Wednesday, July 29, 2015

"Loving Others and Living with Differences", Elder Oaks, Oct. 2014

Find this talk here.

  • I have always interpreted "As I have loved you, love one another" or its other variants to mean, "I've loved you; you should therefore love others", rather than the slightly different meaning, "Love others in the same way I've loved you." This latter interpretation, though, makes more sense.
  • The reminder not to contend is an awfully important one. It reminds me of a time I listened to a friend talk about the Church in a way I felt was negative and dishonest, and it made me angry. I didn't act on the anger; rather I revisited the experience later on to see why I'd been angry. I reviewed my friend's statements and determined that in fact, they were all true (his tone when making the statements may perhaps have been inappropriate; I don't remember his tone well, and it's not my place to judge anyway). It taught me a great deal about paying attention to the actual wording of scripture, and the fallibility of my first impressions.
  • I'll insert at this point, in case anyone ever reads this, that my current beliefs differ somewhat from those of my childhood, and those of much of my family. I hope I don't resort to contention to promote or defend those beliefs, and would welcome others to point it out if they feel I'm being contentious. I don't intend even to share my more contrary positions beyond those I'm commanded to teach, unless asked about them specifically, and I don't want to contend at all.
    • I will share my beliefs in detail when prompted to do so, or when people ask specific questions.
  • I wish "in dedicated spaces like ... houses of worship" we actually could "teach the truth and the commandments plainly and thoroughly as we understand them". Unfortunately at least in our ward, the instruction is always to keep things positive and simple. In the Church generally, the correlation program has reduced the allowed topics to a list. There are something like 72 specific subjects about which lessons and curricula may be produced, and anything outside those topics is off limits. See Daymon Smith's Ph.D thesis here for specifics. This list doesn't include much of Joseph Smith's most pressing concerns, such as having one's "calling and election" made sure, or receiving the Second Comforter. This strikes me as organizationally enforced rejection of "the greater portion of the word", which Alma 12:10-11 tells us leads to damnation.
  • I appreciate his wording, that "Less grievous behaviors, even though unacceptable to some believers, may simply need to be endured if legalized by what a Book of Mormon prophet called 'the voice of the people'".
  • "Surely we can teach our children values and standards of behavior without having them distance themselves or show disrespect to any who are different." This is important. I've seen a few too many instances where one LDS family refuses to allow their children to become close to non-LDS children, simply because of religious differences. One neighboring LDS family has a daughter who is (or was) close friends with a non-LDS girl across the street. Hearsay (and, to be clear, I have no evidence of this beyond the report of a potentially biased friend) has it that the LDS father felt his own salvation was at risk unless the non-LDS girl was baptized, or the two girls distanced themselves from each other. This is, of course, completely contrary to scripture and to LDS teaching.
  • I may have to keep his comments on maintaining civil political discourse on hand, because municipal elections are coming up and I live in a politically rancorous area.
  • A study I read (and I realize one can find a study to back up whatever position one chooses to take, more or less) said Utahns in general and Utah Mormons in particular tend to avoid confrontation at the expense of their own interests, and at the same time to feel dismissive of the validity of others' interests. I imagine the study's authors had some ideas about what caused this attitude, but I don't remember what they were and don't claim to have any specific idea myself. If there's something to the study's claims, perhaps anymore it's just cultural inertia. In any case, Elder Oaks' advice is important: there are some things we can't compromise, at least when it comes to our own behavior.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

A few comments on "sustaining"

The next bit of the conference involves the sustaining of officers, which merits some comment.

The whole idea of "sustaining" office-holders in the church stems from what the D&C calls "common consent." All actions of the church are meant to be governed by this common consent, which means the membership of the church directs the operations of the church, if we're following the scriptural forms. See D&C 26:2 and D&C 28:13. The D&C describes a church where leaders get authority from the consent of the members they'll lead, not by virtue of a priesthood office, and in the early days of the church it wasn't uncommon for members to engage in some discussion as they tried to find someone they could agree on, to fill a vacant office.

Today, on the other hand, members are expected to vote for the leaders they've been assigned, and if you can't do that in good conscience, you lose your temple recommend. In other words, you have to be willing to vote the way the church tells you to vote. This in contrast to the system the scriptures describe, where the church is required to abide by the vote of its members.

