Thursday, April 27, 2006

Sex, Power, and Language

The Washington Post reports about James Moran, a priest who was sexually abused when he was a young intern.

I find it striking how difficult James Moran found it to speak about his experience. When he hinted at problems nobody followed up. Thus conversations that could have protected others and might have been therapeutic could not happen.

It's difficult to be sensitive about a taboo. It's almost impossible to be sensible about a taboo. That's why it is important to be open about sex.

Language empowers us to understand our environment better and to cooperate with others. We can protect our children better from poor choices and victimization if we are talking about penises, vaginas and intercourse. When children know what's up, they will be in a better position to say 'No!' And parents and leaders will follow up more effectively, when our wards are dropping obtuse hints about abuse.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Bigots and Heroes

I love the bumper sticker "God Bless the Whole World, No Exceptions." This morning the BBC Newshour broadcasted a spontaneous demonstration in Dahab where residents chanted: "We love everyone! We love everyone!"

By contrast, Osama bin Laden is calling on his followers to defend the genocidal murderers in Sudan.

Apparently, bin Laden does not care that the murdered men and raped women are Muslims. Instead of celebrating the efforts of the African Union and the United Nations to improve the situation of the victims, bin Laden maligns them as enemies of Islam.

It seems to me that human beings have an obligation to help the victims. While I am not an expert of Islam, I dare say that the Quran supports that view, especially when Muslims are suffering.

Bin Laden's attitude proves that he does not care about Muslims. He reserves his solidarity only to Arabs, a group of which he happens to be a member. In bin Laden's opinion, Arab Muslims apparently deserve protection under all circumstances even when they rape and murder other Muslims.

I can only conclude that bin Laden is just another racist. The heroes are the African soldiers and UN observers, forsaken by the world community, that put their lifes on the line to safe human beings.

The war against al Quaeda is really a civil war that splits every community.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Mormon Studies

Hiram Page's wrote an excellent analysis about the relationship of Mormon Studies and the LDS Church.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Christ in Paradise

As lent draws to an end, we are awaiting the resurrection of the Savior from paradise.

Jesus Christ celebrated the outsiders. He dined with the tax collectors who were forced to be the scourge of the community and saved the prostitute. Characteristically, Jesus chose to depict a sacrilegeous foreigner rather than priests as the good neighbor. And when Christ arrived in paradise, he was in the company of a murderer.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Good Friday

Good Friday, the most important day of the year for Lutherans, barely registers for Mormons. I am compensating by listening to Johann Sebastian Bach's St. Matthew's Passion.

It is good to remember that God partook of mortality and suffered with us.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

The Faithful Historian's Secular History of the Faith: Impossible?

I was asked to move this comment from a previous entry to its own post. Voila!

In my opinion there are very compelling reasons why people should be taught to draw distinctions between secular scholarship and devotional history. Think of the nature of secular scholarship on history. Ideally it should be aimed at providing the best possible analysis of historical evidences using a particular set of intellectual tools. It is not the aim of the historian's craft, at least as most people define it today, to promote or to challenge faith.

Devotional history is a religious exercise as well as a scholarly one. The devotional historian seeks to enhance or deepen believers' spiritual experience of their tradition. BTW, I really think Nate is on to something when he writes about faithful history being an ongoing practice in determining what is normative. What can we bring from our past into the present? How can we define our relationship with the past, while remaining true to our current spiritual convictions? The presentation of the past in this mode does not exclude new insights that would be equally welcome in a secular environment. Bushman's work is as close to perfect in walking the line between the two kinds of history I think we will ever see.

Each kind of history is as much about the present as it is about the past. Secular scholars are sometimes cynical about spiritual experiences and motivations when it comes to writing the history of a faith. Devotional historians craft a view of a faith's past that does as little violence as possible to contemporary belief. People can be educated to understand how to appreciate the difference and use that knowledge to guide them in their response to what they read.

In short, one can write with different aims and methods, and arrive at very different results. Not all history writing is suitable in every context. I do not read from Quinn's Magic World View when I teach Sunday School. I will not use President Hinckley's brief history much when I write my own article on the Restoration (hypothetical).

