in Religion

Coalescing Policy Narratives

I confess that I haven’t been particularly productive since last Thursday night. Even after the reassuring divine message I received while walking my dog, this new church policy has consumed my thoughts and overwhelmed my heart these past few days, to the point where I feel like I can neither talk or think of anything else.

I don’t want to reiterate or justify my own position, which has not changed from my two previous posts on the subject. Rather, I want to review some of the pools of consensus that seem to be coalescing as members struggle to come to terms with this issue. Near as I can tell, those pools are settling on the following narratives to explain/justify/vilify the newly established policy that the children of gay parents are to be denied blessings of full church participation until age 18. This list is in no way comprehensive; I’m only going to address the narratives that I think require further comment.

1. The Abrahamic Test Narrative
D&C 101:4 says the members of the church “must needs be chastened and tried, even as Abraham, who was commanded to offer up his only son.” This policy represents just such a trial, and we need to rise up and accept the challenge, just like Abraham did.

Actually, D&C 101:4 is addressed to the Saints who were driven out of their homes by angry mobs. In context, the revelation is providing an explanation for why God allowed the Saints to suffer such horrible persecutions in that instance. It is not a blanket prediction that every member of the Church will be required to make an Abrahamic sacrifice.

In addition, the comparison to Abraham overlooks what was unique about his particular experience. Remember, Abraham wasn’t just asked to do something difficult, like give away all his wealth or wander in the wilderness for 40 years. He was asked to do something he knew to be morally wrong. The distinction is critical. Isaac had been born to Abraham’s wife through miraculous circumstances, but even if he hadn’t been, the law of the Lord prohibits murder and requires fathers to love and protect their children, not slaughter them. So Abraham was asked to do something that violated everything he knew to be right.

This narrative is invoked by many who defend this policy, and I think most of them don’t realize that, by doing so, they are unwittingly acknowledging that their conscience is telling them this policy is wrong.

2. The Follow-the-Brethren Narrative
The Brethren are prophets and apostles of the Lord. They are his anointed servants with the authority to lead this church, and they cannot lead us astray. This came from them, which means it’s right. So who are you to say that it’s wrong?

That phrase “lead us astray” has been the source of much mischief over the years. It originally comes from the following statement by Wilford Woodruff after he had issued the Manifesto ending the practice of polygamy in the mainstream LDS Church.

The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the programme. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty.

The simplest way to interpret that statement, and the way that, I think, a majority of members do interpret that statement, is that the prophet and apostles are essentially infallible. I say “essentially” because there are a host of other statements, many of them far more recent than this one, where prophets and apostles candidly admit that they are, indeed, fallible and capable of error.

So the way a lot of people reconcile “the prophet won’t lead you astray” with “the prophet is not infallible”  is the idea that the prophet can make mistakes, but only tiny ones. If the prophet thinks you’re somebody else and calls you by the wrong name, or if he forgets his wife’s birthday, or if he misspells a word, or if he gives someone the wrong directions on how to drive to his house, well, that’s because he’s human and fallible. But surely he could never get any significant point of doctrine wrong.

But the fact is that, yes, he can, and history has shown us clear examples of where he has.

The most painful is the Church’s longstanding denial of full participation to black members, which lasted for more than a century and was based on Brigham Young’s wrong idea that black skin was the mark of Cain. Granted, that was an idea that did not originate with Brother Brigham or the Church; it was a longstanding justification for American slavery. But Brigham believed it, and he taught it with confidence from the pulpit and used the principle to shape policy. And he was wrong, and, today, the Church openly acknowledges he was wrong. 

One of the reasons I believe that the ban endured for so long is that later prophets erroneously believed in the “essentially infallible” theory. Among other factors, they couldn’t lift the ban because they couldn’t bring themselves to admit that one of their predecessors had simply made a big mistake.

So if the prophet can be wrong, and not just by a little bit, then what does it mean to say that the prophet cannot “lead us astray?” Well, I don’t have an easy answer to that question. I think it means that if you stick with the prophet, even though he can be wrong, that you’ll ultimately end up where you need to be in the end. Even if it takes a century to change course, as it did with the priesthood ban, the Church will eventually get it right.

This isn’t good enough for a lot of people who end up with damaged faith when they discover that prophets make mistakes. And I sympathize; I wish prophets didn’t ever make mistakes. But an infallible prophet would also have to be a prophet without agency. God never tampers with agency, even with his prophets. That’s what mortality is all about.

3. The Brethren-Are-Bad-Guys Narrative
This policy was written by a bunch of out-of-touch homophobes who love power more than God. 

So the flip side to #2, promulgated by some of those who, like me, oppose this new policy, is that not only are prophets fallible, but they are incapable of doing anything right. Or, even more sinisterly, they are incapable of doing anything for the right reason. They’re bigots; they’re haters; they’re liars; they’re control freaks, or, among the more charitable who buy into this narrative, they’re kindhearted, senile idiots.

People who believe this fail to provide an adequate explanation for why the vast majority of what these allegedly terrible men teach and do is overwhelmingly positive. The messages they share at Conference are Christlike and kind, and they have devoted their entire lives to service, requiring them to attend to their demanding duties until the day they die. The colossal amount of goodness to be found in the Church would not be possible if it were being led by the corrupt villains described by this narrative.  And while I think this policy is a grievous error, I think it is an error implemented by men who actively sought the will of the Lord and were trying to do the right thing.

4. The Brethren-Know-Better-Than-Me Narrative
I think the policy is wrong, and my conscience, my gut, and even the Spirit are telling me it’s wrong. But the Brethren are more righteous than I am, and they are closer to the Lord, and obviously they know something I don’t, so I will support this in spite of myself. 

