My ward in small-town Colorado is very conservative. How conservative is it? Well, I am quite sure that less than 5 percent of ward members — and probably 0 percent — voted for Barack Obama in either the 2008 and 2012 elections. How do I know? We have a caucus system in Colorado, and I have seen a lot of people at the caucuses. In addition, they have bumper stickers on their cars. And, yes, occasionally they make political statements at church.
I have been the Gospel Doctrine teacher for more than two years. I generally avoid politics in class, but you can tell where people are coming from the types of comments people make. The legalization of marijuana in Colorado is, to many of my fellow ward members, a sign of the end times (I voted for legalization, but I don’t like contention, so when people say legal pot is a sign of the end times I mostly just smile and change the subject).
In any case, believe you me: my ward is conservative.
There are readers right now who are forming stereotypes in their minds. I can just see it. “Conservative ward, they are all probably fundamentalists, ignorant rubes, not as sophisticated as I am, etc, etc.”
Now, here’s something to ponder: most of them (perhaps all?) happily accept the idea that we do not need to take the Bible literally. They accept that Mormons are not Biblical fundamentalists. They accept that some of the Bible is perhaps allegorical. Darn them, why don’t they live up to the stereotypes liberal Mormons impose upon them?
We have been teaching the Old Testament in Gospel Doctrine this year. This is an area rife for discussions on the age of the Earth, evolution, the mark of Cain, etc. In short, this is territory where the “ignorant rubes” could indignantly stand up to show trumpet their fundamentalism. Not one person has done so.
I have taught the following in Gospel Doctrine class, and it has been quite well-received:
–There are multiple creation accounts, and they are not the same accounts and even contradictory in some ways. This is OK. God explains the creation to different audiences in different ways and reveals different information at different times. This is not faith-destroying but is just common sense. If we are explaining a complex subject to our children, we might explain it in different ways at different times. It makes sense that God would do this also.
–We do not need to believe that the Earth is literally 6,000 years old or that the Earth was literally covered in the flood or that Noah literally put two kinds of each animal on the ark. Sometimes a loving God wants us to understand basic concepts. Sometimes information is left out or explained in very simple terms.
–There is absolutely no conflict between God’s creation story and scientific discovery regarding evolution. The creation story is meant to impart spiritual truths. The creation story is not meant to be a scientific blueprint. Science studies the tangible material available and comes up with hypotheses based on that material. It is completely OK (and faith-promoting) that science would not study spiritual issues. If we see that the scriptures and scientists are telling two different — but possibly parallel — stories when describing the creation, we can see that there is room for science and faith to coexist peacefully and perhaps even support each other.
–The Church has clearly and forthrightly rejected the idea that black skin a sign of the mark of Cain and the curse of Ham. We don’t exactly know what the mark of Cain is, and that is OK. God wants us to ponder the scriptures.
The discussion was very interesting and filled with good insights. Not once — I repeat not once — did one of these conservative members stand up to proclaim that we must take the Bible literally.
So, let’s be clear: at least in my (very) conservative Colorado ward, people accept the idea that there is more to Mormonism than insisting that our faith is based on biblical inerrancy. Mormon members embrace our uniqueness and the important role of latter-day revelation. I know this will destroy some stereotypes out there, but the truth will set us all free.