Today was another excellent day of presentations. If it is geographically possible, I highly recommend attending this conference next year if you were unable to attend this year. It’s fun and enlightening – a great combination.
Before I begin, let me add a disclaimer that I clearly should have added to my last report. My notes are very incomplete and are colored by my own interpretation of the speaker’s words. Thus, if you find anything alarming or, even better, fascinating, I highly recommend looking for the transcripts or audio recordings or video recordings on the FAIR website. (I don’t know when they will be available.) I look forward to reviewing them myself so I can see what I missed.
The first presenter was Ryan Parr, speaking on DNA and The Book of Mormon. He covered a lot of information, but his overall premise was that, with our current abilities to trace genetic heritage, we really don’t expect to see anything obviously pointing to a group with a middle-eastern heritage.
Lehi’s group was a small kin group that would have married, and thus genetically mingled with, the populations already present in (presumably) Mesoamerica. (See 2 Nephi 5:5-6. He lists his family who is going with him, and then adds “and all those who would go with me.” Since he’s already covered his family, these others would have to be non-family, or indigenous population.) Their genes would have been relatively quickly diluted so as to be indistinguishable due to the law of increasingly remote and genetically irrelevant ancestors (i.e., I may be descended from an illegitimate son of Henry VIII, but the chance of my having any of his DNA is incredibly remote because I’m also descended from everyone else down my genealogical lines). Small, kin-associated groups are at a genetic disadvantage when there is a large, indigenous population that their genes would be thrown into.
The next presenter was Boyd Petersen, who spoke on “What I Learned About Life, the Church, and the Cosmos from Hugh Nibley”. Bro. Petersen is the son-in-law of Hugh Nibley and the author of his biography. I have almost no notes from his talk and look forward to reading it. He hadn’t planned on responding to Martha’s sensationalistic book, but felt it was necessary because of various things that had happened leading up to this conference, as well as the Sunstone conference. Thus, he began with what I found to be an entertaining (and well prepared) attack on her book. However, it is clear that he and the family is dealing with a lot of frustration, bitterness, and pain, in addition to legal threats.
However, he then moved on to the planned topic. This was very much a personal essay filled with humor and love and memories. I only wrote down one of the things he learned from Hugh Nibley (take the scriptures seriously, but don’t assume that what you were taught in Primary is correct), but otherwise just sat back and enjoyed the speech.
The next presenter was Marvin Perkins, speaking on how to reach African Americans inside and outside of the Church. This was the presentation I found the most educational. The Church’s past racism has indeed bothered me, and I hadn’t found satisfactory answers that eased my mind. This talk did much to help me. Also, he provided practical and needed information that every person and every ward should use.
When missionaries prepare in the MTC to go to their respective missions, they learn the language and culture of those places. This also needs to be done when it comes to preaching to African Americans.
When Black investigators begin to study about the Church, they will find all kinds of very racist quotes, thoughts, and teachings from Church leaders. Friends and family of the investigator will put them in their hands. We will forever be disbelieved that we have the truth unless we can be honest about the past. We need to acknowledge that the country and Church were racist.
The early Saints were not ready to see Blacks as equals. The Church was restored in a time and place where such beliefs were common. Change does not come in an instant. Blacks today understand this, but if we can’t acknowledge this, we cannot teach. It is the denial of such things that is painful.
In Declaration 2, it says, “… This, in turn, has inspired us with a desire to extend….” It took time to reverse the mindset, and when the leaders were ready, they finally asked. When the Church was restored, there were Blacks who received the priesthood. Until about 1954, most people didn’t know there was a policy. It simply wasn’t an issue. It was a practice to withhold the priesthood, not doctrine. However, the revelation put to rest all of the man-made policies that were wrong. A flood of light corrected the thoughts and views of the past.
Bro. Perkins reviewed may scriptures on equality, the priesthood and authority, curses, and skin color in the scriptures (or lack thereof, as the case may be).
We’ve been conditioned to ignore the issue of Church racism: “It’s in the past”; “It’s behind us”; “We just don’t know”. This is not a way to reach people. African Americans have a very persecuted past, and they know that the Church has a reputation of being racist. They want to know that the reputation is no longer the case.
The next speaker was Davis Bitton, who spoke and George Q. Cannon and his feelings about apostates. Bro. Bitton reviewed a bit of Elder Cannon’s history, and brought us into the 1890s, when there were a lot of threats to the unity of the Church: the Manifesto, a financial crisis, and new political alignments as Utah became a state. In this unstable environment, he saw a lot of issues leading to grumbling and complaining and leaving the Church. Elder Cannon thus focused much on apostasy and what would lead to it. He did not have a lot of respect for apostates, but he wanted to warn to the faithful of the dangerous road they could so easily enter on. He wanted them to be aware of consequences – we can do what we want, but we cannot avoid the consequences.
The next speaker was John Tvedtnes, who spoke on “Authentic Ancient Names and Words in the Book of Abraham and Related Kirtland Egyptian Papers”. I have no notes from this presentation because it involved a lot of Hebrew and Arabic, with smatterings of other languages and, well, it was just beyond my notetaking ability. Basically, though, his theme was that many of the names in the Book of Abraham have valid ancient etymologies.
The final presentation was from Daniel Peterson (who I always pictured in my mind with a lot of hair… color me surprised), who spoke on secular anti-Mormonism. The presentation did not lend itself well to summarization, so my notes on his speech were also limited. There was snarkiness about (I think) the RFM boards, and a corrosive cynicism that can be found on many internet fora. He spoke on the elite European secularism, with is disdain for American religiosity. He spoke on journalists turning to secular anti-Mormonism to get a good (though very often inaccurate) story. He spoke on the presumption of the U.S. elite to assume that religiosity is a pathology despite evidence to the contrary. And there was a lot more, and his will likely be the first transcript I will review because there was a lot that I missed, and it involved humor and snark, which I really appreciate.
Thus, a very interesting two days.