About Meg Stout

Meg Stout has been an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ (of Latter-day Saints) for decades. She lives in the DC area with her husband, Bryan, and several daughters. She is an engineer by vocation and a writer by avocation. Meg is the author of Reluctant Polygamist, laying out the possibility that Joseph taught the acceptability of plural marriage but may have privately defied the commandment for love of his wife, Emma.

Slavery (not) in the Book of Mormon

A few years ago I reviewed Reid Litchfield’s book Enslaved to Saved. The key insight was how the initial translators of the Bible text into English obfuscated the prevalence of slavery in biblical times by using the term “servant” for the Greek term δοῦλος, widely known to scholars as referring to slaves.

This struck me recently when I read of Nephi’s interaction with Laban’s “servant,” Zoram. Given how we now know the Book of Mormon text was transmitted into English, it appears the Stuart-era Bible translators were somehow involved. So I wondered whether Zoram was not merely a servant, but instead the kind of enslaved steward that was common in the ancient Western world.

if Zoram was slave rather than servant, Nephi’s offer to Zoram is stunning.

I posited this reading to family, and one relative pointed out that when the converted Lamanites offer to become slaves to the Nephites in Alma 27:8, Ammon said it was against Nephite law to own slaves.

I hypothesize that in the schism following Lehi’s death that Nephite society rejected the practice of slavery while Lamanite society saw no reason to abandon this familiar and “useful” practice. This would explain the cultural differences that are exposed by the passage in Alma 27:8. It could also explain why Zoram and his descendants chose to align themselves with Nephi.

I now return you to your own efforts to study the Book of Mormon in this bicentennial year of Joseph’s initial vision.

Peter, the Sublime

El Greco – Saint Peter in Tears

As we read the New Testament in 2019, I came to love the voice of Paul and his disciples. There was a joy and confident grace in the many epistles that follow the gospels and Acts.

Then I hit Peter. Gone was the learned Greek grace of Paul. The difference was so great that I commented on my disappointment to my husband.

“Well, Joseph Smith said that the epistles of Peter were the most sublime in scripture,” he replied

Seriously? Obedient, I continued reading. And I took in 2 Peter 2.

“When did Joseph say Peter was subblime? Exactly!” I demanded. Because 2 Peter 2 sounds a lot like what I assert was going on in Nauvoo in the 1840s, speaking of:

“them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government. Presumptuous are they, selfwilled…. Having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin; beguiling unstable souls….”

2 Peter 2:10, 14

Since my husband didn’t much care where he’d heard about Joseph’s comment (or when Joseph had uttered this praise for Peter), I did the googling. And I was right – this wasn’t a statement from a Joseph who was studying the Bible in the early 1830s. This statement came from Joseph in May 1843. In 1843 Joseph (in my view) had lived through just over a year of ministry aimed at eradicating gross sexual error from converts to the restored gospel.

Joseph preached to the people about 2 Peter 1, then tossed off his comment about the epistles of Peter being the most sublime in scripture. You know those who belong to the Church when it comes to prophets, they would have gone home and made a point of reading all the rest of the chapters attributed to Peter.

And there they would have seen Peter’s excoriation of those who teach and practice sexual sin, of those who despise the efforts of Church leaders to teach correct principles. The faithful, such as William Clayton, would have gotten the message, loud and clear, in a manner more powerful than any sermon Joseph could have delivered of himself.

In the entry reporting Joseph’s sermon on 2 Peter 1 was another note, of dozens of Saints in the east who had been excommunicated. I haven’t done the detailed research on that rash of ecclesiastical actions. But I suspect these individuals had been pulled into the errors taught by Bennett and his strikers. Certainly this would match what Connell O’Donovan explains about the goings-on in the East, gross errors that unfortunately involved at least one prominent Black member of the Church (See Volume II of the Persistence of Polygamy, pp.48-86).

Whatever the past was, it was just one thing (multifaceted though that might be). I look forward to the day when we know as we are known, when all the truths and secrets of that past are laid out before our eyes. In that day I expect we will be willing and able to forgive almost anything, so long as those who erred repented and returned to God.

On Money

This morning my husband came down and turned on the radio, disturbing my typical silence.

“NPR said there’s going to be a story about the Church and Tithing.“

The story came on, and the news report says a whistleblower with the Church’s investment arm has said some stuff to the IRS. But it’s not the whistleblower who has gone public. It’s the whistleblower’s brother.

