Thursday, January 30, 2014

"Let Truth Stand If Heavens Fall": The 1899 Weiss-Rich Correspondence

In August 1899, there was an interesting exchange of brief letters between two interesting individuals.  The one was Rabbi Louis Weiss (1848-1909), who at the time served the small Mi[t]zpah Congregation in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  (See, e.g., Yearbook of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, 1898-1899, page 106; Cyrus Adler, ed., The American Jewish Yearbook, 5661: September 24, 1900, to September 13, 1901 [Philadelphia, PA: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1900], 460.  The American Synagogue: A Historical Dictionary and Sourcebook, page 333, curiously claims that Rabbi Weiss only came to lead this synagogue in 1901.)  Rabbi Weiss appears to have also been a Freemason, as indicated in a piece he wrote for a Masonic periodical ("Wisdom, Strength, and Beauty", The American Tyler 16/8 [15 October 1901]: 171-172), as well as his Masonic treatise Glints of Masonic Light.  Rabbi Weiss was noted for his publications, including a short defense of Judaism against the arguments of Christian missionaries, Some Burning Questions.  The other party was the slightly younger Benjamin Erastus Rich (1855-1913), or 'Ben E. Rich', the mission president for the Southern States Mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  A son of LDS apostle Charles C. Rich, his story has already been briefly covered here before

On the morning of 3 August 1899, the Chattanooga Times printed the following letter by Rabbi Weiss, protesting the mistreatment of LDS missionaries in the region:  
Dear Sir - It is indeed regrettable that it should be necessary in this land, where religious liberty marks the color of our banner with the sweetest hue of freedom, to express our most earnest protest against such outrages as has been - not for the first time, either - perpetrated upon some Mormon Elders in Georgia.  I can safely say that such action is not Christian; it is surely not religious; and it is positively not in accord with biblical injunction, interpret the Bible as you will, to outrage people in order to prevent propagation of their doctrines.  We may preach and teach against it, but it is brutal to raise a hand in violence.  The Christian world stands aghast when their missionaries are maltreated in heathenland; should we be silent when people calling themselves Christians, in this land where civilization kisses into life the sweetest culture that casts its effulgent rays into the breasts of enlightened people, menace the lives of missionaries of a denomination other than theirs?  Fie, and shame! that such be possible in our days and in America!
People that are afraid of their religion being undermined and weakened, either feel their ignorance and inability to defend their creed, or they must be aware of its feebleness and indefensibility.  In either case they proceed wrong.  They ought to either acquire sufficient knowledge to be able to stand by their religion, or if they find it weaker than others, adopt the stronger; by all means fear not to grasp the truth, even at the cost of nursed falsehood.  Let truth stand if heavens fall!  I should feel it my duty - duty to my God and to myself - to renounce my religion fearlessly and adopt and propagate that which I would find more tenable, and I invite scholars of other denominations to convince me of the inferiority of mine and the superiority of another, and so, methinks, must others do that are honest and positive in their conviction.
I need not say that I have no interest in Mormonism, but justice, divine justice and the honorable name of our noble country demands our voices to be heard against brutal assaults of men who are the children of God and citizens of this great commonwealth as we are ourselves.  It is sincerely hoped that the Governor of the great state of Georgia will take proper steps to bring the culprits to the justice they merit.
Chattanooga, Aug. 3, 1899.
The very next day, President Rich replied quite cordially to Rabbi Weiss' letter:
Aug. 4, 1899.
Rabbi L. Weiss, Chattanooga, Tenn.
My Dear Sir - Allow me to express my high appreciation and thanks to you for your letter published in this morning's issue of The Chattanooga Times, condemning the harsh treatment accorded our Elders by mobs in Georgia and elsewhere in the south.  It is indeed refreshing to have one of the clergy with sufficient strength of character to publicly proclaim for justice, no matter what the public may think.
We shall be happy to defend our doctrines with reason and Scripture against all comers, and to answer any charges preferred against us in the courts, but we strenuously object to the arguments of mob law, shotguns and hickory withes.  If every fair-minded citizen would speak out as you have done, there would be an end to such lawlessness in the south, our inspired constitution raised from the mire, and religious liberty and progression enthroned.
Popular opinion and prejudice prevents many from striking for the right, and we realize your perilous position in taking the stand that even a "Mormon" should have justice.
Again I thank you for the noble stand taken in our behalf, and for a higher civilization in the south.
Very respectfully,
The day after that, Rabbi Weiss sent the following letter in reply to President Rich; all three of these letters were then printed in "Uphold the Constitution: The Assault on Mormon Elders", Latter Day Saints Southern Star 1/37 (12 August 1899): 293-294:
Chattanooga, Tenn., Aug. 5, 1899.
Ben E. Rich, Esq., City
Dear Sir - Your favor of the 4th inst. came to hand; and I wish to say in regard thereto that I deserve no thanks for raising my voice in condemnation of an evil that should not exist in this land of the free and the home of the fugitives from oppression.  It is only deplorable that the clergy preaching "Peace on earth, good will to man," are silent in the matter, and in the very locality where the brutal depredations take place.  It is not for us to judge anybody's religion as long as he is a law-abiding man.  I am always at the side of perfect justice, regardless upon whom the injustice is perpetrated, and mob violence is always brutal.
Hoping that you will find the Governors of the various states willing to aid you, I am yours, very cordially,
For my own part, the most interesting sections of this exchange are to be found in the second paragraph of Rabbi Weiss' initial letter and in the opening line of the second paragraph of President Rich's letter.  Rabbi Weiss notes that, when confronted with the ideas of another religious tradition, the proper response is either to join it, if it is convincing, or to make a case against it, if it is not.  To do otherwise would be to shirk a duty to God and a duty to oneself.  President Rich seems to concur with this sentiment, and he declares that Latter-day Saints will be willing to provide exactly such a case in defense of their faith, civilly defending the LDS faith intellectually "with reason and Scripture against all comers".  I wish that this mindset were more prevalent today! 

As a short postscript, I note that this was not the first exchange of thoughts between the parties.  On 29 January 1899, during the controversies over the possibility of seating B. H. Roberts in the United States Congress, President Rich had been interviewed by the Chattanooga Times to offer a defense of B. H. Roberts and of the acceptability of polygamy.  Rabbi Weiss wrote a highly critical reply to the Chattanooga Times, declaring that President Rich's views were uncivilized and that the notion of religion being used as "a cloak for such nuisance" deserves "the contempt of everyone who holds religion as a holy spark of divine inspiration".  Rabbi Weiss claimed that polygamy originated when "it was the animal that predominated" in humanity.  Rabbi Weiss further argued that Abraham, David, and Solomon were commendable in their era, but that not all characteristics of their lives should be morally emulated today, and polygamy is one such exception.  Rabbi Weiss added that "millions upon millions of people call out their disgust against people who are governed by lust and passion for many wives and call it religion".  He also said that "Mr. Roberts is not fit on earth to be admitted into the sanctum of our families".  Naturally, President Rich wrote a further rejoinder to Rabbi Weiss (though the Chattanooga Times declined to print it), chiding the latter for viewing the patriarchal era so dimly, saying that Weiss and likeminded clergy would "join hands with Ingersollism in its attempt to overthrow truth", and he pointed out that, as a Jew, Rabbi Weiss was himself a descendant of polygamists.  These letters are printed in the 11 February 1899 issue of the Latter Day Saints Southern Star.  Given this history of exchanges, it is all the more interesting that Rabbi Weiss and President Rich were able to stand together in a few key areas later that same year.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Brigham Young on Family Prayer

