Guest post: liberal Mormonism, a parable

This is a guest post by Tom Stringham.

At a conference for members of an animal rights group

Julie: Hey Ross! Good to see you here. It’s always good to come to these conferences.

Ross: Hi Julie! You too! I know, they’re fun.

Julie: So what have you been up to lately—hey wait, why are you drinking chocolate milk?

Ross: Sorry?

Julie: Well, you’re drinking chocolate milk. That’s dairy …

Ross: Oh, well yeah. I get that most members of the group don’t do chocolate milk, but personally I don’t see what’s wrong with it. I think a lot of members are a little judgmental of people who eat some kinds of eggs or dairy.

Julie: You think I’m judgmental of people who eat eggs and dairy?

Ross: Well maybe not you, but yeah, I definitely feel judged when I drink chocolate milk or even talk about it here.

Julie: Isn’t that because you’re hanging around with a bunch of vegans?

Ross: I think we could be more accepting as vegans.

Julie: Wait, so you’re still a vegan? But I just watched you drink milk. And not as an accident—it sounds like you don’t even think it’s wrong.

Ross: Just chocolate milk. But yes, of course I’m a vegan! I’m a little hurt you’d even question that. I’ve been one forever. I know everyone here.

Julie: I know you’ve been here forever, but the main reason everyone joined this animal rights group was that they believed in a vegan lifestyle. And veganism involves not eating dairy.

Ross: Julie, come on. Some animal rights leaders in the past never spoke against chocolate milk. The lines are blurrier than you’re admitting.

Julie: I’m aware of that, but you’ve read our group’s charter, right? You know that we’ve been against all kinds of dairy as a group since we were founded?

Ross: It’s really not so set in stone. I personally don’t feel it’s wrong when I drink chocolate milk. And the current president said there’s a place for everyone here.

Julie: Well of course there’s a place for everyone, in the sense that everyone can commit themselves to an ethical animal-friendly lifestyle. Anyway Ross, I can’t force you to change, even though I can’t condone what you’re doing. Are you still going to support the group’s initiatives?

Ross: Of course! I signed the petition to block the slaughterhouse being built out of town.

Julie: That’s great. What about our campaign to get dairy out of public school lunches?

Ross: Oh no, I can’t support that. I think that’s really offensive to people who enjoy dairy or eggs. Actually, I’m pushing for our group to change its stance on that.

Julie: You are? But I really care about that issue. What about all of us who don’t believe in eating dairy and eggs?

Ross: Julie, it seems like you’re just not willing to accept that I disagree with you.

Julie: But isn’t it a little more complicated than that? This group we’re a part of has certain essential beliefs. I care about you and accept you for everything you are, but how can I accept you as a vegan? You’re intentionally violating some of the core ethics of animal rights advocacy.

Ross: Wow. You can’t accept me as a vegan? I’m just as much of a vegan and a member of this group as you are. It’s just that I’m a liberal vegan and you’re a conservative one.

Julie: This is getting ridiculous. “Liberal” and “conservative” have nothing to do with it. If veganism doesn’t mean abstaining from animal products, then it doesn’t mean much at all. Veganism is veganism.

Ross: Spoken like a true conservative vegan.

Julie: All right Ross, but I really hope you don’t succeed in starting a movement for us to give up our stance on dairy and eggs. Like I said, a lot of us really care about veganism. There’s really nowhere else for us to go.

Ross: Maybe that’s for the best. There shouldn’t be a comfortable place for judgmentalism and close-mindedness.

Julie: Ross, I hope you come back.

64 thoughts on “Guest post: liberal Mormonism, a parable

  1. I have been following M* for a number of months now and I am a big fan, I have read many insightful and inspiring posts that I have failed to express appreciation for, so please accept my apologies in advance for the negative but hopefully respectful comments regarding this post. Also before getting into my issues with this parable please allow me to take a moment and act on the wise exhortation of the same blogger who posted this parable. About a month ago he wrote a post on the importance of faithful members adding their testimonies to accompany their rational arguments, empirical evidence and well pondered insights. This is wise advice for at least two reasons: a) it allows readers to understand where the writer stands, which in turn helps us understand what their motivations may be; and b) it adds a powerful dimension to our well reasoned arguments, a personal and meaningful way for the reader to connect with and remember the deep sincerity of the writer.

    So let me state that I am spiritually, intellectually and experientially converted to the fullness of the restored gospel along with the institution the Lord has established to administer it to the world. I live by, support and defend the increasingly relevant standards of sexual morality and fully abstaining from addictive substances and behaviors. It would be impossible to measure the far reaching and incomparable influence for good that the lds law of chastity and word of wisdom have had in the world. I support all the church’s standards but mention those two specifically, because of their prominence, relevance and unparalleled impact on individuals and families.

    That said, I think the above parable unintentionally mischaracterizes the problem. In the above parable, dairy is absolutely central, not peripheral to the existence of the vegan organization, making the dialogue purposely absurd. The difference between this and liberal Mormons is that many of them believe they are focusing on the central gospel message, the universal love of Christ, while viewing the church’s standards of conduct and morality as periphery. The challenge for us faithful members is not to try and prove how absurd their reasoning is, as it seems the above parable is attempting, but to show them how all the standards are inextricably linked to the love of Christ, his atonement and our covenants with him. For example if the atonement is about freedom from bondage and destruction then nothing could be more antithetical to it than violation of the word of wisdom. If the atonement is about selflessly sacrificing our own needs for the well-being of others, without immediate or apparent compensation, then what are the implications regarding yielding to the selfish gratifications of our lusts that so frequently lead to unparalleled and long lasting harm to the innocent children who are increasingly being brought into the world without the stable family system they are entitled to? If it is our covenants that bind us to the infinite love, mercy and power of Christ, then how does this relate to the sacred promises we’ve made to abide by certain standards such as the word of wisdom and the law of chastity? Again, while I have used the example of two of the more prominent standards of lds life, the point can be extended to all aspects of the gospel. They each derive their power and meaning from the atonement, and far too often we allow them to become disconnected from such in our discussions. This has the potential to cause more harm than good.

