For Day 2 of the 2015 Fair Mormon Conference, the following presentations were scheduled. Those that are hyperlinked and marked with a star are covered today. Others may be covered in a few days when the streaming video is made available after the conference.
* Michael R. Otterson – Correcting The Record: Brother Otterson is with the LDS Church Public Affairs office.
* Stephen Webb – Why Mormon Materialism Matters: Steven Webb is a Catholic theologian and author of Mormon Christianity.
* Laura Hales – Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: Toward a Better Understanding: Laura Hales become immersed in the matter of polygamy when she recently married Brian C. Hales.
Lynne Wilson – Christ’s Emancipation of Women in the New Testament from their Cultural Background and Baggage
* Cassandra Hedelius – A house of order, a house of God: Recycled challenges to the legitimacy of the church: Cassandra Hedelius is part of the Fair Mormon team and reacts to the gnostics who claim they’ve learned secret truths that indicate the Church has gone off the rails.
* Paul Reeve – From Not White Enough, to Too White: Rethinking the Mormon Racial Story: Paul gives a fascinating description of why early Mormons might have wanted to counteract the image that they were a new and dangerously multi-cultural and degenerate race.
* Dan Peterson – The Reasonable Leap into Light: A Barebones Secular Argument for the Gospel: Dan Peterson shares an outline for the argument that we are not merely random bits of cosmic goo, indicating that it is completely rational to belief in the divine.
Michael R. Otterson – Correcting The Record
I didn’t catch this entire talk, but Brother Otterson gives great responses to the popular impression that the Church is out of control and the PA department is a rogue entity capriciously attacking “perfectly nice” individuals and movements. I think this talk is very worthy of being revisited, and is a reminder of how seriously the leaders of the Church take their mandate to lead us in the way Christ would have us led.
In Q&A, Brother Otterson talked about how nice it is now that we can publish our own version of matters on Mormon Newsroom, rather than hope that some random news outlet might not mangle the story too badly. Apparently there used to be some kind of “wall of shame” for reporters who failed to be accurate. That has gone away, because it is no longer needed.
[Geoff B. covered this talk in greater depth in his post earlier today, Fair Mormon Conference – Day 2]
[This is just a summary because I was listening to this talk in a restaurant while eating lunch.]
Steven Webb is a Catholic theologian who has come to an appreciation of Joseph Smith’s take on the nature of God and eternity. The initial discussion used highly specific theological language regarding the nature of matter, but at the end Steven comes to a place where he argues that Joseph Smith’s concept of material Gods (Father, Son, Spirit with a single purpose) who exist in eternity is not grossly different from the thoughts of early Catholic Church Fathers, though they were influenced by other thoughts that lead to the Catholic vision of God codified in the Nicene Creed. He concludes with the idea that Mormonism’s defense of its concept of God has been overly influenced by the dialogue with Protestant theologians, and that there is a vibrant conversation about to unfold with Mormonism’s Catholic brothers, where we may find we are not as different as we have previously presumed.
Laura gives some background into her own uncomfortable immersion in the topic of Joseph Smith’s polygamy when she married Brian C. Hales.
Laura discusses the two opposing theories, between a Joseph who acted to satisfy sexual appetites and a Joseph who only reluctantly obeyed the repeated proddings of an increasingly frustrated angel.
Laura cites Lucy Walker who both indicated that plural wives were not taken on because they were voluptuous, etc., but that even so, Joseph also taught things that led to an expectation of such marriages eventually including the full range of interactions considered proper to monogamous marriages.
Laura points out that people expect Joseph to have had wisdom, knowledge, and social knowledge beyond that available in his time. This is not reasonable.
Laura next takes up the topic of Helen Mar Kimball, and got a laugh when she indicated that “a few months before her fifteenth birthday” means Helen was fourteen years old at the time. Laura cites a poem where Helen, as a young girl, felt like a fettered bird. But in the poem, the mature Helen counsels her younger self that the step she resented as a girl would bring great blessings and glory.
Though Helen initially resented polygamy because of the trials she saw her mother go through, she eventually gained a testimony of the “principle,” gave her husband two additional plural wives, and would be a strong proponent of plural marriage when it came under attack in later years.