The following letter, dated 10 March 1841 from Liverpool, was originally printed as "Family Prayer", The Latter-day Saints' Millennial Star 1/11 (March 1841): 286-287.
Dear Brother, - I have felt anxious to address a few lines to you on the subject of family prayer, (and shall feel obliged by your inserting the same in your next Star) for the purpose of imparting instruction to the brethren in general.  Having travelled through many branches of the church in England, I have found it to be a general custom among the brethren I visited, that when any of the travelling elders are present, they wait for the elder to go forward in family prayer instead of attending to that duty themselves; that is not right, and I would say to them that it would be better for them to understand their duty on this subject. 
My dear brethren, remember that the Lord holds all of us responsible for our conduct here.  He held our father Adam responsible for his conduct; but no more than he does us, in proportion to the station we hold. - The kings of the earth will have to give account to God for their conduct in a kingly capacity.  Kings are heads of nations, governors are heads of provinces, so are fathers or husbands governors of their own houses, and should act accordingly.  Heads of families should always take charge of family worship, and call their family together at a seasonable hour, and not wait for every person to get through with all they may have to say or do.  If it were my prerogative to adopt a plan for family prayer it would be the following: - Call your family or household together every morning and evening previous to coming to the table, and bow before the Lord to offer up your thanksgivings for his mercies and providential care of you.  Let the head of the family dictate, I mean the man, not the woman.  If an elder should happen to be present, the head of the house can call upon him if he chooses so to do, and not wait for a stranger to take the lead at such times - by so doing we shall obtain the favor of our heavenly Father, and it will have a tendency of teaching our children to walk in the way they should go, - which may God grant for Christ's sake, Amen.
Some questions for reflection and discussion:
  1. Brigham Young's main concern is with households where the (male) head of household de facto outsources responsibility for initiative in family prayer to any visiting elders who might be present.  Brigham Young disagrees with this practice.  What factors might have led to this practice arising?  Does Brigham address any of those factors in this letter?
  2. Brigham Young articulates a particular notion of hierarchy, which I might summarize:  In any social sphere, there is always a God-appointed 'head' who governs it and should direct its affairs.  Thus, in the social sphere of a nation, the God-appointed head is a king (or president?).  In the social sphere of a province, the God-appointed head is a governor.  In the social sphere of a household unit, the God-appointed head is typically a man acting as head of the family.  What are the implications of this sort of view of headship in general?  How does it play out in a democratic society?  What implications are there for issues of unwise rulers - see Mosiah 29:18-24?  
  3. Brigham Young's notion of headship is bound up in notions of responsibility.  The implication appears to be that every figure in authority is answerable to God for the direction given in governing that sphere.  Does this provide sufficient balance to Brigham's notion of headship as authority to govern?
  4. Brigham Young stresses that, by "head of the family", he means "the man, not the woman".  Why did Brigham Young add this qualification?  What objections might Brigham have had to the notion of a woman taking initiative in leading family prayer?  What are modern Latter-day Saints to think of Brigham Young's implied view of men and women?
  5. Brigham Young is careful not to say that the male head of household must offer the prayer, but rather that the head of household, as the authority figure, reserves the right to willfully delegate the offering of the prayer.  What is the distinction here?  Why is there a significance to the man displaying authority by choosing who prays, and no necessity that the man therefore always himself prays?  
  6. Brigham Young describes an ideal situation in which the whole family gathers for family prayer at least twice per day, prior to a morning meal and an evening meal; and the contents of these prayers are described in terms of thanksgiving.  What mealtime prayer practices likely influenced Brigham Young's thinking?  How does family prayer function in Latter-day Saint family life today?  How does family prayer function in mainstream Christian family life today?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

On Searching the Scriptures (Part 4): Doubt, Pragmatism, Truth, and Godliness

Earlier, I had posted the first three installments of excerpts from the latter section of my unpublished work-in-progress A Testimony and an Exhortation.  The present excerpt does not follow immediately after the third, but some of the intervening material isn't needed here, and it also includes this quote from Hugh B. Brown.  Here, I felt the need to address the recent General Conference talk by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf on doubt and faith, as well as a troubling strain of pragmatic perspectives that I see cropping up sometimes among Latter-day Saints.

My pledge is to lay my personal testimony, precious though it is, on the table and test it against fair and godly standards.  For your spiritual journey, I extend to you this challenge: to also put your testimony to the same test, and to let me help you do it as we walk together.  Both of us must carefully examine our own beliefs and one another's beliefs, and we can do it together.  This all is no less spiritual than seeking prayerfully after a testimony-experience.  After all, one way that God guides us is by "the findings of truth through earnest seeking and research".1  This sort of seeking can be uncomfortable and unsettling, precisely because it is challenging.  But this challenge is an important one, because in the words of President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "as good as our previous experience may be, if we stop asking questions, stop thinking, stop pondering, we can thwart the revelations of the Spirit".2  I should hope that neither of us wishes to stifle the work of the Spirit - but that means we must relentlessly question, think, and ponder, leaving no stone unturned in our mutual quest for a better grasp of the truth, even if it means calling into question and rethinking some of the contents of my testimony or of your testimony.

But, some Latter-day Saints have understandably asked me, what of President Uchtdorf's plea for Latter-day Saints to "first doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith"?3  President Uchtdorf's counsel is by no means new to him, as similar statements can be found in much twentieth- and twenty-first-century Christian literature.4  Depending on what is meant by the phrase, it may be quite wise.  It could be taken to mean that, if we think that we have grounds to be skeptical of Christian or LDS beliefs, we should subject those grounds to the same scrutiny that we apply to the Christian or LDS beliefs themselves.  Or, with a very similar effect, it could mean that when we bring a questioning attitude of critical inquiry toward the beliefs we hold, we should bring that same attitude toward investigating all alternatives, again out of fairness.  These are certainly excellent counsel.  Furthermore, if our doubt is an emotional state, or if our intellectual doubts are irrational, then surely we should resist letting these baser forces overwhelm us.  (It is this sort that is no doubt - pun intended - spoken of in, for instance, James 1:6.)  In all of these senses, President Uchtdorf's advice is wise.  Certainly, there are sorts of doubt that are unhealthy; and certainly, for more respectable sorts of doubt, they must at least be handled fairly.  We must have faith - but we must also be reasonable in order to make sure that our faith is rightly placed. 

On the other hand, President Uchtdorf's words could be read as advising people to simply dismiss their questions out of hand, to relegate them to a mental shelf, as has too often been advised before in LDS culture.5  I doubt that this is what President Uchtdorf intended to convey, especially because in the same talk, he rightly observes that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints took its origin in "a young man who asked questions and sought answers".6  Taking Joseph Smith's own account at face value, if he as a young man had 'doubted his doubts' in this sense, could there have ever been a First Vision, or an encounter with Moroni, or an organization of the Church in the latter-days?  Or, when their experience with the Book of Mormon or with early LDS missionary preaching made some nineteenth-century persons doubt the faith that they had grown up with, should they have 'doubted their doubts' and remained where they were, rather than following through on the questions raised with a willingness to be led into something new?  Should modern investigators of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, at least those with some sort of prior religious background, thusly 'doubt their doubts' about their current beliefs, i.e., dismiss any doubts or questions that the missionaries' preaching might have raised for them?  (Investigators then and now did not just indefinitely suspend all their questions about their prior faith on the assumption that "we just need a bit more patience".7)  If they acted rightly in actively wrestling with their important questions, and if Joseph Smith likewise acted rightly in actively wrestling with his important questions, then surely there is no wrongdoing in a modern Latter-day Saint - or a modern Christian from any of the denominations of the church - likewise embracing reasonable questions and reasonable answers as a process by means of which to progress in knowledge, in truth, and even in holy love.

In this sense, I believe that we ought to follow the advice of President Hugh B. Brown: "Some say that the open-minded leave room for doubt.  But I believe we should doubt some of the things we hear.  Doubt has a place if it can stir in one an interest to go out and find the truth for one's self".8  Doubt, in this sense of that word, really does have legitimate purposes,9 precisely because "the acorn of honest inquiry has often sprouted and matured into a great oak of understanding".10  I believe, therefore, that questions are to be embraced as a means of progress; and the same is to be said for serious but friendly reasoned dialogue, even - perhaps especially - when it raises questions.

