worthy or unworthy, inside or outside, faithful or critical. This problematically discourages cross-pollination of scholarship and readership. It sets up a situation where “good voices” or “alternative voices” (bad voices) can be identified by publisher names, making it easy for anyone to disengage from the outset based on whatever perceived team a book or article plays for. It does not encourage thoughtful, faithful, independent analysis or study. It doesn’t really reflect the state of actual scholarship, either. You note you can’t give Dialogue “a blanket recommendation for a Zion culture.” The very problem is the desire for blanket recommendations. It says: “Turn your brains off, go to the approved source, soak it in, and move along.” It looks only for a place where one can say “All is well in Zion,” when the Book of Mormon warns us whenever we enter a place that makes such a proclamation.

  75. anon on July 24, 2013 at 1:50 pm

    If we are to be critical of dialogue and sunstone for not being faithful enough, we need to acknowledge the the churches demonizing them has contributed to that tragectory. Had the church not taken that narrow protectionist view. They or others that never came inyo being because of the hostile intellectual environment may have been more to your liking.

  76. Shawn E. on July 24, 2013 at 2:18 pm

    Walking home from primary on a hot Tuesday afternoon, my best friend, a non-mormon whom I had invited to attend, proceed to pontificate how babies were made. At that time, all I knew of the subject was what I had been taught, effectively the coorelation of my parents. I was quick to defend that God made it happen, and his nonsense was of the devil.

    In due time, I learned my friend was on the mark, and that I did not have the full knowledge he had been given. I’ve often remembered that life experience, when confronted with information about the Church, and take the time to learn all I can on the topic that I find not consistent with my current understanding.

    The outcome is that my knowledge on those topics becomes quickened, and the spiritual witness of those truths, solidifies my resolve and steadfastness in Gospel.

    Like the naive boy coming home from primary, we all can be thrown something that we just aren’t ready to hear, or sounds so inconsistent to what we have been taught, that we revile it, before seeking further light and knowledge of it. The fact of the matter, is those who seek the truth, with the Spirit, won’t end up becoming disenchanted by the truth, but empowered because of it.

    There are plenty of topics I learned a great deal, while taking religion courses at Ricks & BYU-I, through personal study, and among the now defunct Know Your Religion, that just cannot be discussed among some Saints, like those I know in New England, whom I lived among for 15 years, as they are too much like that primary boy from so long ago.

  77. Ben Huff on July 24, 2013 at 2:51 pm

    Blair (#74), I didn’t mention the NAMIRS because, as a BYU institution, I wouldn’t call it “unofficial.” BYU and its various parts may be borderline cases, though, and I don’t pretend to have categorized it here. Whether official or unofficial, or semi-official, of course, NAMIRS, BYU Studies, and BYU in general make very important contributions to the intellectual culture of the church.

    Blair, more importantly, you are reading things into my comments on Dialogue that are simply not there. As I said, I am not here to compose some list of who is “in” and who is “out.” In fact, one of the precious things about being unofficial is that there doesn’t have to be some universal list of which ones are or are not faithful. The very fact that these organizations don’t need to have universal assent and approval is what allows them to serve various constituencies in the way those constituencies need to be served, and to do things that it is not appropriate for the institutional church, which does have to be basically universal (for members worldwide), to do.

    So, in declining to give a blanket approval I am also declining to give a blanket disapproval. I am specifically not doing what you suggest, however much you may have gotten used to the idea that people have to do it.

    I am, of course, mentioning a few examples by way of illustration. For these examples I have chosen what I take to be fairly clear-cut cases–hence their usefulness as examples. A handful of examples is very much not the sort of white/black list you seem to be thinking of.

    anon, there’s obviously a lot more depth to those stories that we could pursue, including what you mention. I’ll leave that for another time.

  78. BHodges on July 24, 2013 at 3:18 pm

    ‘As I said, I am not here to compose some list of who is “in” and who is “out.”’

    As you know, sometimes intentions don’t align well with outcomes, and my comments were intended to suggest that in spite of your intentions you perpetuate a problematic approved-versus-unapproved mentality, where we can safely identify trusted groups before paying attention to their actual works, discouraging critical engagement overall, which is a problem we face in our church culture.

    You are trying to distance yourself from this by identifying sources as “official” or “not official.” In doing so you overlook grey areas like the Maxwell Institute and BYU Studies, and you reassert a functional “officiality” or approval granted to organizations or publications which, above all, measure up to your definition of what it means to build Zion. You basically ask Kristine to bear her testimony, or to have Dialogue bear their testimony, in order to be taken seriously or to be considered good or safe. You create a litmus test for groups, rather than offering suggestions or tools for people to use to engage critically with sources from wherever and anywhere.

    So although you assert you’re not doing what I’ve described on the grounds that you didn’t intend to do that, and I respond that you still are doing it, nevertheless.

  79. Ziff on July 24, 2013 at 3:18 pm

    Steve Smith, thanks for your comments on this thread. As I read through, every idea I thought might be worth saying, you had already brought up.

  80. Howard on July 24, 2013 at 4:03 pm

    Shawn E.,
    There is a big difference between parental guidance and hiding uncomfortable facts from adults particularly when the organization doing the hiding is asking for a donation of time, money and future and claims exclusive divine authority and divine communication yet seems incapable of explaining those uncomfortable facts after 180 years or so of opportunity to do so!

  81. Ben Huff on July 24, 2013 at 4:09 pm

    Blair, the categories of “official” and “unofficial” are important for the general picture I am sketching. I am arguing that we need more unofficial efforts to build a more complete culture that reflects the (information-) richness of the gospel. Are you saying that by presenting the idea that we need more unofficial enterprises and institutions, I am perpetuating a destructive dichotomy?

    How, exactly, am I creating a litmus test? What is it, and where did I present it?

    You misread what I am saying to Kristine. Frankly, I am not sure that she would want to say that Dialogue is decidedly pro-church, or that it should be regarded as one of the components of a Zion culture. I am not sure she should answer “yes” to my question. There is an important place in intellectual life for journals and such that are academic, but do not take sides on partisan questions. I was inviting her to tell me how she thinks Dialogue relates to the schematic picture I have laid out here. Maybe her answer should be that it is a venue in which some manifestations of a Zion culture appear, alongside analysis and perspectives from non-Mormons and even people who are trying to decide whether they want to be part of a Zion culture. Perhaps it is an intercultural space, like many institutions in a pluralistic society. What would be wrong with that? But I’m happy to let her describe it.

    My co-blogger Rachel just published a delightful post illustrating how non-Mormons can nonetheless contribute to a Zion culture in very valuable ways. That is entirely compatible with what I have in mind in this post.

  82. Old man on July 24, 2013 at 5:07 pm

    EFF (#69):

    So 2 Nephi 27 is now problematic for some LDS scholars?

    It appears that any info which appears in the BOM or D&C which is at odds with Biblical scholarship is problematic for some scholars.

  83. Raymond Takashi Swenson on July 24, 2013 at 5:44 pm

    The things that the New York Times article cited as being things that the Swedish Mormon had never heard of just don’t hold water with me. How can you read D&C 132 and not know that it was a revelation received by Joseph Smith, not Brigham Young? How can you have read anything about Brigham Young’s response to Joseph’s teaching of plural marriage and not understand that Joseph was already practicing it?

    Seminary and Institute classes (and BYU religion courses) are the optimal places to introduce members to these topics. You have teachers who are expected to have more familiarity with the scriptures and Church history, and are typically called to serve a full year at a time, and actually get some training for that purpose. That supplements those who are supposed to be educated professionals.

    The most important thing to teach is that there are answers available for questions on these issues, and to introduce members to where they can find those answers, and that the Church encourages them to learn, and not be ignorant. Thinking that the Church somehow wants to keep members ignorant is a lie that is the core of the disillusionment narrative that the NY Times article and Steve Smith (supra) seem to be pushing. What IS true is that being a bishop or seminary teacher does not mean that you know much about these topics. Since so much of the core responsibility of the bishop is leading the youth, perhaps we need to require bishoprics to enroll in an online Institute course in “Controversial Topics in Church History and Doctrine”. You could probably address the top dozen issues, which would cover 90% of the questions they would ever encounter, PLUS learn how to help people find their own answers in reliable sources that are not out to undermine faith.

    It may be painful for some members, but the only way they can get into the details of this literature is by learning English. However, since there is a large economic benefit to doing that in most countries, you can kill two birds with one stone.

  84. Howard on July 24, 2013 at 6:04 pm

    RTS wrote: The most important thing to teach is that there are answers available for questions on these issues, and to introduce members to where they can find those answers

    Where can we find those answers and why weren’t they given at the 2010 meeting for disaffected Swedish saints by Elder Marlin Jensen and Richard Turley?