    The mistake so many “liberal” Mormons make, is by assuming competing and contradictory doctrines between the strict commandments and the merciful atonement. Faithful Mormons, honorably wanting to defend the Lord’s standards, sometimes inadvertently reinforce this false dichotomy. In all of our well intentioned defenses of the Lord’s standards, as this parable surely was, we must NEVER fail to connect those standards to the central gospel message: the atonement of Christ and his power to redeem us through our faithful keeping of covenants.

    Nevertheless I truly appreciate well meaning posts like this because they stimulate necessary dialogue and I only hope that I have positively contributed to that.

  2. I enjoyed the parable. I appreciate Jess’ comments and completely agree with how he described the Atonement and how it relates to commandments. I’m not sure if I agree that the parable mischaracterizes the problem though.

    I probably spend too much time reading the blogs of those who have said recently that Elder Nelson was wrong so, I compared the chocolate milk to that. Sustaining the prophet and the apostles is an essential part of being a member of the church. It has been confusing to see bloggers blatantly and publicly disregard the apostles. If our truth claims are correct, following the prophet will strength our testimonies of the Atonement and not vice versa as some critics are seeming to contend.

  3. JessW, something to think about regarding your comment: the unique truth claim of the LDS church, as opposed to other churches, is the central role of modern-day prophets. The Book of Mormon is the greatest evidence of modern-day prophets. The love of Christ is obviously central to our beliefs, but the love of Christ is also central to the beliefs of many Christian churches. The biggest hurdle for liberal Mormons as they concentrate on simply being “good Christians” is that you cannot honor Christ fully as a latter-day Saint without honoring and obeying modern-day prophets. (Some) liberal Mormons refuse to follow the prophets when the prophets’ statements conflict with current liberal doctrine.

    So, just as the central purpose of being a vegan is to avoid dairy and other animal products, the central purpose of the Church is to follow modern-day prophets as they point you in the direction the Savior would have you go. If you reject the counsel of modern-day prophets you are like a vegan drinking chocolate milk and then continuing to claim you are a vegan (while trying to change the vegan movement from within). This is why the parable works.

  4. I feel like this parable would be more accurate if you swapped out the chocolate milk and swapped in animal crackers.

    I understand from reading the comments that the parable is meaning to criticize those who weren’t happy with Elder Nelson’s recent talk–you’re arguing that sustaining the prophet is just as central to mormonism as not drinking milk is to veganism.

    My understanding of “sustaining the prophet” does not require agreeing with 100% of what every Apostle says in every situation ever. Is that your understanding? Because if it is, I’d appreciate it if you could point me in the right direction, because I’m probably missing something.

  5. Pingback: The Parable of the Vegan Conference | Religious Reason

  6. I loved this parable.

    We can expand this parable to vegetarianism, and make the issue fish (my roommate in the day argued that vegetarians could eat fish because it wasn’t really meat).

    Or we could make this about being drug free, except someone in the drug free group thinks it should be OK if they use recreational heroin.

    So here’s the thing – are you Team Joseph or some other team? Being Team Joseph means being superfan of Team Jesus, but inasmuch as there are those who claim to be Team Jesus who can’t stand Joseph, we’re willing to concede that a person can be Team Jesus without being Team Joseph.

    But what we’re saying is you can’t be Team Joseph and then set about to dismantle the principles Joseph stood for. It’s not quite so clean cut as any of the examples I listed above, but neither is it so loosey goosey as to admit all variations of belief and practice.

  7. Jeff, you wrote:

    “My understanding of “sustaining the prophet” does not require agreeing with 100% of what every Apostle says in every situation ever. Is that your understanding? Because if it is, I’d appreciate it if you could point me in the right direction, because I’m probably missing something.”

    It depends on whether the Apostle is “speaking as an Apostle” or not. If the Apostle comments that he really liked a movie that you hated, you are not, I repeat NOT, required to change your views to agree with the Apostle. If the Apostle is saying, “thus sayeth the Lord” then imho you are strongly encouraged as a faithful Latter-day Saint to change your views so they are in line with the Apostle.

    Joseph Smith famously said: “a prophet [is] a prophet only when he [is] acting as such” (HC 5:265).

    But it is clear from studying all of the modern-day prophets that the only safe course, if you want to follow the Savior, is also to follow prophets *when they are acting as such.* Apostles are also prophets, seers and revelators. When we enter the temple we make a covenant to avoid “evil speaking of the Lord’s anointed.” Apostles are the Lord’s anointed. If somebody is finding ways to lawyer his way out of following an Apostle’s counsel or is making fun of an Apostle, he or she is on the wrong course. We should find a way to adjust our views so they are in line with an Apostle when an Apostle is speaking as an Apostle (including making official speeches at BYU).

  8. If I can honestly answer all of the temple recommend questions appropriately, serve in leadership positions, and generally live my live in accordance with what the commandments and covenants require why do I need to be a “super” fan?

    There are critical core Gospel concepts and commandments which matter a whole lot more than some momentary cultural fad.

    I think “we” (meaning the overall body of the Church) just need to let people be faithful members of the Church without requiring them to be fanatical defenders of anything and everything associated with Mormon culture.

  9. John Swenson Harvey, can you name a “fad” in Mormonism? That is at the heart of this issue; defining what is a fad, what is political, and what is core. By the way, the Scriptures seem to lean toward us becoming “superfans” of the Gospel.

  10. It’s a good parable. Parables don’t have to be perfectly descriptive of the phenomenon they describe. Rather they illustrate a particular aspect of the phenomenon, which this does. The church is a covenant organization of members who submit to various peculiarities unique to Mormonism. The parable illustrates the absurdity of liberals seeking to remove those peculiarities. Without them, the raison d’être ceases to exist.

    JessW’s perspective differs, in that she rejects LDS doctrines as “peculiarities,” but rather sees them as universal principles of truth opposing evil and destructive views out in the world. Ross’s chocolate milk represents not just a dilution of religious identity, but a patent evil which must be confronted, or it will destroy society.