This is a variation on the “Follow the Brethren” narrative, except, in this instance, the person sees a conflict between their personal feelings and their loyalty to the Brethren. In the “Follow the Brethren” narrative as described above, the loyalists feel no such conflict and are proud to be able to among the truly righteous who do not question their leaders. In this narrative, the internal conflict is agonizing, and the only way to reconcile it is to cede personal moral judgment to supposed moral superiors.

This narrative presumes that men are apostles because they are better people than we are. And that may be true in some cases, as I certainly think they are better people, or more righteous people, than I am. But I also think that way of people in my own neighborhood, many of whom would be outstanding apostles. When you have a worldwide church with millions of members and only a dozen or so high leadership slots, you inevitably have a massive overabundance of talent.

The following is from an article titled “Parables of Mercy” by Richard Lloyd Anderson which appeared in the February 1987 edition of The Ensign:

Despite his spiritual stature as a prophet, [Joseph Smith] never claimed personal superiority to other Saints. In fact, he said, “I don’t want you to think I am very righteous, for I am not very righteous. God judgeth men according to the light he gives them.”

That light is not dependent on the intervention of any other human being, even a prophet. You have direct access to heaven, and you have the right to the light and knowledge of the Spirit. No one stands between you and the Lord Jesus Christ. And if the Spirit is undeniably telling you something, you can trust it without getting approval from Church Headquarters.

These are my thoughts for the day. I’ll stop now. More to come, I’m sure.

What God told me while I was walking my dog
Rameumptom Watch: Thoughts from the Cheap Seats

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  1. “members struggle to come to terms with this issue”

    It took me about three seconds to remember that children cannot, by themselves, join the church. Missionaries do not preach the gospel only to children and so far as I know never have. I speak of the situation where neither parent is a member of the church.

    It places an impossible burden on a child to live standards different and in opposition to his caregivers. It was difficult enough for me.

    The standard has been around for a long time. It gets “press” when John Dehlin decides it needs press.

    Mormonism revolves entirely around the eternal, procreative family unit. People not interested are entirely free to start a religion that is everything-but-this or everything-but-that.

    “the Church will eventually get it right”

    But in so doing, will be judged wrong by some. I prefer the church to steer a steady course and let people get on or off if their desires vary. Should the church actually change in any significant way *I* will leave it for I will know it is guided merely by human whim.

    I have freedom of choice and so do you. Get on or get off. If you can change it, then so can millions of other people, and then what do you have? Chaos; the very thing nearly every Christian denomination is suffering right now, a lack of reliable, predictable direction. What is wrong yesterday is tolerated today could be mandatory tomorrow. Does that come from God? I doubt it (it’s possible but extremely unlikely).

    • “Missionaries do not preach the gospel only to children and so far as I know never have. I speak of the situation where neither parent is a member of the church.”

      Missionaries preach the gospel to minor children with nonmember parents all the time, even without the parents present, provided they have parental permission to do so.

      “It places an impossible burden on a child to live standards different and in opposition to his caregivers.”

      Minor children outside of gay households join the church and live different standards than their caregivers all the time. Many of them do so in environments far more hostile than a household with same sex parents.

      • Stallion says “Missionaries preach the gospel to minor children all the time, provided they have parental permission.”

        Yes to both, and I knew that, and you must know that I knew that, and carefully crafted my words even so.

        All children have a mother and a father; usually but not always also the caregiver and permission-granter to their children. It is a bit complicated when grandma is raising a teenager and both parents are actually still alive and living somewhere else; both at law and at church this can create significant problems to sign off on that child doing anything — school, military service, driver’s license and so on.

        Society has turned this whole thing upside down, shaken it and cut it into little pieces. The church has not.

        Who will baptize the child? Who will confer the holy ghost; who will ordain when the time comes? To whom will this child be sealed? Neither of my parents, both living, had anything to do with any of this for me. Fortunately I had a stepmother, very unpleasant by most measures but sent me to church which gave me purpose and direction. It was difficult for me being the only one obeying the word of wisdom, or obeying the law of chastity, watching my language, going to church on Sunday. As it happened it prepared me to do the same thing for the next 20 years in the Navy also being the only one obeying the law of chastity, word of wisdom, watching language and going to church on Sunday.

        Anyway, that’s a LOT to put on an 8 year old child. Why are you not thinking of the child?

        The child can wait until she is of age to make her own decisions or until things settle out a bit.

        • I’m not sure, but you seem to be implying that children can only taught by missionaries if their active parents are absent for some reason. Missionaries teach children of nonmember parents. These parents must give permission, yes, but they often do so while remaining hostile to either the doctrine or standards of the church.

          All the questions you ask – who will baptize them, who will ordain them, etc. – are questions that are addressed in a variety of situations where children are raised in environments hostile to the church with a nonmember parent or parents.

          To apply the standard you advocate with any degree of consistency, the Church must prevent any minor child without two active parents from being baptized until they are 18 years of age.

          • stallioncornell wrote “To apply the standard you advocate with any degree of consistency, the Church must prevent any minor child without two active parents from being baptized until they are 18 years of age.”

            Yes. That would solve many problems where the child has substantially different cultural and moral expectations as compared to his caregivers. I am glad I joined at 14 to take advantage of the seminary program but it did cause many problems for me at home.

          • But surely having the church and the gospel in your life at 14 provided you with a spiritual anchor to help you weather all the turmoil at home. Why would you deny that same anchor to the innocent children of gay parents?

          • stallioncornell “But surely having the church and the gospel in your life at 14 provided you with a spiritual anchor to help you weather all the turmoil at home.”

            Refuge, to be a little more precise. More on anchor below.

            I had intended to kill myself and its extremely mysterious failure is how I came to know there’s a god. Mere weeks later I ran into the young man that became my friend and still is more than 40 years later.

            Since I went to church alone it was a couple of hours respite from anger, conflict and sometimes violence at home.

            “Why would you deny that same anchor to the innocent children of gay parents?”