As I said above, for my part, I hope to engage in gentleness, honesty, charity, respect, and Christian love.  These are as needful as speaking the truth, because "speaking the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15) is what is critical, where this love is that greatest virtue that binds all other virtues together in unity (Colossians 3:14).  Even if, in the end, I perhaps may or may not end up convinced that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the "only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth" as it claims to be (D&C 1:30),11 I want to hear, to be familiar with, to understand, and to appreciate all the reasons why someone might believe in its teachings.  I want this because I want to have the most fair and sympathetic understanding of your religion as possible.  I want to know, not just the experiences you've had, but also what about the teachings makes sense to you and why.  I want to know where in the scriptures you see these teachings and why you read the scriptures that way and how you engage substantively with those who read the scriptures differently.  I want to hear how it affects your life, how it shapes your hopes and goals and dreams.  But above all, I want to see every worthwhile basis why someone might believe the things that your church has taught and does now teach, because I want to leave no stone unturned in giving your faith as much credit as is fair and honest.  Similarly, I hope that you have the same ardent desire when it comes to what I believe.

But ultimately, our goal should be to see us together come to an agreed knowledge of the truth.  The truth is important, and we may be fully confident that "there is indeed such a thing as absolute truth - unassailable, unchangeable truth".12  If a path is not the Lord's, then all the serenity, comfort, and moral improvement in the world is nothing but a subtle temptation, an exchange of the one best thing for a variety of merely good things.  God offers the truth to be found, and that truth is a 'pearl of great price' worth the sale of all other things (cf. Matthew 13:45-46).  If the truth really is, as one LDS hymn puts it, "the fairest gem that the riches of the world can produce", then why should we not treat it as the hymn suggests, as "an aim for the noblest desire"?13  God wishes all to "come unto the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:4).  "Truth in itself leads to good; knowledge tends to virtue, holiness, purity, and everything that is Godlike, or Divine, because that is its origin, nature, and character", it has been beautifully said.14  Therefore, to be "walking in truth" is a "commandment of the Father" (2 John 1:4).  No practical advantage in where we find ourselves now is worth disobeying God's commandment about walking in the truth - and if we discarded that commandment, how would we avoid coming under Elder Russell M. Nelson's condemnation of "the cafeteria approach to obedience" that is sure to "lead to misery"?15  After all, in the words of President Joseph F. Smith, we must be "willing to receive all truth, from whatever source it may come", since "the truth must be at the foundation of religion, or it is in vain and it will fail of its purpose".16

The matter at hand, therefore, is not just about a pragmatic decision, or about a personal preference or subjective taste, or about what religious path 'works for you' or 'clicks for me'; it is about reality, about truth.  Even if traditional Christianity happens to 'work for me' or 'click for me', even if it were especially 'comfortable' and 'practical' (and I can assure you that the real way of the Lord Jesus is certainly neither!), it would not be worth following unless it were true, really true, an accurate portrayal of the truth about God and God's involvement in the world.  The same is the case for the LDS faith: if it is not true, it is not worth living out.  (I stress this because, to my great sadness, I have met some Latter-day Saints who, when asked whether, if the LDS Church were not true, they would want to know this fact, have said no; they have chosen, by their own decision, that they would rather believe in the LDS Church even if it were false, and they would not wish to know otherwise.  I have met other Latter-day Saints who have rejected the hearing of any other perspective (which they often call 'anti-Mormon'), no matter how fairly or gently or lovingly presented, and they are of the same maddening mindset as the first group.)  But God has commanded that we should pursue true things, not merely things that 'click', 'work', 'feel good', are 'comfortable', 'make us happy', are 'practical', or 'keep the peace'.

Truth matters, because it is about far more than a sterile set of disembodied ideas.  The 'ideas' we are discussing here have real meat to them; they are not only about 'orthodoxy' (correct belief), but they reveal a lot about the way we act in the world ('orthopraxy', correct practice) and about what is most pivotal: the condition of our hearts ('orthokardia', correct heart) as we are confronted by the loving reality of the one and only holy God.  God commands us - and no command is greater - to love him with an integrated love, one that involves right understanding ('all our mind', orthodoxy and critical thought) and right practice ('all our strength', orthopraxy) and right disposition ('all our heart', orthokardia).  My earnest desire is that we should grow in all three of these areas together.  We cannot afford to leave any of these out as we walk by the Spirit of Truth toward the open heart of God that has come near to all the world in the glorified brokenness of Jesus Christ, who offers real freedom from all bondage and who invites us freely and openly into "the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:27).  Consider, after all, these rightful words of President N. Eldon Tanner:
Freedom is based on truth, and no man is completely free as long as any part of his belief is based on error, for the chains of error bind his mind.  This is why it is so important for us to learn all the truth we can from all the sources we can.  We need particularly to search the scriptures, for in them are the words which, if accepted and lived, will lead us to eternal life.  The scriptures give us evidence of the reality and personality of God and his Son, Jesus Christ.  In order to believe in God it is necessary for us to understand his nature and attributes.  Our faith in him must be based on true principles.  Faith will avail us nothing if it is based on a false premise.17 
For my part, I am resolved to obey God's commandment in this matter.  Because Jesus is the Truth and because I have covenanted to follow Jesus, I wish by the grace of God to follow the truth no matter where it leads, even if it is uncomfortable or demanding, even if it doesn't feel good, even if it were to cost me greatly, even if it leads me into something that seems to not 'fit' me or 'click' with me or 'work' for me.  What we believe matters.  In fact, it matters greatly.  It isn't for no reason that LDS apostle Bruce R. McConkie once wrote, "We will be judged by what we believe among other things.  If we believe false doctrine, we will be condemned.  If that belief is on basic and fundamental things, it will lead us astray and we will lose our souls".18  But "what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul" (Mark 8:36)?  After all, "whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God" (2 John 1:9).  I know, then, that the truth is worth following, because I know that Jesus Christ is both the Way and the Truth, just as he is the Life (John 14:6) - and so it is in living the truth along the way that we walk full of eternal life.  I am sure that you love Jesus Christ and also want to follow him, and so I am sure that you will want to follow God's commandment to relentlessly pursue the truth that he offers.  And that means paying serious attention to what we believe - for have not generations of Latter-day Saints sung that "truth is reason"?19

It is precisely in that spirit that I want to challenge and invite you to join me in a continuing dialogue of sharing, reasoning, listening, and examining - a dialogue aimed, not at a perpetual superficial conversation, but at real understanding and at coming to agreement in the truth.  As a wise man once said, "The aim of argument is differing in order to agree; the failure of argument is when you agree to disagree".20  There is, after all, a sacred duty, as Joseph F. Smith said, to "persuade each other to receive the truth, by teaching it"21 - that is, teaching it persuasively by making a reasonable case for it being the truth.  I yearn to partake in this sacred duty with you, because I firmly believe that it is an act of worship to the Heavenly Father whom I love and serve - and is it not written in your eleventh Article of Faith: "We claim the dictate of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may"?  I urge you then to grant me this privilege of worshiping Almighty God in accordance with my conscience, which dictates that I reason with you from the scriptures concerning what truths I have found.

Whether you were raised LDS or non-LDS, I would challenge you to consider what I say with a truly open mind and heart, looking at it with fresh eyes and hearing it with fresh ears.  Neither of us should insulate ourselves from the possibility of changing our minds and converting, should the truth require it.  As President Hugh B. Brown taught, "The greatest enemy of truth is man's tenacity in clinging to unjustified beliefs.  You must always be ready to reinterpret your concepts when they fail to pass the test of newfound facts".22  I concur readily with President Brown.  If the facts and arguments uncovered in our discussions together show that my concepts fail to pass the test, so much the worse for my prior concepts, even if I had mistakenly thought them to be confirmed by the inner witness of the Holy Spirit; I must change them anyway.  If those facts and arguments show that your concepts fail to pass the test, I of course hope that you will put the truth ahead of your previous beliefs, no matter how dear they were to you before the light of reasoned investigation showed a better way.

