Thursday, October 8, 2015

Understanding Anger against Mormon Missionaries

Wilfried Decoo is one of my favorite Mormon bloggers.  Some of the most profound posts I've read in my life about Mormon life come from him.  The following is profound, and the comment thread is very good, as well. 

"Understanding Anger against Mormon Missionaries" - Wilfried Decoo (Times & Seasons)

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Personal Limitations: We Won't Be Stuck Like This Forever

One of the reasons I hold onto the concept of a redemption and the way it is framed in Mormonism is that there is a clear statement (at least to me) of bedrock faith that we will not be punished in any way for those things we don't choose - and that we won't be "stuck like this forever" when it comes to those things we don't like about ourselves. It's termed as not being punished for Adam's transgression in the 2nd Article of Faith - and I think it's instructive that it is the second one on the list - that it's right after the statement of belief in God and BEFORE the statement about the Atonement of Christ and obedience to laws and ordinances.

Think seriously about that, please. Our first few Articles of Faith are composed in the following order:

1) the existence of the Godhead;

2) no punishment for those things that simply are a part of mortality that aren't chosen by us and, therefore, aren't "sins";

3) atonement (by implication, for "sins") through obedience (by implication, to things we are capable of obeying).

That's a fascinating, compelling, wonderful arrangement.

I know it might not help much in the exact moment of greatest pain, but, at the very least, for me, it is an amazing concept - that ALL of those things we list as our natural obstacles in life will not be held against us in ANY way when all is said and done. When all is said and done, our efforts to change some of them will be rewarded, no matter the degree to which we are (or feel) "successful". I see that as the core of the "truth (that) shall make you free" - that we are loved for who we are and that we will be allowed to escape these mortal limitations - not just in the next life, but in this life (when talking about things we can change) and in the next life (when talking about things that really are beyond our control here in mortality).

To any who read this who are struggling to deal with a particular unchosen trial of mortality: 

God continue to bless you in your efforts, but, most of all, may you find peace in those efforts and an acceptance of yourself as you are - even as you strive to be more what you want to be. This is one case where I think the statement "well done, thou good and faithful servant" applies perfectly - when "enduring to the end" means something deep, wonderful and inspiring.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Using the Book of Mormon: Personal Soapbox Alert

Last Monday, I wrote a post about how we often misunderstand the Book of Mormon.  This post is a follow-up of that one.  

I have no problem with the statement that the Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion. I just accept that characterization for a different reason than most people.   

When it was used as the keystone ("Here is Moroni's promise. Read this book from cover to cover with that promise in mind. Follow that promise. THEN, when you've done that, we'll start teaching doctrine."), missionary work flourished the most. When we started using it as a doctrinal proof-text and started focusing on teaching doctrine over converting spiritual experiences, missionary work flourished the least.

I know people who were converted to Mormonism through the Bible, and nearly every unique aspect of Mormon theology is grounded more in the Bible than in the Book of Mormon (which far too few members realize), but I know so many people whose subsequent reading of the Bible was influenced by what they read in the Book of Mormon - who "gained a testimony" of the Book of Mormon then had totally new insights as they read the Bible. After all, the Book of Mormon says in at least two places that it's primary intent is to convince people to believe the Bible - and, in my opinion, that means believing what the Bible actually teaches, not what centuries of theologians and religionists have said it teaches.

I believe the Book of Mormon does what it was intended to do very well, when used as it says it should be used - not for every single person, since nothing works for everyone, but generally. I think we as a people might understand that better if we actually used it "correctly" as a "correcting tool" - again, not with regard to doctrine but rather with regard to "spiritual orientation" or the opening of "spiritual eyes" to possibilities that have been hidden by centuries of denial.

To say it in a slightly different way:

In more than once passage, the Book of Mormon itself says that, ultimately, the Bible is more important than the Book of Mormon. I believe that message is loud and clear in the Book of Mormon - but it doesn't contradict the idea that the Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion. The Book of Mormon can be the keystone while allowing the Bible to be the most important theological treatise (the record "held up" by the Book of Mormon) - which is how I would classify the two if I was trying to be concise. In other words, the Book of Mormon says as much about the worth of the Bible as it does about the role of Joseph Smith - although it does address that role, obviously.

The core intent of the Book of Mormon is to teach and testify of Jesus, the Christ. I don't think there is any reasonable dispute about that. However, I believe that this goal is accomplished differently than too many members realize.

The structure of the Book of Mormon (especially Moroni 10:3-5) is laid out in such a way that people who read it will believe that God can and will speak to them (let them know the truth of all things) - and that such a recognition will allow them then to read the Bible and understand and believe what it really says (primarily about God, their relationship to God and what the "power of godliness" really entails). In other words, the Book of Mormon allows people to read the Bible with "new spiritual eyes" through which the "mists of darkness" caused by centuries of Christian apologetics can be overcome and people can understand who they really are.

To say it differently, much of the grand theology of the Bible has crashed and burned since the Bible was written and canonized (and even before then). The "keystone" allows that theology to be rebuilt firmly; it "holds it together" not because of the words themselves contained in it but because of the process generated by the concept it teaches of a Father God who actually will communicate with his children and, subsequently, when re-reading the Bible, teach them of their "divine worth".

A core failure of our current approach at the local membership level, in my opinion, is both a lack of understanding of the Book of Mormon's role in that process (and what the Book of Mormon actually says) and a lack of understanding of the Bible and what it actually teaches. When we short-circuited and altered how we study, view and use the Book of Mormon, I believe we started losing the former respect for and understanding of the Bible that LDS members used to have.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Ward Boundaries and Divorce: Irreconcilable Differences vs. Tolerance and Charity

I like the use of geographic boundaries to define wards and branches. I know there are issues in individual cases, and I know it causes grief sometimes, and I have NO problem whatsoever with people attending another ward, where geographically possible, in cases where real harm is occurring . . . but I really like that the default is geographic boundaries, rather than allowing people to congregation shop.