The idea of voting for church officers in any situation where the outcome is not necessarily a foregone conclusion may seem somewhat repugnant to modern members, but serves a real and valid purpose. D&C 124:144 specifically allows church members to disapprove people called to offices. In the 1940s the church patriarch was yet another Joseph Fielding Smith (not the famous one, nor his famous abbreviated father). Smith was widely known for predatory homosexuality, as witnessed by his police record full of complaints regarding University of Utah students he had propositioned, or worse. Yet because the church had already become so proficient at stifling dissent, his sustaining as church patriarch was as mutely unanimous as the sustainings we're used to today. It wasn't until a few years later that someone finally got the word to church leadership, and Smith was released for "ill health." (see Smith's wikipedia article, or for details). The church called Smith's cousin, Eldred G. Smith, to take the office, which he held until he was given emeritus status in 1979. The office was never refilled, and today no longer exists.

Today, however, we have this strange new idea of sustaining. In October 2014, Elder Nelson went so far as to say this:
Our sustaining of prophets is a personal commitment that we will do our utmost to uphold their prophetic priorities. Our sustaining is an oath-like indication that we recognize their calling as a prophet to be legitimate and binding upon us.
The scriptures say nothing of an oath when establishing common consent. Does Elder Nelson mean we promise to do whatever the church's leadership tells us to do? We're not supposed to put faith in mortals, only in Christ; therefore, the church's leadership can mess up just as much as any of the rest of us; we'd best not covenant before God to obey them no matter what.

The temple recommend question on the subject is interesting:
Do you sustain the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the Prophet, Seer, and Revelator and as the only person on the earth who possesses and is authorized to exercise all priesthood keys? Do you sustain members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as prophets, seers, and revelators? Do you sustain the other General Authorities and local authorities of the Church?
Taking a dictionary definition of "sustain" instead of Elder Nelson's oath definition helps make sense of this question; we can thereby consider that to sustain is to uphold, encourage, support, etc. And it's clear who we're talking about in the first question: the one president of the church. But what does "the Prophet, Seer, and Revelator" mean? "The" is a definite article; is there only supposed to be one? Moses wanted everyone to be prophets, and the scriptures talk about times when there were many. What exactly qualifies someone as a "prophet" is a question worthy of a dissertation, and revelator too, but "seer" is very strictly defined in Mosiah 8:13 as someone who has "wherewith that he can look, and translate all records that are of ancient date". The church hasn't had a translator since Joseph Smith -- no one even claims that ability -- so apparently we don't have a seer. Should President Monson or his successors ever make that claim, I'll certainly take notice, and uphold him in any way I can if it checks out. Certainly he is called to be a seer, but I see no evidence he has fulfilled that calling.

As to priesthood keys, Brigham Young himself tells us the church doesn't have "all priesthood keys," (Journal of Discourses, 15:137) and in case we thought we might ignore Brigham, Pres. Kimball quoted him (General Conference, April 1977), and Elder Oaks recently quoted Pres. Kimball quoting Brigham Young (General Conference, April 2014), all saying there are keys we don't possess, including specifically the key of revelation. Therefore the president of the church is not authorized to exercise all priesthood keys.

But don't bring any of this up, because if you do, you won't get your temple recommend.

I'll gladly support anything the leadership of the church does which indicates they are indeed prophets, seers, or revelators. But they've never demonstrated those fruits, as far as I know, and Christ tells us we should distinguish true prophets from false ones by their fruits (3 Nephi 14:20). Meanwhile, it doesn't take long to come up with a long list of actions taken by church leaders in direct contradiction of scripture. These violations were, I'm confident, not committed maliciously, but they're still non-scriptural, and the leaders involved have refused to correct the problem even when it is called to their attention. I cannot in good conscience support violating scripture, so I can't sustain those actions they have taken.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Slow progress

I'm not sure anyone's reading these, but if someone's there, I wanted to say progress here will be slow. I need to focus on my Book of Mormon study for a while.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

"Receiving a Testimony of Light and Truth", Pres. Uchtdorf, Oct 2014

This talk can be found here.