It was once written in an LDS periodical: "If the Mormon Elders, so-called, show that a belief is not in accordance with reason and Scripture, had it not ought to be pleasure to forsake the old for the new?  Verily yes; unless you are of those who love darkness rather than light".23  I agree with this: if a Latter-day Saint showed me that my beliefs were neither reasonable nor scriptural, it should be a pleasure for me to forsake those beliefs; and if I did not do this, then it would be a sign that I loved darkness rather than the light.  But I do love the light!  As a lover of the light, I am duty-bound to follow reason and scripture where they lead, and I am resolved to do precisely that.  Similarly, if I or anyone else were to show that an LDS belief is "not in accordance with reason and Scripture", then any LDS lover of the light is bound by that love to abandon that belief.

Following the truth can, I freely admit, be a costly and frightful thing, especially when it risks putting us in jeopardy with our social lives, our friendships, our families, or our traditions - but we must keep in mind that "true religion should not originate from what pleases men or the traditions of ancestors, but rather from what pleases God, our Eternal Father".24  This is a difficult course to take, but following the truth is the right course; therefore, "do what is right; let the consequence follow".25  No form of social pressure should ever be allowed to stand in the way of following the truth.  The truth is valuable in itself, regardless of the social consequences.  I pray that God would grant both of us the gift of an open heart of flesh rather than a closed-off and stony heart (cf. Ezekiel 36:26), and open minds and eyes rather than ones blinded to the "glorious gospel of Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:4).  My hope is that all who read these words will "examine this evidence with a prayer on their lips and in their hearts",26 and naturally I will seek to return that kindness.

"Truth certainly can lose nothing by investigation",27 and so in seeking to speak truth to one another in love, we offer each other a benefit, not a detriment or harm (cf. Galatians 4:16).  I speak out of no malice but as a gesture of friendship, because true friends are those "who love me enough to tell me the truth, and protect me from error".28  After all, as President John Taylor once remarked, "a full, free talk is frequently of great use; we want nothing secret or underhanded, and for one I want no association with things that cannot be talked about and will not bear investigation".29  Real honesty and forthrightness about what we believe and why is a necessary virtue, and should of course be expressed in a gentle yet bold way.  We may trust that, as we listen carefully to one another and carefully test all things against the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, the Spirit of God will work in our hearts so that, if we are truly honest with ourselves and with the facts, we shall be in good hands.  Ultimately, I would have us both remember the wise saying: "The honest investigator must be prepared to follow wherever the search of truth may lead".30  I know this saying to be true, and I promise you that God will bless us if we truly follow it - and I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen. 