There is an element of learned tolerance and charity in having to try to worship with people who wouldn't normally be one's associates that I don't want to lose. I don't want us to adopt the individual salvation of much of the rest of Christianity; I want to maintain the principle that Zion is the goal and that "atonement" is a communal process. Those things are jeopardized when people can change congregations for any reason whatsoever - like "irreconcilable differences" now means almost nothing in divorces. Divorces should occur when there truly are irreconcilable differences, so I'm fine with people changing wards and branches in truly exceptional circumstances, but I want it to happen only in those exceptional circumstances where there really are irreconcilable differences no matter how hard the person tries to make it work. In other words, I don't want "common problems" to morph into "irreconcilable differences" - and I am positive that would happen without the geographic boundary default.

As a rule, I don't like making policies (in anything, not just the Church) based on exceptions. I like allowing exceptions in exceptional situations, not changing the default based on exceptional situations.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Seeing People as "Too" Something

“Sometimes we have what I call the Too Syndrome. We feel that there are some people we can’t really extend full acceptance to because they are too something--too old, too young, too liberal, too conservative, too rich, too poor, too educated, too uneducated, too rigid in religious observances, too lax. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, if the traveler who fell among thieves was like other Jews of his time, he felt that Samaritans were too ethnically impure to worship in the temple; I don’t think he felt that the wine and the oil poured on his wounds were too Samaritan, do you?” 

Chieko Okazaki, "Aloha," p. 98-99  

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Baptizing the Developmentally Disabled

1) If someone is aware enough to want to be baptized without any pressure or coaching from others, and if there are no "worthiness" issues that would prohibit it, I have no problem whatsoever with that person being baptized.

2) We teach that up until baptism at the age of eight, the kids who are baptized haven't been accountable up to that point - at least not in the same sense as converts who are baptized. Thus, really, what's the difference between the standard eight-year-old baptism and baptism for someone who isn't accountable after being baptized?

3) We teach of the need to avoid being baptized "unworthily" - and it's hard to say someone who is not accountable is "unworthy", in the classic, traditional sense of how that word is used.

4) Baptism, the Priesthood, temple attendance and marriage are very different things, and I don't want to deny one simply out of concern about the others.

5) I understand, however, the concern that baptizing those who are not considered to be accountable could perpetuate the idea that they need to be baptized and, eventually, that they (and, by extension) all people actually are accountable from birth, no matter their capability to understand. I also understand that if one such person is baptized, others who have loved ones in similar situations might feel like those loved ones also should be baptized. Therefore, I understand the desire to maintain a bright line with those who are believed not to be accountable. It can be a can of worms that isn't worth opening.


I would have no problem baptizing someone who wants to be baptized - and if someone understands enough to feel like he isn't a "real member", I think he understands enough to be baptized. However, I personally would do it as a clear exception to the general rule - and, if I were the Bishop, I probably would announce the baptism much like if it were a convert baptism and say something very direct, like:

Billy has come to me and asked to be baptized. After talking with and interviewing him, I believe he understands the purpose of baptism well enough and is fully worthy to be baptized. Therefore, his baptism will occur at such a time.

However, having said that, I would support a Bishop completely and without hesitation who felt like he couldn't make an exception - even though I believe exceptions often are what give real meaning to the rules. 

Monday, September 28, 2015

I Wish We Understood the Book of Mormon Better

A church member said the following a while ago, and my response is below what he said: 

The Book of Mormon claims to be the word of God - every sentence, every verse, every page.

No, it doesn't make that claim - and, in fact, it says exactly the opposite. 

It claims to be a tiny abridgment complied exclusively by four people (Ether, Nephi, Mormon and Moroni) from a massive collection of various records written by mortal, imperfect people - with mistakes and "deletions" admitted openly and directly throughout the text. ("What I've chosen to include is not even a hundredth of what I could have chosen," means lots of stuff was deleted from the other records, if you will, in the writing of the summary.) It's not the Mormon version of the inerrant Bible - even though that's how many members view it.

This is a great example of what I've said for many years - that the biggest problem in the LDS Church right now with regard to the Book of Mormon is that many members (including many leaders at all levels) don't understand what the Book of Mormon itself actually says in a lot of cases. (I'm not saying I do totally, but I've spent lots of time and effort trying to parse and understand it - and it simply doesn't say or teach LOTS of things many members think it does.)

So, at the most fundamental level, I'm much more concerned about the church membership understanding what the Book of Mormon actually says than about exactly how individual members view it.  I believe it is the word of God; I just don't believe that means it is the inerrant (mistake-free) word of God, straight from his mouth to prophets to the page.  That isn't what it claims within its pages. 

Friday, September 25, 2015

Idealistic Realism / Realistic Idealism: Striving for a Healthy Balance

Today is my birthday, and, as I contemplated what I wanted to share, I decided to write very briefly about the perspective I try to cultivate to direct how I interact with other people.  

I try to give people the benefit of the doubt and trust them until they show me they are not trustworthy – and I’m not sure whether that primarily is because of my religion or simply my personality, inherited particularly from my mother (who is schizophrenic and, along with medication, needs peace and a lack of stress in her life to function properly). She was trusting and non-judgmental out of physiological necessity, and that probably rubbed off on me to some degree.

I have come to believe that a generally trusting nature is more healthy than a suspicious, cynical nature – even with the dangers of being too trusting. It’s finding the proper balance of idealistic realism or realistic idealism that is my focus – and that is not an easy journey. It takes conscious effort to avoid being too much of many things, since it’s so easy to gravitate to an extreme.