            I was not given an anchor, at least not in the way you seem to mean. My anchor is knowledge of God and I found that anchor although it was probably put in the way where I would trip over it, figuratively speaking.

            I did not baptize my daughter at 8. I would have waited to 18 on that one but the church gets nervous after they are 9 years old and still not baptized. So feeling a bit compelled I baptized my daughter a few months after she was 9. I regret doing so; she is not yet ready for that commitment and denies the existence of God. She prayed for a certain boy to fall in love with her; it didn’t happen, end of belief in God. She tried some Wiccan spells but that also didn’t work. She refused to accept that 13 year old boys don’t fall in love. Girls do, boys don’t, not when there’s Skyrim or Halo to play on Xbox.

            In the case you wish explored, namely a child of parents or guardians actively in opposition to the church, it would be better to not create conflict in the home involving a child. Even if the child is a teenager that has discovered religion and conflict is inevitable, the church does not need to be a party to it. In my own case, my religion eventually provoked a lot of mischief, lawsuits, government intervention. I sympathize with the church wishing not to get embroiled in that sort of thing over and over and over.

            D&C 88 is relevant and important to understanding the points I have been trying to make.

            33: (paraphrased) don’t give a gift where it won’t be received.

            36: All kingdoms have a law given.

            38: And unto every kingdom is given a law; and unto every law there are certain bounds also and conditions.

            81: Behold, I sent you out to testify and warn the people, and it becometh every man who hath been warned to warn his neighbor.

            It is better to avoid putting this burden on a child. It didn’t work very well for me to warn my father and stepmother (or wife, brother, friend or anyone else it seems); and was a complete flop with my mother who believes in everything but does nothing — tarot cards, biorythms, spirits, crystals; Jesus, Jung and Mohammad. She believes in every bit of it and, like the Queen, can believe six impossible things before breakfast.

  2. This is why I love you, James McKay Bennett. Considered, thoughtful, fair, reasonable. I spent my evening last night scouring my father’s autobiography for a story; a story he tells of seeking to find a satisfactory explanation of why “Negroes are denied the Priesthood”. This, when he was 22 years old in March 1946 “Grandmother Bennett gave me all the information that is available But it all seems to boil down to this; God is just, and it will all work out in the end.” This explanation was not in the least satisfactory to my father. He continued to write letters to the Brethren seeking an answer. The President of the Church was at the time his grandfather, Heber J. Grant, and he wrote to him as well of course. In all his letters and questioning, no further explanation was offered beyond “God is just and it will all work out in the end.” But he kept on keepin’ on… both in his steadfast faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and in his questioning of that which he did not understand. And eventually the policy was changed. I don’t remember a more joyful day in our household.

    • “And eventually the policy was changed. I don’t remember a more joyful day in our household.”

      I remember being horrified that so many members of the church judged their prophets to be wrong such that they felt joy when the prophet finally was right.

      To me it was just another day in the church of God. Policy changed. It happens.

      • Sir, sorry to be rude, but if you were horrified when you discovered that millions upon millions of your fellow Children of God now had access to the priesthood and the temple of the Lord after having been denied that access for over a century, then you are a turd. Full-on, major league turd.

        • Stallion says “if you were horrified when you discovered that millions upon millions of your fellow Children of God now had access to the priesthood and the temple of the Lord after having been denied that access for over a century, then you are a turd.”

          You write well but don’t read worth a damn. I shall be unsubscribing.

          I am disturbed by people, which includes you, that treat revelations as being correct or incorrect, right or wrong; that a new policy is something to be rejoiced about, implicating your judgement that the old one must have been wrong and therefore the old prophet not really a prophet.

          Naturally that means the current one also is not a prophet.

          A better thinking is that prophets issue policy statements appropriate for their times and circumstances; that in a perfect world we would live the United Order and there would be no poor among us and no crime. But, we don’t live that and the apostles juggle what is possible with what is right. It is a compromise. This is why I have encouraged you to stay focused on the missions of the church; it *will* be necessary at times to sacrifice a principle to achieve the mission.

          Heeding the mission and moving it forward is RIGHT. If along the way someone is offended, maybe that little offense is “wrong” when looking solely at it, but to make that little wrong right makes the big right wrong. That’s the Gospel of Michael.

          C.S. Lewis presents this very concept admirably in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. The boy commits a sin and the law requires a penalty. Aslan knows a higher law that the witch does not; and allows himself to be killed — satisfying the law as far as the witch knew it to be.

          God will never be trapped by his own laws and commandments. There is always a superior principle or law. The topmost law, the prime directive, will probably not ever be revealed to mortal men and certainly not to his own enemy.

          You, on the other hand, CAN be trapped by excessive adherence to a particular policy that you prefer; celebrating the preferred ones and condemning those you don’t like. That leads to chaos.

          I don’t like the way the church runs the Boy Scouts. But I keep it mostly to myself since there may be an important, overruling aspect that I do not see. There is no actual leadership training anywhere in the church; no taking responsibility for choices you don’t get to make, ever, from Deacon to Apostle you get exactly one choice: Submission. I don’t like it but I cannot think of a system that would work better. It also puts a HUGE burden on the top man to be 100 percent correct at all times; because his mistake will ripple all the way down to the deacons and beehives. But they are not wrong; they are merely obeying.

          I have a doubt God intended it to be that way. I am pretty sure God intends for each of us to be responsible for ourselves, to choose, to act, to be hot or cold. Deacons are not taught how to do this. My Boy Scouts *were* taught in a brief golden age where real scouting came to my stake because I and several others brought it. Half those scouts earned the rank of Eagle. Now it has gone back to the way it was, church-with-camping and I am not interested in helping with that.

          But I do not arrogate to myself that I am correct or superior. It is my military training that says teaching young men to make decisions and letting them experience their own consequences at 12 years of age will likely prevent more serious mistakes at 20, 30 or 40 years of age.