1  Richard L. Evans, "Communication", address delivered on 5 October 1963 at General Conference, as printed in the October 1963 Conference Report, page 41: "This brings us to the question of communication between God and man, between a loving, all-knowing Father and his searching, seeking children.  This communication includes prayer, inspiration, impressions from the divine source upon the mind of man, the findings of truth through earnest seeking and research, and also what is called revelation, to which the ninth Article of our Faith refers in these words: 'We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.'" 
2  Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "Acting on the Truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ", address delivered on 11 February 2012 to the Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting. <>. Accessed 20 January 2013.
3  Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "Come, Join with Us", address delivered on 5 October 2013 at General Conference, as printed in Ensign 43/11 (November 2013): 23.
4  For instance, Christian pastor Charles F. Deems, as quoted by Arthur T. Pierson, offered this pithy albeit unhealthy counsel: "Believe your beliefs and doubt your doubts.  Never make the mistake of doubting your beliefs and believing your doubts" - see Pierson's The Divine Enterprise of Missions: A Series of Lectures (New York, NY: Baker & Taylor, 1891), 38.  But compare this, however, with Deems' other statement: "Would it not sometimes be better that preachers should have at least once a month a sermon open to question and open to reply?  [...]  Would it not really be better that a man of learning and ability should have an opportunity to meet and answer the objection on the spot than that the hearer, creating an objection in his own heart and mind, should go away feeling that no one could answer it?  [...]  Now and then a real good, honest doubter - a man quite as ready to doubt doubts as to doubt doctrine - frankly expressing his opinion, might be of considerable service to the cause of preaching" - see his Chips and Chunks for Every Fireside: Wit, Wisdom, and Pathos (New York, NY: Hunt & Eaton, 1890), 541.  Later, faith-healer F. F. Bosworth - whose book is cited in the footnote for President Uchtdorf's statement - once wrote, "Any man or woman can get rid of his or her doubts by looking steadfastly and only at the evidence that God has given for our faith.  Seeing only what God says will produce and increase faith.  This will make it easier to believe than to doubt.  The evidences for faith are so much stronger than those for doubting.  Don't doubt your faith; doubt your doubts, for they are unreliable" - see his Christ the Healer, 8th ed. (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1973 [1924]), 12-13.  In more recent years, charismatic author Sergio Scataglini wrote, "If you are saying, 'I am not sure if all my sins are forgiven,' come to Jesus.  If you are doubting, doubt your doubts and believe your faith" - see his The Fire of His Holiness: Preparing Yourself to Enter God's Holiness (Ventura, CA: Renew, 1999), 83.  Four years later, speaking of the story of Jesus being tempted by Satan in the wilderness, popular Christian author Max Lucado wrote similarly in his book Next Door Savior (Nashville, TN: W Publishing, 2003), 120-121:  "Jesus' survival weapon of choice is Scripture.  If the Bible was enough for his wilderness, shouldn't it be enough for ours?  [...]  Then we should do what Jesus did.  Rely on scripture.  Doubt your doubts before you doubt your beliefs."  Even more recently, Presbyterian pastor Timothy J. Keller wrote a lengthier passage of quite high quality on the same themes in his book The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (New York, NY: Dutton, 2008), xvi-xviii:  "People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic.  A person's faith can collapse almost overnight if she has failed over the years to listen patiently to her own doubts, which should only be discarded after long reflection.  Believers should acknowledge and wrestle with doubts - not only their own but their friends' and neighbors'.  [...]  But even as believers should learn to look for reasons behind their faith, skeptics must learn to look for a type of faith hidden within their reasoning.  All doubts, however skeptical and cynical they may seem, are really a set of alternative beliefs.  [...]  The only way to doubt Christianity rightly and fairly is to discern the alternate belief under each of your doubts and then to ask yourself what reasons you have for believing it.  How do you know your belief is true?  It would be inconsistent for you to require more justification for Christian belief than you do for your own, but that is frequently what happens.  In fairness you must doubt your doubts.  My thesis is that if you come to recognize the beliefs on which your doubts about Christianity are based, and if you seek as much proof for those beliefs as you seek from Christians for theirs - you will discover that your doubts are not as solid as they first appeared."  Keller's seems to be the healthiest and most respectable of all the uses of the 'doubt your doubts' phrase.
5  For instance, see Spencer W. Kimball's wife Camilla Eyring Kimball, as quoted in Caroline Eyring Miner and Edward L. Kimball, Camilla: A Biography of Camilla Eyring Kimball (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1980), 126:  "I learned early to put aside those gospel questions that I could not answer.  I had a shelf of things I did not understand, but as I have grown older and studied and prayed and thought about each problem, one by one I have been able to understand them better."  See also Neil L. Andersen, "Never Leave Him", address delivered on 2 October 2010 at General Conference, as printed in the October 2010 Conference Report, page 41:  "I promise you, as you choose not to be offended or ashamed, you will feel His love and approval.  You will know that you are becoming more like Him.  Will we understand everything?  Of course not.  We will put some issues on the shelf to be understood at a later time."  For important matters, this is exceptionally unwise counsel.
6  Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "Come, Join with Us", address delivered on 5 October 2013 at General Conference, as printed in Ensign 43/11 (November 2013): 22:  "In this Church that honors personal agency so strongly, that was restored by a young man who asked questions and sought answers, we respect those who honestly search for truth.  It may break our hearts when their journey takes them away from the Church we love and the truth we have found, but we honor their right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own conscience, just as we claim that privilege for ourselves." 
7  Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "Come, Join with Us", address delivered on 5 October 2013 at General Conference, as printed in Ensign 43/11 (November 2013): 22.
8  Hugh B. Brown, in Edwin B. Firmage, ed., An Abundant Life: The Memoirs of Hugh B. Brown, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 1999), 135.
9  John Ortberg, Faith and Doubt (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), 148:  "There is no other way to trust Jesus than to think and question and wrestle and struggle until you come to see that he is really true.  One purpose of doubt is to motivate us to do that." 
10  Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "Come, Join with Us", address delivered on 5 October 2013 at General Conference, as printed in Ensign 43/11 (November 2013): 23. 
11  Again, see not only D&C 1:30 but also, e.g., Preparing for Exaltation: Teacher's Manual (Salt Lake City, UT: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1999), 99:  "Testify that although other churches teach some truths and do many good things, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only true church on the earth because it is the only church that has the complete gospel of Jesus Christ and the priesthood authority to perform ordinances in the name of Jesus Christ" (emphasis original).  With all due respect, the testimony I have received, along with the scriptures (which are far more important), shows me that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is missing out on the "complete gospel of Jesus Christ" and has constructed systems of priesthood contrary to that which Jesus Christ established for his living temple-people, namely, his own sole high priesthood 'after the order of Melchizedek' that renders the Aaronic Priesthood totally defunct for our age of the new covenant. 
12  Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "What is Truth?", Church Educational Services (CES) devotional talk delivered on 13 January 2013. <>. Accessed 2 March 2013.
13  John Jaques, first and second stanzas of "Oh Say, What is Truth?", hymn #272 in Hymns of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City, UT: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1985).
14  "Ignorance and Knowledge", The Latter-day Saints' Millennial Star 23/45 (9 November 1861): 724.
15  Russell M. Nelson, "Face the Future with Faith", address delivered on 2 April 2011 at General Conference, as printed in the April 2011 Conference Report, page 32:  "Warn them that they will encounter people who pick which commandments to keep and ignore others that they choose to break.  I call this the cafeteria approach to obedience.  This practice of picking and choosing will not work.  It will lead to misery."
16  Joseph F. Smith, address delivered on 4 April 1909 at General Conference, as printed in the April 1909 Conference Report, page 7:  "We believe in all truth, no matter to what subject it may refer.  No sect or religious denomination in the world possesses a single principle of truth that we do not accept or that we will reject.  We are willing to receive all truth, from whatever source it may come; for truth will stand, truth will endure.  No man's faith, no man's religion, no religious organization in all the world can ever rise above the truth.  The truth must be at the foundation of religion, or it is in vain and it will fail of its purpose."  This statement is likewise excerpted in Gospel Doctrine: Selections from the Sermons and Writings of Joseph F. Smith (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret News, 1919), 1.
17  N. Eldon Tanner, "Ye Shall Know the Truth", address delivered on 1 April 1978 at General Conference, as printed in the April 1978 Conference Report, page 20.
18  Bruce R. McConkie, letter written to BYU professor Eugene England, dated 19 February 1981, page 7. <>. Accessed 26 January 2013.  Compare to his statement in Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. (Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft, 1965-1973), 2:363:  "The fact is that a major part of the testing process of mortality is to determine how much of the truth the saints will believe while they are walking by faith rather than by sight.  And the more truths they accept, the clearer will be their views on spiritual matters, and the more incentive and determination they will have to work out their salvation and gain eternal glory hereafter.  Heresies and false teachings are thus used in the testing process of this mortal probation."
19  Eliza R. Snow, third stanza of "O My Father", hymn #292 in Hymns of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City, UT: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1985). 
20  G. K. Chesterton, newspaper column dated 1 April 1911, in Laurence J. Clipper, ed., The Illustrated London News, 1911-1913, The Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton 29 (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1988), 62.
21  Joseph F. Smith, address delivered on 6 April 1902 at General Conference, as printed in the April 1902 Conference Report, page 86:  "I cannot save you; you cannot save me; we cannot save each other, only so far as we can persuade each other to receive the truth, by teaching it.  When a man receives the truth he will be saved by it.  He will not be saved merely because some one talks to him, but because he received it and acts upon it."  Quoted also in Gospel Doctrine: Selections from the Sermons and Writings of Joseph F. Smith (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret News, 1919), 3.
22  Hugh B. Brown, "Man and What He May Become", fireside address delivered on 25 March 1958 at Brigham Young University, <>. Accessed 10 October 2013.
23  Untitled snippet, Latter Day Saints Southern Star 1/47 (21 October 1899): 372.
24  Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "Faith of Our Father", address delivered on 6 October 2008 at General Conference, as printed in the April 2008 Conference Report, page 73. 
25  Chorus of "Do What Is Right", hymn #237 in Hymns of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City, UT: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1985).
26  The Master's Church: Course A (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Sunday School Union, 1969), 95.
27  Oliver Cowdery (probably), untitled editorial, Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 3/1 (October 1836): 394.
28  Stephen L. Richards, "The Priesthood Quorum: A Three-Fold Definition", address delivered on 7 April 1939, as printed in Improvement Era 42/05 (May 1939): 294, and quoted also in Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord: Melchizedek Priesthood Personal Study Guide 1978-79 (Salt Lake City, UT: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1978), 152.
29  John Taylor, address delivered on 2 March 1879, as printed in Journal of Discourses 20:264.
30  Hugh B. Brown, "The Quest for Truth", address delivered on 6 October 1962 at General Conference, as printed in the October 1962 Conference Report, page 42:  "The honest investigator must be prepared to follow wherever the search of truth may lead.  Truth is often found in the most unexpected places.  He must, with fearless and open mind 'insist that facts are far more important than any cherished, mistaken beliefs, no matter how unpleasant the facts or how delightful the beliefs.'"  

