04 December 2008

Revisiting Mormon Coffee

A while ago I stated I'd post more about a particular website that is critical of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and some of its doctrines. My blog is not meant to be inflammatory; I'm not acting as apologist for the LDS Church. My posts are meant to be essays that I might use for Sacrament Meeting talks (although I haven't scrutinized the doctrines within them as closely as I would if I were giving these as Sacrament Meeting talks). However, I stated I would comment again about the Mormon Coffee website so this post is me upholding my word.

First I want to note that as a member of the LDS Church, my views are biased towards the Church. Does that mean that I cannot think rationally about my faith? Certainly not. However, I will always err on the side of trusting the living prophet and the majority of the Twelve Apostles (as well as personal feelings that come from the Holy Ghost) if I am unsure of something. If the Church has no official position on a topic, I will not form a solid personal "doctrine" on that topic. I will form (or not) opinions but will only share them as I see fit and then only if I make it clear that they are opinions.

That being said, the writers of the Mormon Coffee blog are people who, regardless of their past or present relationship with the LDS Church are not believers of Mormonism. I could be wrong, of course, but nothing I have read on the site has led me to believe that any of the articles are written by members of the LDS Church who are fully invested in LDS faith and doctrine. This means that, however balanced some of the posts may be, the authors are biased against the Church. This means in matters that seem perplexing or contradictory, the authors are not going to give the LDS Church (or church leader or doctrine) the benefit of the doubt, at least in most cases. I point this out so all are aware of the biases of all authors, myself included.

With a quick perusal of the site one finds many quotes from early church leaders. Brigham Young is a favorite early church leader to quote, as is Orson Pratt. I'll quote from my previous post and go from there.

"There are numerous posts that seemingly point out inconsistencies and shifts in church doctrine over time, as if this somehow hurts the church. The LDS Church is founded on modern-day revelation; on the belief that we have a living prophet who is the only one authorized to receive revelation for the entire church and to authoritatively interpret the scriptures and speak for the Lord. If some doctrines did not have to change over time in response to the times, why would there be a need for a living prophet?"

I have never read an article or post critical of Mormonism that did not largely draw from quotes from long-dead (or at least non-living) church leaders. Why is this? Some argue that what church leaders say today is censored and does not represent raw Mormonism (whatever that means), it represents politically-correct Mormonism. I will not discuss the merits or lack thereof of this argument. The only thing I'll say is that we live in a world where words are easily recorded and widely distributed. What someone says can be all over the world within minutes, unlike even 15 years ago. All public persons are (usually) more careful with what they say in public (and in private).

So, why quote past prophets more than living ones? It's to try to show inconsistencies. However, what the living prophet says always has precedence over what was said in the past. Does this discount past scripture or prophecy? Usually not, but new revelation having precedence over the past was the way things worked in the Old Testament as well as in the New Testament. The Law of Moses was a change to what had previously been taught. Jesus came and fulfilled the Law of Moses and stated that there was no more need for animal sacrifices and many of the other rites of the Law of Moses. Peter received revelation that he should preach the gospel to all people and not just Jews, like Jesus did. Paul received revelations and taught new doctrines. In more modern times, the LDS Church (in the 1890s) stopped practicing polygamy. In the 1970s, all worthy males, regardless of race, were allowed to receive the priesthood. Church doctrine can and do change over time.

This is why using random quotes from Brigham Young or Orson Hyde or Bruce R. McConkie, which may be interesting from a historical standpoint, is not a completely valid way to "critique" the doctrines and beliefs of the LDS Church. It's like people who use random scriptures from the Old Testament (or even the New Testament) to attack Christians or Christianity in general. Besides, what a prophet or apostle says or writes is not always official church doctrine. As I wrote earlier, only the current living prophet has authority to teach and give the official church position on a matter (another apostle sometimes speaks for the prophet though). The Lord's house is a house of order.

Did I address the issue completely? No, but as I stated earlier, my blog has a very narrow focus at this point and this is not the forum to continue the discussion beyond one more response.

In this post, the following was written.
"Perhaps Mormons could consider this scenario. A powerful and influential group has begun collecting the names of Mormon pioneers and martyrs. They are compiling them into a database which is accessible to researchers worldwide and will likely continue to be accessible for hundreds of years. This database includes records for each Mormon who has given his or her life, or sacrificed in another significant way, in consequence of their determination to remain faithful to the Mormon Gospel. Attached to each name is a letter of resignation from LDS Church membership, sent by proxy to Church headquarters in Salt Lake City.