At issue is that when funds that come into the Church that aren’t immediately needed for Church operations they are invested. And apparently there are times when the whistleblower feels that some of this investment fund is used in ways inconsistent with the charitable donation status of the source of the funds.

There are articles on this at the Salt Lake Tribune and The Washington Post. One comment I appreciated pointed out that most businesses keep a reserve of 30 years of operating costs to sustain an organization through periods of economic hardship (or one can think of unprofitable growth, spreading the gospel in places where tithing income doesn’t cover operations costs). According to this individual, the touted $100B actually amounts to only 17 years of operating costs, leading to the conclusion that the reserve should be $200B rather than the relatively paltry $100B reported.

As for me and my house, we pay tithes not because the Church has imminent expenses, but because it’s a commandment. And it doesn’t hurt that when I’ve failed to pay a timely tithe, God has gone ‘repo man’ on me. There was my decision circa 2000 to use my minor excess to fix a teetering car transmission instead of bring my tithing current. In the wee hours of Conference Sunday that car was stolen and used in a high speed chase, ramming a police vehicle, harming the officers in the car. The thief then ditched my totaled car in a ravine. So I was bereft of the thing I had paid to repair, my wallet further lightened by the fees associated with the car being impounded by the police, and I had the expense of purchasing a new-to-me car. That’s the kind of experience I have when I don’t pay a timely tithe.

Back to the whistleblower’s report, this is a matter for the IRS to investigate. If the reserve funds are in fact being used for inappropriate payments, then appropriate fines and sanctions will ensue. But the fact of a reserve and the size of the reserve and possible misuse of some small portion of that reserve do not rescind the commandment to tithe.

if people really feel the Church shouldn’t have such a big fund, the faithful response is to volunteer for a mission amongst those children of God who lack, de facto increasing the Church’s operating costs. A decision to simply break the commandment to tithe is not a response appropriate to one who believes in God and the restoration.

Words versus Facts

Themis, Greek goddess of proper order, by kiki1196

A few weeks ago an individual e-mailed me, excited to share new survey results regarding what people say they would do if faced with $100K in debts. The survey suggested people were inclined to be self-reliant, with women more likely than men to shoulder the burden responsibly. I looked at the link my correspondent had shared, as well as M* post that had inspired them to seek me out. But there was a problem.

Only 4% admitting they would tap parental help. But census results suggest ~23% of individuals aged 24-36 live with their mother, nearly double the percentage of adult children in this age range who lived with their mother in 2005. While surveys can be useful:

What people say they would do in a hypothetical situation is not the same as what they actually do in real situations When facts do not agree with assertion, facts should be preferred.

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Misunderstanding v. Stupidity

Detail from Goethe’s novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther

In 1980 a Mr. Hanlon wrote, “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.”

“Stupidity” is such a modern and offensive term. As I dug into the history of Hanlon’s Razor (as it is now called), I tumbled across a much earlier version, written by Goethe in 1774:

Misunderstandings and lethargy 1 perhaps produce more wrong in the world than deceit and malice do.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1774). Die Leiden des jungen Werthers or The Sufferings of Young Werther (in eng). Translated 1907 by Bayard Quincy Morgan. p. 14.

Do we give each other the benefit of the doubt, allowing that there might be a mere misunderstanding rather than intentional malice? Are we too lazy to find out the underlying details?

This matters to me because I care about Joseph Smith. I find that the root of today’s “faith crisis” fad within the Church of Jesus Christ can be found in what people think about Joseph Smith. In my view, these sufferors and those wishing to minister to them fundamentally misunderstand what happened in Nauvoo in the 1840s and they don’t bother trying to really find out the details. Using a facile and unchallenged version of Church history, then, many attribute malice and deceit to Joseph Smith.

I assert that when one understands the full history of Nauvoo, it is impossible to see Joseph Smith as either malicious or deceitful.

Returning to Hanlon’s Razor, it is widely accepted that “you can’t fix stupid.” When we are guided by Hanlon, we are led to depair when seemingly malicious incidents occur. But if we are guided by Goethe, misunderstandings can yield to information. In Goethe’s world It becomes possible to exert oneself and overcome lethargy or sloth.

We can fix the wrongs of the world. It isn’t easy. But it can be done. So whether your challenge involves misunderstanding regarding the restored gospel, disagreements over climate change, or inability to speak civilly about anything with family at the holiday table, we can change this world from a cesspool of hate and anger towards a concensus of understanding and love.

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Notes:

  1. The German term in the original is Trägheit, meaning “possessing the property of being slow.” I think a better word in the translation would have been sloth.