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

On Marriage: An 1842 LDS Declaration

The following originally appeared in Times and Seasons 3/23 (1 October 1842): 939-940.  
From the Book of Doctrine & Covenants of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. 
According to the custom of all civilized nations, marriage is regulated by laws and ceremonies: therefore we believe, that all marriages in this church of Christ of Latter Day Saints, should be solemnized in a public meeting, or feast, prepared for that purpose: and that the solemnization should be performed by a presiding high priest, high priest, bishop, elder, or priest, not even prohibiting those persons who are desirous to get married, of being married by other authority. - We believe that it is not right to prohibit members of this church from marrying out of the church, if it be their determination to do so, but such persons will be considered weak in the faith of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 
Marriage should be celebrated with prayer and thanksgiving; and at the solemnization, the persons to be married, standing together, the man on the right, and the woman on the left, shall be addressed, by the person officiating, as he shall be directed by the holy Spirit; and if there be no legal objections, he shall say, calling each by their names: "You both mutually agree to be each other's companion, husband and wife, observing the legal rights belonging to this condition; that is, keeping yourselves wholly for each other, and from all others, during your lives."  And when they shall have answered "Yes," he shall pronounce them "husband and wife" in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and by virtue of the laws of the country and authority vested in him: "may God add his blessings and keep you to fulfil your covenants from henceforth and forever.  Amen." 
The clerk of every church should keep a record of all marriages, solemnized in his branch. 
All legal contracts of marriage made before a person is baptized into this church, should be held sacred and fulfilled.  Inasmuch as this church has been reproached with the crime of fornication, and polygamy: we declare that we believe, that one man should have one wife; and one woman, but one husband, except in the case of death, when either is at liberty to marry again.  It is not right to persuade a woman to be baptized contrary to the will of her husband, neither is it lawful to influence her to leave her husband.  All children are bound by law to obey their parents; and to influence them to embrace any religious faith, or be baptized, or leave their parents without their consent, is unlawful and unjust.  We believe that husbands, parents and masters who exercise control over their wives, children, and servants and prevent them from embracing the truth, will have to answer for that sin. 
We have given the above rule of marriage as the only one practiced in this church, to show that Dr. J. C. Bennett's "secret wife system" is a matter of his own manufacture; and further to disabuse the public ear, and shew that the said Bennett and his misanthropic friend Origen Bachelor, are perpetrating a foul and infamous slander upon an innocent people, and need but be known to be hated and despised.  In support of this position, we present the following certificates: -  
We the undersigned members of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and residents of the city of Nauvoo, persons of families do hereby certify and declare that we know of no other rule or system of marriage than the one published from the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, and we give this certificate to show that Dr. J. C. Bennett's "secret wife system" is a creature of his own make as we know of no such society in this place nor never did.
    S. Bennett,                N. K. Whitney,
    George Miller,           Albert Pettey,
    Alpheus Cutler,         Elias Higbee,
    Reynolds Cahoon,     John Taylor,
    Wilson Law,              E. Robinson,
    W. Woodruff,           Aaron Johnson.
We the undersigned members of the ladies' relief society, and married females do certify and declare that we know of no system of marriage being practised in the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints save the one contained in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, and we give this certificate  to the public to show that J. C. Bennett's "secret wife system" is a disclosure of his own make.
        Emma Smith, President,
        Elizabeth Ann Whitney, Counsellor,
        Sarah M. Cleveland, Counsellor,
        Eliza R. Snow, Secretary,
    Mary C. Miller,        Catharine Pettey,
    Lois Cutler,              Sarah Higbee,
    Thirza Cahoon,         Phebe Woodruff,
    Ann Hunter,             Leonora Taylor,
    Jane Law,                Sarah Hillman,
    Sophia R. Marks,     Rosannah Marks,
    Polly Z. Johnson,      Angeline Robinson,
    Abigail Works.
The passage quoted from the Doctrine and Covenants was, at the time, Section 101.  It was canonized in August 1835 along with the rest of the Doctrine and Covenants at a conference that occurred while Joseph Smith was absent from Kirtland.  However, that section was not removed from the Doctrine and Covenants until 1876.  During the time that the above article was published in the Times and Seasons, that periodical was edited by Joseph Smith himself.  Of the initial signatories of the second certificate, all four of them by that point knew something about the practice of plural marriage.  Emma Smith could not help but be fully aware.  Sarah M. Cleveland, in spite of already being married at the time to John Cleveland (who, while not LDS, was friendly to Joseph Smith), with whom she had children, also married Joseph Smith himself sometime in the first half of 1842.  Elizabeth Ann Whitney, the other Relief Society counselor, consented to give her daughter Sarah Ann Whitney as a plural wife to Joseph Smith in a marriage that occurred on 27 July 1842.  (Her husband also consented, even though he disclaimed any knowledge of such practices by signing the first certificate here.)  Eliza R. Snow had herself become a plural wife of Joseph Smith in a marriage that occurred a month earlier on 29 June 1842, at which Sarah M. Cleveland acted as witness.  

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

G. K. Chesterton on Mormonism and Religious Understanding

During a significant portion of the first half of the twentieth century, noted Christian author G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936) had a weekly newspaper column that appeared in The Illustrated London News.  Many of these columns are worth reading today even if simply for a taste of Chesterton's infamous wit.  In the column that he had published on 13 May 1911, he treated the subject of Mormonism in response to a speech shortly before given in Nottingham by one Elder Ward.  The 'Elder Ward' in question here is probably (or so I would surmise) Elder Clarence T. Ward (1888-1961) of Boise, Idaho, who in 1911 was serving as the clerk of the Nottingham Conference (see the minutes of the Nottingham semi-annual conference of 5 March 1911, as printed as "Minutes of Nottingham Conference", The Latter-day Saints' Millennial Star 73/10 [9 March 1911]: 150-151; and the minutes of the Nottingham semi-annual conference of 3 September 1911, as printed as "Minutes of Nottingham Conference", The Latter-day Saints' Millennial Star 73/36 [7 September 1911]: 572-573) as part of his mission that lasted from 1910 through January 1912 (see History of Idaho: Gem of the Mountains, 2 vols. [Chicago, IL: S. J. Clarke, 1920], 2:321).