"Though the letters are written and sent only to provide these departed ones the opportunity to leave Mormonism and join another church if they so wish, do LDS descendants of these Mormon pioneers merely shrug off their ancestors’ proxy resignations without another thought? Are Mormons not concerned about what future researchers may find and mistakenly believe about these LDS heroes?

"I suspect Latter-day Saints would be very upset over Mormon pioneer proxy resignations from the LDS Church. They may even believe it to be an injustice to the memories of their loved-ones which, of course, is a devastating injury to everybody concerned."
I know I'm taking that quote out of its broader context, and the author states that the issue is complicated, but the scenario put forth in the post reveals that semantics are the issue (i.e., what Mormons call "giving the opportunity to accept baptism" this author is calling "giving the opportunity to reject their previous faith"). As I said, it's semantics. Mormons performing baptisms for the dead is compared to sending in proxy resignations from another belief or religion - giving dead Mormon pioneers an opportunity to resign from the LDS Church. Why would that be offensive? As an LDS Church member, if someone cared enough about my dead ancestors to perform a baptism or some other ritual on their behalf in the hopes that it would give them the opportunity to accept it, I'd be honored. My ancestors have free will, they can choose for themselves.

Further quoting the author, "Mormon President Gordon B. Hinckley told the Associated Press that baptism for the dead is only an offer of LDS Church membership–which deceased individuals are free to reject. 'So there’s no injury done to anybody,' President Hinckley said. This lack of sensitivity amazes me."

First, calling President Gordon B. Hinckley insensitive reveals that the author was not familiar with him - he was one of the most sensitive people. He did more to build bridges with other religions, faiths, and people than any previous church president. He was someone who really understood others. This author doesn't really try to understand the LDS viewpoint though (okay, maybe she does but she does not give the LDS viewpoint more than cursory acknowledgement). If she had, she would hopefully understand from the LDS perspective that it is the height of insensitivity for us not to perform these baptisms. Is that arrogance? Arrogance is in the eye of the beholder; I certainly do not ever perform proxy work for the dead out of arrogance. If someone sees what I do as arrogant, that is ascribing motive and feelings to me that I may or may not have. People see what they want to see in others. On top of that, we (collectively as a church) have been commanded by the Lord to do this proxy work. So, as members of the LDS Church, we go against God's commandments if we do not do this work.

I will not address the issue of whether or not Holocaust victims' proxy temple work should be done - that's a separate matter. That is all I will say on these matters because I do not want to turn this website into something other than a series of gospel essays by one LDS Church member who does not and cannot speak definitively for the LDS Church.

4 comments:

irresistibledisgrace said...

Nice entry (although, funnily enough, I feel that Mormon Coffee is surprisingly charitable for a "critical" blog to the church -- I guess that points out my bias).

I particularly liked your point though on this idea of bias. When one doesn't have information, what is one's basic assumption? For a member like yourself as you say, the assumption is that the Prophet and GAs are correct (or at least, on the right path). And for others, it might not be that way. if you haven't already read it, Bruce Nielson at Mormon Matters has a series of posts that goes on about this narrative fallacy bias in the absence of information, so one entry that yours reminded me of yours was this one.

But getting into the heart of your post, I think the issue is that the church presents itself as *always* preaching a perfect truth...even while it allows itself revelation. If this is the case, does that mean that something like the church's position on limiting the priesthood from black people once *was* true? And now it's not? Does God change what is right over time? Or could you seriously suggest that something about the 70's "fulfilled" that commandment so it was not needed anymore? or something in the 1890's "fulfilled" the polygamy commandment so it was not needed?

Bruce R. McConkie did say, "Forget everything I have said..." but could you see how for some people, like the crowd of Mormon Coffee, this answer doesn't inspire confidence? It raises questions...so if we supposed to forget everything a GA has once said and written was truth (authoritative prophecy, not just what they said in a personal capacity), how should we know that what you now speak is true? What if you rescind that later?

So, in the end, everyone must ask: is the source trustworthy? And once again, bias comes into play.

Let's say someone is thinking about the church's *current* opinion on homosexuals, feminists, and intellectuals. So, they aren't necessarily relying on inconsistency (the church has been consistently against these things)...but if someone were to relate back to the church's position on priesthood for the blacks (which *was* consistent...up until 1978)...then this could create the wedge of unbelief.

I just wanted to raise some things up. I'm certainly biased; everyone is, but I'm not necessarily saying it must be one way or the other. I'm just asking: isn't it possible to see where a disbeliever is coming from?