    But I think the parable is a healthier way for the orthodox to interpret SSM, as Julie says: “there’s really no where else for us to go.” It’s a organization people go to escape the world, not an organization where people go to attack and defeat opposing views. Ross’s sin is to try to impose SSM on LDS people, not defend the right of non-LDS people to believe and practice as they wish.

  11. The Team Joseph, Team Jesus, and super fan stuff is me (old enough to be a grannie) attempting to use lingo of my teenage friends. I’ve possibly gotten my lingo wrong, or it’s possible that you’re not parsing my meaning.

    People who were/are Team Joseph: Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, (many many others) Dieter Uchtdorf, Thomas Monson, Gordon B. Hinckley.

    People who aren’t viewed as being Team Joseph: John C. Bennett, William Law, Lorin C. Woolley.

    Now, each of the individuals cited are extreme examples. That doesn’t mean we have to be extreme. But like the drop of water that falls near the continental divide, we ultimately will either end up in one ocean or the other. We can’t end up in both oceans.

    Then again, Jesus is ultimately Team Us. He has our backs and is doing everything possible to entice us to embrace the good gifts of God. And that is ultimately the whole purpose behind the great and marvelous work of these last days, to make it possible for everyone to return.

    But at that final day, despite all Jesus and his supporters will do for us, we have to choose. And ultimately it is possible there will be some who will choose something other than Jesus and God. At that last day, if we are so set on having our “chocolate milk” that we will refuse His way, then we will have chosen ourselves a path that can’t be His path.

  12. I have long wondered whether the promise that the Prophets and Apostles would never lead us astray is misunderstood. In the minds of some, the majority being mistaken on any issue is sufficient to disprove that. In my mind, the promise is that if we zealously follow we will adhere to the Lord’s Church.

    Let’s say that the conservative position it’s wrong – we get to the other side and the Lord says what the truth is, and we follow Him. Let’s say the liberal position is wrong – some will disassociate from the Church and be lost. All the risk is on the liberal side of the issue. This, to my mind, is what is meant by the majority of the Brethren not leading us astray.

    If, on the other hand, conservatives are wrong and we support an inappropriate status quo, I believe the Lord is more than capable of making up the difference and inspiring my leaders where necessary. There is so much I don’t know and understand, but as I strive to learn to follow better, I find my relationship with the Savior improving. And that, to me, is the ultimate proof.

  13. Great comments so far. In light of Jeff’s comment, I want to clarify that this analogy isn’t meant to single out one particular issue people have with the church (such as same-sex marriage). I’ve had this parable rolling around in my head for months. Following the prophets, generally speaking, is the issue I had most in mind, but I think there are other ways the analogy could apply.

    JessW, excellent thoughts. I think what you’re saying is that instead of comparing liberal Mormonism to something obviously absurd, we should instead show why all parts of the gospel are inextricably linked to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. I think you’re right, but I think sometimes the way to show this *is* to place the issue in a new context where the underlying absurdity is revealed. What I wanted was to illustrate is that even dissent that appears trivial to an outsider (drinking chocolate milk or perhaps supporting same-sex marriage) really can be dissent against the core belief (non-violence to animals or the atonement of Jesus Christ). I didn’t explain outright how any particular issue goes back to the atonement, but I intentionally chose a small but absurd example within veganism. I think Sylvite expressed my thoughts well.

    Nate, thanks for this: “Parables don’t have to be perfectly descriptive of the phenomenon they describe. Rather they illustrate a particular aspect of the phenomenon, which this does.” I think that’s really important to remember. One quibble: you made a distinction between “universal” principles of truth and “peculiarities” of Mormon identity, and I think you’re suggesting that the chocolate milk (or whatever issue with the church) is an example of the latter and not the former. I don’t draw the same distinction. I think the religion of Jesus Christ has always been both provincial and catholic, both particular and universal, in the same way that God is both personal and all-encompassing. Every commandment or teaching is both particularly lived/taught to the Saints as well as universally and spiritually significant. So I think that drinking chocolate milk represents *both* a destructive “evil” and a dilution of Mormon identity (you described that dilution extremely well). There’s more to say on that–maybe a blog post some other time.

  14. Milk is a key tenet of the Vegans to avoid. It isn’t one of the side issues, like whether the doors of Paradise slide or swing open. One cannot drink milk and be a vegan. A vegetarian, yes. A vegan, no. And though related, there are differences between vegetarians and vegans. They can relate on some levels, and be supportive of one another on those levels. Yet, there still is a striking difference that cannot be ignored. Otherwise, vegans are not vegans, but only vegetarians.
    The Restoration either happened, or it did not. Either Joseph Smith saw the Father and Son, Moroni, the gold plates, and received doctrine via revelation, or he did not. To downplay such issues would be to turn the gospel into something different. Just take a look at the Community of Christ to see how a group can distance itself from its Restoration roots, and become just another Protestant denomination.

    While believing every word that comes out of a prophet’s mouth may be a non-essential and peripheral issue, believing every inspired word that comes out of a prophet’s mouth is not.

    Believing that the Book of Mormon is 100% accurate, historical and God-breathed is on the periphery and arguable, believing it to be an inspired work of 19th century fiction is not peripheral.

    There are some “Christians” that do not believe in his literal resurrection, but follow him as an inspiring teacher of God. Naturalism forces many to doubt miracles and revelation, insisting on either finding a natural (non supernatural) answer or tossing the event on the dung hill of fable.

    That said, IMO, there is room for vegans and good vegetarians in the Church. The Lord allows some leeway in certain things, even though some saints try to create a black and white world for all to dwell in. The question is whether one must be a vegan to be exalted, or does the atonement open the door for all good vegetarians? Can I drink a Coke and be exalted? Can I believe the Book of Mormon is inspired of God, even if I am uncertain of its historicity (or the level thereof)? Must I earn my way into heaven, or will the atonement cover many weaknesses and sins?

    Is there a difference between disagreeing with an apostle on one or two things, and attacking apostles like John Dehlin has done? Where does one draw the line? Is milk, especially chocolate milk, okay to drink? Or must we totally abstain?

  15. Fads? beard ban, white shirts, ties, caffeine ban, almost anything the John Birch/Freemen say, confusing the Gospel with the Republican party platform (in the US), whatever is “happening” in Utah Valley, etc.