          But if everyone did that, what then? It might be chaos; the church would probably not be top-down, led by a prophet. It would certainly be chaos if the church *suddenly* started allowing personal decision making among people not accustomed to it.

          So read my words, or not, but please do not play “straw man” with me pretending I have written what I have neither written nor implied.

  3. Here is a scripture that really helped me during this past week: “I perceive that ye are weak, that ye cannot understand all my words which I am commanded of the Father to speak unto you at this time. Therefore, go ye unto your homes, and ponder the things which I have said, and ask of the Father, in my name, that ye may understand . . . .” (3 Nephi 17:2-3)

  4. So many questions, so many answers!

    “So Abraham was asked to do something that violated everything he knew to be right.”

    We know only what is written. Suppose he chose to do what he knew to be right? Presuming of course that what we think he knew to be right was indeed right, a grand assumption permeating almost all human endeavor.

    Perhaps Abraham’s future would have been brighter had he chosen differently.

    Suppose Adam and Eve obeyed God from the very beginning. What then? We don’t know because that’s not the way it played; but C.S. Lewis explores that very thing in his Perelandra trilogy.

    Anyway, the Ten Commandments hadn’t been issued yet; Abraham had escaped from Ur (Babylon). The gods were numerous and dangerous. You did not disobey a god for any reason. That’s still pretty good advice *if* you can be sure it is God. However, since then we have many guidelines issued by God and it is unlikely he will demand to violate a law he issued.

      • stallioncornell “Are you arguing that Abraham didn’t see God’s call to sacrifice his son as a contradiction of God’s law?”

        Yes, for that law had not been issued. The Ten Commandments came through Moses (as did every story preceeding him). It is unclear to me what exactly Abraham possessed at that time with regard to God’s law. That is why I wrote regarding his heritage; he had just come out of Babylon whose gods were very dangerous, very human in their jealousies (a word used in the Old Testament to describe God himself). He obeyed. Sacrifice, especially that of your own son, is a metaphor for the Son of God, of whom God Himself must and did sacrifice. Art thou better than he?

        Were God to issue such a command NOW to any prophet, the prophet would be justified in refusing and saying, get thee behind me satan, because it is a “Grand Key” that God won’t order a violation of his own commandments. To do so is to unravel the order of heaven and make it so nobody can trust anything.

        I believe you personally, and me personally, will be justified even if we are wrong if we proceed faithfully with the knowledge we possess and are reasonably expected to possess, but turn out to be wrong. That is the principle of justification, the atonement corrects for the wrongness leaving us with the virtue of obedience.

        As to anything written in Genesis; proceed with caution. It is very mysterious. God repents of making man. “They” go down to see what the humans are doing in Babylon; couldn’t they at least use a telescope? The Earth was already here and the Sun wasn’t created until the third “day” (epoch is a better rendering from Hebrew or so I am told). The books of Abraham and Moses are heavily influence by ancient Sumerian and Akkadian religion and language and they had astonishing insight into astronomy in particular. The “three wise men” were the successors to Akkadians if I remember right; they didn’t physically follow a star, they recognized the significance of a new star. Everyone saw the star. But it was significant to those watching for it, and the Sumerians watched the sky with a passion.

        So there’s a lot going on and when suddenly a God that everyone knows exists shows up and says, “Kill your son”, you salute and obey. Remember in those days you could physically wrestle with angels. They were real and dangerous.

        • The scriptures speak of the law being written on “the fleshly tables of the heart.” Even prior to the issue of the Ten Commandments, Abraham surely recognized the fundamental immorality of slaughtering his own child.

          You say that “God won’t order a violation of his own commandments.” I agree. This policy is a violation of God’s commandment not to punish the innocent for another’s sins. That’s why it’s wrong.

          • “This policy is a violation of God’s commandment not to punish the innocent for another’s sins. That’s why it’s wrong.”

            Every human after Adam and Eve have been punished for their transgression; if I am to use your rather generous definitions of “punish”, which I don’t, but must for the sake of any hope of communication. Perhaps it is your understanding of “punish” that is incorrect.

  5. I wish I had a dollar every time someone compares this or that policy to blacks and the priesthood. No comparison exists. When I joined the church as a teenager I knew of this policy and I knew that it had an expiration date, not exactly what was the date. It existed for a time and for a purpose, and that purpose is not revealed. Many policies of the government of the church exist for a season only.

    You mistake that the church admits or declares Brigham Young to be “wrong”.

    You wrote, “And he was wrong, and, today, the Church openly acknowledges he was wrong.”

    No. I studied the link you provided, I do not see the word “wrong” anywhere on that page.

    “Over time, Church leaders and members advanced many theories to explain the priesthood and temple restrictions. None of these explanations is accepted today as the official doctrine of the Church.”

    There is no explanation, nothing to argue against or about. It was what it was, and now it is what it is. It’s a railroad train on a track. Some riders may think it should go a little more to the west, maybe a little more to the east; but it is on a track and it goes where it must. Occasionally the train comes to a switch, and only at those times can the church change policy. Neither choice may be particularly good but one must be chosen.

    Bishop Grady of Capitol Hill ward was black. He was also a man of God. I presume all bishops speak to God. Not so many does God return the favor (in my opinion). On his appointment, many white members of the ward stopped coming to church; but interestingly, so did many black members. The very idea of mixing was alien to their comfort and this was in 1991. He appreciated the military members (such as I was) since race is mostly inconsequential to military persons. He never once complained about a time when he would not have held the priesthood.

    His son, on the other hand, was filled with doubt and question. I was invited to dinner at their home, a rare opportunity for this younger man (in his 20’s if I remember right) to ask a white man all sorts of difficult questions. The most difficult was “What color is Jesus?” but it was not difficult for me: “Jesus is the color of light; all colors or no particular color. He can present himself in any appearance that is expedient as when he disguised his appearance when appearing to his disciples.”