Laura reiterates that Helen’s marriage was not illegal due to Helen’s age at that time, nor were other elements of the union, which was likely not consummated, unusual (aside from the fact that Joseph was already married, which I remind readers would not have been a problem prior to 1050 AD).
D&C 132 is a confusion (and really long) revelation. And thus it is understandable why most Mormons haven’t bothered reading and understanding it.
By 1843, Emma had embraced Joseph’s teachings regarding plural marriage, openly giving Joseph Emily and Eliza Partridge as plural wives. But shortly thereafter Emma became so upset by the teaching that divorce was mentioned as a possibility.
Laura contrasts D&C 25:15 and D&C 132:54, which mean the same thing, but feel very different.
We know from Orson Pratt that Joseph would receive revelation but clothe those revelations in the language that was in Joseph’s mind, suitable to the time of the prophet through whom they were given. Joseph’s revelations, therefore, are not to be understood as God’s direct words. In similar manner, the later publication and compilation of revelations went through a refining process during Joseph’s lifetime. But D&C 132 never went through this process, since it was not ever intended for public consumption and Joseph never had a chance to refine it before it was prepared for public presentation.
Laura addresses some of the questionable interpretations arising from the raw form of the revelation. She indicates that it is not legitimate to assume that D&C 132 requires that all members of the Church practice polygamy. She also indicates that D&C 132 should not be considered a sufficient “rule book” for how to practice polygamy, specifically regarding the idea that the first wife had to consent and all the women had to be virgins. To show that consent and virginity were not required elements, Laura cites the example of Heber C. Kimball’s marriage to Sarah Peake Noon in 1842 without revealing the plural marriage to his wife, Vilate, and this at Joseph’s urging.
In no case, Laura asserts, is there any reason to believe that the woman was forced to marry against her will. Specifically, no woman who is documented as being married to Joseph objected to the marriage. Women, such as Almira Knight, were documented to have rejected the men who approached them without any subsequent censure.
Laura discusses the “Law of Sarah” which was based on the Code of Hammurabi, translated in the first portion of the 20th century. The Code of Hammurabi prohibits a man from taking a plural wife without the permission of his wife unless there were extenuating circumstances. If a wife was barren or disobedient, then the husband was allowed to fulfill his religious and societal duty without permission of his wife.
Laura discusses the obscurity of the revelation until 1852, when Brigham publicly revealed that the Mormons practiced plural marriage, which was touted as a bandage to correct moral ills in an enthusiastic Parley P. Pratt. A conference was held a month early, and Orson Pratt (poor Orson) was assigned to publicly address the congregation of plurality of wives, laying out the doctrine and why it was part of their religious faith. In this address, Orson laid out the expected legal challenges, and the expectation that the US Constitution would ultimately protect the Mormon practice of plural marriage.
Laura traces the teachings regarding polygamy during the time when Utah Saints polygamy, and shows that these teachings do not always trace back to Joseph.
When the Church established policies focusing on monogamous marriages in life, Joseph’s teachings are found consistent with mortal monogamous marriages.
Laura shared an interestingly open quote from Brigham Young, indicating that if his daughter chooses wrongly in a first marriage, she should feel free to break off that marriage and try again (and again).
Laura then talks about current policies that resist canceling existing sealings except when a woman is seeking to be sealed to another man. For some women, this leaves them in a situation where they are their husband’s mortal monogamous spouse, but are eternally viewed as being merely a plural wife, with the other “sealed” wife still living (if legally divorced from the husband.
Laura cites Richard Bushman’s urging for people to have patience when considering the Church narrative regarding plural marriage. Hard as some may find that, Laura offers hope if those facing a crisis of faith are nurtured when their prior understanding is found to be in gross conflict with fact.
The future is what we make of it.
With many more women than males in the Church today, would polygamy be a solution? Laura says as she doesn’t hold those keys, she doesn’t have to answer this.
Another asks a question of how to obey the command to be sealed when there is such a dearth of males to be worthy companions.
Laura responds to Leroi Snow’s account that Emma threw Eliza down the stairs. Laura doesn’t belief it occurred.