    My point is (in keeping the parable analogy going) that the gospel is actually vegetarianism, not Vegan. But a lot of members really think it is Vegan. Meaning if a little bit of a thing is good then a lot more of it *must* be better. It is the BYU “rules” mentality – even though I have a current temple recommend, I have served in Church callings pretty much continuously since 1973 or so (including a full time mission, EQ president, HP group leader, bishopric, and high council) I would not qualify for employment at BYU, nor to go to school there. There is a tendency in LDS culture to go beyond mark.

    I think that tendency is a natural out-growth of the conversion process so many of our fellow saints go through. They make big lifestyle changes and they go “all in” – that’s great but possibly it can inspire an extremist approach to dealing with differences of opinion. For instance I was once rebuked by the power of the Priesthood, and in the name of Christ, during a Gospel Doctrine class for daring to suggest that King Benjamin actually instructed his people to give aid to the poor whether they “deserved” it or not. (I read part of Mosiah out loud with no commentary.)

    Rather than worry about whether my fellow saints toe some doctrinal or behavioral “line”, I think I need to worry a lot more about whether I am living my own life correctly.

  16. John Swenson Harvey, I think your message (while valid and important) may be different than the message of the original parable.

    For example, you offer that “the gospel is actually vegetarianism, not Vegan.” This may be true, and works with your “looking beyond the mark” point, but then you can just as easily make this parable about a Vegetarian convention where someone brings bacon. The original parable is about (it seems to me) contradicting *foundational* principles, and perhaps even celebrating that contradiction.

    That’s not to say that your message, and a discussion of cultural fads, is a bad one. I think it’s just different than what we’re talking about here. Milk is not a fad to a Vegan. Bacon is not a fad to a Vegetarian.

  17. Re: the apostles/prophets leading us astray.

    Reviewing the evil practiced by certain Church leaders during the Nauvoo era, I am happy with the idea that sticking with the majority of the Church leaders as a way to avoid gross evil that will fundamentally derail the salvific outcome of these Latter-days.

    Had the evil leaders succeeded in killing Joseph and establishing spiritual wifery as the norm, the promised salvific outcome would have been derailed.

    Had the errant apostles circa 1900 “succeeded” in perpetuating the idea that polygamy was equivalent to the New and Everlasting Covenant, the promised salvific outcome would have been derailed.

    As for blacks being denied the priesthood for so many decades, this was terrible. But given the ability to perform proxy ordinance work, this did not derail the promised salvific outcome. Mormon culture has a lot of odd stories regarding how people explained the ban to themselves. But what we don’t have is a rich and prevalent history of interpersonal racial bigotry, which in an odd way allows us to create that inter-racial culture from today’s “enlightened” viewpoint.

    On women and the priesthood, I’m intrigued by the data from other churches that have ordained women, which shows declining membership without any initial increase in membership (which was promised in other churches). This suggests something about the statistical willingness of men and women to be associated with a church that is not led by men. At any rate, there does not appear to be an increased ability for churches to accomplish their missions when they expand the ministerial privileges across all genders. And therefore there would not be a strong metrics-based reason to modify the ordination stance, per se.

    Anyway, there is thinking that strict obedience to the majority view of the Church leadership will guarantee individual salvation and tight alignment with the best perfection imaginable. And so from this expectation we find many who are disappointed.

    But as long as I take the view that the majority of the Church leaders will keep us away from the ideological cliffs that will completely screw up the promised salvation of all, then there’s a lot more room for individual variation and difference. And within that variation and difference, we can have a rich appreciation for those good things our leaders do, rather than constantly picking at the nitinoids of possible imperfection.

    In my opinion, at least.

  18. Is there really…
    Such a thing as a liberal or conservative mormonism?
    Such a thing as a liberal or conservative church or apostles or prophet or scriptures or doctrines or whatever….?
    Does it really matter.?
    What matter most is if there is such a thing as a liberal or conservative Jesus Christ…?
    After all, He stands in the head of the so called LDS Church, maybe that is what really matters. Maybe we should ask him and see what He thinks about it and avoid wasting so much ink.
    Naw…maybe not, I am just another naive liberal/conservative mormon.
    Yes…above all…naive.
    It is beyond milk and potatoes….

  19. JSH, you write:

    “Fads? beard ban, white shirts, ties, caffeine ban, almost anything the John Birch/Freemen say, confusing the Gospel with the Republican party platform (in the US), whatever is “happening” in Utah Valley, etc.”

    Completely agree. If somebody is going to base their faith on whether or not a member of the bishopric has a mustache or not, they are in big trouble (faith-wise).

    But this is ultimately a straw man for this particular thread. Nobody is discussing fads. To build up the parable, a fad would be whether or not vegan can only eat Asian tofu or can eat tofu from anyplace. Regardless of where the tofu comes from, it is still vegan if it has the right ingredients, etc. When it comes to the Church, as I commented above, the issue is whether or not people will follow a prophet when he is speaking as a prophet. And when he is speaking as a prophet, he is not discussing fads but is discussing the central tenets of the Gospel.

  20. I can’t think of any conservative Mormons who don’t see that list as fads, even the Republican Party platform one. As Geoff B. pointed out, those aren’t what this is talking about. The reason I asked that question is precisely because I figured those trivialities are exactly what you are imparting on this great parable, and therefore red herrings. Question is if opposite sex marriage and Temple weddings are considered a fad, and if not then why are there so many liberals angry at the Church for teaching those exclusively as the only right and proper family unit?

  21. Pingback: Dr. Pharisees or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Lack of Prescriptions. | Ornery Mormon

  22. Just in case someone doesn’t understand the difference, a vegetarian abstains from animal flesh, but does/can consume eggs and milk products.

    A vegan not only abstains from animal flesh, but also abstains from eggs and milk products.

    Veganism is therefore a stricter form of vegetarianism.

    There are slight variations in personal choices, such as “eats fish, but otherwise vegetarian” or a “vegetarian who also abstains from eggs, but does consume milk products.”