If we can accept that there are different kinds of history, can we allow that LDS scholars might write different kinds of history and not hold them to devotional history standards whenever they write? Is there ever a time when a scholar is allowed, in a scholarly forum, to forward a hypothesis that contradicts his faith position, but which he or she feels must be explored in forming a secular scholarly view? I think the possibility must exist. Any responsible scholar understands that secular scholarship is tentative. The person who leaps to dismissing faith from the discovery of a tidbit from history is operating in a defective paradigm of truth categories.

Look at the difference between Grant Palmer and Mike Quinn. Someone like a Grant Palmer states clearly that he or she has an agenda that contradicts the faith. In that instance the person is not simply behaving as a scholar, but taking a faith position. A Quinn, who avows loyalty to the LDS Church, writes a historical article in which he explores ideas that make the leadership of that Church uncomfortable (either the Manifesto piece, or the Relief Society piece). He does not seem to have a faith-motivated agenda to change the LDS Church. I simply cannot detect one. Should he punished for sharing his scholarly views? Treating the situation as a hypothetical, I say no.

Secular scholarship always has been and always should be considered a tentative enterprise. Unlike spiritual convictions, which relate to timeless truths acquired through divine illumination, secular scholarship is understood to be perpetually on the move. New methods, new philosophies, new evidences: all these things change our picture of the past on a daily basis. It is only our sad misunderstanding of the differing categories of truth that leads us to fear scholarly analysis as an enemy of faith or eschew spiritual revelation based on scholarly discoveries.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Testimony of a Dissident

A while back another blogger asked me to submit an essay about my Mormon experience. Probably, for good reasons he changed his mind and never published it. Since it is already written and might shed some light on my argument at Times and Seasons, I might as well publish it myself. It might help some people to understand where I am coming from.

Testimony of a Dissident
When I grew up in the seventies and eighties, Church was a liberating experience. My mother converted when I was six. My father never joined the LDS Church and refused permission for me to get baptized until I was fourteen. Since the prohibition was never sufficiently justified, it only stimulated my aspirations.

I was an enthusiastic Mormon, walking five miles to get to Church when I couldn’t afford public transportation. Except for my younger brother, I was the only Mormon in my school. Everyone knew about me because I was a Mormon for a reason. Probably the best indicator of my commitment to the Mormon cause was my role as a joint teacher in the conversion of over thirty Germans, which contributed to the creation of another ward.

Freedom made Church a great experience. Our young men’s leader saw to it that we did not come to harm. Beyond that we explored the gospel together. That was fortuitous because German Mormons can either be intellectually self-reliant or they can be sociopaths. We cherished each other and went to great lengths to spend time with each other. Two of us would have to bike 35 kilometers one way to meet the rest of us. Neither distance nor dogma would separate us from the gospel and each other. We did what it would take and our parents and leaders would let us.

Freedom built our testimony. Six of us served missions. That would not be spectacular in the Mormon corridor but it was spectacular in Germany. None of the German leaders I knew had served missions, except for a couple who worked for the Church Education System. Of our group, only one remains active enthusiastically. One participates selectively. Four of us have distanced ourselves from Mormonism. I don’t think that any one of us had a good experience on our missions, though I am in doubt about two.

I left a very enthusiastic missionary and even though the experience was rather disappointing, in terms of trivializing sacred gospel principles with profane management techniques, I held on to my testimony. But I would never be comfortable at Church again. In 2003 I stumbled across the excommunication of the September Six. Finally, I had to acknowledge that LDS leaders are constrained by self-interest rather than god.

Excommunicating scholars for their work creates a theological paradox. At face value, membership in the LDS Church is a condition for salvation. Excommunicated researchers cannot be redeemed until they restore their membership privileges. However, that would require them to deny their research, which represents not objective truth but the results of their best efforts to know the truth. Hence researchers’ denial constitutes a lie and lying is a sin, which makes their salvation impossible. If these individuals wanted to repent their lies then they would fail once more to qualify for membership. Regardless of what the scholars do, according to Mormon theology, they will lose salvation when disciplined for their research. That’s abusive and heretical. It’s abusive because there is no way out for the scholars. It’s heretical because it creates a situation where the atonement does not apply.

Though it appeals to my sense of justice that those who excommunicate scholars entangle themselves in heresy, I am more concerned about abuse. Since the excommunication of scholars has been continuing for twelve years, Gordon Hinckley and the fifteen are responsible. The excommunications could not have been sustained without support from the top. It was my obligation to terminate allegiance to the abusers. Otherwise I would have become an accomplice. Though I am living a Mormon lifestyle, I can no longer accept callings, contribute money, or perform any other act that would support abuse.