  85. Aaron T. on July 24, 2013 at 6:34 pm

    Raymond, yes 132 does discuss the practice of polygamy – but the canonized “revelation” differs wildly from the way it was practiced in Nauvoo by Joseph Smith. In fact, D&C 132 directly contradicts the way JS employed the practice.

    D&C 132:61

    “If any man espouse a virgin, and desire to espouse another, and the first give her consent, and if he espouse the second, and they are virgins, and have vowed to no other man, then is he justified; he cannot commit adultery for they are given unto him; for he cannot commit adultery with that that belongeth unto him and to no one else.”

    Uhhh, that’s not at all the way it was practiced by Joseph Smith. You know that as well as I do. It should not surprise anyone that there is dissonance when people realize that JS practiced it differently than how it is described in canon, let alone how it tends to be described throughout the church programme.

  86. Nathan Whilk on July 24, 2013 at 7:26 pm

    84>

    But wait. Your #9 in the parallel thread seems to be claiming that you’re not a concern troll, telling the LDS Church how it ought to do things without believing its claim to be the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth. If the answers you’ve received so far have been adequate to give you a testimony of that, why shouldn’t those same answers be adequate to give that testimony to the unbelieving Swedes?

  87. Howard on July 24, 2013 at 7:41 pm

    Nathan Whilk,
    Actually I have been sharing my answers with the Swedes take a look! But where are the church’s answers? RTS makes it sound like they are easily available if you know where to look, but where? And why weren’t they used but the Swede rescue group sent from SLC?

  88. Ben H on July 24, 2013 at 10:32 pm

    For my part, I don’t think there is a tidy set of answers somewhere that people can just look up, for many of these questions. There are lots of people who have read and perhaps researched and discussed and pondered and prayed, and arrived at a response that satisfied them, not necessarily by clarifying everything. Some of the responses they felt satisfied with (or satisfied enough) differ quite a lot from one another. Some of them have shared their answers with others, and if A’s answer didn’t satisfy B, at least the fact that A had worked through it and knew what it was like to work through it helped B to come to her/his own sufficient resolution. We need more people to have conversations like that.

    I seriously think that Elder Perry was poking fun at the idea that there might be a book somewhere that would just straightforwardly resolve all these concerns, especially in his briefcase right then. I think he thought that idea transparently far-fetched enough that he would get a laugh. But of course, people less seasoned than Elder Perry don’t always realize how far-fetched that idea is.

    We don’t have authoritative explanations for these puzzles, of the kind that it would make sense to put in an official manual. This is part of why such answers do not appear in official church manuals and such. The answers we have, or that Brother X and Sister Y have, are not authoritative. Hence the need for a more robust unofficial discourse and culture.

  89. marie on July 24, 2013 at 10:39 pm

    Would anyone be willing to give some direction to those of us who are less informed. What are some quality sources (besides Rough Stone Rolling) that would help in our search for real historical information about the church?

    For me personally, it seems that when it comes to looking into church history it is hard to know which sources are reliable and becomes a bit overwhelming. Part of the difficulty lies in the fact that the correlated material is so white washed that it feels there is no reference to go back to (at times) when faced with new information. The other part of the problem is often there seems to be an agenda (whether positive or negative), and it’s hard to know if facts have been skewed to support whatever point the author is trying to make. For non-scholars these issues can create quite a quandary.

    I think just listing a few books and sources for the uninformed would be incredibly helpful.

  90. EFF on July 24, 2013 at 11:44 pm

    Old Man (#82)

    What I meant was that interpreting 2 Nephi 27 to be an adaptation of Isaiah 29 to the circumstances of the Nephites (i.e., the Nephites, because of their spiritual blindness, were going to be destroyed just like the Israelites) is problematical because such an interpretation is at odds with other passages in the Book of Mormon. Professor Harrell’s book (pp. 50-52, 68-69) goes into this in some detail.

    Inevitably, there are conflicts and disagreements between the Bible and the Book of Mormon and the D&C. Indeed, there are internal inconsistencies within and among all books of scripture. For example, the teachings in the Book of Mormon on the nature of the Godhead differ significantly from what we find in the D&C and Joseph’s teachings towards the end of his life.

    I am from the school of thought that it is a mistake to read the Bible through a Mormon lens; rather, I believe the best way to grasp the meaning of any scriptural passage is to closely examine the text and analyze the context in which those words were spoken or written. This doesn’t mean that latter-day scriptures cannot provide some insight as to the meaning found in ancient texts. But it does mean that I decline to force an interpretation upon a Biblical passage so as to make it fit within the Mormon narrative. That, in my opinion, will not lead to uncovering the truth.

  91. john f. on July 25, 2013 at 11:06 am

    Dave, I was surprised by your comment # 46 — hadn’t expected that of you. I suppose you are included in those described by my fourth paragraph under “The Problem” in my recent BCC post about this issue.

    You were apparently brave enough to ignore official counsel not to read those books, i.e. not to search out information about the Church in “outside sources” or to give any time or attention to “alternative voices”.

    The Mattssons, representative of millions of salt of the earth Mormons in the US and particularly abroad, instead chose to strictly obey that counsel. They likely inferred from this counsel that the Church was telling them everything they needed to know; that there weren’t difficult issues that were being glossed over or downplayed, etc. In the end, this has proved a major stumbling block for them and many others, despite their lifetime of accumulated spiritual experiences confirming the truth and goodness of the Gospel to them. Many more might yet find themselves where the Mattssons currently are as a result of the present status quo, though I personally think that is becoming less and less likely as the Church begins actively participating in providing reliable history. For example, the “Revelations in Context” series, though unfortunately very poorly publicized throughout the Church so far, provide excellent historical context that any Sunday School teacher would benefit from in preparing lessons for the D&C/Church “history” curriculum that we are currently working through. These are found on LDS.org so even the most stringently obedient among us to the counsel not to look to “outside sources” can have an official source to consult to get a broader picture of our history. Also, the JSPP is setting aside that status quo with the potential of alleviating some of these issues.

    However, despite the work of faithful historians under the official mandate of the Church in these efforts, the prejudice still remains against information found in “outside sources” including Dialogue and books published by a number of certain publishers. Armand Mauss straightforwardly addressed precisely this lingering problem in an insightful comment over at BCC.

    We kick Mattsson while he’s down, wagging our finger at him for being too passive (expecting the Swedish government to provide this for him? Come on, Dave. That is just mind-numbingly dumb — and very much not funny, since you intended it as a joke) and not reading Todd Compton. But the fact is, he was asked not to do that, and as a very devout Mormon 100% dedicated to following the counsel of ecclesiastical leaders, he obeyed. And no amount of spiritual experiences obtained through a life of Christian discipleship as a devout Mormon and through dedicated Church service (and extreme sacrifice given that the costs of being a Mormon in Sweden are exponentially higher than in the Mormon Corridor) and leadership could prevent the sense of betrayal that he felt upon discovering these other “facts” that are not merely anti-Mormon calumny but rather are a true part of our history and could have been better contextualized for him. Instead, a logical inference is that they were hidden from him (as I said in my BCC post, I personally don’t think this is the case but it is a sound inference given the counsel not to look to “outside sources” and the near complete omission of this stuff from “official” sources).

  92. T&S Dave on July 25, 2013 at 11:50 am

    John, you’re wagging a pious finger at me for not having enough sympathy for Bro. Mattsson, while at the same time blaming the Church for the whole problem. If you agree Mattsson should take responsibility for his actions (which is not blaming him for anything, just treating him like a responsible adult), then your comments make little sense. If you think he bears no responsibility for anything, then you sound just like every whining Sunstoner for whom everything is always 100% the Church’s fault. That’s not generally your approach.

  93. john f. on July 25, 2013 at 11:56 am

    Dave, what I’m saying is you’re criticizing him for being 100% obedient. You chose not to obey and read all those “outside sources” and are now, as a result, fully inoculated, enlightened, and scoff at Mattsson because the Swedish government didn’t put packages of Signature Books on his doorstep.

  94. john f. on July 25, 2013 at 12:07 pm

    I also chose not to obey though through years of reading such books I was conscious of the fact that my actions were technically disobedient according to the CES/Curriculum mentality. Maybe it is a pious finger but if so it’s not a hypocritical one anymore — I no longer blame Hans Mattsson for his decision to be obedient. He thought that was required of him as a fully faithful Mormon. Far away in Sweden, he didn’t realize that many Mormons in Utah/other parts of the English speaking world simply disregarded that counsel and read history about the Church or treatments of doctrine/teaching not written or produced by official sources. Though five or six years ago I confess that I shared the victim blaming mentality as well and would have scoffed, “He only doesn’t know this stuff because he was so lazy not to do his own research into the history; I’m sure his public library in Sweden would have had at least a few titles from Signature Books, BYU Studies, FARMS, or the random, periodic university press that would publish a Mormon-themed book back in the relevant time period. Based on Mattsson’s age, I would guess that would be the 1980s and 1990s — the period during which he was serving as a local leader and faithfully following every counsel of which he was aware that was coming from SLC. This is a sound inference because he was advanced to be an AA70, something that would not happen absent his showing of complete adherence to such directives.