    Therefore, the parable -is- about central tenets, not peripheral or fad issues.

    I read the parable as Christianity versus Mormonism. Both believe in the centrality of Christ, but if you don’t accept the central tenets/truth-claims of Mormonism — the prophetic calling of JS, priesthood authority, etc. — you can’t rightfully claim to be following Mormonism.

    Those things set apart Mormonism from the more generic, less restrictive “mainstream” Christianity, like abstaining from milk and eggs sets vegans apart from the less restrictive vegetarians.

  23. A request, if some of my replies in a given thread are to be deleted (such as has been the case this one) please consider doing two things: First, please send a note to me to explain why (you do have the email address); and second, please delete them all so that what is left is not taken out of context.

    I do not in any way quarrel with a moderator’s right to delete (after all it is “your” website), but I would personally prefer to know why, and to have either a complete description of my point, or none presented.

    Thank you for your consideration of this request.

    John Harvey

  24. JSH, none of your replies have been deliberately deleted, and there is nothing in the spam or pending queues for you, so I am at a loss. Occasionally WordPress will delete things for no apparent reason. If you would like to re-post fire away.

  25. “Looking beyond the mark” would be this exchange from the Simpsons.

    Lisa: Oh, the earth is the best! That’s why I’m a vegetarian.
    Jesse (dismissively): Heh. Well, that’s a start.
    Lisa: Uh, well, I was thinking of going vegan.
    Jesse: I’m a level 5 vegan — I won’t eat anything that casts a shadow.

    As others have said, there’s a difference between setting the bar artificially high to feel holier than thou, and upholding a standard that cannot be changed without so fundamentally altering its nature we wouldn’t recognize it.

    I’m sure we all have stories of being chastised by one or more Level 5 Mormons for some infraction/mortal sin that’s really a cultural or personal preference. (“You showed up to church with wet hair? No sacrament for you, Son of Moloch.”) But if it’s a doctrine that shows up persistently and insistently in the Ensign and General Conference year after year from those we sustain at least once a year as the Lord’s anointed? Those are doctrines we set ourselves against at our peril.

  26. A granddaughter is heading east for college. She has been faithful as a believer but not well integrated into the group of girls at church. I believe that being part of a social/religious setting where she is in the minority is just what will work for her. The intimacy of a small ward with members that have different standards and behaviour than other students could really nourish her spiritually and socially. But what if she has a ‘Christian’ roommate who is warm and concerned about her soul and gets her involved with a standard ‘Christian’ group. What is the real essence of ‘Chocolate Milk’ in terms of the definition of being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. My granddaughter’s putative Christian friend could offer her a religion that loves Christ, practices charity and eschews the same sins we avoid. There might be a lay preacher, unusual but found among the Amish and some other sects. They might believe their leadership is inspired and love charismatic meetings full of spiritual witness. So what is the essential difference? I believe it is the very different doctrine we preach, the same doctrine that causes other Christians to deny us a place at their table. It is our understanding of the nature of God and Man that makes the ‘chocolate milk’ distinction. It is the Individuality and personal identity of eternal beings and our belief that we are children of God in the most literal sense that sets apart from others.

  27. My apologies, apparently nothing was deleted by the mods – it just took a wrong turn on the information highway. Since I have no record of it I’ll reconstruct it tomorrow.

  28. So I know what I am about to say is just not going to go over well, but I think this parable does or doesn’t hit the mark depending on what you’ve decided the chocolate milk means.

    Geoff has this correct. But I’m going to put it in more certain terms.

    The “LDS Church” exists as a religion because its different from all other religions in some way. Those “uniquely defining truth claims” and practices are what define “The LDS Religion.” into existence. If you subtract any of them, the religion is either a) evolved into a different religion (as happened to the RLDS when it kept the same congregations but became a totally different religion), b) dying. (Which is also true for the Community of Christ, I suppose, as well as most liberalized religions).

    Liberal misdirection aside, the core tenets of the faith are actually quite well defined, as I discuss here:

    Therefore, a person that wants to see the LDS Church give up those tenets and instead move to a different set (for example, “focusing on the central gospel message, the universal love of Christ”). This bluntly means that they are at odds with the teachings of “The LDS Religion” and at odds with its main (and frankly only, from a worldly perspective) reason to exist.

    Now I would point out that perhaps being at odds with the LDS Church is a good thing. Maybe a John Dehlin is just spot on. Maybe the LDS Church’s current beliefs are often quite bad for human beings and it is therefore a moral thing to eradicate those beliefs. (As TT once put it, “I’m not against all LDS Beliefs, just the bad ones.”)

    But even if that is the case, that doesn’t change the fact that such a person is in fact actively working against the LDS religion at this time. This is not rationally in dispute if you are being honest with yourself.

    This seems to be the point the author is making. And he is correct.

    There are several complications in real life. First, there is some fuzziness even for the core tenets of the faith. For example, Nate has successfully proven to me that he is be believing Mormon (i.e. believes in the defining truth claims tenets) even though he disbeliefs in the historicity of the Book of Mormon. Now to be frank, I think the vast majority of human beings will NOT be able to come up with a way to both disbelieve the historicity of the BoM and also continue to believe in the defining truth claims of the LDS religion. But Nate proves it’s possible. (He does so by embracing contradiction — which is a trait most human beings cannot do. I can’t.) I am not trying to judge people here that don’t believe in the historicity of the BoM, merely pointing out that disbelieving its historicity and being against the rest of the defining truth claims highly correlate. This is just a fact. You personally might be an exception like Nate.

    Related to this is the fact that there are many self identifying liberals that do in fact believe ALL of the defining truth claims of the LDS church with only one or two fuzzy ones (that arguably they do in fact still believe.) The one that is almost always challenged in this case will be “7.The living apostles and prophets today are guided by God through revelation.” That is to say, they might believe that, but feel that given that the Brethren are not perfect, there is room for some level of disagreement on certain political issues. And in fact, they might be right. In short, there are two kinds of “liberal Mormons” those that do in fact believe in the defining truth claims and those that do not. We should assume the above parable ONLY applies to the latter.