  • I wonder if the worlds we see in space are the same worlds the scriptures really refer to when they say "worlds without number".
    • He refers to Moses 1:33. It's often instructive to read a few verses before and after whatever verse someone is citing, and verse 32 is definitely interesting. It echoes the book of John in calling Christ the "word of [God's] power".
  • This idea that the world is "mind-bogglingly bigger than anyone had previously believed" applies in other ways, too. Joseph Smith famously told us that if we could "gaze into heaven five minutes, [we] would know more than [we] would by reading all that was ever written on the subject" (TPJS, p. 324)  This probably still applies, suggesting we should avoid getting uppity when someone suggests an idea about the nature of heaven which doesn't square with whatever dogma we've hitched our personal wagon to.
    • This squares nicely with what Pres. Uchtdorf says toward the end of this talk, as well as what he said in Oct 2013: "regardless of your circumstances, your personal history, or the strength of your testimony, there is room for you in this Church." He doesn't include "your opinion" in that list, which may well be because the Church regularly kicks people out these days for their expressing their own opinions (cf. Kate Kelly, John Dehlin, Rock Waterman, Denver Snuffer, Adrian Larsen, to name a few off the top of my head). This idea of kicking people out for belief differs from Joseph Smith's view, when he said, "I did not like the old man being called up for erring in doctrine. It looks too much like the Methodist, and not like the Latter-day Saints. Methodists have creeds which a man must believe or be asked out of their church. I want the liberty of thinking and believing as I please."
  • "It seems to be a trait of humanity to assume that we are right even when we are wrong." What would the world be like if more of us could remember to quit assuming we were right all the time?
  • "He will speak in a way that is unmistakable and that transcends human experience." This is not necessarily true. Ether 12:6 tells us we receive no witness until after the trial of our faith. Until we have experience enough to know what's from God and what's not, we have to experiment on His word, and wait for witnesses to appear afterward. We won't immediately know that what we think we're told is coming from God.
    • Pres. Uchtdorf gets this right later on, when he tells us, "when you are trying to verify the truth of gospel principles, you must first live them," implying that we'll find out after living them whether they're true or not. This is the correct method.
  • Unfortunately Pres. Uchtdorf's most consistent reference to scripture is a misapplication of "Moroni's Promise". The promise says we need to study the Book of Mormon, so we can be told by the Holy Ghost whether the Book of Mormon is true or not. Claiming "the Church is true" doesn't actually mean anything, so it's pointless to ask if the Church is true.
    • Perhaps it's the teachings of the Church that are meant to be true. So what about when they contradict each other? What about when they contradict scripture, yet maintain the claim that they're bound by scripture as the law of the Church?
    • Perhaps it's the Church's authority claims that are meant to be considered true. But they come without much proof, or fruit, much like when the children if Israel had the priesthood taken from them.
  • Incidentally, it's a fun experiment to try to "remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts." It's a good reminder just how much world history there is, and how much you probably don't know.
  • "The more we incline our hearts and minds toward God, the more heavenly light distills upon our souls. And each time we willingly and earnestly seek that light, we indicate to God our readiness to receive more light." This is definitely true, from my own experience.
  • "By the same token, if we remove ourselves from the light of the gospel, our own light begins to dim—not in a day or a week but gradually over time—until we look back and can’t quite understand why we had ever believed the gospel was true." Alma 12 calls this receiving the lesser portion of the word, and the way I read history, that's what the Church has been doing especially since correlation began in earnest in the 1960's. Where we used to have nuanced doctrine (compounded with obvious philosophies of men, true) we now have over-simplified slogans accompanied by earnest warnings against seeking mysteries.
    • Joseph Smith encouraged his listeners to seek ever deeper to know the mysteries of Godliness. "The things of God are of deep import; and time, and experience, and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out. Thy mind, O man! if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and search into and contemplate the darkest abyss, and the broad expanse of eternity—thou must commune with God." (from the letter that produced sections 121 - 123, available in History of the Church, vol. 3)
    • So did Nephi, in 1 Ne 10:19.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