Q. In the age of DNA, why is there no evidence of offspring from Joseph’s marriages. Laura says there is only the one case that might be right, and Dr. Perego has a Go Fund Me to use more advanced technology to evaluate the case of Josephine Lyons.
Q. Why not believing Helen Mar had sex with Joseph? Laura reviews the reasons given to doubt the relationship between Helen and Joseph was consummated, particularly the fact that she wasn’t called to testify in the Temple Lot case.
Q. We are losing loved ones over this. Laura agrees that we are losing people, but indicates that part of the reason is that wee have ignored the past and allowed others to control the narrative. We look at the past through our present understanding, and it doesn’t seem to make sense. Our testimony needs to be based on Christ, as Richard Bushman says.
I came in partway through Cassandra’s comments, at about 2:48 MDT. But I think the conference schedule was running late, as I think she was just starting her comments.
Cassandra was rather harsh in her comments about those who have visions and discuss them. I presume she is speaking of those who claim visions or revelations or other experiences that presumably give them authority to lead others, particularly those who accuse the prophets and apostles (etc.) of wandering into apostasy.
Coming into the midst of the comments, I’m hoping that Cassandra is not meaning to condemn anyone who relates their experiences of communion with the Holy Spirit.
Cassandra got a round of applause when she said there are no shallow doctrines, responding to the frequent assertion of gnostics that they are privy to the “deep” doctrines that the Church has ignored.
Gnosticism claims to provide hidden knowledge, ironically increasing pride and disdain among those who embrace the hidden teachings. Gnosticism encourages elitism and withdrawal from the general community of the Saints.
Q. Is [book title] a gnostic book. A. Heck yes (though she didn’t name names and titles because she projects that there will be many future gnostics).
Q. What are the top several blogs? A. Cassandra doesn’t want to do this, since if folks don’t know what she’s talking about, she doesn’t want folks seeking it out.
Q. Who uses the term “Mormon Gnostic”? A. Cassandra says she is the one using it now, but she thinks it fits.
Q. Can you comment on the seer stone picture? A. The picture is recent – items from the 1800s are in color. The article intended for the October Ensign is fabulous.
Q. No one since Joseph has had his extraordinary gifts and that causes problems for some people. A. Cassandra challenges the idea that no one since Joseph has had his extraordinary gifts. No one else was the founder of the Restoration, and so he was the one who had the gifts appropriate to that mission.
Q. What about people who have keys and go on to be popular? A. If you’re released, then you no longer have those keys. Anytime you are setting yourself up as a light, that is priesthcraft.
Q. What should one who wishes to hear God’s word do? A. Go out, study the scriptures, and serve your neighbor.
People look around now and wonder why Mormons ever had to struggle to “claim” whiteness. Yet Life magazine in 1904 published a cartoon titled “Mormon Elder Berry – out with his six-year-olds, who take after their mothers.” The children are Asian, Indian, Black, and other.
It is only in viewing Mormon whiteness as a challenged fact rather than a presumed fact that the past can be understood. Mormons were highly suspect because of their ease in assimilating individuals from their world-wide proselytizing efforts due to polygamy, etc.
Mormons were supposedly white people but perceived as surrendering their will to despots (Smith, then Young, then foreigner Taylor) and openly practicing polygamy.
[This writer has Mormon pioneer ancestors who adopted an Indian and cherished him as son, and my father is Asian, when it was still illegal for a Utahn to marry an Asian. So I resonate with the non-white global vision that was embraced by our founding leaders.]
Paul reviews the seemingly crazy beliefs those outside Mormonism ascribed to Mormons, including supposedly some way Mormons had discovered for accelerating the onset of menarche, “hastening the period.”
It was believed that polygamy was deforming the race of Mormons, producing “yellow, sunken, cadaverous visage…” with sterility. It was presumed that by prohibiting immigration of polygamists (Mormon converts from outside the US) that eventually the new Mormon race would die out.
[Who knew Darwin’s theories would manifest in such a bizarre fashion?]