    Another complication is that in real life a person often grows up in a religion. For the LDS religion this might mean that they’ve now served a mission, paid tens of thousands of dollars or hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations, etc. Their whole family might be LDS and it might be very difficult for that family to accept someone that doesn’t “believe in the LDS religion.” Such a person has heavy incentive to reimagine the LDS Church in some other way. For example, they might decide to focus on “the universal love of Christ” and decide that this is the central tenent of “the LDS religion” instead of its defining truth claims. (Based on the fact that the defining truth claims of the LDS religion are quite centrally related to “the universal love of Christ.”) They may also decide that what really defines the religion is something like ‘self identity.’ So for example, John Dehlin has decided that his personal identity is strongly caught up in “the LDS religion” and therefore claim a sort of ownership of it even though he doesn’t believe in it any more.

    Now I have no doubt out all that the people doing the above are either a) trying to evolve the LDS religion into an entirely different religion, and b) probably killing it if they successful unless they can come up with a new set of centeral defining truth claims (which liberals generally can’t do or they wouldn’t be perceived as liberals.) But nevertheless, human beings are very capable of fooling themselves into quite a number of ridiculous things. In fact, the above paragraph might be correctly thought of as “the defining truth claims of liberal Mormonism that no longer believes in the LDS religion.” But that is my opinion. (Supported by considerable scientific evidence IMO, but that’s my opinion too.) A person that falls into the category is NOT going to agree with me on this and is instead going to feel that what I am writing here is a really good example of “the bad beliefs of the LDS church” that need to be eradicated and doing so will (in their opinion) do no damage to the LDS faith.

    The parable therefore has another mismatch with reality namely that a Vegan that wants to drink chocolate milk might well also realistically have no where to go. Honestly, where is John Dehlin going to go? Is there some other religion out there that is more believable? Is there a more committed one that he can ‘trade up’ to? If he were to give up being a critic of the LDS Church, what exactly would he do in his life to find meaning equivalent to what was lost when he lost his faith? I would suggest that John wants to drink chocolate milk AND be a defined as a Vegan because there simply is no word for “A Vegan that drinks chocolate milk but also isn’t a Vegetarian.” In other words, he may be doing what he’s doing because he literally has no other realistic choice available to him any more. I think this is a very common problem amongst “liberal Mormons” of the variety that no longer believe in the defining truth claims of the LDS church.

    I think this is also the source of tension between non-believing liberals and “TBMs”. Namely, that they are in a winner takes all battle for what the Church is going to mean to them. Both have heavy investments via the LDS church tied up to their personal self meaning in life. Both honestly believe in their cause.

    A good recent example of this was the Kate Kelly movement. Women receiving the priesthood is NOT tied up into the central tents of the faith and therefore CAN change without destroying the LDS Church’s reason for existence. But making a public protest to shame the church leaders into giving you what you want so that you can (as Kate Kelly states she is doing in a recent interview) change the LDS church concept of revelation from top down to bottom up, is a case of attacking the defining truth claims of the LDS church and should Kate Kelly have been successful she would have turned the LDS Church into is a place that most current believing Mormons would have a very hard time accepting. Again, not because women then have the priesthood, but because an LDS Church with bottom up ‘revelation’ is NOT the LDS church.

    As for believing liberal Mormons, the source of tension is related. Namely, that they do not distinguish properly between themselves and a non-believing liberal and will often (though not always) support non-believing liberals in the winner take all battle mentioned above, because they honestly don’t realize what is going on.

    Again, I am not making value judgments here, just expressing how I believe things really are. The non-believing liberals may well be totally and completely right that the LDS church can and should be changed to have a different message and that there is in fact a way to do so without destroying the LDS church in the process. Further, even if they are totally wrong about whether or not the LDS church should give up its defining truth claims, they may well make enough noise about certain issues that would otherwise be invisible. So they may succeed in a meaningful way (help the LDS Church address certain issues) while totally failing to ever move the Church towards being the reimagined religion that they want it to be. Therefore, they may end up doing good BECAUSE they fail, while still accomplishing much of what they want to accomplish. (To counter balance this view, they may also increase prejudice against Mormons in the process and therefore do a lot of bad in the world while excusing themselves on moral grounds.)

    I think the parable makes us think about the correct problem. That is saying something. What it does not do is suggest a possible answer. And I sort of doubt there is one. I think no matter who wins, someone loses. What we really disagree over is how many will ‘lose’ if either group ‘gets its way.’ I think that is the reality of life: things sometimes just suck.

  29. I feel like a lightweight on a page of insightful comments, but in response to Bruce’s problem, couldn’t the answer be to more fully sustain and trust the prophet and apostles? We can all have our opinions and desires of how things should be, but it is so comforting to know that the loudest and most persuasive voice won’t be the one determining the church’s direction. We have prophets on earth and I trust them to lead the church. If we all remain humble, and listen to them, I’m not sure any of us have to ‘lose’.

  30. After reading Bruce’s response I don’t think I need to reconstruct my lost post. I mostly/basically agree with what he wrote except for this paragraph:

    “As for believing liberal Mormons, the source of tension is related. Namely, that they do not distinguish properly between themselves and a non-believing liberal and will often (though not always) support non-believing liberals in the winner take all battle mentioned above, because they honestly don’t realize what is going on.”

    I think for those of us believing liberals (possibly like Nate, whom he references) we do not automatically “side with” anyone. Rather, as liberals, we always want to examine and decide, not just reflexively default on any given issue. We have a difficult taking anything as an “automatic given” until we receive a strong enough spiritual witness to convince us of the particulars. It is certainly possible that believers with a “liberal” type of brain/spirit are simply not as willing to extend witnesses regarding one thing to other things. I know that when I hear the concept used that: “If the Book of Mormon is true (whatever that means exactly) then all else follows.” it drives me nuts. That type of thinking just doesn’t work for someone with my type of thought process.

    Overall I really think what Bruce has written sums up the concepts well.

