Guest post: the Family and Social Science in General Conference

This is a guest post by Huston.

In his remarks at the April 2015 General Conference, Elder D. Todd Christofferson said, “The social science case for marriage and for families headed by a married man and woman is compelling.”
He’s not the first to draw support for this area of doctrine from the secular realm. Citing summaries of social science research to bolster statements about marriage and family has practically become de rigeur in talks by general authorities these days.

Below is a list of all such citations that I could find in General Conference in the last five years. This list doesn’t have every citation from a social science study—just the ones where the research was clearly meant to back up a doctrinal principle or recommended practice.

I don’t know of any other subject that’s regularly preached from the pulpit with peer-reviewed, academic references like this. Have there been sermons about tithing or chastity that increase their persuasive strength by quoting scientists, much less a spate of such sermons? Have church leaders settled controversial matters like priesthood ordination with appeals to secular social science? So why just the issue of marriage and family?

Here’s a theory: because this issue is so critical to the success of society, and to our success as a church, that our leaders feel inspired to defend it by every means reasonable. It’s so important that urging ourselves and our friends to consider our view as an article of faith may not be enough—we should be ready to make a difference in our homes and communities equipped with an array of information that should reach any open-minded acquaintance.

If I’ve missed any relevant citations, please note it in the comments.

1. April 2015: “Why Marriage, Why Family,” By Elder D. Todd Christofferson
Family-related idea or counsel: “The social science case for marriage and for families headed by a married man and woman is compelling.”
Social science cited in support: “Nicholas Eberstadt catalogs the worldwide declines in marriage and childbearing and the trends regarding fatherless homes and divorce and observes: ‘The deleterious impact on the hardly inconsequential numbers of children disadvantaged by the flight from the family is already plain enough. So too the damaging role of divorce and out-of-wedlock childbearing in exacerbating income disparities and wealth gaps—for society as a whole, but especially for children. Yes, children are resilient and all that. But the flight from family most assuredly comes at the expense of the vulnerable young. That same flight also has unforgiving implications for the vulnerable old.’ (See ‘The Global Flight from the Family,’ Wall Street Journal, Feb. 21, 2015, wsj.com/articles/nicholas-eberstadt-the-global-flight-from-the-family-1424476179.)”
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Laura Hales: why I write about polygamy

This is a guest post by Laura Hales.

Laura Harris Hales is a freelance copy editor and author. She received a bachelor’s degree in International Relations from Brigham Young University and a master’s degree in Professional Writing from New England College. She has worked as both a paralegal and as an adjunct professor of English. After marrying in 2013, she found herself immersed in the study of Church history. With her husband, she is the co-author of Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: Toward a Better Understanding and co-webmaster of JosephSmithsPolygamy.org. She is also the copy editor of Mormon Historical Studies. Laura is married to Brian C. Hales and, combined, they have nine children.

Sometimes taking the road less traveled is a conscious choice, and sometimes it’s a result of a diversion that unexpectedly appears along one’s chosen path. Over the last eighteen months, I’ve found myself making one of those course changes as a result of reading Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: History and Theology, written by my then fiancé, Brian C. Hales.

Soon after the wedding photos were unveiled on Facebook, I finished the 1500-page tome on the early practice of polygamy in the Church. Reading his treatment of the subject was somewhat akin to taking a drink of water from a fire hydrant. Totally drenched with new and somewhat confusing information, I found myself in unexplored territory. Inculcated from birth with an idealized image of the Prophet Joseph Smith, I now questioned whether Joseph’s marrying of thirty-five brides and other men’s wives reflected the behavior of a prophet.

Through further study, I was able to resolve my dissonance and make peace with the past. In the process, I developed a desire to present the research from Brian’s trilogy in a format accessible to the average Latter-day Saint. Less information might actually be more beneficial to those first encountering this material. My husband, though initially hesitant, agreed to the project after our publisher echoed his support of the idea.
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Dissenting votes at Conference

This is a guest post by Huston.