  95. Ben S on July 25, 2013 at 12:57 pm

    John F., where are all these bright-line admonitions that one cannot read non-LDS sources?

    “You were apparently brave enough to ignore official counsel not to read those books, i.e. not to search out information about the Church in “outside sources” ”

    I recall a few admonitions to avoid anti-mormon lit, but “not Church-published” is not equivalent to “anti-mormon” of course.

    Moreover, Oaks’ “alternate voices” talk was not a blanket condemnation of all church sources, as confirmed by his approval of Armand Mauss’ reading of it.
    http://timesandseasons.org/index.php/2006/05/alternate-voices/

  96. john f. on July 25, 2013 at 1:11 pm

    Oh have I been misinformed? Are you saying we haven’t been admonished not to look to non-official sources for information/knowledge about the Church, its history, or its doctrines/teachings?

    I confess I might very well be misinformed. But if I am, I’m willing to bet a lot of other Mormons are too.

  97. john f. on July 25, 2013 at 1:18 pm

    ““not Church-published” is not equivalent to “anti-mormon” of course”

    Ben, would you agree that this has the potential to be at least slightly coy? After all, this depends on the speaker’s definition of “anti-Mormon.” And, as you will recall, large numbers of Mormons solidly considered the PBS documentary, as benign and even complimentary as it was, to be “anti-Mormon.”

    I have heard many people deliberate over whether they should read Rough Stone Rolling, “anti-Mormon” as it is. Ludicrous, of course, to us cognoscenti. But it’s not published by the Church and so from that point on there is a presumption against it in terms of being anti-Mormon in many Mormons’ eyes. Are they coming up with this on their own out of thin air or does CES/Curriculum have something to do with people developing this mindset?

    I’m sure you’ve encountered similar experiences with RSR — Mormons decrying it as critical of the Church or advising others not to read it. What was your view about that?

  98. Ben S on July 25, 2013 at 1:30 pm

    ‘Are you saying we haven’t been admonished not to look to non-official sources for information/knowledge about the Church, its history, or its doctrines/teachings?”

    I certainly wasn’t. And my Bishop/Stake President father and RS president/Seminary/Institute teacher mother certainly weren’t aware of any such prohibition, or, highly faithful people they are, they would have dumped half their bookshelf. They’ve yet to see a rated-R movie. So I’m not aware of such clear, bright-line prohibitions, and I wondered where they were.

    Neither was I encouraged to seek such things out, which I wish HAD been the case. But it’s serious overreaching to claim that Mormons are strictly instructed not to read anything that isn’t published by the LDS Church. You surprise me to be making that claim, and such a claim should be easy to substantiate.

  99. Ben S on July 25, 2013 at 1:34 pm

    BTW, my internet is extremely slow and unreliable at the moment, so your comments appeared while I was editing mine. (The NOTEQUAL sign came through as a question mark, and I added the link to Mauss.)

  100. john f. on July 25, 2013 at 1:43 pm

    Well, you are correct that the Sunday School manual appears to no longer contain the counsel not to seek or use outside sources. So this might be an indication that the counsel has been dropped.

  101. john f. on July 25, 2013 at 1:51 pm

    On the bigger point, are you questioning the premise that we’ve been counseled not to seek information in “outside sources” in order to justify criticizing Mattsson for not reading Mormon Enigma so that he wouldn’t be blindsided by information once he encountered it online at some point after 2005 (after he had already been released as an AA70)?

    Alternatively, are Dave and Ben saying that Mattsson affirmatively should have read Newel & Avery or Compton or Quinn or others on his own initiative as a faithful Mormon in Sweden and since he didn’t, his being blindsided really is his own fault?

    He didn’t have such questions himself, apparently, but began looking for answers based on questions and concerns others were having. What in our Curriculum, conversation, or guidance would have led Mattsson to conclude that he should be reading books about Mormon history to get information that the Church wasn’t providing about its own history?

    So, he was being lazy in not reading these books, but why should he have thought he needed to?

  102. Old Man on July 25, 2013 at 2:08 pm

    I read the NY Times article, and I don’t think that Hans Mattsson’s situation is a typical episode of a faith crisis.

    I have seen leaders struggle emotionally and spiritually after being released and others really struggle with emotions after going through heart surgery. Brother Mattsson endured both. I think all LDS people strive to learn the truth, but giving a NY Times interview is hardly the path to anything but notoriety.

  103. Kim on July 25, 2013 at 2:13 pm

    John F. on his earlier, now abandoned thoughts: “I’m sure his public library in Sweden would have had at least a few titles from Signature Books, BYU Studies, FARMS, or the random, periodic university press that would publish a Mormon-themed book back in the relevant time period.”

    The language chasm is big — and it is exponentially bigger when it comes to a phenomenon like Mormonism, which is marginal outside the U.S. Extrapolating from my own experience in Sweden’s neighboring Finland, there simply is hardly any deeper stuff about LDS matters in languages other than English. There’s some version of the church curriculum, and then there’s stuff by critics of the faith.

    Indeed, I’ve long rolled my eyes when seeing well-intentioned but ignorant apologetics, where the “victim” is blamed for not paying his/her dues by studying up on the difficult questions. How exactly are (or were, before the Internet) you supposed to do that, especially if you don’t know English?

  104. john f. on July 25, 2013 at 2:21 pm

    (Kim, my thoughts on that certainly are not abandoned. I am actually not persuaded by Ben’s aside that we were never counseled not to seek out information about the Church, its history, or doctrine/teachings from outside sources. I just don’t have a quote to hand so I have to concede the point for purposes of the discussion and ask the other questions I’ve posed above.)

  105. EFF on July 25, 2013 at 2:23 pm

    Excellent points, john f.

    I would also add that even assuming the church has not formally enjoined its members from reading uncorrelated material, introducing such material or the ideas they contain in a Sunday School class, a quorum meeting, or a sacrament meeting talk is, more often than not, greeted with open hostility.

    A few years ago, while teaching the HP Group, I recounted the story of how Joseph F. Smith, as a young return missionary, stood up to two apostles (Ezra T. Benson and Lorenzo Snow) who were intent on making a decision that Joseph F. deemed very risky. As it turned out, young Joseph was right, and Lorenzo Snow almost died as a result of his foolishness. Our Stake President was in attendance during this discussion, and he voiced his dissatisfaction with my decision to share this episode from church history. He didn’t dispute its accuracy; he just didn’t think it was “helpful.”

    This is not an isolated episode. I have had numerous similar experiences. My last bishop (who works for CES) spoke derisively of Bushman. So, regardless of whether there is a formal policy against “alternate voices,” in practice we have been discouraged from reading anything other than the homiletic, sanitized, disingenuous, dumbed-down version of history that is spoon-fed by the correlation department.

    By the way, I thoroughly enjoyed your post on BCC. I hope a the folks in SLC read it.

  106. Kim on July 25, 2013 at 2:41 pm

    Ok John, sorry about that. I must’ve somehow misunderstood the way you framed your comment about your thoughts 5-6 years ago, seemingly taking distance to them. Perhaps I can just blame it on me not being an English-speaker :)

  107. john f. on July 25, 2013 at 2:48 pm

    Ah, yes, you are correct — 5 or 6 years ago you would find me (and probably could by searching the archives of comments on this blog) adding my voice to those blaming people like Mattsson for their own ignorance on these issues. Now I no longer see that as a valid, charitable, or helpful exercise. Why would someone like Mattsson think there is something else out there that he should be learning from such historians? I mean, to people actually interested in history, it goes without saying that one has to read history books to learn about it. But to a businessman who views this as his Church, why would he think that there is part of the story that he is not aware of and that he might need to recalibrate some assumptions about the way he perceives Church history should he learn it?

  108. CJ Douglass on July 25, 2013 at 3:06 pm

    I reject all this reading between the lines. What we are given in the scriptures, GC, in the Ensign, in Church manuals, council from our priesthood leaders, is taught to comprise ALL the *essentials* of gospel living and spiritual endurance. Not that we’re expected to read nothing but LDS produced material (though many I’ve met in the Church believe and teach just that) but that the most important stuff is in there.

    Based on the current “crisis”, it seems like getting hold of the fullness of Church History and being able to synthesize it with faith is not “nice if you can get it – nice if you happen to have internet access or born into a Dialogue family or attended BYU and ran into the right people or a if you’re a student of little known Church mag articles from 30 years ago.” It’s looking now to be quite crucial to a Mormon’s faithful existence in the world. And that’s where I think Mattsson has a legitimate beef. He was actually counseled against addressing these issues at all. Trusting too much in official sources was not a danger that he (or most members) was acquainted with.