    There is no known description or depiction of Jesus, and I have no doubt this is to remove from the table of dispute this question. If you need him to be black, then he’s black. If you need him to be white, he’s white. Bearded, no beard; long hair or crew cut. Have it your way!

    The point I make is that the members were only barely willing to tolerate each other in 1991, how would it have worked in 1931 or 1891?

    Does anyone live the true law of God? Probably not; it is probably impossible in America right now. You might not even like it. What is that law? Faith, hope and charity. The sacrifice now required of us is a broken heart and a contrite spirit.

    • One has to parse the essay with very tortured reasoning to suggest that it doesn’t admit that Brigham Young’s position, i.e. that black people bear the curse of Cain, was wrong. From the essay:

      “Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.”

      Brigham Young, a prophet of the Lord who did a great work and gathered the Lord’s people to the Salt Lake Valley, advanced the theory that black skin was a sign of divine disfavor or curse. The church explicitly disavows that theory. “Disavow” is not the same word as “wrong,” but it’s a pretty strong word that explicitly repudiates what it is describing. Do you still maintain that Brigham Young was right about cursed black people?

      • Stallion writes: “Brigham Young… was wrong on this issue. Do you still maintain that he was right?”

        I maintain neither right nor wrong, I am not and cannot be his judge. But I also do not oppose studying the question for someday you will face a similar choice and it will be better to have already considered it. You see, it doesn’t really matter that much what the prophets and apostles knew, being enlightened by the Holy Ghost every day. If your church members won’t go along with it you basically have two choices: (1) excommunicate the entire church or (2) live with it by doing what you can and postponing what just isn’t going to fly so that you’ll have a “body” from which missionaries will travel the Earth preaching the gospel, minus perhaps the part about all men being created equal. Those early members were stubborn cusses and I don’t think it has changed much.

        What would I have done; what would you have done? What would be right but also, what would be expedient?

        We already know from the manifesto on polygamy which way the leaders go; they go with expediency and so did Abraham and so did Nephi and so did Jesus himself. The ox in the mire is a tale about expediency.

        Jesus is attributed to having said we should be “harmless as doves and cunning as serpents”. Well, what is that? It is a recognition that the enemy of God is real, determined and influential; so while maintaining your virtue you don’t play stupidly into the hands of your enemies. That’s a tall order and sometimes the choice doesn’t even exist.

        What is the purpose of the temple? It is to bind the generations together. Two men cannot produce a generation. That is a broken link. This camel’s nose cannot enter this tent.

        The book of Mormon starts right off with an ethical bind: Nephi broke three of the ten commandments in one evening — killed Laben, pretended to be Laban, and stole the golden plates. Now it is entirely possible Lehi had a right to them, but that’s not how it was played.

        Was he wrong? Strictly speaking, yes absolutely. He broke God’s laws. I’ve wondered why he didn’t just knock Laban on the head rather than killing him, but curiously it was that Book of Mormon movie that cleared this up. Laman and Lemuel wanted to return to Jerusalem, and Nephi points out they cannot; for in Jerusalem they are murderers. They cannot return. I do rather wish they had returned, just those two, to Jerusalem but that’s not how the story goes so you deal with the hand you’ve been dealt.

        God Himself faced tough choices and still does. Shall he intervene to save a child, or shall he let the child die and return to heaven? Great for the child except that perhaps cheated out of the hardships that will shape his mind and intellect and prepare him for eternities to come.

        It is not clear from scripture whether the daughter’s of Lot were sinful, wise or merely expedient when they seduced their own father.

        It is not clear from scripture whether Abraham was guilty of lying when he misrepresented his wife as his sister, or wrong to do so. It seems wrong, but was it expedient?

        It is not clear from scripture that any of these stories are factual and complete, as in, who wrote the story of Abraham? There was only himself and his son there. He can tell it any way he wishes.

        Jesus gave the parable of the wise servant, who upon learning that he was about to be fired from his job, called in his master’s debtors and reduced their debts. This is spectacularly dishonest on the face of it, and yet Jesus praised this action, for when the servant was released from his employment, he had many friends. “Make ye therefore friends from among the children of mammon”.

        Was Jesus wrong? Good heavens; where does this road end?

        Eternal life is, first and foremost, LIFE. Everything that lives has parents and offspring from carrots to Gods. This cannot be altered, not yet anyway, and most certainly cannot be permitted to creep into a religion whose entire purpose is eternal progression and reproduction. This train has many cars, some of which lack a few amenities, but it is still better to be on the train than not, or so it seems to me.

        • “[Re: was Brigham Young wrong when he said blacks were cursed,] I maintain neither right nor wrong, I am not and cannot be his judge.”

          I’m not judging Brigham Young. The Lord only knows his heart, and he will judge him according. I’m only acknowledging a fact. Brigham Young believed black people are cursed. As the church now admits, black people were not cursed. Ergo, the church now admits that Brigham Young was wrong. That’s a fact you may not like, but that doesn’t make it go away.

          Your musings on expediency seem tangential to the topic we’re discussing. For my part, our doctrine is that people are punished only for their own sins and not anyone else’s. Yet this policy punishes innocent children. That makes it contrary to doctrine. Which means that it’s wrong.

          • stallioncornell writes “I’m not judging Brigham Young.”

            Yes, you did, quite clearly and with passion.

            There’s a moral difference between “wrong” which is punishable (a moral component) and “incorrect” which merely requires correction in the unlikely case it is important (such as a mistake in a math problem).

            But either is irrelevant. The inventor of a word cannot be wrong about it. If Brigham Young says you are cursed well then you are, and if his successor says you aren’t, well then you aren’t. If he says you are cursed only on Tuesdays, well then that’s what it is.