"Free Forever, to Act for Themselves", Elder Christofferson, Oct 2014

Find this talk here.
  • This was an excellent talk, and a topic many of us refuse to follow to its logical conclusion. We slavishly subject ourselves to government and church leaders in the name of such lofty ideals as patriotism and propriety, shuffling our sense of personal responsibility off on leaders and the ivory thrones we construct to elevate them beyond the benighted reach of their sometimes questionable personal merits. Having weaseled ourselves out of answering important questions on our own, we mistakenly declare ourselves unburdened by the difficulties of the world, and take the resulting euphoria as a sign our self-imposed indenture is approved by the higher power we now consider ourselves free mostly to ignore.
    • For instance, Mormons are largely an orderly and subservient bunch when it comes to government authority. Which means we tend not to complain even when we're obviously being fleeced. Our national tax rates far exceed the 20% the Book of Mormon describes as the province of horribly corrupt despots, and if that wasn't enough copying from King Noah's legacy, our church leaders have constructed not one but two "tower[s] near the temple" (Mosiah 11:3) as monuments to their earthly power, without the scripturally required common consent (D&C 104:71).
  • His quote from Shakespeare ("Every subject’s duty is the king’s; but every subject’s soul is his own.") is absolutely correct, and directly contradicts Heber J. Grant's famous counsel as quoted by Marion G. Romney: "My boy, you always keep your eye on the President of the Church and if he ever tells you to do anything, and it is wrong, and you do it, the Lord will bless you for it."
    • We are, as Elder Christofferson points out, "accountable for [our] own sins in the day of judgment" (D&C 101:78) Obeying a mortal when he tells you to do something you know is wrong precisely invites the curse mentioned in 2 Nephi 28:31, "Cursed is he that putteth his trust in man, or maketh flesh his arm, or shall hearken unto the precepts of men, save their precepts shall be given by the power of the Holy Ghost."
    • Pres. Grant went on to moderate his statement with the claim that the prophet cannot lead us astray, but that idea is never supported in scripture. Brigham Young advocated it at least once (and contradicted it at least twice, once in the quote Elder Anderson shares), and Wilford Woodruff famously used it to convince people he was mostly serious about the Manifesto, but in scripture the only ones that can't do wrong are God the Father and Jesus Christ.
      • Quoting again from Elder Christofferson, "God will not live our lives for us nor control us as if we were His puppets, as Lucifer once proposed to do." The president of the church is no more or less a puppet than the rest of us, and nowhere has God promised to kill him off before allowing him to mess up.
  • Elder Anderson refers to Moses 6:57, which explains why Christ is called the "Son of Man". I remember thinking, when I discovered that scripture, that it was pretty cool the scriptures work together that way to define things.
  • I'm not sure the commandments are "the" real manifestation of God's love; certainly they're "a" manifestation of His love.
    • 1 Nephi 11 talks about the "love of God" being represented both by a fountain of living waters, and the tree of life, and that the love of God "sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore it is the most desirable above all things." Not all those descriptions can apply solely to the commandments.
    • The above might seem overly pedantic, but in my own experience, we of the church tend to focus so much on behavior and following those commandments we've been given, that we in Pharisaic fashion invent our own commandments as a buffer around the God-given ones. Hence our insistence through the years on elevating to the level of divine dicta certain philosophies of men: don't watch R-rated movies, don't date until you're 16, stay out of debt, marry within your race, stay away from face cards, only have one piercing in your ears. Wise counsel, perhaps, but not commandments of God. On the other hand, we regularly ignore the very possibility of an actual relationship with our Lord, the same relationship He subtly commands us to develop while in mortality: "That through the power and manifestation of the Spirit, while in the flesh, they may be able to abear his bpresence in the world of glory." (D&C 76:118, see also v. 74). We're supposed to develop a relationship with the Savior in this life, so as to be prepared to withstand His glory in the world to come.
  • "Justice demands ... that none of this [cleansing and character development] happen [sic] without our willing agreement and participation." In my own experience, it's amazing the stuff you can find Christ ready to bless you with, if only you realize you 1) can ask for it, and 2) have to ask for it to get it.
  • It's interesting that in his discussion of how we can have faith in God because of His justice, Elder Anderson doesn't cite Lectures on Faith, which says exactly he's saying.
  • I loved this part: "We must defend accountability against persons and programs that would (sometimes with the best of intentions) make us dependent. And we must defend it against our own inclinations to avoid the work that is required to cultivate talents, abilities, and Christlike character."
    • I'm grateful he brought up that freedom takes actual work from us, and that it means we can't shunt our responsibility off on someone else.
  • "It is God's will that we be ... free from the humiliating limitations of poverty"? Where does he get that idea? Christ was clearly among the poor. His best friends lived in Bethany, which means "House of the Poor". When He walked through the field eating the corn on the Sabbath, the only reason He wasn't breaking the law was that He was poor.
    • I read an interesting article fairly recently on all the indications from Christ's recorded New Testament ministry that prove he spent the whole time dirt poor. I may have to dig it up again.
  • "And we do not need to achieve some minimum level of capacity or goodness before God will help—divine aid can be ours every hour of every day, no matter where we are in the path of obedience." This, too, is wonderful to hear someone say, and absolutely right. Christ is far more forgiving that we give Him credit for. Obedience brings blessings, yes, but certain blessings are always available to whoever will ask for them.
  • This was a great talk; most of it passes muster with the scriptures. I feel to point out that it's an example of an excellent talk that shows none of the fruits we're supposed to use to identify a prophet, seer, and revelator. There's no prophecy, translation (Mosiah 1 tells us a seer is someone who translates), or revelation to be found in it. Elder Anderson may of course have manifested those fruits somewhere else (and I'd love to hear about it if he has), but this particular talk, wonderful though it was, cannot bear evidence he is a prophet, a seer, or a revelator.

