On another thread here at M*, we have had a raging debate on Ralph Hancock’s talk at the FAIR Conference Aug. 1.
This talk has now been published by FAIR and can be read here.
Having read the talk several times now, I cannot understand why this talk is all that controversial. I honestly believe that many people simply do not understand it or are confused by the terms he used (such as “liberal.”)
After Prof. Hancock’s talk, however, Scott Gordon, President of FAIR, felt it necessary to clarify that FAIR’s position on the talk, something that was not done for any other talk during the conference.
Here is Scott Gordon’s explanation, as written here on M*:
I had several comments on his presentation. Some from liberals, and one of the last ones came from a very conservative republican. I have no idea if the people who made comments to me listened to the talk or not. On the way to the podium, I thought I should try to nip in the bud the idea that FAIR supported one political ideology or another. I thought my comments reflected that. I was very uncomfortable making the announcement as I was unhappy I had not thought to make that clear at the beginning of the conference and I couldn’t think of a more graceful way to articulate my thoughts.
I reiterate this point not to bash Scott Gordon and/or FAIR (quite the opposite) but to explain why this talk garnered attention. As far as I am concerned, the whole “apology issue” is not really relevant to this discussion anymore.
I would like this post to concentrate on the actual content of the talk. My personal opinion: I think it was a brilliant talk with many salient points for modern-day latter-day Saints. Prof. Hancock quoted modern-day prophets and apostles, de Toqueville and many Founding Fathers and makes his case clearly and forcefully. I honestly cannot understand why believing latter-day Saints would have a problem with it.
I am, however, willing to be convinced otherwise.
Let’s start out with a few things that Prof. Hancock did NOT say.
*He has nothing to say about economic liberals, i.e. liberals who believe in social justice and equality on economic issues. This has been the main, uniting focus of the liberal/progressive movement for more than 100 years now. So, when he uses the term “liberal” he is not aiming at economic liberals.
*He had nothing to say about the Democratic party, the Green Party or any specific political party.
*He does not recommend any specific policy, party platform or legislation.
*He does not say that everything he believes to be morally wrong must be made illegal.
*He does not say that if you disagree with him you are a bad latter-day Saint, should lose your temple recommend, be shunned at Church, etc, etc.
So, what are his main points?
1)Although the Church is politically neutral, there are certain moral issues where the Church does take a public stance and get involved politically.
2)He makes a distinction between what he calls “practical liberalism” and “theoretical liberalism.” This concept is crucial to understand. Practical liberals understand, and emphasize, the crucial role of religion and traditional morality in maintaining a functioning society. Theoretical liberals, however, reject traditional morality and a higher power and believe in human ability to define morality. This implies there are no absolute moral truths.
3)The New Liberalism of the 1960s and 1970s grew out of the ideas of theoretical liberals. Here is what Prof. Hancock says:
The New Liberalism posits open-ended individual self-expression –including, notably, sexual expression, however that may be defined by the individuals’ desires or supposed identity– as a fundamental right, as essential to the “dignity” of the person. The opposition of this view to the Restored Gospel could not be clearer: the Gospel situates sexuality within a distinctive view of the eternal destiny of the person, and subordinates sexual desire and expression to that definite purpose and to the commandments that serve that purpose. It is fundamental to LDS teaching that the family is eternal, and therefore that sexuality must be expressed within the bounds that serve the person’s interest in the eternal family.
4)The Proclamation on the Family, released in 1995, clearly does not support the New Liberal’s view.
This Proclamation would seem to present an insuperable obstacle to LDS wishing to reconcile their New Liberal commitments with Church teaching.
Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.
…Sacred ordinances and covenants available in holy temples make it possible for individuals to return to the presence of God and for families to be united eternally.
…We declare that God’s commandment for His children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force. We further declare that God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife.
5)New Liberals are constantly pushing for the Church to adopt their version of morality, but modern-day prophets have reiterated (including, notably, at the most recent General Conference), that the Church will not change its position on moral issues. Prof. Hancock then goes on to quote many of the recent talks from prophets and apostles.
6)Prof. Hancock then goes on to point out that it is difficult for scholars to succeed if they support traditional morality. He says:
It would be a shame to leave our brothers and sisters, and especially our intellectually gifted and enterprising young fellow saints, with the impression that they must choose between being rational and being faithful. Mormon apologists must make it clear, in the area of fundamental moral-political beliefs as they do in dealing with sacred texts and Church history, that the Lord does not ask us to sacrifice our intellectual integrity or rational or our quest for understanding, but only to recognize our own limitations, the fallibility and corruptibility of human reason, and thus the need for prophetic guidance and for obedience to commandments.
As I say, I find absolutely nothing controversial about this. Many of these points are discussed at length in every General Conference.
What am I missing?
(Polite discussion is encouraged. Snarky, sarcastic comments, personal insults, etc, will be deleted).