  109. BHodges on July 25, 2013 at 3:22 pm

    There is no question in my mind that many members of the Church were influenced by counsel to avoid “alternate voices,” and by Elder Packer’s observations about the mantle being far, far greater than the intellect.

    https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1989/04/alternate-voices?lang=eng

    https://byustudies.byu.edu/showtitle.aspx?title=5472

    I appreciate Armand Mauss’s interpretation of Oaks, but it wasn’t far-spread, as it occurred in one of the now-understood-to-be-potentially-dangerous venues.

    Further, the manuals still discourage outside source usage, for better or worse, as in the recent Lorenzo Snow book:

    “If you are teaching a Melchizedek Priesthood or Relief Society lesson, you should not set this book aside or prepare a lesson from other materials.”

    The Church News had a long editorial about not using outside sources within the last few years. Also, the comment in the old Bible Dictionary about seeking info in other reputable sources has been removed in the new edition of the scriptures.

    I’ve written in the past about the responsibility we all have to become informed, apart from official church settings, as to our theology, history, etc. I believe we do bear responsibility there. But expecting members in non-English speaking countries to be up on the latest is simply unfair.

    Besides, I’ve also been on the receiving end of suspicions when people discover I pursued a degree in religious studies, or that I read books about Mormonism written by non-Mormons. I’ve been counseled to avoid “anti-Mormon” works by bishops and other leadership, that such things constitute “spiritual pornography.” They hadn’t taken the time to actually look into the dangerous sources themselves, they have more practical fish to fry and wish that thinkers would just turn down the think for a second and get some home teaching done. There’s a general sense that if it is worthwhile or lovely or of good report, we’ll hear about it from our leaders. Ask any author what happens to her book when it isn’t published by Deseret Book, what kind of expectations they have about whether members will even hear of it.

  110. Ben S on July 25, 2013 at 3:28 pm

    John, I’m not saying anything about Mattson, or Mormon Enigma, etc. As for Gospel Doctrine prep, that’s both a limited context and one that contains conflicting directives and examples, as per http://www.patheos.com/blogs/oneeternalround/2010/10/thoughts-on-wrestling-with-lesson-prep-the-manual-and-teaching-the-teachers/ and the linked post by TT there.

    I’m simply questioning the idea that there is a clear directive, that Mormons are flatly prohibited from reading non-official material about history or doctrine.

    I don’t think it’s too hard for a sheltered member to get to that point as an interpretation, but it IS an extrapolation. Moreover, it’s an extrapolation maintained in light of examples to the contrary, I believe: BYU professors, Apostles, local Institute instructors, etc., who read and cite non-LDS material.

  111. BHodges on July 25, 2013 at 3:34 pm

    Ben, in a church with an “unwritten order of things,” all it might take is a predilection to avoid things which seem to threaten one’s faith commitments (which most people share), and a few conference talks to get a ball rolling. Have you never heard of “anti-Mormon” literature referred to as “spiritual pornography”?

  112. BHodges on July 25, 2013 at 3:37 pm

    Also, why are we so hung up on fault, here? Whether it is an extrapolation or not, the problem still exists, and little has been done thus far to promote reading a variety of sources on LDS thought and history. It seems things are beginning to change there, as with the recent New Era piece featuring Elder Snow advising people to read good sources from inside and outside the Church.

    http://www.maxwellinstituteblog.org/new-brigham-young-biography-difficult-worth-reading/

    We could use more of this, IMO, with a few well-placed examples to boot.

  113. john f. on July 25, 2013 at 3:38 pm

    I never actually said that Mormons were flatly prohibited from reading non-official material. I am suggesting that we were counseled not to and people like Mattsson obeyed that counsel. (It was easy for them to do this, actually, particularly if they had no real, independent interest in our history aside from anecdotes that turned up in correlated Sunday School lessons; especially such people would also not really have a reason to think there is anything in history books that isn’t available in Correlated materials. Why would they suspect that something is being left out or glossed over? Also, facts that might have arisen in the context of everyday life and conversation with those outside of the faith were simply dismissed as “anti-Mormon” if they seemed weird, embarrassing, unflattering, or alarming.)

  114. Ben S on July 25, 2013 at 4:00 pm

    Blair, I’m not assigning any blame at all. I’m not talking about Mattson. I’m also not denying that some LDS have the idea that we should limit ourselves strictly to LDS-published material in *all* circumstances.

    John said, “he was asked not to do that, and as a very devout Mormon 100% dedicated to following the counsel of ecclesiastical leaders, he obeyed.” It’s implied that there is a clear counsel, and all obedient members follow it. Again, John’s language of obedience, “I also chose not to obey though through years of reading such books I was conscious of the fact that my actions were technically disobedient according to the CES/Curriculum mentality.”

    That’s very black and white language. Knowing John as I do, I wondered if I had missed something setting up such a standard that adherence to it is obvious. Apparently, there is not. Rather, we have counsel to avoid anti-mormon lit, not to substitute materials for lessons, etc. Blair’s collection of statements, which I’ve blogged about before, doesn’t suggest that such a standard exists. We’re dealing with cultural perceptions, individual judgments about what constitutes anti-mormon, extrapolation, and CEO worship. I suppose my family and I (and a ton of other people) have simply always read such statements narrowly, and have taken counsel as counsel instead of absolute command. I don’t consider that disobedience or disloyalty or such, and I’m puzzled by people who do.

    Ultimately, as Blair says, it’s a problem regardless of where it comes from. To the extent that systematic problems can or should be addressed by the Church, many things on multiple levels could be changed to avoid this kind of thing. But individuals on the local level can also do much to help.

  115. john f. on July 25, 2013 at 4:10 pm

    Frankly, I think Elder Oaks’ counsel to avoid “alternate voices” essentially counts as the counsel to which I’m referring (not really wanting to single him out but that is the ultimate source my mind keeps returning to). I don’t think it works to point to the Mauss material on that to refute the idea that what most Mormons heard was not to search in uncorrelated material for information about the Church.

    I think that CES/Curriculum have actively discouraged Mormons from supplementing information/knowledge from outside sources.

    It’s wonderful that your parents didn’t take that away from this guidance. As you note, others took it the way I am describing, as counsel not to seek out information in unofficial sources. Mattsson, I would think, falls into this camp, and the obedience therefore becomes relevant.

  116. Adam G. on July 25, 2013 at 4:21 pm

    *It seems to me your approach here reflects and perpetuates a situation where groups and publications are identified as worthy or unworthy, inside or outside, faithful or critical.*

    Institutions, even non-formal ones, can’t exist without boundaries.
    The informal enforcement mechanisms at heterodox Mormon sites should be evidence enough of that. The importance of the distinction between official and non-offical sources is that it allows boundary maintenance that is permeable to information flow.

  117. Adam G. on July 25, 2013 at 4:23 pm

    Why, if you decide that we needn’t cast Mattson as a villain, is it necessary to cast the institutional Church as one? Some axes are sharp enough already.

  118. BHodges on July 25, 2013 at 4:31 pm

    “We’re dealing with cultural perceptions, individual judgments about what constitutes anti-Mormon, extrapolation, and CEO worship.

    To me, this is a distinction without a difference as the end result is the same: Under-informed members who have come to rely on the institutional church to educate them on matters doctrinal, historical, and spiritual. Congrats on being one of the few who seeks extra credit, but it seems to me the general membership could stand to become better informed through official channels, or at least be repeatedly and openly encouraged to educate themselves on such matters beyond the confines of correlated materials. We’re going to Sunday School after all.

    As an aside, to my young mind, “anti-Mormon” could include things that didn’t simply say “the church is true,” or that tried to analyze elements of LDS belief or practice without bearing testimony of it. Or even things that just didn’t have that Mormony vocab tone.

    To the extent that systematic problems can or should be addressed by the Church, many things on multiple levels could be changed to avoid this kind of thing. But individuals on the local level can also do much to help.

    I think we’re all agreed on that; but we also recognize the constraints on non-English speaking members of the Church on such matters. The Church has prioritized translating official materials, but how about some of the other stuff that tells the history a bit more accurately? Hopefully, the new projects in the pipeline will help fill this void. I think they very well might. I pray they do.

  119. BHodges on July 25, 2013 at 4:34 pm

    “Why, if you decide that we needn’t cast Mattson as a villain, is it necessary to cast the institutional Church as one?”

    Here’s the mentality I am referring to. Critical engagement with the practices of the Church is construed as “casting it as a villain.” We’re employing a with-us-or-against-us mentality here. Thank you for helping to prove my point, Adam G.

