After the passing of his dear older brother, Jacob stood before the people of Nephi with an earnest interest in “consoling and healing” them through the “pleasing word of God; yea, the word which healeth the wounded soul” (Jacob 2).
while doing just that, Jacob also admitted feeling “weighed down with much
desire and anxiety” for his people’s welfare – to the point that he felt
constrained to share other things he
acknowledged would likely “enlarge the wounds of those who are already wounded.”
particular, Jacob knew that his cautionary words about sexual boundaries being
crossed among his people would be painful for some listening, which made his
deeply-felt obligation to speak personally painful as well:
Wherefore, it burdeneth my soul that I should be constrained, because of the strict commandment which I have received from God, to admonish you according to your crimes, to enlarge the wounds of those who are already wounded, instead of consoling and healing their wounds; and those who have not been wounded, instead of feasting upon the pleasing word of God have daggers placed to pierce their souls and wound their delicate minds. (Jacob 2)
believe the prophets in our day feel a similar pain, especially when teaching
about issues they know are sensitive, and deeply personal. But like Jacob of
old, they feel “constrained” to speak what God puts on their hearts – recognizing
that whatever pain some might feel in their words, they are necessary to
address a deeper woundedness that exists independent of their words.
Wounded America. There are enough wounds to go around in
America today – of all kinds, and in all directions. Even more pervasive and life-threatening than
physical wounds are those tearing at hearts, and minds – spirits and souls. In
particular, lots of people feeling wounded when it comes to questions of sexuality
today. The pain is real, often overwhelming, and sometimes even lethal.
Jacob Z. Hess, Ph.D.
Note: A special thanks to Jana Riess for her willingness to correspond and share thoughtful responses to a number of questions during an especially busy time for her. Given the seriousness of claims made in her lengthy book, an adequate review and response also requires sufficient space (trigger warning to long-read-haters!)
In 2002, word circulated that an in-depth PBS Documentary would be coming out focused on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As a new doctoral student, I got excited that such a high-quality doc would be available – and on a network known for fair-minded reporting.
Thinking it would be a great way to let people know who we really are, I sent out a note to classmates and professors to be watching out for it. As soon as the film aired, however, something became quickly apparent. From the dark images of Joseph Smith set to spooky music, to the scene of primary children clearly intended to convey brainwashing, it became obvious that this film was less about representing us, than someone else’s story about us.
Producer Helen Whitney clearly didn’t set out to craft something malicious or deceptive. Instead, I believe she approached the project with pre-existing strong feelings about who we are – which emotions naturally influenced how she told the story. For the many who tuned-in to learn the truth about our faith, however, Helen’s arguments and our own reality were fused into one indistinguishable product.
‘The truth about what’s happening in Mormonism.’ On February 26, 2019, after sharing 18 months of advance results, the Salt Lake Tribune announced the “day is near” for people to read the full report from a study it described in one article as “groundbreaking,” “sweeping” and “landmark.” Hailed by others as “momentous,” “revolutionary” and a “must read for anyone interested in the LDS Church,” the text by Dr. Jana Riess was widely promoted as an answer to some of the most pressing questions facing the Church.
Z. Hess, Ph.D.
First published on the EternalCore Conference website (Join us this coming Friday and Saturday, March 29-30 in Salt Lake City for a gathering to explore a “God-Centric Mental Health” – what that looks like, and what it could mean for those suffering).
Note: Suicide is an inherently difficult topic – especially for those families who have been impacted by this tragedy. It’s precisely the enormous pain of suicide that arguably calls for a wide-ranging discussion of anything that could potentially help reduce the numbers. The purpose of this article is to raise one possibility not widely considered – partly because it involves an intervention largely embraced as central to solving the problem. This article does not constitute medical advice and should not be used to guide individual care decisions. No changes to any medication regimen should be made without supervision from a physician – especially since research confirms that dosage changes are one of the times where risk for suicidality is heightened. I believe that everyone is doing the best they can to solve this societal problem, and that we need to make sure there is space in our public discussion for all possibilities (including unpopular ones) so we can make more progress. All feedback will be appreciated.
Like so many others, I’ve lost loved ones to suicide. The heartbreak this causes for so many families has prompted enormous prevention efforts and a wonderful new Church website dedicated to helping raise awareness.
The most obvious question that comes up is why? What was it that led this individual…to that? Although there will always be some uncertainty involved in this profound heartbreak, thousands of studies documenting various risk factors for suicide make it clear that no single cause is responsible, as much as hundreds of overlapping contributors.
As suicides keep rising, another “why” question arises: Why have the numbers been going up? This brings up other conversations about social media and the opioid epidemic, along with other unique cultural and economic factors that have shifted markedly in the last decade or two. Shifting views on sexuality have also been rightly discussed as potentially playing a role in growing distress, although there are substantial disagreements about how to make sense of that influence.
The why question we’re not talking about. There’s a third “why” question that is far less obvious and rarely discussed: Why do these numbers continue to rise, even when we are doing so much to decrease them?
If someone does or says something legitimately racist, can they change, move past it – and regain societal grace?
After Governor Ralph Northam was accused earlier this year of wearing blackface in a college yearbook photo, calls for his resignation were almost immediate – including from the Virginia senatorial delegation and most of the 2020 presidential candidates. For instance, Sen. Elizabeth Warren tweeted, “Hatred and discrimination have no place in our country and must not be tolerated…he must resign.” Hillary Clinton also tweeted, “…There is nothing to debate. He must resign.”
Are we sure there’s really nothing to discuss about this?
Mercy and Justice in 2019. While acknowledging what Governor Northam allegedly did as “appalling and hateful,” columnist David Brooks added, “yet in a lot of these cases, there should be some path to redemption,” noting that the Governor’s “record on civil rights is quite good. And so, whatever hateful thing he may or may not have done as a medical student, it’s not evident in his adult behavior. And I do think that mitigates toward some sense of leniency.” 
Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Bret Stephens elaborated in a New York Times article, “Should we judge people only by their most shameful moments?” – noting “he may have done something ugly and dumb many years ago, when he was a young man and prevailing notions of socially permissible behavior were uglier and dumber than they are today.” But, he similarly notes, “In the 35 years between those two points he has, by all appearances, lived an upstanding life without a hint of racial bias. If we are going to embrace a politics where that’s not enough to save a sitting governor accused of no crime, we’re headed toward a dark place” (emphasis added).
In an article too good to not over-quote, Stephens then asks readers to consider “perform[ing] an internal audit before we join the cast-the-first-stone coalition:”