I went to have a chat the other day with the rector of the local Episcopal church where I’ve been attending services, mostly just because I am manically talkative right now and always looking for a new victim to process my religious journey with. Fortunately, he turned out to be a skilled listener. And something that really impressed me came early on, after I told him my basic background (namely that I was a super conflicted Mormon who’d been recently dabbling in all things Episcopal and loving it). He easily could have used that as a launching point to do a sales pitch for the Episcopal tradition, or plunged into a narrative of Mormonism as an oppressive tradition from which I needed to escape. But instead, rather my to my surprise, the first thing he asked was, “what do you like about Mormonism?” As a lifelong Mormon I am perhaps overly alert to potential proselytizing, and the thought may have crossed my mind that this could be a trick question, part of “building a relationship of trust” or “establishing common ground” so that then you can later pounce and get the person to convert. But as the conversation continued, it was clear that nothing of the sort was happening. He genuinely wanted to learn more about Mormonism (he didn’t know much), and in particular my experience of it. He didn’t have an agenda for me; he just wanted to hear about my spiritual journey. It’s an absolute delight to talk to someone with that attitude.
Anyway, the conversation got me thinking about what I do like about Mormonism, and inspired me to dig out a post I started years ago on the topic and expand it. Here are some of the things I came up with:
I think I got the term “space doctrine” from our family’s long-suffering home teacher (imagine the patience of a man who would faithfully home teach a family like mine for literally decades), who once in response to a rather wacky lesson being taught, put his head on the pew in front of him and said, “once they get into space doctrine, it’s all over.”
Anyway, these are some of the more, ummm, exciting things I’ve heard over the years.
In the Church’s Newsroom statement a couple of weeks ago where they expressed dismay at the BSA’s vote to start allowing gay scout leaders, there was the following puzzling line:
[T]he admission of openly gay leaders is inconsistent with the doctrines of the Church
I’m trying to figure out which Church doctrines are being referred to here. I’m not even concerned with the virtually impossible task of nailing down exactly what subset of prophetic statements, scriptures, talks, teachings, manuals, or whatever constitute Church doctrine. Even casting a wide net and using a broad definition of what qualifies as doctrine, I’m having a hard time figuring out what Church teachings forbid having gay scout leaders.
“Deep doctrine” is one of the phrases I most dislike in Mormonism. It’s usually used with reference to questions like the location of Kolob, the Lost Ten Tribes, the role of other planets in the Plan of Salvation, the characteristics of different phases of existence, the meaning of various symbols in the book of Revelation, and so on and so forth.
If people want to spend their time exploring such subjects, I have no objection. I have plenty of my own strange interests. What I dislike, however, is the framework in which these topics are “deeper” than more central teachings, or that they are for the spiritually sophisticated. “Deep” all too often gets used as a synonym for “esoteric.” And one might ask, all right then, what are the “shallow” doctrines? Faith, repentance, the atonement? Are those doctrines that you grasp before moving on to the more advanced ones? Something seems more than a little off in such a model. Read More
Unless you live under a rock, you are no doubt aware of the high-profile movement that has been urging Church leaders to pray to ask God for new revelation regarding the hanging of pictures of female leaders in prominent church buildings. Led by Washington, D.C.-based human rights attorney Sherri Shelley, this movement has been making waves in the media, including the New York Times, Buzzfeed, the Huffington Post, and even the Provo Daily Herald, pushing their “non-negotiable” agenda.
The Joseph Smith Papers Project has brought to light historical documents proving that Joseph Smith espoused the then-radical egalitarian belief that pictures of female church leaders should hang side-by-side with pictures of male leaders in church buildings. He even told Emma and other prominent sisters in the first meeting of the Relief Society that its meetinghouse walls, “…would one day be a veritable kingdom of tastefully-framed photographs of well-coiffed women in a kaleidoscope of pastel colors.”
The Church, not surprisingly, pushed back at first, stating in a letter from the Public Affairs Department that the Movement to Hang Pictures of Female Leaders in Church Buildings represents only a tiny minority of LDS women. Spokesperson Jessica Rooney explained: Read More
For many years the Priesthood ban has been a matter of embarrassment and consternation to many Mormons. It makes us seem close-minded and exclusionary as a church, and seems to contradict many of our scriptures and core teachings–God not being a respecter of persons, all are alike unto God, etc. We struggle to explain it to our non-Mormon friends, and sometimes wish that it had just never happened. And to add insult to injury, we’ve had to endure many folk-theories justifying the ban, theories that are non-doctrinal and even offensive at times. So, it has finally come time to fully disavow the ban, once and for all.
Well, it turns out that a recent internet post inspired me to propose a forthright and direct disavowal that does not ignore the messy and painful history behind the ban. I realize my disavowal is imperfect, but here goes:
(Previous posts about making space can be found here, here, and here.)