  120. Ben Huff on July 25, 2013 at 4:40 pm

    john f and BHodges, Brother Mattson found himself in a tough spot, but it is not the fault of the church. The primary point of OP is to say that the gospel is information-rich, and this is a problem in places where members don’t have access to a rich array of sources of information. Correlation is an effort to cope with this problem by packing as much of the essentials as possible into a limited body of publications, a set that can be realistically distributed in scores of languages, all across the world, and understood and used productively by members everywhere. The fundamental problem is that we don’t have the same resources elsewhere that we have in the Mormon Corridor. It’s neither Mattson’s fault nor that of the church that Mattson is from Sweden.

    Correlation is a kind of stop-gap, I’m saying, and not a long-term solution. In the long run, we need to build up a complete Zion culture, throughout the world. It will take a while! But we also need to recognize the importance of building up and taking advantage of a larger cultural bandwidth like this, as we can along the way, and ditch the idea that it is the job of the institutional church and its correlated materials to tell us everything we need to know. It isn’t.

  121. john f. on July 25, 2013 at 4:57 pm

    It wasn’t Br. Mattsson’s fault either. He was just being obedient to the extent that he even cared about Church history in the first place.

    I don’t understand the need for an apologetic on the question of whether the Church’s own presentation of its history has proved problematic in some ways. That seems to be a sound conclusion based on the evidence. The Church can apologize that some people have felt betrayed as a result while at the same time emphasizing that it never intended to hide relevant information from people.

    Apologizing seems like a good thing to do. We all need to apologize sometimes.

  122. BHodges on July 25, 2013 at 4:58 pm

    Ben: I feel like you’ve created a strawman of my comments. You seem to think I think blame should be doled out, and that in a zero-sum fashion. I don’t. You seem to think I’ve argued that simply making better manuals would solve these problems. I haven’t. And you seem to think that the resources in the “Mormon corridor,” were they sufficiently spread throughout the church in various languages, could overcome this problem. I don’t believe so. People in the Mormon corridor experience things Mattsen describes, too. This is a cultural problem that the institutional church is coming to understand more and more, thankfully, and people are beginning to take specific action to help mitigate it in addition to the work done by unofficial auxiliaries.

  123. Howard on July 25, 2013 at 5:07 pm

    The fundamental problem is that we don’t have the same resources elsewhere… The fundamental problem is the church’s past deception and whitewashed correlated lessons that assumed dusty archives would always remain dusty rather than a mouse click away. The church lacks integrity here and as faithful members wake up from their childlike unquestioning obedience they feel betrayed!

  124. Mtnmarty on July 25, 2013 at 5:13 pm

    BH: In the long run, we need to build up a complete Zion culture, throughout the world.

    I’m listening to the two sides of this and trying to figure out where and why they are apart. One question that seems to me to be at the heart of it is how much transparency is required in a Zion culture of both individuals and organizations.

    So, in your opinion how much disclosure and open access to archives records, etc. is required to be honest in all of your dealings with other people? Many people feel privacy is an important right, others feel transparency is critical to ethical institutions.

    What do you think is ethically required in a Zion culture in terms of open access to historical information?

  125. john f. on July 25, 2013 at 5:20 pm

    re #122, great comment Blair. That was really well said and insightful. Thanks.

  126. BHodges on July 25, 2013 at 5:25 pm

    Howard: accusations of deception are facile (“Appearing neat and comprehensive by ignoring the complexities of an issue; superficial.”), uncharitable, and unhelpful. Good people can hesitate to air dirty laundry in public. So can good organizations.

  127. Howard on July 25, 2013 at 5:25 pm

    When I visit Temple Square I see a statue of Joseph and Emma. Where are the statues of his other wives? As I leave Temple Square will I have the impression Joseph was monogamous or polygamous?

    Where are the images of Joseph with his head in a hat? Sure apparently there are one or two I guess but how often have you seen them in church or heard this method discussed?

    There is still a HUGE difference in understanding between internet Mormons and chapel Mormons!

  128. Howard on July 25, 2013 at 5:32 pm

    BHodges,
    Sure it’s a complicated as you want to make it and it’s as simple as telling the truth is embarrassing and difficult to understand so let’s leave them with a different impression. That’s deception (the act of deceiving).

  129. T&S Dave on July 25, 2013 at 5:32 pm

    A few points. First, even if you affirm the wisdom of the manual’s advice to “limit your teaching materials to the manual and the Ensign,” that’s only talking about what you teach in your Sunday School class. It doesn’t mean you as the teacher can’t read whatever you want to. If you’re the teacher, I hope you read more than just the manual and the referenced scriptures! And it certainly doesn’t apply to the general membership of the Church and what they read or don’t read.

    Second, Elder Oaks in his alternate voices talk was primarily concerned with CES and BYU people attending the Sunstone Symposium. It’s too bad leaders tend to respond to specific problems with overbroad rules (and don’t give much background or context to their counsel), but he wasn’t saying burn your library card. Pretending he was saying that is simply being obtuse.

    Third, while I don’t like the negative connotation to the word “ignorance,” if Bro. Mattsson didn’t know much about LDS history, that qualifies as relative ignorance, and if the reason he didn’t know much about LDS history is that he never read any books or articles, why then yes, he is responsible for his own ignorance (or relative lack of knowledge on that subject). The cure is simple: do some reading or mingle with folks who know something on the subject and can share their knowledge. Lots of Mormons encounter a new and disturbing topic, do exactly this (read up on it, educate themselves), and come to a satisfying resolution. Not everyone comes to a satisfying resolution to their questions. I don’t blame those who don’t.

  130. Amy T on July 25, 2013 at 6:13 pm

    Marie — If you haven’t read a comprehensive history of the Church (and I don’t mean Our Heritage!), I’d suggest starting there. My favorite (although dated) history is The Story of the Latter-day Saints (Allen, Leonard). To accompany it, don’t miss Women of Covenant: The Story of Relief Society (Derr, Cannon, Beecher).

    On specific topics, a good place to start might be BYU Studies. Over at BCC John F. posted a link to a short essay written by John Welch with some thoughts about some of these “hot button” issues:

    https://byustudies.byu.edu/dailyfeature.aspx?feature=403

    There is a lot of good content on that website; Sam Brown has an article in the latest issue about the doctrine of adoption, and adoption practices are a good thing to understand if you want to understand polygamy, since they’re closely related. (Also see Jonathan Stapley’s paper on that topic — it’s available online.)

    I would also suggest the recent biography of President Kimball by his son, Lengthen Your Stride.

    Anyone else have some good suggestions for Marie and others like her? These would be works for a general, non-scholarly audience.

  131. Steve Smith on July 25, 2013 at 6:44 pm

    Thanks for the comments John F. I’ve always gotten the sense from my church experience that reading ‘outside sources’ to inform myself of church history was sort of taboo, especially since it would potentially threaten my testimony. Although, there doesn’t appear to be an official directive to this effect.

    Once I again, I stand my ground in asserting that the church whitewashes its history and downplays its embarrassing moments much like many long standing private organizations/companies do when they advertise themselves. I’m not saying that the LDS church is inherently in the wrong by virtue of doing this, but that a little more candor about its history, and perhaps an apology, may help in terms of retention. The way that many LDS people deal with tough-to-swallow issues is not the way the T&S bloggers or apologists deal with them by openly confronting them and opting to live in a world of ambiguity, suspended judgment, and perhaps even cognitive dissonance in order to maintain the status quo with active LDS friends and family. Many intellectual Mormons aren’t bothered by someone mentioning that JS married young women and propositioned unconsenting men’s wives. They have developed their own way to explain that issue, or are comfortable asserting that they may not know how to explain the issue, but it doesn’t undermine their commitment to the LDS church.

    By contrast most active LDS either deliberately choose to ignore the tough-to-swallow issues, or live in sheer ignorance of them, since they surround themselves with believing friends and confidants, or because their non-member friends aren’t well-informed about LDS church history and won’t confront them on any issues. But the problem is that so many LDS adopt a strong sense that the church is nearly perfect and always has been. Where do they get this idea? Well, from none other than the church leaders themselves. When they stumble upon inconvenient truths, they probably can’t believe them at first. But as they study and study, they find that they have to accept. What they see is that the fine details of JS’s polygamy just can’t be reconciled with the image of a near perfect church. They are informing themselves of the wrongness of JS’s polygamy through their own intuition, not because someone else is telling them that; they get the sense that JS’s behavior just wasn’t right and that God couldn’t have told him to behave like that. Can we blame them?

  132. Gordon on July 26, 2013 at 12:26 am

    Ed Decker couldn’t have said it any better, Steve. I hear the new Maxwell Institute has openings. You should apply.

  133. Mark Brown on July 26, 2013 at 7:34 am

    I am baffled by the way folks who are not struggling in the way Elder Mattsson is struggling are able to be so glib with vague advice. It is easy to say “go to the library” or “read a book”, but let’s get down to details.