Making Sense of Mormon Knowledge Claims
To many Mormons, my decision is problematic because Mormons approach religion in terms of knowledge. If knowledge claims imply power claims, what does it mean that Mormon theology claims knowledge rather than faith?

Claiming to know the improvable, Mormons tend to regard those who disagree with suspicion, contempt, and hostility. The Mormon vocabulary refers to people as members, non-members, inactives, and apostates. Only conformists are complete human beings. Everyone else is defective. Non-members would better be members. Inactivity is the manifestation of weakness. Anyone who disagrees must be lacking in faith, virtue, or good will.

This aggressive language is necessary to sustain the belief that Mormons know what no one else knows. The only way, Mormon culture can maintain the notion of knowledge, which 98% of humanity does not share and the majority of their co-religionists refuse to apply, is to claim superior virtue. For in Mormon epistemology, it is the heart, not the brain that determines what is right (D&C 9:8, Moroni 10:3). And virtue, not reason, is the vehicle of knowledge. Those who do not obtain such insight must have been lacking in sincerity and effort (Moroni 10:4). Mormon theology reserves the ultimate judgment for those who reassess their experience.

Alma 36:6 describes reassessment in terms of murder:
For behold, if ye deny the Holy Ghost when it once has had place in you, and ye know that ye deny it, behold, this is a sin which is unpardonable; yea, and whosoever murdereth against the light and knowledge of God, it is not easy for him to obtain forgiveness; yea, I say unto you, my son, that it is not easy for him to obtain a forgiveness.
In spite of the adverb “unpardonable,” the sentence concludes, “it is not easy for him to obtain a forgiveness.” “Not easy” means hard but not impossible. It is in the context of polygamy that Joseph Smith would claim a revelation (D&C 132:27) that is less forgiving:
The blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, which shall not be forgiven in the world nor out of the world, is in that ye commit murder wherein ye shed innocent blood, and assent unto my death, after ye have received my new and everlasting covenant, saith the Lord God; and he that abideth not this law can in nowise enter into my glory, but shall be damned, saith the Lord.
Those who change their mind about Mormon knowledge claims are murderers of Jesus Christ and “shall not be forgiven” ever. It is fascinating that Smith threatens eternal damnation when he can no longer hide his sex life from his supporters.

Elevating faith to knowledge, the Mormon leadership can extract extraordinary devotion from its followers. That ability comes at a price. Where other religions shelter theology within the confines of faith, Mormonism has abandoned that refuge when it claimed knowledge. Defenders of Mormonism can respond to reasonable criticism only by attacking the messenger rather than engaging the argument.

In 1976 apostle Ezra Taft Benson disparaged realist history as “slander and defamation.” By the time the September Six get excommunicated in 1993 for their historical and theological research, Mormon apostles and members of the First Presidency have pointed out that
• only faithful history is accurate (Packer),
• historians are demeaning and belittling the Saints (Packer),
• criticism of officers of the Church is unjustified even if true (Oaks),
• publishing historical facts about Church officers amounts to blackmail (Oaks),
• “When the prophet speaks the debate is over” (Tanner),
• “Whether one's a bricklayer or an intellectual, the process of coming unto Christ is the same: ultimately it demands complete surrender. It's not a matter of negotiation” (Maxwell),
• members should not listen to alternate voices (Oaks),
• no Christian could possibly debate religion for discord is not of the Lord (Nelson),
• LDS Church leaders must be alert to small signs of apostasy (Hinckley),
• symposia are threatening the LDS Church (joint statement by the fifteen),
• participation at symposia is dangerous (Packer),
• “There is no place in the Kingdom for unanchored brilliance” (Maxwell).
The campaign culminated in the 1993 excommunications, a practice continuing today. In the eyes of LDS leaders, independent scholarship is a sin and loyalty is more important than truth.

Since doubt is taboo, social relations between corridor Mormons are rarely intimate. People are friendly but do not become friends. They meet at LDS activities but do not invite each other to their homes. We read the scriptures but would rather cite Seven Habits. We become missionaries but are uncomfortable meeting strangers. Though some Mormons can, Mormon society cannot tolerate a difference of opinion over religion. Mormonism cannot bear the threat to the illusion of knowledge.