            I’m getting rather many interruptions on my flow of thinking and it may reflect in fragmented writing while I hold a phone to my ear trying to type.

            So 100 years later someone comes along and says “no curse”. But does the word mean what it meant? No. Cain’s curse was a protection for his descendants and a very good thing it was.

            Is it “bad” not to be given the priesthood? You call it punishment when really it is a blessing; you’ll never be culpable for failing the duties imposed upon the priesthood. With priesthood comes dramatically increased exposure to failure; and what sort of success could a black bishop expect as recently as 1960 anywhere in the United States? Nearly none, and yet culpable.

            Thank you, thank you, Brigham Young for not saddling people with a gift they cannot then bear, through no fault or “curse” of their own, but nevertheless will not be permitted to bear it by the other members of society and the church.

            And if it is called a curse by many, so be it. Those that judge will likely be judged.

            “Brigham Young believed black people are cursed.”

            Maybe, but so did I as a teenager. I am still cursed and so are you. Just not that curse. Is being black a curse? Maybe if you lived in Biloxi in the 1950’s it was. The mark of Cain was for his protection and the bigger curse was upon anyone that killed Cain or his descendants.

            What cannot be known is what Brigham Young believed. But that’s a nit; important to some.

            “As the church now admits, black people were not cursed.”

            There is no “admit”. The church does not admit. Sometimes the church will try to explain a thing; usually it just declares. At any rate, if the prophet now declares blacks to be not cursed well then they are not cursed. If the prophet now declares blacks were never cursed, then they were never cursed, but that neverness starts with the declaration; it is a re-write of history.

            “Ergo, the church now admits that Brigham Young was wrong.”

            There is no admit. Instead, there’s a declaration that blacks are not cursed and that the church does not know why Brigham Young refused the priesthood to blacks. You are free to decide for yourself but I do not accept that your conclusion is the official admission of the church.

            This I knew as a teenager in the 1960’s. No priesthood for blacks, nobody knows exactly why, but it’s schedule to happen Any Day Now. It *is* a test of faith although not probably intended for that purpose. I see it as a blessing in disguise or a blessing in the skies; if you have no chance of actually leading a congregation because they won’t follow you, why impose upon you the duty and priesthood which requires exactly that duty?

            Suppose the prophet suddenly started ordaining women. Could he do that? Sure; he has the keys. But how many men are suddenly going to sustain a woman bishop? How about let’s not find out just yet and stay focused on the mission of preaching the gospel and saving our dead.

            “That’s a fact you may not like, but that doesn’t make it go away.”

            I get that a lot in global warming arguments. It is nearly certain that the moment someone says “fact” it probably isn’t.

   (Kid History; absolutely delightful discussion of “fact”).

            “Your musings on expediency seem tangential to the topic we’re discussing.”

            They are everything to this discussion. Wisdom is obtained exploring the margins, the edges, the envelope. You need to know where is the envelope. It is safe to go right down the middle strictly obeying, or so you suppose, all of the commandments. Then one day you are faced with a dilemma and paralyzed because you cannot obey two commandments and must choose which to obey and which to violate. They form a heirarchy.

            What is the first command given to Adam and Eve, and the only commandment given to animals and also the only naturally arising commandment? Multiply and replenish the earth. Survival just happens to be the trump card, the premier commandment, the prime motive that pre-empts all others, generally speaking.

            “Yet this policy punishes innocent children.”

            No, absolutely not. It is Catholic dogma. If you aren’t baptized at birth, you are punished. If you are a native of Borneo and never heard of Jesus, you are punished, It deprives the word “punishment” of any meaning.

            NOT imposing a burden on a child is a GIFT, it is compassion! Quite frankly I wonder if all people ought not to be baptized until 18 when they can choose for themselves.

            “That makes it contrary to doctrine. Which means that it’s wrong.”

            No. If I say that having 12 sided dice (*) is against doctrine, is it wrong? If I say it is wrong; is it against doctrine? No to either. They are not the same things.

            Doctrine is policy. Wrong is immorality. Doctrine ought to be based on morality but rather a lot of it is just operations and procedure and morality seems to be whatever anyone thinks is right or wrong. It helps to align your sense of right and wrong with that of your creator but there’s no guarantee of it.

            * When Dungeons and Dragons came out, 12 sided dice are made of dodecahedrons which just happen to be convered with pentagons, taken by some to be pentagrams, taken by some to be satanic. I just thought they were pretty little dodecahedrons of the kind I used to make in geometry class out of paper.

            (Still here? I’m impressed! Brevity can lead to misunderstanding and trying to be brief and complete probably accomplishes neither)

          • “Wrong” and “incorrect” are synonyms. I make no moral judgment of Brigham Young as a human being, and I do not condemn him. I point out that he was factually in error, and that error did tremendous damage over time and has now been disavowed by the Church.

            Your logic here is beyond tortured. You’re essentially saying that if the Church announces that the sky is green, then we all need to ignore the Satanists who still think it’s blue. You’re trying to cling to the idea that the Church and its leaders are infallible, even though they repeatedly admit – concede? Acknowledge? Which word will escape your parsing? – that they are not infallible. There has never been a church on the earth led by infallible men. This truth does not shake my faith and, indeed, strengthens it, especially when the Church makes a mistake, as it has done so here.

          • stallioncornell wrote “Wrong and incorrect are synonyms.”


            They are not synonyms; they overlap, but are not identical. I believe you know this already and carefully chose your words.

            “I point out that he was factually in error”

            And I pointed out that such a thing is impossible. The church cannot be factually in error about its own policies and religious pronouncements; with some room for its non-religious pronouncements to disagree with scientifically discovered results for instance.

            “and that error did tremendous damage over time”

            Checkmate in three moves or less.