"Rescue in Unity", Elder Wong, Oct 2014

Find this talk here.

  • The story of the guy with the palsy omits logistical details that might be interesting to know. Why didn't Christ ask the guy to go fix the roof?
    • I hope our cultural fascination with doing things "appropriately" wouldn't prevent us from thinking outside the box like the palsied man's helpers did
  • I'm not sure this long exercise in inventing modern details for Christ's parable is a good use of our time.
  • Yes, it's a good idea to use ward councils to look after members of the ward. Didn't we know that already?
  • He makes a very important observation, referring to "their faith", that faith combined by a group can have greater effect than individual effort.

"The Sacrament—a Renewal for the Soul", Cheryl A. Esplin, October 2014

Find this talk here.

  • Elder Holland's quote is interesting. Frankly I think all our experiences have the potential to be "truly spiritual", and we're invited to commune with God at any time -- we're even commanded to do it (D&C 10:5)
    • As to being a renewal of something, certainly we're renewing the covenants we made last time we took the sacrament; those covenants are spelled out in the sacrament prayer explicitly. We always say (though Sister Eplin doesn't repeat this) that the sacrament is a renewal of our baptismal covenants, but frankly I don't find scriptural support for this idea.
  • She's absolutely right in her description of taking Christ's name upon us. He must assuredly take first priority in our lives. This is a frightening proposition. It has gotten me personally into several difficult situations. But He promises if I'm faithful, He'll get me somewhere better.
    • As I've tried to give my life unreservedly to Christ, I've sometimes thought of what sacrifices He might ask of me in response. It's through that process that I was taught to anticipate giving up some of the friendships that I see disappearing now. Karlyn's friendship is one I would be hard-pressed to sacrifice. Fortunately I know Christ would turn even that sacrifice to my good (D&C 98:3, and several others).
      • The temple sealing, as with other temple ordinances, is a preparatory thing. We should not assume that once we're sealed, everything is taken care of. Section 132 tells us we need to be sealed by the "Holy Spirit of Promise", which D&C 88:3 tells us comes with having your calling and election made sure.
        • Section 132 is difficult to take at full face value, not as much because of the endorsement of plural marriage as because it directly contradicts the book of Jacob in its description of David and Solomon's righteousness. It's a fascinating history about which we don't have much detail, but it wouldn't surprise me if it was presented by Joseph as a test and that the people around him failed the test by not recognizing it contradicted existing scripture. There's also evidence that bits of it were "doctored" by advocates of Brigham Young style polygamy before it took on its modern form.
        • To be clear, I'm talking of section 132 being a test, not plural marriage being a test. Plural marriage is an entirely different and fascinating history, but I don't think it was simply a test and we were supposed to reject the idea. I do think we're supposed to notice that Joseph Smith left no written information about it other than section 132, that none of Joseph's plural wives bore him children, and that both Joseph's version of it and Brigham's failed to meet the conditions specified in section 132.
  • There's a lot about the sacrament as described in the scriptures that we ignore, such as that the administrator "shall kneel with the church" (D&C 20:76, Moroni 4:2) instead of kneeling in front of the church, and that it should actually be a meal where people are filled (3 Ne. 18:9). Elder Packer has expressed concern that the Church possesses the authority of the priesthood but not necessarily the power ("The Power of the Priesthood", April 2010). Perhaps we'd have more of that power if we quit defiling the earth by changing the ordinances  we've been given (Isa. 24:5)
  • The description of always remembering the Savior correctly refers to His "example and teachings", and "[H]is commandments". It would do well to mention that these commandments and example extend beyond those recorded in scripture to those He will manifest to you in the moment by the power of the Spirit.
  • I appreciate the reference to "Christ's enabling power" resolving someone's disobedience-induced guilt. To refer again to Elder Packer, “The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior." ("Little Children", Oct 1986). Study of the doctrines of the gospel will also reveal that "good behavior" isn't supposed to be our final goal, a point many of us tend to overlook. Our goal is to know God (John 17:3). As we seek to do that, He'll get rid of our weakness for us (Ether 12:27)