From within Mormonism, there were various statements promulgated, indicating that polygamy was giving rise to a purified and angelic race, “brighter, stronger, healthier [in] every way…”
[All that is wanting is “and all the children are above average…”]
Thinking of the later ban on Blacks receiving priesthood and temple ordinances, the 1830s and early 1840s had a vision inclusive of all races. There was caution given that some states (Missouri) were dangerous for Blacks without proper documentation. The destruction of the Mormon press in Missouri was incited by W. W. Phelps’ editorial inviting free Blacks to gather to Zion.
In Feb 1835, Phelps stated all should get redemption, whether they are “descendants of Shem, Japeth, or Ham.”
Certainly the Times and Seasons in 1840 invited peoples of all races and all nations gathering to the gospel (and Nauvoo). [And recall Joseph’s sermon discussing what the Church would do in response to polygamous Turks and East Indians who might embrace the gospel and gather to Zion.]
Brigham even said “for of one blood has God made all flesh…” In March of 1847, Brigham was proud of Walker Lewis, a Black barber in Lowell, “”one of the best Elders…”
Outsiders felt Mormons were too inclusive of other races and nations. Edward Strutt Abdy in 1833 had read the Book of Mormon and projected that the Mormons would face gross opposition for the race-blind language of this book of scripture.
An 1872 cartoon of Brigham Young being arrested and taken from his family shows several “Black Mammies” and mulatto children, in addition to other racially mixed children.
In 1865 the New York World projected that Blacks would flock to Utah where polygamy would result in a degraded race that would overtake the United States. Another cartoon in 1870 depicts a “Mormon Family out for a walk” that has many wives, including wives from the Pacific as well as Black wives.
1882 Alfred Trumble’s “Mysteries of Mormonism” shows a “cullud” Mormon with two white women, presumably his white Mormon polygamous wives.
1905 brought us “The Mormon Coon,” a broadway musical of a Black Mormon polygamist. The lyrics are amazingly multi-cultural and alliterative (and offensive).
In response to this pervasive external belief that Mormons were lovers of all mankind (in a way the external world found offensive), Mormons moved to embrace whiteness. In June 1847, Appleby learns that Walker Lewis is married to a white woman (cited favorably by Brigham Young in March 1847). Appleby’s abhorrence of this mixed race marriage and the ordination of a Black man is conveyed in Appleby’s letter to Brigham.
[Brother Reeve doesn’t mention the sexual predation that another Black member of the Lowell congregation had been carrying out, under the influence of William Smith.]
In December 1847 there is not discussion of restricting Black access to the priesthood, [but there is concern about amalgamation?] It is in 1852 Brigham and others begin to talk about restricting priesthood, and it appears to be related to the election code. In 1852 Orson Pratt argues against “multigeneration curses” on innocent Africans, saying that such would cause the angels to blush. It appears to have been in the context of this argument between the two (Orson Pratt and Brigham Young) that Brigham Young comes forth with his most strident initial statements about restricting Blacks. Orson Pratt vetos certain things because Blacks are being barred from participating in the vote.
In 1879 Elijah Abel requests his temple ordinances. John Taylor asks for the matter to be investigated, but it is ultimately determined that Brother Abel should not be allowed to be sealed to his deceased wife or receive his endowment, even though it is confirmed that his priesthood stands.
In 1908 Joseph F. Smith solidifies the priesthood restriction. In revisionist history, he denies the finding he’d come to in 1879, when Joseph F. Smith had been the one to confirm to John Taylor that Elijah Abel’s priesthood had been valid.
The attempt of Mormonism to embrace whiteness was so successful that Mormon whiteness was definitely a negative factor in Mitt Romney’s presidential runs in the 2000s.
Then in the 21st century, the “I’m a Mormon” campaign expressly attempts to erase the whiteness perception that they had sought to establish in the 1800s and early 1900s.
Q. What about Brigham’s 1852 reversal. A. Brigham is trying to deal with those who have gathered to the Great Basin. He needs to provide order for those who have gathered. He places White over Black and Free over Bond. Other religions endured schisms over race issues. Mormons avoided racial schism by how things were ordered. Went to the Pittman shorthand version rather than Wilford Woodruff’s abbreviated version.