            In order for there to be damage, priesthood must be real. If priesthood is real, so is the prophet. If the prophet is real, he has the authority to declare who gets it and who does not, therefore there can be no error. On the other hand, if there is no actual priesthood or power, then you are incorrect, maybe also wrong, to assert “damage” since the thing withheld doesn’t exist; “nothing” was withheld, it’s imaginary.

            I recommend to your viewing a movie called “Circle of Iron”.

            The relevant parts are that during their journey, David Carradine routinely destroys things which seems at odds, or in conflict with peaceful martial arts values. It is on their return that he reveals the actual charity in these deeds — knocking over the poor farmer’s stone wall concealed the farmer’s life savings that had been visible in a niche and which would have been taken by soldiers that soon arrived. Breaking the nose of the spoiled rich man’s son prevented him from growing up to become a tyrant because he was in love with his own beauty.

            The Book of Abraham teaches a simple, elegant principle; that the spirits are on a continuum of intelligence from least to greatest. It is a continuum with Abraham being one of the greatest. Well what is the implication? It is that a very fine line divides the greatest of the least and the least of the greatest; and some people on Earth are foreordained to Priesthood and the burdens that go with it, and some are NOT. Most obviously aren’t; there’s 7 billion humans and most will never hear the gospel in their lifetimes.

            DAMAGE comes from imposing a burden on someone that cannot bear it for any of a variety of reasons; the immediate case is that of a child that cannot obey church laws without violating customs of the home or even just making judgments against guardians. Teens will do that anyway but the church doesn’t need to encourage it.

            “and has now been disavowed by the Church.”

            What is disavowed is a common belief by members of the church that blackness is the mark of Cain (one belief) and as such cannot hold the priesthood (a separate belief) because they were less valiant in the pre-existence (yet another belief invoking a fourth, the existence of a pre-existence).

            Church responses tend to be very carefully worded sometimes with non-obvious but linguistic holes you can drive a Peterbuilt through.

            “Your logic here is beyond tortured.”

            Thank you! I don’t get that much praise very often.

            Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.”
            “I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

            Same Source: “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”

            Marvelous. It is a commentary on language, especially English. People are bicameral; that is, left brain and right brain, and it is rather common (IMO) for each half to have VERY different goals and to use language to its own purposes and sometimes not even know what the other side is doing.

            “You’re essentially saying that if the Church announces that the sky is green, then we all need to ignore the Satanists who still think it’s blue.”

            Non-sequitur. If the church announces that the sky is green, that is simply the new word for a property of “sky”, which itself is just a word for a property of the atmosphere. Its scope of application is limited to “church”. In the church the new word is “green”; meaning the same thing that used to be meant by “blue”.

            The sky cannot actually BE green or blue. It’s just a perception.

            It is completely irrelevant what Satanists wish to call the sky; no more nor less relevant than what Swedes or Russians call the sky.

            “You’re trying to cling to the idea that the Church and its leaders are infallible”

            Irrelevant. They are the Caesar of their words. They cannot fail for they define what is success. They might fail according to my superior idea of what is right and wrong; which if I was more ambitious and concerned about it I would start my own church, and Boy Scouts would elect their patrol leaders, not merely signal submission to the bishop’s son.

            “This truth does not shake my faith and, indeed, strengthens it, especially when the Church makes a mistake, as it has done so here.”

            How can you have faith in a Church that stumbles from error to error; today’s writ is tomorrows error? As Spock would say, “Fascinating!”

      • Thank you for the quote so I don’t have to look it up.

        “Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that…”

        Well okay then. That theory didn’t work out 🙂

  6. Who ever wrote this is missing the big picture about faith and why we are here and doesn’t have any except faith in his own mind, which is the biggest reason people fall from the church. The person who wrote this, wants to be “right” and live the “right” way, and figure out who is “right” and who isnt. This is NOT why we are here. Also, I follow the brethren without question NOT because I am blind….but because I asked God, in Faith, if this church was true and led by Christ Himself. He testified this to me, and so because he did, I am now accountable for knowing this information and knowing that his prophets and apostles speak for him. For this reason, I follow, in faith. Following in faith is NOT blind! This is from a post I wrote last week about this issue. Yes, it references the Abraham example, but it does it to demonstrate WHY we follow the prophet, not to justify anything. “I am reading constantly people saying concerning this new policy: What if the Prophet is just speaking as a Man, instead of for God. How do we know? I think people forget why we are here. We are here to be tested. To test our faith to God. Let me say this clearly, we are not here on earth to be right. If you are going to church because you want to be right, you are there for the wrong reason. You may say, “what is the difference?”. Remember when Abraham was commanded to kill his son? How “Right” was that? It’s right, because God said it was right to Kill Isaac. If we keep our minds on the big picture, it shouldn’t matter if the prophet was speaking as a man, or for God. ALL OF IT IS A TRIAL OF OUR FAITH. This quote sums it up, “I would rather stand with God, and be judged by the world, then stand with the world, and be judged by God.” -Ryan

    • “Who ever wrote this is missing the big picture about faith and why we are here and doesn’t have any except faith in his own mind, which is the biggest reason people fall from the church.”

      I wrote this, and what you have written here does not reflect my position at all. I have faith in the Church; I have faith in the Brethren, and I have very little faith in my own mind.

      “The person who wrote this, wants to be ‘right’ and live the ‘right’ way, and figure out who is ‘right’ and who isn’t.”

      I want to live the right way, yes. No quotation marks necessary. I define living right as living in harmony with the will of God. I have little or no interest in figuring out if other people are living right. I am accountable for my own life.

      “Also, I follow the brethren without question NOT because I am blind….but because I asked God, in Faith, if this church was true and led by Christ Himself. He testified this to me, and so because he did, I am now accountable for knowing this information and knowing that his prophets and apostles speak for him.”