Elder Ward's speech was perhaps a response to a great deal of concern about false rumors of LDS missionaries kidnapping English girls to force them into polygamous marriages in Utah.  Indeed, these rumors led to a government investigation, which was carried out by the Home Secretary of that time, Winston Churchill (1874-1965).  The whole atmosphere has been covered by Peter J. Vousden in his BYU Studies article "The English Editor and the 'Mormon Peril' of 1911", while several years ago the excellent LDS history blog Keep-a-pitchin-in provided some relevant excerpts from the actual parliamentary discussion of the issue ("Winston Churchill Investigates the Mormon Question, 1910-1911").  This is the context for Chesterton's meandering column of 13 May 1911, which uses the controversy as a touchstone for a more sweeping reflection on the need to gain an appreciation for religious ideas and motivations.  Chesterton's column was later reprinted in his The Uses of Diversity: A Book of Essays (New York, NY: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1921), 182-189:
There is inevitably something comic (comic in the broad and vulgar style which all men ought to appreciate in its place) about the panic aroused by the presence of the Mormons and their supposed polygamous campaign in this country.  It calls up the absurd image of an enormous omnibus, packed inside with captive English ladies, with an Elder on the box, controlling his horses with the same patriarchal gravity as his wives, and another Elder as conductor calling out "Higher up," with an exalted and allegorical intonation.  And there is something highly fantastic to the ordinary healthy mind in the idea of any precaution being proposed; in the idea of locking the Duchess in the boudoir and the governess in the nursery, lest they should make a dash for Utah, and become the ninety-third Mrs. Abraham Nye, or the hundredth Mrs. Hiram Boke.  But these frankly vulgar jokes, like most vulgar jokes, cover a popular prejudice which is but the bristly hide of a living principle.  Elder Ward, recently speaking at Nottingham, strongly protested against these rumours, and asserted absolutely that polygamy had never been practised with the consent of the Mormon Church since 1890.  I think it only just that this disclaimer should be circulated; but though it is most probably sincere, I do not find it very soothing.  The year 1890 is not very long ago, and a society that could have practised so recently a custom so alien to Christendom must surely have a moral attitude which might be repellent to us in many other respects.  Moreover, the phrase about the consent of the Church (if correctly reported) has a little the air of an official repudiating responsibility for unofficial excesses.  It sounds almost as if Mr. Abraham Nye might, on his own account, come into church with a hundred and fourteen of his wives, but people were supposed not to notice them.  It might amount to little more than this, that the chief Elder may allow the hundred and fourteen wives to walk down the street like a girls' school, but he is not officially expected to take off his hat to each of them in turn.  Seriously speaking, however, I have little doubt that Elder Ward speaks the substantial truth, and that polygamy is dying, or has died, among the Mormons.  My reason for thinking this is simple: it is that polygamy always tends to die out.  Even in the East I believe that, counting heads, it is by this time the exception rather than the rule.  Like slavery, it is always being started, because of its obvious conveniences.  It has only one small inconvenience, which is that it is intolerable.
Our real error in such a case is that we do not know or care about the creed itself, from which a people's customs, good or bad, will necessarily flow.  We talk much about "respecting" this or that person's religion; but the way to respect a religion is to treat it as a religion: to ask what are its tenets and what are their consequences.  But modern tolerance is deafer than intolerance.  The old religious authorities, at least, defined a heresy before they condemned it, and read a book before they burned it.  But we are always saying to a Mormon or a Moslem - "Never mind about your religion, come to my arms."  To which he naturally replies - "But I do mind about my religion, and I advise you to mind your eye."
About half the history now taught in schools and colleges is made windy and barren by this narrow notion of leaving out the theological theories.  The wars and Parliaments of the Puritans make absolutely no sense if we leave out the fact that Calvinism appeared to them to be the absolute metaphysical truth, unanswerable, unreplaceable, and the only thing worth having in the world.  The Crusades and dynastic quarrels of the Norman and Angevin Kings make absolutely no sense if we leave out the fact that these men (with all their vices) were enthusiastic for the doctrine, discipline, and endowment of Catholicism.  Yet I have read a history of the Puritans by a modern Nonconformist in which the name of Calvin was not even mentioned, which is like writing a history of the Jews without mentioning either Abraham or Moses.  And I have never read any popular or educational history of England that gave the slightest hint of the motives in the human mind that covered England with abbeys and Palestine with banners.  Historians seem to have completely forgotten the two facts - first, that men act from ideas; and second, that it might, therefore, be well to discover which ideas.  The mediaevals did not believe primarily in "chivalry," but in Catholicism, as producing chivalry among other things.  The Puritans did not believe primarily in "righteousness," but in Calvinism, as producing righteousness among other things.  It was the creed that held the coarse or cunning men of the world at both epochs.  William the Conqueror was in some ways a cynical and brutal soldier, but he did attach importance to the fact that the Church upheld his enterprise; that Harold had sworn falsely on the bones of saints, and that the banner above his own lances had been blessed by the Pope.  Cromwell was in some ways a cynical and brutal soldier; but he did attach importance to the fact that he had gained assurance from on high in the Calvinistic scheme; that the Bible seemed to support him - in short, the most important moment in his own life, for him, was not when Charles I lost his head, but when Oliver Cromwell did not lose his soul.  If you leave these things out of the story, you are leaving out the story itself.  If William Rufus was only a red-haired man who liked hunting, why did he force Anselm's head under a mitre, instead of forcing his head under a headsman's axe?  If John Bunyan only cared for "righteousness," why was he in terror of being damned, when he knew he was rationally righteous?  We shall never make anything of moral and religious movements in history until we begin to look at their theory as well as their practice.  For their practice (as in the case of the Mormons) is often so unfamiliar and frantic that it is quite unintelligible without their theory.
I have not the space, even if I had the knowledge, to describe the fundamental theories of Mormonism about the universe.  But they are extraordinarily interesting; and a proper understanding of them would certainly enable us to see daylight through the more perplexing or menacing customs of this community; and therefore to judge how far polygamy was in their scheme a permanent and self-renewing principle or (as is quite probable) a personal and unscrupulous accident.  The basic Mormon belief is one that comes out of the morning of the earth, from the most primitive and even infantile attitude.  Their chief dogma is that God is material, not that He was materialized once, as all Christians believe; nor that He is materialized specially, as all Catholics believe; but that He was materially embodied from all time; that He has a local habitation as well as a name.  Under the influence of this barbaric but violently vivid conception, these people crossed a great desert with their guns and oxen, patiently, persistently, and courageously, as if they were following a vast and visible giant who was striding across the plains.  In other words, this strange sect, by soaking itself solely in the Hebrew Scriptures, had really managed to reproduce the atmosphere of those Scriptures as they are felt by Hebrews rather than by Christians.  A number of dull, earnest, ignorant, black-coated men with chimney-pot hats, chin beards or mutton-chop whiskers, managed to reproduce in their own souls the richness and peril of an ancient Oriental experience.  If we think from this end we may possibly guess how it was that they added polygamy.
Some questions for reflection/discussion:
  1. Chesterton notes that the then-current rumors were that LDS missionaries had come to seduce English women into coming to Utah and becoming polygamous wifes.  Chesterton satirizes these rumors by envisioning outlandish scenarios that multiply wives far beyond anything actually seen in the Utah period and underscore the social respectability of the ladies in their monogamous English lives, thus highlighting the absurdity of moving from the one state of life to the other.  What are some likely reasons why such rumors began to come into existence at all?  Why did so many people find them to be credible?  What social factors were at work?  Why was it so often so difficult for LDS missionaries to dispel such rumors?
  2. Chesterton observes that Elder Ward gave assurances that "polygamy had never been practised with the consent of the Mormon Church since 1890".  Chesterton goes on to say that he finds it quite likely that Elder Ward is being honest, and that this disclaimer should rightly be disseminated to the public.  Historians of polygamy in the post-Manifesto period, however, have shown that there were indeed hundreds of polygamous marriages performed by church authorities after 1890, and that even a majority of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (as it was then constituted) took additional plural wives after the 1890 Manifesto was issued (see, for instance, discussion in B. Carmon Hardy's book Solemn Covenant: The Mormon Polygamous Passage).  Of course, by the time Elder Ward was speaking and Chesterton was writing, the Second Manifesto of 1904 had already been issued by Joseph F. Smith, and new polygamous unions had waned tremendously.  How likely is it that Elder Ward knew about post-Manifesto polygamy?  If Chesterton had been aware of post-Manifesto polygamy, how might he have written this column differently? 
  3. Chesterton raises two principal objections to Elder Ward's assurances.  One of these objections is to the careful phrasing about the "consent of the Mormon Church", which Chesterton objects "has a little the air of an official repudiating responsibility for unofficial excesses".  Chesterton goes on to lampoon this sort of strategy as here implemented.  In recent years in LDS-Evangelical dialogue, one major concern of many Evangelical parties is the seeming fixation of LDS participants on plausible deniability over whether some teaching is 'official' doctrine or not, with distantly secondary regard as to whether the teaching is believed or even true.  How has this dynamic played itself out within Latter-day Saint history over the past century?  What sorts of factors would lead one to place such a premium on the 'official'/'unofficial' dichotomy?  What are the advantages and disadvantages to such distinctions in the context of interfaith dialogue?  What criteria are often used?  What do they highlight, and what do they obscure?
  4. Chesterton's other objection is that it has only been two decades since the supposed end of polygamous practices, and at any rate, a modern implementation of such a practice must be reflective of a very different underlying moral atmosphere; and if the moral atmosphere itself is really quite different (even "repellent"), there is little cause for assurance in merely the removal of one symptomatic practice.  Does Chesterton have a good point here?  And what is it that makes Chesterton (or other non-Latter-day Saints) regard polygamy as "intolerable" and "repellent"? 
  5. Chesterton goes on to discuss a larger issue.  He argues that much historiography of his day, and much public understanding, deliberately avoids an emphasis on the 'theoretical', the understanding of a belief-system as a coherent whole that grounds the particular motivations for actual practices.  Chesterton gives several other examples, as with a history of Puritanism that avoids mentioning John Calvin.  Has the situation improved at all in our day?  Is our society more or less prone to identify the primacy of worldview issues, even religious issues, in understanding the actions of individuals and other entities?  
  6. Chesterton raises the point that "modern tolerance is deafer than intolerance".  By this statement, he means that what passes for 'tolerance' of the modern sort is often a mentality that insists on bracketing out people's actual beliefs, insisting that they be checked at the door so that we can relate to one another as bare humans or bare citizens.  However, as Chesterton points out, this is actually quite disrespectful of those beliefs; it fails to take them seriously.  Indeed, at least 'intolerance' takes the beliefs of others seriously enough to treat them as serious beliefs ought to be treated: to identify them and to seek to understand their consequences.  In light of these points, what should we make of now-modern trends toward religious pluralism, relativism, and pragmatism?  How should Latter-day Saints regard others who insist on prioritizing modern 'niceness' and 'tolerance' toward their beliefs, so that everyone is 'fine' so long as everyone keeps their beliefs to themselves and pretends that everyone agrees with this policy?  How should Evangelicals regard Latter-day Saints who take the same approach as a defense mechanism against the possibility of religious critique (and, sadly, I have met many such Latter-day Saints)?
  7. Chesterton admits that he does not have an especially astute understanding of the intricacies of Latter-day Saint theology, but he identifies its central tenet as the inherent materiality of God, and thus connects the sensation of such a belief with the determined obedience of the Latter-day Saints during their pioneer treks.  Chesterton also senses something archaically Hebraizing in the religious atmosphere cultivated by Mormonism.  Has Chesterton assessed LDS beliefs correctly?  By speaking of a Hebrew or Oriental conception, does Chesterton mean to imply that the LDS outlook actually replicates how a pre-Christian Jew might have viewed the world?  (And, if Chesterton does mean this, is he right or wrong?)  Chesterton suggests a disconnect between the LDS religious atmosphere (as he conceptualizes it) and that of the New Testament.  What aspects of the New Testament might have suggested this to him?