    I also appreciated rameumptom’s thought: “That said, IMO, there is room for vegans and good vegetarians in the Church. The Lord allows some leeway in certain things, even though some saints try to create a black and white world for all to dwell in. The question is whether one must be a vegan to be exalted, or does the atonement open the door for all good vegetarians? Can I drink a Coke and be exalted? Can I believe the Book of Mormon is inspired of God, even if I am uncertain of its historicity (or the level thereof)? Must I earn my way into heaven, or will the atonement cover many weaknesses and sins?”

    And a lot of others provided some very insightful thoughts as well. In the end there is no point in being a member of the LDS Church if one doesn’t believe: 1) in the Restoration and 2) that God and Christ recognize the current organization as being valid (and as a result actively guide it) – I think on that much we agree..

  31. JSH, I think it is important to emphasize that most “conservative” Mormons agree with Rame’s statement above. I have written extensively that the Church is a “big tent Church” meaning we should accept and love all people with all their weaknesses (especially because we ALL have weaknesses). So hopefully we can all agree on that. I understand that a post like this concerns “liberal Mormons” because they will often respond with the feeling that “conservative Mormons” are trying to force orthodoxy that will make liberals feel uncomfortable. So, I think it is important to concentrate on the issues that are truly important and central to the Gospel. I think we can agree that the issues that are peripheral and oftentimes have absolutely nothing to do with central Church doctrine (like drinking caffeine, for example) are not what is being discussed in this parable.

    At the same time, I think it is important for people like JSH and Nate (and other “liberal Mormons” who may be reading this) to understand that there are unique things, such as prophetic authority, that make the Church what it is. Bruce said it better than I can, but it is important to emphasize that if we do not accept the role of modern-day prophets then there is nothing special about the LDS church and no reason for it to exist.

  32. “And a lot of others provided some very insightful thoughts as well. In the end there is no point in being a member of the LDS Church if one doesn’t believe: 1) in the Restoration and 2) that God and Christ recognize the current organization as being valid (and as a result actively guide it) – I think on that much we agree..”

    No we don’t or we wouldn’t disagree so much. Conservative and liberal members of the Church (speaking mostly of religious and not necessarily political) are on completely different pages. The whole point of the arguments have been what is the Restoration and what does it mean that God and Christ recognize the current organization? How literal or loose do those have to be before they no longer hold any definitive qualification? Even by the standard set forth in this quoted paragraph, John D. cannot be a Mormon no matter how its looked at. In fact, he should have been excommunicated long before Kate Kelly.

    The real difference is not chocolate milk, but limits of authority. When the Prophets and Apostles have spoken, are their words taken as gospel or advice that can be tailored or rejected? Is the Book of Mormon the historical word of God, or a revelation no better than the truths of poetry? These are examples of the dividing lines.

  33. One last point: if we accept that there is prophetic authority, what do we do when a prophet clearly makes a doctrinal point that we have problems agreeing with? The Church, for example, has clearly come out in favor of compassion for illegal immigrants and some kind of immigration reform. Many “conservative Mormons” have big problems with this issue. So before “conservative Mormons” begin flinging accusations at “liberal Mormons” they may want to go look in the mirror.

  34. Maybe someone could help me with something that is bothering me. How does a mormon who believes in the restoration of the Gospel reconcile that with not believing that the BoM is historically accurate. Do they believe that Moroni, a prophet from that very book, did in reality visit Joseph Smith? If they don’t believe that happened then the only reasonable conclusion, in my mind anyway, is that they believe Joseph was a fraud, and if so, why the heck are they a member of the church? If they do believe that Moroni visited Joseph, then how can they not believe the BoM is a history, not fiction? I’m honestly baffled by this.

  35. Geoff B. we “conservative Mormons” have looked in the mirror on that issue (as an example). The responses have been completely different that the liberals. The “agitation” has been completely political, with no mention at all that the Church authorities are wrong, misguided, or otherwise should someday if not today change their stances. When this question has been brought up. conservatives shrug their shoulders and agree that compassion and immigration reform are important. Part of that immigration reform is to enforce what is already on the books, and the compassion is to find ways for a better legit way to cross as legal without destroying the country for those who are already legal. Despite what liberals think, conservatives are very capable of seeing the difference between Church and Politics, at least when it comes to trying to influence the former because of the latter.

  36. GB: Jeff Lindsay has a good post on the immigration crisis vis-a-vis BoM prophecy:

    I first noticed the correspondence over 25 years ago (the 1986 Amnesty during the Reagan years precipitated a huge influx of illegal immigrants), but Jeff beat me putting it in writing.

    We seem to have lost or ignored the lesson of the 1986 Amnesty: “If you reward something, you get more of it.”

    the Dream Act failed to pass congress, but the administration’s promise to not deport minors cannot help but be the cause and motivator of this recent influx of minors.

  37. Aaron, you’re right, and Elder Holland backed you up in a gc talk a few years ago that the “BoM as inspired fiction” belief is logically and theologically untenable.

    But the human heart is not logical, and there be some who do embrace that belief.

    i don’t remember if it was Nate, but someone who claimed faith in the Restoration/Church told me he didn’t have a _testimony_ of the BoM, but he _hoped_ it was true/historical. i think that should be enough of a seed of faith to be part of the tent.

    My guess is that believing the church is true but believing the BoM is not actually historical only lasts one generation, as their children see the illogic, and end up leaving the church. it’s like parents who are active members but who always kvetch and complain about LDS leaders, local and/or general, around the dinner table. Their children get negative mesages throughout the week more often than positive messages about the church/gospel. And the children see it as hypocrisy, then reason “why go to a church if the leaders/whatever are that bad?”

  38. Aaron, Bruce and Bookslinger, just to clarify my position on the Book of Mormon, since it has been referenced a number of times:
    I believe in a semi-historical BoM, because on principle, I don’t reject compelling evidence in the face of contradictions. I will accept anything that can be demonstrated reasonably to be true, including the integrity of Joseph Smith and his testimony, as well as the integrity of the Smithsonian Institution’s position. I spell out my position here:

    Also agree with Bruce that believing liberals find themselves opposing the church and defending JohnD, simply because they are frustrated by the orthodox approach to the issue and feel misunderstood and judged.