Q. Did you write the Blacks and the Priesthood essay on lds.org? A. Yes, I did help. What appears online is what the Church History Department produced from a 55 page essay I produced. How was I chosen? In Toy Story, you recall that claw…? [applause]
Q. Were apostles circa the 1960s protecting the Church or were they merely racists? A. I think it’s a personal assessment.
Q. Is it reasonable to say the Priesthood Ban preserved the Church? A. Perhaps, but then why polygamy?
Q. What about Mormon practices of eugenics and social Darwinism? A. You can’t properly understand those speeches without understanding the denigration from those outside talking about amalgamation.
Q. Is Joseph F. Smith’s 1908 report based on Zebedee Coltrin’s 1879 report that Joseph rejected Abel’s ordination? A. No, Joseph F. Smith himself argued in 1879 that Zebede Coltrin’s account was flawed.
Q. How do you explain the Book of Mormon discussion of race? A. Leaders of the Church never used the Book of Mormon to justify the ban. They understood the people of the Book of Mormon as Native Americans, with the situation being cultural in the time of the Book of Mormon.
Q. Mormons were often equated to Muslims. A. Yes, there is a chapter that discusses this. Americans thought of Mormonism as an Asian problem.
Q. What about William McCary? A. The 1847 meeting doesn’t go to race mixing when McCrary is called to repentance.
A. Jane Manning asks for her temple ordinances after Abel dies, and the Curse of Cain is cited.
Q. Why wasn’t it taken away? A. Believe this is because the leaders had forgotten that it hadn’t always been that way. They thought it was in place due to revelation, and felt it required a revelation to get rid of it. [Except the investigation circa 1950 had demonstrated that it wasn’t instigated by Joseph – yet I do agree that they felt that it had become so entrenched that it could not be undone except by revelation, which surely God would provide (and did provide) in His time.]
I am bothered when people claim they believe despite the “fact” that it is illogical.
When I say “secular argument,” I mean something other than the confirmation of the Spirit. I am saying that there are arguments that support the Gospel that don’t rely on the metaphysical mystery of the Holy Ghost.
II wrote something up to help a young man who was intending to request that his name be removed from the rolls of the Church. It ballooned from a paper to a book to five books, with my realization today that it should probably be six books.
Let us go to William James (d. 1910). He asked that we imagine we’re in a carriage. It begins to roll down a hill. Is it safer to remain in the carriage or jump out? Either decision is rational, even though both are risky. They would be rational decisions. It’s 50/50 whether one option is more risky than the other.
So I’m trying to take you to 50/50 or even better than 50/50.
Some people will reject things out of hand. That is their decision, and they must live with the consequences.
Pascal’s wager was deciding what was in one’s best interest. One could presume God was false, and if you are right, you won’t have lost at the end. One could presume God is right, and if you’re wrong, you’ve expended a lot of energy to a wrong direction. Now Pascal was not in a pluralistic society, where the amount of energy expended can be “selected.”
Now Dan starts discussing Bayesian statistics. [Never expected to see that in a Fair Mormon talk.] Dan Peterson is trying to argue a cumulative case, and he says he’s happy with anyone he can get to follow him on the path away from atheism, even if they don’t follow all the way to fervent belief in Mormonism.
Peterson returns to the question of revelation to remind us that he cannot deliver that in a book or lecture, though he does not question that such revelations occur. Dan then quotes one man’s revelation [missed who he was citing].
Another story was of a man who hadn’t been willing to even consider God until Nibley’s writings/arguments convinced him it might be worth asking the question.
Studies show that religious people are healthier and happier (emotionally and mentally) by a wide margin. C. S. Lewis was fabulous in making the argument that Christianity, if true, was of infinite importance. If not true, it didn’t matter (of no importance).
Peterson will be drawing on John Calvin, the sense of the divine, on Wordsworth’s sense of intuition, on the Sehnsucht or sense of longing for something that is missing in this world. The missing something that Eliza Snow indicated tells us we are a stranger here.
St. Augustine voiced that we are all restless until we “rest in Thee.”
Much of our modern life is designed to avoid this longing [or the promise that some commercial product will satisfy the longing].