Saturday, January 4, 2014

"Do You Keep a Journal?"

The following article originally appeared as "Do You Keep a Journal?", The Latter-day Saints' Millennial Star 1/6 (1 October 1840): 159-161.  
There is no believer in divine revelation but who feels a lively interest in the history of the ancient Apostles and Elders in the Christian Church; and as it is through their writings, and the histories of their lives and travels that we become acquainted with the church in the days of Christ; and through the writings of the Prophets that we learn of the things of God, and the movements of his children in times before the Apostles, it has been enjoined on the Elders and officers in the church of Christ in these Last Days, to keep a record of their proceedings, or write a history of their travels and labours, so that all the passing events of moment may be gathered in from time to time, so that the generations to come may learn of our doings, and of the work of God in our day, as we have learned concerning those who have gone before us. 
We have lived to see the commencement of the dispensation of the fulness of times; the dispensation in which all things shall be gathered in one; the dispensation in which all things, which have been spoken by the mouths of all the holy Prophets since the world began, will be fulfilled, and the secrets of all hearts shall be made manifest; the Lord Jesus be revealed from heaven, with all the host thereof; and the judgments of the Most High desolate the nations, while Zion and Jerusalem shall again flourish upon the mountains; consequently, we have abundant reason to believe that a history of our day, of the dispensation in which we live, will be one of the most interesting that ever was, or ever will be penned.  In this, the latest generations may learn of the fulfillment of the prophecies of the ancient Prophets, even as we learn of their prophecies by their histories; and if the prophecy itself be glorious, how much more the fulfillment thereof. 
No one need suppose that after the work is completed, the dispensation ended, (if it were possible to have an end), that God will give a special revelation and history of what has passed, to some particular one of his many servants; so that all may remain idle in this matter, and thus leave all the work to God, for this is not his method of doing business; but God gives special revelations to man, by which he makes known to us those things which we otherwise have not the means of knowing; and he will no more give a special revelation of those things which are daily passing before us, and which we can write at our leisure, than he will cause the corn of that sluggard to grow who is too lazy to plant it.  How, then, shall our posterity procure our history? 
Let all the Elders remember the preface to Luke's gospel, and inasmuch as they also have "a perfect understanding" of those things which are daily occurring in their midst, let them write them as he did, and then, bye and bye, when the Lord will, there will be very little difficulty in collecting the histories of the different Elders, and of compiling them in one, thus forming a more full and explicit history of the Church in the last days than we have of the days of Christ and the Apostles.  The gospels by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are the histories of their lives, and of the things which they saw and heard, and events which they were familiar with in their day; also, the Acts of the Apostles is a history of the Apostles; and this is the kind of history that we desire should be preparing concerning the servants and the work of God, at the present time. 
We are aware there are many now in England, who find little time to write, and for this reason, we have enjoined it upon them from time to time, as we have had opportunity, to keep a journal, and daily write a word or two, by which they may refresh their memories, until the Holy Ghost shall bring all things to their remembrance, or they may find leisure to pen their histories in full; and of such we would enquire, Do you keep a Journal?  If so, well - and you will have your reward; and if not, we would again enjoin it upon you, and upon all who have not before heard the admonition, to commence forthwith to keep a Journal, or write a history; and see to it, that what you write is strictly true and unexaggerated; so that in the end, all may know of all things concerning this last work, and all knowledge may flow together from the four quarters of the earth, when the Lord shall make his appearing, and we all may be ready to give a full account of our mission, our ministry and stewardship, and receive the welcome tidings, "Thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things; enter thou into the joy of the Lord." 
Some questions for reflection and discussion:
  1. The author of this article presents a particular perspective on the function of continuing revelation.  For him, special revelation is only made of those things which could not be known otherwise and which had not already been revealed ("those things which we otherwise have not the means of knowing").  This is precisely why 'special revelation' cannot be invoked as a pretext to avoid the present work of writing and studying history: since the community has it within their power to ensure that this knowledge is passed on to future generations, the community cannot "remain idle in this matter" under the presumption that special revelation will supply any lack.  Given this understanding of continuing revelation, what are some pieces of new knowledge that have come in the past two decades to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by means of "special revelation" given through those it sustains as prophets, seers, and revelators?
  2. The author of this article builds from a central premise made clear in his first sentence: that anyone who believes that God has been or is at work in history, should have a fascination with that history.  How fascinated are you to study the history of the ancient prophets and apostles?  LDS readers: Do you, or your LDS friends, take an active interest in studying the history of the LDS movement?  Non-LDS Christian readers: What implications does this have for the study of church history - not just the apostolic era, but the later centuries as well?  Do you take an active interest in studying this?
  3. The author of this article supposes that the present era - the "dispensation of the fulness of times", which in LDS understanding commenced with the Restoration - is one of particular significance in the history of God's redemptive work.  He also supposes that, the more inherently significant an era is, the more inherently fascinating it is to write about and study the story of God's people during that era, particularly as they partner with God in his work.  What sort of things about this era, or 'dispensation', does the author think are especially important to record? 
  4. The author presents keeping a "journal" or "history" in terms of a divine commandment.  He says that it is something that "has been enjoined", that "we have enjoined it", and that "we would again enjoin it upon you".  What proportion of Latter-day Saints follow this commandment in any given ward?  How diligently do they do so?
  5. The author provides a lighter form of the commandment for those who are especially busy: to write just a word or two in order to jog one's memory later when one obtains the leisure time to write more fully.  Does this advice seem feasible?  Given the apparently spiritual nature of keeping such a journal, would  the author likely consider the sabbath - a time reserved for spiritual pursuits and "leisure" - to be an appropriate time for someone to catch up on his or her journaling for the prior week?  
  6. The author envisions that, in the future, elements from the journals and histories of all relevant persons will be gathered, collected, and compiled into one history telling about the progression of God's work during these eras.  What does this suggest about the author's view of the possibility of a singular comprehensive narrative?  How would the author likely respond to postmodern concerns about whether such a thing is possible or desirable?  
  7. In the early twentieth century, B. H. Roberts edited the seven-volume History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which had been an ongoing project to compile materials written by Joseph Smith, his secretaries and scribes, and later church historians into one seamless narrative, often rephrasing things to make Joseph Smith's first-person perspective uniform throughout the work.  Is this sort of work the sort of project that the author of the present article has in mind?  What advantages and disadvantages would that have?
  8. Earlier, I posted an 1853 sermon by Wilford Woodruff on keeping a journal.  What similarities and differences are there between this author's treatment of the topic and Elder Woodruff's treatment of the topic?  What presuppositions or arguments do they have in common?  What distinctive approaches do they take?