      Here, it sounds like I nailed it with Narrative #2 in describing your position, and then you segue into Narrative #1. Do you believe the Brethren are infallible?

  7. Good thoughts here. I would add one more potential narrative: The Brethren allowed incompetence to be a part of the policy writing. I can see a way that this policy came into existence because of pre-existing parameters related to polygamy. Because of the fact that the church already had an existing policy for the children of polygamists, it is possible that when they made the decision to classify Gay Marriage in the same “Apostasy” category, they made the (wrong) decision to treat the children of LGBT people the same way. And once a policy is in effect, the Church is typically very slow to change it because of how it will appear to the rest of the world. It’s incompetence that lead to grouping polygamy and same sex marriage, but how do they admit that to the world. It’s entirely possible the brethren saw the policy and the grouping with polygamy and thought, “Meh, seems right.” But they’re not exactly going to come out and say that this kind of policy is created that sloppily.

    Just my two cents.

    • Actually, I would find that encouraging. It would mean that this is an error not so much of judgment but of process. Such errors happen all the time in every field of endeavor, and it would make it easier for the Brethren to save face in correcting it.

    • Largo writes “they made the (wrong) decision to treat the children of LGBT people the same way.”

      Oh? All I had to deal with in my household was an atheist father and a totally inactive stepmother; with no adherence (but also no expectation or covenenat by them) to the word of wisdom, to civil language (swearing was common, just not by me), the law of chastity.

      But they weren’t apostate living exactly in opposition to my new-found moral code of conduct. My father, while believing there’s no God, nevertheless did not oppose me believing so. How will it be that a child having two men caregivers is going to deal with a lesson on eternal families or the law of chastity?

      I’m not seeing any answers here. I am seeing selfishness. Y’all aren’t thinking of the child; you are projecting yourselves into the adults of that household and how they perceive the snub, and it is indeed a snub with the children mere collateral damage.

      But think of the children, please. What do they get being baptized? Not much. What is the penalty for waiting to 18? Nothing; no penalty, no punishment. What tribulations are avoided? Many! As Stallion suggests, maybe some other classes of children ought also to wait until 18. Absolutely!

      • The idea that a loving gay couple is living “exactly in opposition” and is more apostate than an atheist who completely rejects the existence of God strikes me as nonsensical on its face.

        • stallioncornell writes “…is more apostate than an atheist who completely rejects the existence of God strikes me as nonsensical on its face.”

          Agreed. The atheist is not an apostate except in the case that he was once a theist and is now anti-theist. Some atheists are non-theists; others are anti-theists. I am atheist to all gods but one. My father was merely a non-theist but deep inside I think held more believe thatn disbelief. At a funeral of my grandfather, my father quietly recited the Lord’s Prayer, not for anyone’s hearing but as I stood next to him, heard it.

          He was rejecting the priestcraft of his childhood religion, Lutheran, and its dark view of the world while at the same time lacking interest in exploring whether others had a brigher outlook.

          As to “more apostate” I doubt it is calibrated that way except maybe as an indicator of how far one might have to travel to “un-apostasize”.

    • Stallion accuses me of having tortured logic but this one:

      “If your church wasn’t true, would you want to know?”

      is incomprehensible. Are you asking if I want to know something but only in the case my church isn’t true? But how would I arrive at that conclusion without already knowing it isn’t true?

      Better logic is affirmative and non-conditional: “Do you wish to know your church is true?”

      Followed by an excruciating explanation of what exactly is meant by “true” with regard to “church”.

      But besides all that, yes. I would love to know my church is 100 percent fictional. Unfortunately, I know with absolute certainty there’s a god and that he knows me. I know with absolute certainty that the temples are not false; that in them worthy work is being done for spirits that are sometimes there, for I have encountered those spirits more than once.

      So the church is not false. But is it true? I don’t know. I suppose I’d give it about 80 to 90 percent; strong enough to ride this train and see where it goes. Nobody else has a better claim.

  8. My narrative for getting through this is from Jacob 5:66 —

    “…wherefore ye shall clear away the bad according as the good shall grow, that the root and the top may be equal in strength, until the good shall overcome the bad, and the bad be hewn down and cast into the fire, that they cumber not the ground of my vineyard; and thus will I sweep away the bad out of my vineyard.”

    Meaning, myself as a member, the Church as an institution, and the world at large are going through this “pruning” process. There will be mistakes, bad policies, injustice, and all the rest both within and outside of the Church for some time, but the overall arc of history is towards more good and less bad. The main thing I can do is try my best to choose the good in my own life and within my sphere of influence.

    And, the Oatmeal (somehow I find this comforting). Also fitting if you’re a Star Trek fan:

  9. SC said (to Michael): “But surely having the church and the gospel in your life at 14 provided you with a spiritual anchor to help you weather all the turmoil at home. Why would you deny that same anchor to the innocent children of gay parents?”

    Some of your comments make it sound as though the policy requires a “bouncer” at every church entrance to prohibit these children from entering and that the brethren are shunning these children.

    These children are welcome to enjoy many of the blessings of church participation. They can join in every activity and every meeting. They can learn the gospel, strengthen their faith, and be part of the ward family. They can receive priesthood blessings. They can prepare for the ordinances that will be available to them when they are of age.

  10. Dear Michael:

    You believe in an infallible church with infallible leaders. Bless your heart, sir, but no such church exists or has ever existed. You’re offering contradictory and incoherent justifications for a position that is not shared or endorsed by the church you’re trying to defend. And you seriously ticked me off when you told my cousin you were “horrified” at the joy church members felt when black people received the priesthood and temple blessings.

    Bottom line, sir, is that I’m done responding to you.

    Nothing personal; I just don’t see the point. While we may share membership in the same church, our views are so diametrically opposed on basic principles that I see no possibility of finding common ground. I have no plans to ban or delete you, but I do think you would do well to find another forum in which to express your opinions.