    We live in a church where some of the members of the Q12 are uncomfortable with with Bushman’s Rough Stone Rolling. If people in the hierarchy won’t read it on grounds that it is not sufficiently faith-promoting there is no sense in recommending it to rank-and-file members. If RSR is out, what do you recommend?

    Right now, there are probably hundreds of people like Hans Mattsson, figuratively pulling their handcarts through the snow in Wyoming. Those of us who are safely in the valley already can sit around and tut-tut about how they should have known better than to start so late in the year, or we can get off our butts and help with the problem. Talking about a Zion culture is fine, but if the answers are as easy as reading a book or two, let’s see some concrete suggestions.

  134. BHodges on July 26, 2013 at 10:52 am

    Speaking of which, Ed Decker turned the MI down, Gordon. Too radically anti for his tastes. A guy has to have some standards.

  135. EFF on July 26, 2013 at 1:09 pm

    Good point, Mark. And if Elder Mattson is to be believed—and he seems quite credible to me—when he started to pose questions to his minders in Salt Lake, he was told to keep quiet. To not ask those questions. And to not discuss these matters with others, not even members of his family. It is hard to reconcile that behavior with assurances coming out of the church’s PR department that it is trying put everything out there, to be as forthcoming as possible.

  136. Ben H on July 26, 2013 at 2:01 pm

    Mark Brown, have you noticed how three of the four posts on T&S since this one are talking about how we think through the subtleties and complexities of our history and discipleship?

    There are suggestions for helpful reading at BCC, BYU Studies, and Interpreter, for instance, just posted in the few days since this article was published. We are not just standing here wagging our fingers at Brother Mattsson, convenient as it might be for pessimists to think so, and as natural as it might feel to them to start looking for someone to wag their own fingers at . . .

    EFF, I find it hard to believe that Elder Perry, who was sent personally to try to help, told Elder Mattsson to just shut up and stop thinking in light of the words of his encouraging deep and extensive study, that Ben S highlights on Patheos.

  137. Mark Brown on July 26, 2013 at 3:32 pm

    Ben,

    Sorry for not being clear. I do appreciate the advice that has been given online in various places this past week. However, as Jack Welch noted in his indtroduction to the material from BYUS, “Nobody has all the answers”. I take this to mean that there is a lot more hard work involved here than just telling people to go to the library, and I also take it to mean that the church itself doesn’t have all the answers. For instance, there is no good answer for Nauvoo polyandry.

    Elder Mattson didn’t say he was told to shut up and stop thinking. He reports that he was told to not talk of these questions with others. Is that really too hard to believe? In my opinion, that is the real problem, not the lack of information. The information is out there and available but we have this informal taboo against talking about any of these questions. As I previously pointed out, we have general authorities who think RSR is destructive of faith. That part of the culture has to change, otherwise we will continue to have these problems.

  138. BHodges on July 26, 2013 at 3:34 pm

    Grant Hardy left a great comment over at BCC which also directly pertains to this discussion vis a vis official discouragement from reading outside sources. The counsel here is more implicit than explicit, but I think it adds to the circumstantial case that a general church ethos of “don’t read (or at least don’t trust) outside stuff” exists institutionally at the present, although change is in the wind:

    We’re toward the end (I hope) of a long thread of comments, but it might be useful to provide a current example of how the official Church instructs its volunteers to handle difficult issues. We just handed out copies of the S&I “Policy Manual Excerpts for Stake Seminary Teachers” to teachers and bishops in our stake. This official publication (dated May 2012) includes the following guidelines:

    “DOCTRINAL ISSUES
    Students and teachers with doctrinal issues should first be encouraged to find answers in the scriptures or the teachings of the modern prophets (students should also be encouraged to go to their parents). If they cannot find an answer, they should be directed to the bishop. If the bishop does not have an answer, he has a priesthood line of authority to follow until an answer is received. S&I teachers with routine questions arising out of current seminary lessons could ask the immediate supervisor. If the supervisor does not have an answer, he or she has an S&I line of authority to follow until an answer is received. The First Presidency has counseled:
    “The Lord in His wisdom so organized His Church that there is accessible to every member–man, woman, and child–a bishop or branch president and a stake or mission president who serve as spiritual advisers and as temporal counselors. By reason of their ordination, these priesthood leaders are entitled to the spirit of discernment and inspiration to enable them to counsel members within their jurisdiction. Such leaders who have need for further clarification about doctrinal issues may write in behalf of their members to the First Presidency” (in “Policies and Announcements,” Ensign, Dec. 1990, 71).”

    Note that there is no encouragement whatsoever to consult outside sources for information. It sounds like Bro. Mattsson followed Church protocol exactly.

    The manual further states that any non-Church produced material that teachers want to use should first be cleared with their S&I supervisors. It also quotes advice from Pres. Packer’s talk “The Mantle is Far, Far Greater Than the Intellect,” warning that “some things that are true are not very useful,” and expressing the hope that ““Some things that are in print go out of print, and the old statement ‘good riddance to bad rubbish’ might apply.” This might have been the case in 1981, when the talk was first given, but it is no longer true in the age of the Internet. And by the way, the manual for Institute Teachers is identical in these sections.

    Given the fact that faithful youth and young adults with questions about Mormon history and doctrine will probably look to their seminary and institute teachers or their bishops for guidance, they are not likely to get detailed, nuanced answers from those sources. it appears that the Church would still like to keep tight control of the information that comes from its representatives (though Elder Snow’s recent article in the New Era may signal a new direction).

    https://si.lds.org/bc/seminary/content/binary-content/binary-content/news-tim-gurr/546_us_policy_manual_seminary–stake_teacher21may20124521.pdf

  139. Ben H on July 26, 2013 at 4:03 pm

    Blair, this is exactly the kind of over-generalized conclusion that T&S Dave and Ben S have been warning against.

    You present a piece of advice given to Seminary and Institute teachers on how they should run their classes, as though it is intended as advice for all members in their personal study. Seminary and Institute teachers, acting under the authority that they (at least implicitly) carry in virtue of that role, should not direct their students to non-official sources. To do so would be to confuse what is authoritative with what is not. Similarly, Sunday School teachers, acting as Sunday School teachers, should not incorporate non-official materials into their Sunday lessons in any substantial way. That is not to say, however, that their lessons, and the ideas they share and questions they answer, should not be informed by such sources.

    Frankly, given my experience with Seminary and Institute teachers, this is a very wise policy. Bishops, by contrast, tend to be more seasoned and have better judgment in identifying what is likely to be helpful to members, human as they are. They are also less likely, in virtue of the nature of their position, to try to exercise disproportionate sway. S&I teachers, particularly the career ones, as a general matter are simply not trained to give guidance on unofficial sources that is good enough to match the level of influence they hold because of their position.

    Now, as for what is supposed to happen after someone goes to their bishop, that is up to the bishop. Maybe the bishop’s answer will be to read the scriptures and pray. Maybe it will be to go to Terryl and Fiona Givens’ fireside and see what light they can shed. Maybe it will be to go to the library and start with the letter “A”. Maybe the bishop will read D&C 91 to them and say, “Go search by the Spirit.” Maybe the bishop will say, “These are important questions, and there is no official answer. I’ll be praying for you, that God will open a way for you to find resolution in his own manner.”

    I certainly don’t want the general run of S&I teachers sending students to their favorite unofficial books whenever they get an interesting question. Some day they may be well enough educated and seasoned in navigating the Apocrypha that they will be good sources of advice, but right now they are not. That paragraph you quote shows how careful the Church is about not misusing its authority to prematurely close off the inquiries of members, and also how careful CES is about not upstaging wards and branches and their leaders, who have primary stewardship over members as far as the church is concerned. It is not guidance for members regarding their own study.

  140. BHodges on July 26, 2013 at 6:06 pm

    “There is no evidence for your claim.”

    “Here is some evidence for the claim.”

    “Oh. …Well, that doesn’t actually count after all, because it isn’t as specific as I think it should be, regardless of all of the anecdotal evidence which suggests it operates exactly how you assume it does.”

    Do we need to go get the quotes about avoiding personal study groups, etc., too? In my view, you’re straining at gnats and swallowing camels.

  141. BHodges on July 26, 2013 at 6:09 pm

    Ben, you’re the one with the evidence deficit here. Sorry.

  142. Mtnmarty on July 26, 2013 at 6:58 pm

    BH: That paragraph you quote shows how careful the Church is about not misusing its authority to prematurely close off the inquiries of members, and also how careful CES is about not upstaging wards and branches and their leaders, who have primary stewardship over members as far as the church is concerned.

    That sentence is brilliant Jujitsu. Definitely a style point bonus.

    I’m curious if you think it applies to the years of not granting access to archives also because access to archives may create the impression that research was authoritative and upstage the independent search for historical documents.