At this weekend’s global General Conference, the annual sustaining vote for our church’s overall leaders had an unusual wrinkle. Tens of thousands of Mormons there in person–and many more watching online–said yes. But about seven people stood up to say nay.

This was a planned protest vote by a group called “Any Opposed?”. According to their web site, they seem to have wanted an audience with the Apostles so they could air their grievances. They might have been surprised when the conducting officer, President Uchtdorf, referred them to their stake presidents.

Perhaps they didn’t realize that the church has grown far too large for the old policies of the 70’s to be practical anymore. (Hopefully they then learned from Elder Cook’s talk on the subject.) Perhaps they didn’t know that this is the procedure outlined in the Church’s official Handbook of Instructions:

If a member in good standing gives a dissenting vote when someone is presented to be sustained, the presiding officer or another assigned priesthood officer confers with the dissenting member in private after the meeting.

If they’d really read the handbook, they’d know why dissenting votes are asked for in the first place. From the same paragraph cited above:

The officer determines whether the dissenting vote was based on knowledge that the person who was presented is guilty of conduct that should disqualify him or her from serving in the position.

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Illusion, disillusionment and revelation

This is a guest post by Lucinda Hancock, who describes herself as a Mormon wife and mother of eight wonderful children.

We are all familiar with illusion as a form of false knowledge. When we discover the false nature of a previously believed illusion, we call it disillusionment. But disillusionment, with its false hope that we can arrive at honest truth by simply not believing, cannot be our final destination. Merely losing an illusion does not constitute finding truth.

I recently watched a sort of interview between two men, Peter and Ray. They debated whether or not God existed. Peter asserted that God does not exist. The final part of their conversation follows.

Ray said:“Peter, could you be wrong about God’s existence?”

“Yes, and could you be wrong about God’s existence?” replied Peter.

“No.” Ray said, unexpectedly.

“Then, I think you’re rather closed-minded.” was Peter’s flustered reply.

I didn’t see how Ray could get past this road-block. But then Ray made this comparison that I will never forget,

“If I said to you, ‘Could you be wrong about your wife’s existence?’ You’d say… ‘Don’t be ridiculous. I know her and love her.’” He continued, “I know the Lord and love the Lord, and He transformed my life.”

This was a powerful example to me of the principle of revealed truth. Ray knew God. He could not be disillusioned because his knowledge was based on experiences with God that He could not deny.
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Seeking Smooth Things

This is a guest post by Reid Litchfield.

nahum1

The Pesher Nahum scroll of the Dead Sea Scrolls (4Q169) makes cryptic references to a group called ‘The Seekers of Smooth Things’. The theories about who these people were have some fascinating implications for the Church today.

I enjoy biblical history and have recently been studying the transitional period between the Maccabean Revolt and its resulting Hasmonean Dynasty and the Roman takeover of Judea. Over the course of this study, I encountered a quizzical group known as The Seekers of Smooth Things. The story of this obscure sect of Judaism, and their relevance to us today, begs to be told. But first, some background [1.When possible, I have tried to use numismatics to provide faces to the names in this post.] . . .

The Transition from Persian to Greek Rule

Following the death of Alexander the Great [2.Alexander III of Macedon. This coin minted by Lysimachos is thought to have one of the most accurate likenesses of Alexander the Great

Alexander III of Macedon. This coin, minted by Lysimachos, is thought to be one of the most accurate likenesses of Alexander the Great. There was a tendency for the successors of Alexander the Great to portray themselves as looking like Alexander in an attempt to legitimize their rule. As a result, stylistically many of the obverse images on the coins of the Ptolemies and Seleucids are similar to the this coin in style and appearance.], his vast kingdom was divided up among his generals, with Ptolemy [3.PtolemyPtolemy I Soter (305 – 282 BC)] taking Egypt and Seleucus [4.Seleucus I NicatorSeleucus 1 Nicator (306-281 BC)] taking Syria. Judea found itself in the middle of territorial battles between these two quarreling Greek armies. Ultimately Judah was conquered by the Seleucids, but the Jews continued to be unapologetically Jewish in their customs and religion. This proved to be very problematic for their new Greek masters.
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