Jared said...

I appreciate your comments. For now I will address your final question: "I'm just asking: isn't it possible to see where a disbeliever is coming from?"

Yes, it is. I really do see where many disbelievers are coming from. It's like what Joseph Smith said (I'll paraphrase him), "If I hadn't experienced the things I have, I don't know if I would belief any of this."

We Mormons have a fairly radical position and message within Christianity - that the priesthood authority was lost from the earth and had to be restored (although many of the Reformers had similar beliefs in that they thought that Christianity had gone astray).

Further, the LDS message is actually much more liberal than many other churches in that all people who die before the age of accountability (age 8) will be saved. Also, all those who died without the opportunity to accept or reject the ordinances of the gospel will have the opportunity to do so.

Also, many LDS doctrines seem radical because they differ from the rest of Christianity. However, we believe that core doctrines, such as the character of God, priesthood authority and ordinances, ongoing revelation, were all lost or changed over the years and it is not Mormonism that is radical but the rest of Christianity that is.

Again, I really can see where "disbelievers" come from. I have no idea what my thoughts about the LDS Church and doctrine would be if I had not grown up as a member. The church and church doctrine is even hard for many church members to believe and live. That's why the Holy Ghost is so important; by it we gain the assurances of what we believe and do.

I know many people have honest questions and concerns. There are many people, however, who are not honest with their questions and concerns. We should at least question the motives of anyone who takes the time to maintain a frequently-updated website that is critical of Mormonism. Why would someone spend so much time on something they don't believe in? Is it intellectual curiosity? Maybe. Is it an honest concern for wayward Mormons? Maybe. Is it based on past bad experience with the church or church members? Maybe. Is it a desire to attack something they see as threatening and/or evil? Maybe. Is is because they are dishonest and want to try and attack something good? Maybe. Only they can answer those questions. I still have a hard time understanding why people spend so much time attacking or critiquing things that they don't believe in.

Jared said...

I meant to add that LDS doctrine is further very liberal in that all who ever lived on earth, save a relatively small number who commit the unpardonable sin against the Holy Ghost, will receive a degree of glory. Now, two of these glories - these kingdoms - result in separation from God, which could be thought of as Hell, but (virtually) all will receive some degree of reward. Mormons don't hold to the standard Christian conceptions of Heaven and Hell, with heaven as dwelling with God (or something like that), and Hell as sweating it out with the Devil.

irresistibledisgrace said...

In response to your question: "Why would someone maintain a website that is critical of Mormonism? Why would someone spend so much time on something they don't believe in?"

I see this asked a lot, but I think it's quite obvious. You have people who have invested a lot of time in the church. Maybe they grew up in the church. Maybe they were quite active, faithful members. Maybe they paid quite substantial amounts in tithing, made a lot of friendships, went on missions, etc.,

And then...for one reason or another...they found some disagreement they could not reconcile. A disagreement that crushed their faith.

This church is not something to be taken lightly. It is itself a pervasive culture. I have read many who would say they identify more with being Mormon than with being a citizen of their own country. They would find something more in common with someone they met who was LDS than in someone they met who lived in their same city. And this sentiment carries on, in part, even after someone loses faith or realizes they've never had it. Because LDS culture *is* a culture. It's not *just* a religion. I don't think it's coincidence that Jack Mormons are rarely the authors of these blogs - no, it's people who were very active.

So, in light of all of this, I don't think one can ask people to "leave the church and leave it alone." It is to be expected, I think, that people who invested so much time and energy into the church would have the most to think and write about after they left.

As discussed earlier, there are some intrinsic biases that people will have. You put two questions next to each other and answer both with a maybe: "Is it a desire to attack something they see as threatening and/or evil? Maybe. Is is because they are dishonest and want to try and attack something good? Maybe."

But, as a member, even though you put maybes next to both of them, you're biased in favor of thinking the latter. The church culture encourages us to think like that. Hey, even though I don't believe, when I see some of the *ridiculous* and *blatantly untruthful* things that some anti-Mormons are publishing, it turns me apologetic even now (but then again, that doesn't mean there aren't *legitimate* skeletons in the church closet to find without lying and distorting facts).

But if you look at the other side, they, like any LDS missionary, really believe that they are saving people by their continued efforts. It's not that they are focusing on something they don't believe in. It's that they are focusing on what they do believe in: and they just happen to believe the LDS church is wrong on issues so critical to one's salvation that they can't just abide people they love going down that route.

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