A while back I listened to a podcast where Fiona Givens discussed the lovely book she and her husband co-wrote called “The God Who Weeps”. I highly recommend it–the God they describe is compelling, one worth seeking after, connecting with, and emulating. Anyway, I was struck by her confidence in her Mormon-ness, her self-assurance that her way of being Mormon was completely valid, even though it sounded quite different from much of the Mormonism that I experience in my ward and during General Conference.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is built upon the idea that we can seek answers to fundamental questions about ourselves and our relationship with God. Many celebrate the peace they find in the church through having answers to life’s deepest questions. However, I would contend, that many of the essential doctrines of the church are much more clear when they are applied to men than when they are applied to women. Subsequently, among members of the church, there appears to be a wider variety of opinions about how these doctrines apply to women, while the application of these doctrines for men is much less contended. Below, I have listed three essential areas of doctrine in which I think this is the case. Read More
There are several phrases commonly used to shut down discussions surrounding gender issues in the LDS church. My co-bloggers have already discussed several including: “If you only understood your role as a woman, you would be happy.” and “Admit it. What you really want is the priesthood.” One that I have been thinking about a lot recently is the phrase, “Men and women are just different.” This phrase is often used to justify any differential treatment of men and women within the LDS church. However, I find it a pretty poor justification for this differential treatment for several key reasons.
When the BBC’s modern version of Sherlock aired in 2010, it appealed to my deep seated love of problem solving, mysteries and attention to detail. I had read The Hound of the Baskervilles and one or two of the short stories in the past, but decided to read the entire Sherlock canon, which is comprised of four novels and 56 short stories. Overall, they were a very enjoyable read. However, given that the stories were written between 1887 and 1921 it is not surprising that Sherlock holds some extremely sexist attitudes. Read More
As a kid, I was at least somewhat aware that we Mormons believed differently than other Christians about some crucial doctrines. For example, I knew that our belief in God having a physical body wasn’t widely shared. I also knew that, unlike the sadly misled apostates, we believed that the Wise Men weren’t present at the birth of Jesus.
Yes, I thought that was a central doctrine. I also thought that Mormons uniquely took that position that the Wise Men arrived later. I’m not sure why I thought this was so important or unique. Maybe my parents mentioned it to me once or twice, or suggested I move the Wise Men away from the stable in the nativity scene. I don’t know. It makes me laugh to think back now that I thought it was such a central and important issue.
I’d love to hear of anyone else’s experiences of finding out that the Church-related ideas you thought were crucial as a kid turned out to be not so important.
[In case it’s not clear, my title is a reference to the Far Side cartoon in which a bartender (I think) is dismissing the Wise Men with this line.]
Do traffic signs make us safer? A couple of months ago in The Atlantic, John Staddon argued that, on the whole, they may not:
I began to think that the American system of traffic control, with its many signs and stops, and with its specific rules tailored to every bend in the road, has had the unintended consequence of causing more accidents than it prevents. Paradoxically, almost every new sign put up in the U.S. probably makes drivers a little safer on the stretch of road it guards. But collectively, the forests of signs along American roadways, and the multitude of rules to look out for, are quite deadly.
. . . [W]hat is the limited resource . . . in the case of driving? It’s attention. Attending to a sign competes with attending to the road. The more you look for signs, for police, and at your speedometer, the less attentive you will be to traffic conditions. The limits on attention are much more severe than most people imagine.
This problem–where well-intended safety measures multiply and ultimately make us less safe–reminds me of a similar issue that I think sometimes arises in the Church. The problem occurs when we receive commandments that are arbitrary and detailed.
For a project I’m working on, I’ve recently been re-reading the writings of Paul Knitter, a theologian known for his pluralist outlook. Knitter is skeptical of the notion that salvation can be found only through Christ. He observes that Christians frequently have some kind of encounter with Christ in which they experience his saving power, leading to a conviction that Christ is genuinely saving. However, he points out, the question of whether Christ truly has the power to save is a different question from whether he’s the only savior, and he thinks that too often the terms get conflated.
In sacrament meeting last week, one of the speakers in my ward quoted in passing some verses from D&C 130 which have often perplexed me:
There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—
And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated. Read More
Commenting on a recent FMH thread (see #85), Sonnet raises some good questions:
When we call something “cultural,” then we allow ourselves to think of that thing as peripheral, perhaps silly, and certainly not required for salvation. But who gets to decide what is doctrine and what is culture? . . . I would be willing to bet that everyone’s configurations of doctrine and culture are different: How do you decide what is doctrine and what is not? Do you believe that someone else can tell you? Why is this distinction a useful one to make?
I’ve been wondering the same thing. This separation is frequently proposed as a way to deal with aspects of the Church that a person finds difficult. Once something gets labeled “culture,” as Sonnet observes, it’s easy to dismiss it; in fact, “culture” at times seems to simply be shorthand for “something I don’t like/believe.” However, I’m finding myself more and more skeptical about any clear-cut distinction between the two. Read More
One of my Catholic professors once wryly observed that ten seemed to be the magic number for official Catholic pronouncements: after a new teaching had been repeated ten times, documents would begin with the phrase, “as the Church has always taught . . .” The comment made me laugh, because it reminded me of the LDS tendency to assert that every current notion in the Church must have existed in antiquity. Like other religious traditions, we are confronted with the challenge of theologically accounting for change while maintaining continuity with the past. Read More