The lack of intimacy in our neighborhoods and congregations extends to our families. As biographies of Mormon dissenters emerge on the net, a recurring theme is the inhibition of spouses to discuss their thoughts and feelings about their religious affiliation. Family members have become the most effective enforcers of discipline of Mormonism. The doctrine of eternal families means that doubts of my children, my parents, and my spouse risk not only the salvation of a loved one but that they are compromising mine. Reassessment of Mormon knowledge claims often estranges parents and children, and believing spouses frequently respond to questions with threats of divorce.

Most fascinating, however, is the silence within individuals. In my case, the mission emaciated me emotionally. The minority experience has benefited me intellectually but one thing that I did not learn was how to manipulate relationships. The mission experience is about gaming the system, playing the numbers, creating impressions, and conforming to expectations. Though I knew what pained me, I could not make sense of that experience because of the illusion of knowledge called the testimony. The fact that I would have advised any young men to serve, fully aware that my experience had been devastating, is a measure of the self-betrayal’s extent. It would take me some seventeen years to work things out because I believed that I knew that the Church was true. Only when I realized that LDS leaders are as self-interested as anyone else, was I able to rees-tablish common sense and put the pain behind me.

I remember my youth in the LDS Church fondly. I have benefited from the generosity of Mormons in many different ways. Though I could have done without the sacrilege pervading the missionary program, I could have dealt with that. But no matter how true the Church may be, it is wrong to bully our members to lie. The pressure to lie does not end at the confines of the ivory tower. Our priesthood leaders are the abusers. And the lies reach into our communities and families where fear of honesty undermines communication. Policies that discipline scholars in terms of “orthodoxy” corrupt everything that is good about Mormonism. It didn’t used to be that way. It doesn’t have to be that way. Mormonism can be better than that.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

The Excommunication Paradox

In response to Nate Oman's reinterpretation of faithful history, I have raised the issue of excommunicating historians that LDS authorities consider as subvervise. Those of you who know me well, will be familiar with the argument. I hope that old and new visitors will engage it once more:

If one takes Mormon theology at its face value then researchers who are threatened with excommunication find themselves in a situation where salvation is unobtainable regardless of what they do.

If the scholars get excommunicated for their research then they lose access to the necessary sacraments. If they submit to authorities and deny their research then they are denouncing their best efforts of determining the facts. That amounts to a lie. Lying is a sin, which results in damnation.

Creating a situation where neither repentance nor salvation are possible is a much greater sacrilege than anything that any historian could possibly say.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Taking It Back

Hirum Page provides and excellent analysis of race and the problem of false doctrines in Mormon theology. Comparing the renunciation of the priesthood ban to the ban of polygamy and Brigham Young's Adam God doctrine, Hirum puts things into perspective.

You can read it here.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Living in Hiding

Imagine you where to marry the love of your life but you had to keep it a secret from your family and your church. That's a small measure of what it must feel like if you have to hide the nature of your sexuality from the people that matter most to you.

Image hosting by Photobucket

I found this picture on Postsecret, a blog where the author asks folks to send them their secrets. It's a fascinating project. Check it out.

I am looking forward to the day when monogamous legitimate relationships, also known as families, no longer have to be a secret.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

President Hinckley Digs Darron

During the priesthood session, President Hinckley endorsed Darron Smith's view that we have a long way to go with respect to racism. I will be looking forward to the conference report to see the exact wording.

Gordon Hinckley and Darron Smith are right. It is a tragedy that our children continue to hear that God is a racist and that racism is a virtue. It’s even worse for our brothers and sisters who have African ancestors.

Darron Smith's example is inspiring. He said what needed to be said regardless of the personal consequences. As a good shepherd, Gordon B. Hinckley responded to the concerns and challenged us to become better brothers and sisters.

It is difficult for the President of the Church to denounce the misguided teachings of his predecessors explicitly. It’s up to us as members to exercise our talents and to engage racist thought such as the fence sitter doctrine wherever it rears its head.

President Hinckley gets it. He points us in the right direction. Now it’s our turn to make the most of it.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Do What Is Right, Let the Consequences Follow

They pulled it off. Here is the Daily Herald's report.