There has been some remarkable work on what many of us have considered crazy stuff, psychic stuff. There are some “funny” things going on that don’t fit the materialist worldview.
Einstein said something along the lines of “why does the world make sense?” [Perhaps Einstein hasn’t been reading the recent news…??]
Cosmic finetuning. The universe appears in various ways to be anthro-centric. Dan then goes off on ratios between various forces (lots of zeroes). Gravity, electromagnetic forces, the strong nuclear force. If these rations were anything other, then we couldn’t exist. The expansion speed of the universe (omega) is precisely what it needed to be for the universe to exist, it had to be what it is with extreme precision. Dan gets into Q, clusters and micro clusters, and the fact that there are three spatial dimensions (D=3), as life could not exist if D were equal to 2 or 4.
The precision required to set the universe in place so that it satisfied the second law of thermodynamics is 1 in 10^10 * 10^123 (wouldn’t that be 1 in 10^143?), which is crazy precise.
Even “famous” atheists admit “it seems remarkably fine-tuned in our favor…”
Some would say, “Big deal. If it wasn’t this perfectly fine-tuned, we wouldn’t exist.” The analogy is made of a man before a firing squad who survives without a scratch who then says, “I’m not curious because if I hadn’t survived, I’d be dead and it wouldn’t matter.”
Speaking of life on earth, it appears that as soon as the earth was cool enough, life appeared. It’s like the cartoon where one scientist writes “and then a miracle occurred…” Please, more explanation for why things happened the way they did, with at least a possibility that it might have been something other than random thought.
What about consciousness? What is it and why don’t we share thoughts? We know that we do think? If consciousness is an illusion, then how are we having that illusion?
“If you’re thinking that I’m an idiot, you’re proving I am right…!”
Speaking of near-death experiences and out of body experiences, these are not new experiences. If you can find a single case of out of body experiences, then materialism is disproved. There is a woman who was frozen under controlled conditions who afterwards could describe what had happened and drew the knife used in the operation, which she had not seen. It only takes one white crow to disprove the hypothesis that all crows are black.
Speaking of Jesus’ resurrection. There are early witnesses. It was not legends hundreds of years after the fact. Arguably some of the accounts are within a single year of Jesus’ death. The apostles and others acted in a manner consistent with the “story” they testified was true, not “let’s make up a religion that will get us killed – great idea!”
Dan takes us through the possibilities for the Book of Mormon. Either he had the plates or he didn’t have the plates. If he didn’t have the plates, then either he was a fraud or he was deluded.
If he was a fraud or a deluded being, then how did he get others to see the same visions? Specifically regarding the Book of Mormon and the golden plates, what do you do with the multiple witnesses?
So he had plates. Here again he could have been a fraud who made them himself or he got them from another. There is no one in the early LDS community who either had the physical skill or monetary means to produce these plates. And there are not reports consistent with the means it would have taken for them to produce the plates. And when the job was done the plates were reportedly taken away. The artifact, if falsely promulgated, would still have been fabulously valuable. Why make them “go away”?
The logical case is that it was as Joseph Smith said it was.
The gospel makes rational sense. Even if we can’t force someone else to experience the Spirit, we can point out that to discard belief wholesale is then irrational.
Q. Why then isn’t there a factor that makes life impossible. A. Because if there was such a factor, we wouldn’t exist.
Q. How can dead matter be conscious? A. I don’t actually know that anyone else here is conscious. But many of you act conscious…
Q. What do you think of intelligent design? A. It raise interesting questions. I don’t say it proves God, but I think it gives rise to a belief that it was so.
Q. Are you working on a TV show regarding these things? A. No, because of the funding required. But if anyone wants to make this happen…
The evidence is never strong enough to compel belief, and I think that is deliberate.
Q. What about the possible that Joseph Smith was inspired by Satan? Not that I believe it, but shouldn’t that be added to the list. A. Look at the fruits of Mormonism. Would Satan construct a happy mode of life for millions to defraud others?
Next year the Fair Mormon Conference will be held August 4-5.
Streaming is $25 and you’ll be able to watch these talks for a month.