  143. Steve Smith on July 26, 2013 at 7:04 pm

    Wait, this is a situation where I believe there is a happy medium between what BHodges, John F., et. al. and Ben Huff, Ben S, and others are saying.

    Using/reading outside material is discouraged in some contexts, but there is no directive in existence to not read such information. So, BHodges (138), Ben H is right that what’s written in the policy manual isn’t a general discouragement, but specific to S&I teachers; big difference.

    However, there is no doubt that there is a vibe that is strongly felt by most anyone who grows up in an LDS environment that reading the so-called ‘alternate voices’ is frowned upon, and many LDS like to assume that it is prohibited. Perhaps what is occurring here can best be resolved by looking at Islamic law which categorizes different human actions using the following scale: obligatory, recommended, permissible, disliked, or prohibited (haram).

    If we imagine the existence of a Mormon law that is enforced by leaders and members alike, I think that we could safely say that large numbers of LDS leaders and members regard the reading of outside literature to inform them of Mormon history and doctrine to be disliked, but no one really thinks this to be in the realm of haram. In the more critical thinking circles, such as the T&S blog, reading outside sources is regarded to be permissible.

  144. Ben H on July 26, 2013 at 7:19 pm

    Blair, I have argued that what you put forward as evidence is actually evidence for my claim, not yours. The mere fact that you put it forward doesn’t make it evidence for your claim.

    Scriptures stating that the glory of God is intelligence; that we should do much good of our own free will and not wait to be commanded in all things; that we seek after everything that is virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy; are pretty good evidence to me. You might also consider my reading of D&C 91, discussed at BCC, or
    Elder Oaks’ “Alternate Voices” talk, which is surprisingly clear, and as far as I can tell lines up rather well with what I have been saying here. It includes the direct statement: “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not attempt to isolate its members from alternate voices.” There’s lots more, including things mentioned earlier in this thread.

  145. BHodges on July 26, 2013 at 8:00 pm

    Steve Smith: What you’re describing seems to be similar to what I’ve been suggesting in the conversation. I think you make an interesting comparison.

    Ben Huff seems to believe that unless some sort of official and extremely specific anathema can be located, that any other statement from Church leadership discouraging investigation of “alternate voices” is somehow evidence for his own position. Further, he uncritically quotes from Elder Oaks’s talk as though “the thinking has been done” merely by citing it, apparently unaware of the possibility that a talk or an individual can a) contradict onsself/itself, or b) present an unattained ideal. Moreover, Elder Oaks goes on to warn that people can apparently uncritically accept any official church statement, whereas “alternative voices” are dangerous wastes of time:

    “They provide a spiritual quality control that allows members to rely on the truth of what is said. Members who listen to the voice of the Church need not be on guard against being misled. They have no such assurance for what they hear from alternate voices.”

  146. stephenchardy on July 26, 2013 at 8:02 pm

    OK, so let’s get specific for a minute, and look at one of our church lesson manuals. You can go to the church website and find the Institute Student Manual: Presidents of the Church. Bear in mind that this is for Institute. Thus it is, at least in theory, geared for college level students.

    Go to Lesson 7, Heber J Grant. There you will learn that he married Lucy Stringham in 1877.

    President Grant was the last of our Prophets to have lived under “the Principle.” He had three wives. He married both of his other wives, August Winters and Emily Wells in 1884, before the Manifesto. By the time he became Prophet in 1918 only Augusta Winters still lived and thus she was the church’s “first lady” during his presidency.

    The entire story is interesting and teaching the full story would help our children in college learn to deal with questions about polygamy. Consider the following:

    1. One of his plural wives, Emily Wells, was his next door neighbor, childhood friend, and close associate. Everyone in their ward assumed that they would marry. However, Emily Wells began to publicly criticize polygamy: she made it clear that she would not participate. Apparently, this broke Heber Grant’s heart because he loved her. But he believed in polygamy and thus he broke off his relationship with Emily. This history and HJG’s plural marriages are briefly mentioned in the manual. One sentence simply states that Lucy Stringham approved of the plural marriages. No further mention is made of it. There is no exploration Emily’s decision to marry into a polygamous relationship when she had previously rallied against such relationships. Just as we are asked to learn from President Grant determination to throw a baseball well, or write neatly (both are given several paragraphs) students might have a lot to learn from this. Students might learn that polygamy was a difficult practice for many members even then. Just as we struggle to understand it now, it was not always popular then. Emily Wells was highly educated, bright, charismatic, and opposed to it. She didn’t’ lose her place in the church and she eventually joined in. Would it kill our testimonies to explore this?

    2. When Heber J Grant became Mission President in Japan in 1901-1903, well after the Manifesto, he took August Winters with him there and left Emily behind. In the Institute manual, there is a photo of HJG in Japan, and Augusta is in the photo as well. But she isn’t identified.

    3. After being mission president in Japan he was made President of the European mission and served from 1904-1906. However, he took Emily with him on this mission, leaving Augusta behind. The Institute manual shows a photo of “Heber J Grant and family.” But it doesn’t name anyone, and certainly doesn’t point out that the wife in this photo isn’t Augusta or of course Lucy (who had died by then.) I find it interesting to learn that he took different wives with him on different missions. Why isn’t this explored? Several paragraphs in the manual take care to describe how carefully he paid his debts. Isn’t the tidbit about taking different wives on different missions at least as interesting and instructive, especially in a family-centered church?

    4. There are two final photos of HJG with his wife (Augusta) in 1942 and with his “wife and nine daughters”; undated, but it is Augusta and I assume that the daughters are from all three marriages. Again, Augusta isn’t named. It would be easy to think that all the photos are showing the same wife (they aren’t) and the lack of identification is disrespectful to them and their sacrifice and further emphasizes that only men are important. (Another topic, I know.)

    So… his polygamy was a big part of his life, but it is skillfully stepped around by not mentioning his wives by name, and by not really mentioning the polygamy at all except for one sentence. It took more effort to not mention his polygamy than it would take to acknowledge it. It makes it so that it didn’t really exist. I believe that it is misleading if not frankly dishonest. Most importantly, it misses the growth that could occur from discussing it in a faith-promoting setting. Again, this is a college-level course.

  147. BHodges on July 26, 2013 at 8:09 pm

    I want to add, Ben Huff defends his position by strict adherence to general authority quotes, selectively interpreting them to his advantage, while seeming to dismiss actual was such quotes play out in actual church experiences. The fact that he simply uncritically points to Elder Oaks as though we will all nod in approval is exhibit A in this faulty method of argumentation.

    He seems to be saying: Nothing the Institutional Church has said or done has contributed to the tendency which LDS have for paying attention to official discourse, leading to simplistic understanding of aspects of LDS history. He seems to assert to the contrary that the Church has more often encouraged seeking information in outside sources, or sources which do not simply follow correlated history. Thus, the responsibility for change in the Church rests solely on individual members and private groups, and not at all on church hierarchy.

    I reject this dichotomy, and recognize shortcomings in the Church’s approach to pedagogy in addition to the problem of general member apathy when it comes to seeking more information on our history. Grass-roots efforts are critical, but to deny that the institutional church has helped fostered the current climate, or that they could make any changes to help improve things (when in fact they explicitly ARE!) is just crazy to me.

  148. BHodges on July 26, 2013 at 8:10 pm

    *dismiss actual WAYS such

  149. stephenchardy on July 26, 2013 at 8:18 pm

    One clarification (if you took the time to read my long post.) HJG courted Emily Wells before he married anyone. She and he broke up over the issue of polygamy. After that he married his first wife Lucy, and then 7 years later married Emily and Augusta.

  150. stephenchardy on July 26, 2013 at 8:36 pm

    Maybe I wasn’t clear about why I detailed this one lesson. We may not expect the instutional church to provide us with exhaustive historical treatments of our history. But we can and ought to expect the church to be honest and not misleading when they do tackle a topic. (In this case, the topic is the life of HJG.) It appears that there is an agenda to under-emphasize our history of plural marriages. There are many opportunities within the bounds of this lesson to explore a number of aspects of polygamy. However, every effort is made to avoid the topic. Students who might have questions about it are instead made to review primary-level stories about HJG’s determination to throw baseballs. Thus a member may feel blind-sided to learn later on about such things, especially when details about HJG’s polygamy are relatively benign. Our approach to our own history need not be exhaustive or even “professional” but it ought to have some degree of integrity. This lesson fails in that aspect, and it is only one lesson among many.

  151. SteveF on July 26, 2013 at 8:45 pm

    I’m for open discussions about polygamy in our church curriculum. Unless we repudiate it as a mistaken concept, I think it remains an integral part of our history and seemingly our doctrine. Avoiding the topic in places where it’s natural to include it makes us (or at least me) feel like we should be ashamed of it–maybe an unintended consequence, but a consequence nonetheless. I would like it to leave the taboo realm, or if it is right–officially reject it from our doctrine. In my opinion, I feel like the first is the right option. Sorry for the thread-jack.

  152. Ben H on July 26, 2013 at 8:46 pm

    stephenchardy, I agree examples like this are a serious problem, and there are more of them, as I acknowledged above (#9). This kind of thing, when it becomes a pattern, as it has in some church manuals, is truly misleading and disingenuous, and it is legitimate grounds for complaint. That is not the same as suppressing other accounts, though, or teaching members not to consider them, so let’s keep the distinction straight.

    BHodges, I have said (#10) clearly that I regard the signals from the church on alternate voices as mixed overall, particularly if one is not examining them very closely. Mixed signals are not the same as a clear or consistent teaching against consulting alternate voices. I also maintain that when one looks closely, there is a lot more consistency than it might appear, essentially in line with the position Elder Oaks lays out. Elder Oaks acknowledges, as do I, that many members are unclear on how to read the signals: “I am convinced that some members are confused about the Church’s relationship to the alternate voices. As a result, members can be misled in their personal choices, and the work of the Lord can suffer.” This is why he offers his talk, to clarify that relationship.

    If the evidence you put forward doesn’t hold up, calling me a prooftexter doesn’t help your case. When an apostle teaches X, that is a pretty good piece of evidence that the church teaches X. If you want to start tallying up quotations on either side, feel free; I’m content to say the signals are mixed. Confusion among the members is understandable in this situation, but I don’t think there is a simple way to un-confuse them from above, because the point is that we are left to our judgment and the guidance of the Spirit to try to distinguish good unofficial sources from bad.

    Elder Oaks offers a rather interesting analysis of how the church relates to alternate voices. Rather than engaging my analysis or his, you accuse me of simplistic claims and arguments that I’m not making. This thread is getting very long . . .

  153. BHodges on July 26, 2013 at 9:47 pm

    BHodges, I have said (#10) clearly that I regard the signals from the church on alternate voices as mixed overall, particularly if one is not examining them very closely. Mixed signals are not the same as a clear or consistent teaching against consulting alternate voices.

    Can you point me to discussions in official church curriculum which advise members on how to deal with mixed messages from church leaders? Given our emphasis on following the prophet, and on sustaining our leaders as prophets, seers, and revelators, and given our agreement that mixed messags exist (while we seem to differ on the extent to which various messages are actually embraced by members), such statements seem needed. General references to personal revelation aren’t what I’m looking for.

  154. Ben Huff on July 26, 2013 at 10:54 pm

    Well, Elder Oaks acknowledges the confusion about this case and specifically says that the solution is personal revelation, so is that specific enough to count?

    Here are some key statements from the “Alternate Voices” talk:

    “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not attempt to isolate its members from alternate voices. Its approach, as counseled by the Prophet Joseph Smith, is to teach correct principles and then leave its members to govern themselves by personal choices.”

    “Members of the Church are free to participate or to listen to any alternate voices they choose, but Church leaders should avoid official involvement, directly or indirectly.” (such as CES teachers recommending unofficial sources)

    “We seek learning by studying the accumulated wisdom of various disciplines and by using the powers of reasoning placed in us by our Creator . . . [but] for those who seek to know God and the doctrines of his gospel . . . scholarship and reason are insufficient.”

    “A seeker of truth about God must rely on revelation . . . The way to revelation is righteousness . . . be humble, cultivate faith, repent of our sins, serve our fellowmen, and keep the commandments of God.”

    I think if we look at the analysis Oaks gives, and then look at the things people point to as evidence of discouraging members to consult unofficial sources, we will find that 95%+ of it fits within the account Oaks gives here. If we acknowledge that (a) cautions to those with official roles not to use their authority to lend credibility to unofficial sources, and (b) cautions against voices who speak without knowledge or with problematic intentions, are not the same thing as a general discouragement of unofficial sources, then the evidence starts to look a lot more supportive of Oaks’ account.

  155. BHodges on July 26, 2013 at 11:11 pm

    Ben, your selective quoting is sort of like your selective responses. In both cases, aggravating.

    Can you point me to discussions in official church curriculum which advise members on how to deal with mixed messages from church leaders?

  156. BHodges on July 26, 2013 at 11:12 pm

    Remmber this? :

    Grass-roots efforts are critical, but to deny that the institutional church has helped fostered the current climate, or that they could make any changes to help improve things (when in fact they explicitly ARE!) is just crazy to me.

  157. Jonathan Green on July 27, 2013 at 1:49 am

    Blair, you’re not making a lot of sense here, and you’re kind of being a jerk about it.

  158. T&S Dave on July 27, 2013 at 7:27 am

    Thanks for the detailed example, stephen (#146). That’s a good illustration on how the Correlation presentation of LDS history goes too far and needs to be modified. Exactly what new balance or new tone to strike is a tricky question, however. Titling the chapter “Heber J. Grant, Practicing Polygamist” or “The Wives of Heber J. Grant” might satisfy those calling for complete transparency, but it doesn’t serve the needs of the Church of its members (this is a manual to instruct the faithful, recall). No one with any common sense or life experience expects an institution, any institution, to highlight its shortcomings.

    A helpful point of reference is Armand Mauss’s discussion on the subject of LDS apologies in his Mormon Stories podcast interview. John Dehlin spent about two minutes on the soapbox reviewing LDS faith issues, then suggesting all this supports the call some disenchanted or former Mormons have made for LDS apologies of one sort or another. Mauss replied something to the effect that it’s not clear what sort of apology would be appropriate, and that in any case any such a public apology serves the agenda of LDS critics, not the purposes of the Church. That’s a helpful point.

    A more accurate and more balanced presentation of LDS history in LDS materials serves the purposes of the Church. Framing the Church as the bad guy under the banner of transparency or full disclosure or genuine history or apologizing for past errors or whatever objective-sounding label you choose serves the purposes of its critics (who seem oblivious to the fact that they have an agenda).

  159. BHodges on July 27, 2013 at 11:35 am

    Jonathan: as per the OP, only you are to blame for your difficulties with reading comprehension. ;)

    Or, thread-nannying is annoying. If you’re confused about what I’m saying feel free to ask for clarification.

  160. Joseph M on July 29, 2013 at 11:54 am

    Coming back to the point of the original post there was an article in Wired that addressed the same idea in regards to the growth of the Internet and specifically Facebook.

    I think that substituting “the Church” for “face Book” in the following makes the point rather well.

    “Studying biological systems is perhaps the best way to understand the complex networks that humanity has created. All successful networks go through a breakpoint — a point in time where growth stops.

    Like all software, social networks are limited in terms of their ability to engage and satisfy their users: their survival depends upon their usefulness. Growth is necessary to build critical mass, and each of these businesses was successful in doing so. Most businesses fail during this growth phase.

    But a network of too many individuals can also create trouble. Facebook is already well beyond the number of relationships (known as Dunbar’s Number) the brain can handle. The average Facebook user has 262 “friends” on the site, so it stands to reason that a significant portion of these friends are not high quality. What’s the result? Getting a notification that April Ridmoore downloaded “Call Me Maybe” on Spotify. Who’s April? Some girl who went out with your younger brother in high school and “poked” you last year.

    Essentially, Facebook is a network of networks, making it a smarter and more successful social network than its predecessors. As the company notes, “Facebook is made up of many networks, each based around a workplace, region, high school or college.”

    Each of these networks is tightly connected in the sense that each has many users who have strong connections to one another. Across those networks, however, the user relationships are sparser — just as the brain’s neurons link mostly to those neurons within their sub-networks.

    It only takes a few unsolicited, valueless notifications, and the utility of Facebook goes down for its users. The logical thing would be to cull friends lists, unsubscribe from updates, and block all notifications. But few people do this. Instead, individuals decrease their usage and delete their accounts, ultimately looking for the next new network to hitch on to, one with a cleaner, less distracting social structure.

    Having reached a breakpoint by exceeding its capacity to be useful, the old network, like all social networks before it, dies.

    Again, we can look to the brain as an example. After it reaches breakpoint, the brain filters out extraneous information through cellular suicide, a process where neurons literally “kill” themselves for the greater good of the network. At the same time, the brain removes unnecessary links and deepens the most important connections. Paradoxically, this shrinking of the brain makes us wiser.

    What if Facebook could become wiser? Just like the brain, Facebook could separate out the fluff and strengthen the important relationships.

    It turns out that less stuff equals more usage when you’re at a network breakpoint. The warning to heed isn’t to avoid breakpoints; it is to avoid too much expansion after a breakpoint.

    Growth is not a bad thing unless it becomes the only thing.”

    http://www.wired.com/opinion/2013/07/facebooks-at-its-breakpoint-and-heres-how-to-save-it-from-growth-hacking/

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