    I would like to see a distinction made between liberals and progressives. Many liberals get swept up in progressivism because they are offended by conservative dogmatism, and they get worked up about it. But if they could embrace their minority status within a purposefully conservative church, they would be much happier. I love being a lone liberal, which is why I like hanging out here. But I guess that is just me.

  39. Aaron wrote:

    Maybe someone could help me with something that is bothering me. How does a mormon who believes in the restoration of the Gospel reconcile that with not believing that the BoM is historically accurate. Do they believe that Moroni, a prophet from that very book, did in reality visit Joseph Smith? If they don’t believe that happened then the only reasonable conclusion, in my mind anyway, is that they believe Joseph was a fraud, and if so, why the heck are they a member of the church? If they do believe that Moroni visited Joseph, then how can they not believe the BoM is a history, not fiction? I’m honestly baffled by this.

    I think the challenge we have is not so much that people think the Book of Mormon isn’t historical, per se. Rather that they have come across some issue that doesn’t conform with their initial mental construct. Say they had believed the sunny pictures of Joseph tracing the gold plates with his finger and a scribe sitting right next to Joseph and plates in plain view. Then these folks read some historical account that fails to conform with their mental construct.

    Alternately, individuals might become so enamored of a non-historical explanation for the Book of Mormon that they decide it can’t be historical, yet still believe that Joseph was sincere in his beliefs about the book. So long as Joseph was sincere, these individuals still find themselves able to embrace Mormonism while considering the Book of Mormon non-historical.

    When it comes to historicity, I remember a story I heard, of a time a pastor had traveled to the Red Sea during a time of drought. The water levels were very low, and it was possible to image the hosts of Israel marching across this sea without miraculous means. And so the pastor shared this with his congregants, that there needn’t have been divine intervention for the children of Israel. But a woman began loudly praising God. When the pastor asked why this was praiseworthy, she pointed out the miraculous nature of God drowning the troops of Pharoah in water so shallow that the children of Israel could cross.

    Those who currently don’t believe in the historicity of the events described in the Book of Mormon and yet wish to believe in the Church are like that pastor, wishing to believe in a natural explanation for the crossing of the Red Sea. They haven’t realized their “natural” explanation cannot co-exist with the rest of the history.

    Yet God is merciful to us as individuals. He often will celebrate the level of faith we do possess rather than berate us for illogical proto-beliefs. As long as we truly have faith in Him, we can allow wrong mental constructs to slough off and be replaced by faithful alternative constructs. However when we begin to have faith in our construct over our faith in God, we put ourselves at risk.

  40. Aaron, I think there have been many good answers above. Let me try at one of my own. I personally believe a LOT of the Bible is not historical. The story of Job is one example. How about the story of Jonah? It is very easy to believe that this is not historical but instead is an extended parable. If you read the OT carefully, it is obvious to me that later writers probably changed some of the events during the time of the Judges and the time of David and Solomon to make points that were relevant to their time. Still, I find the OT fascinating, inspiring, spiritual and definitely worth reading.

    I personally believe that the Book of Mormon is historical. It sounds mostly historical to me and the more you study it the more accurate it gets. But let’s say a lot of it, like the OT, is not historical. So what? This does not diminish its purpose, which is as a witness of Christ and a witness of modern-day prophets.

    I think it is very reasonable to believe that the Book of Mormon, like the OT, may not be 100 percent historical and still *not* believe that Joseph Smith was a fraud. The fault for the lack of historicity is not with Joseph Smith, who was simply translating what he was given, but instead with the people who wrote non historical stuff down on the plates in the first place.

    In summary, I believe the BoM is almost all historical. But if it is not, it is really not a big deal and would not affect my testimony in the least. The message of the book remains the same either way.

  41. I am not a fan of analogies simply because they are crafted to support the POV of the author rather than reflect real life. And since real life and real people are nuanced shades of grey, analogies fall short.

    I often wonder about why folks equate those that support JohnD with a liberal Church view when so many are actually outside of the Church, reflecting no real view. I tend to think in these terms, for example regarding the Scriptures:

    Conservative view of Scripture: It must be historical true or it is of no value. This view is shared by conservative Christians not just LDS members.

    Liberal view of Scripture: Doesn’t matter if it is true history or not, it wasn’t given to us to teach history, but how we should live our lives.

    Since I have personally heard these views, they are no analogy. But in looking at those two views, who is more faithful?

  42. Nate, another tripping point is whether we are talking about politically liberal/conservative or theologically liberal/conservative, ie. orthodox or heterodox.

    I personally know some far-left-wing/progressive members who are at the same time extremely orthodox in regards to the church.

    _Generally speaking_, the political liberals and political progressives _tend_ or _seem_ to be heterodox in relation to the church, and political conservatives tend to be orthodox, but there seem to be lots of exceptions. And everyone is allowed to choose where they stand and give voice as to where and why. And, of course, public statements by one may legitimately be further publicly commented upon by others.

  43. @Nate: I feel the same way about being a libertarian in a sea of conservatives. It’s kind of cool. 🙂

  44. And thanks to everybody who responded to my question. I think I understand their way of thinking a little more.

  45. Geoff, be a little cautious saying Job isn’t historical. After all, Christ Himself references Job, indicating to me that the man Job did exist. Perhaps there are ahistorical elements to Job, but at least a portion must be historical.

  46. Jonathan, the point I was trying to make was that I am OK either way. Personally, I see the story of Job as pointing to the Savior himself, i.e., the suffering of an righteous man and his triumph over suffering. So, I think it is incredibly important. I think my point really is: it doesn’t really matter to me if it is historical or not.

  47. And that happy chat between God and Satan was completely historical too…

    Or maybe the kernel of that story is true – a just man who endured horrific trials. After all, something close to that same story happens all the time, in the thousands, each year.

    Those opining that the story of Job is possibly not true might be talking about the theatrical symmetry of events, along with the symbolism of the three “friends” and the theater of God and Satan making bets on whether Job could be turned from his love of God.

  48. I’m going to apologize in advance for the nature of my comment. To someone with a hammer, everything is a nail. To an engineer, everything is an engineering problem to be solved. As a result, I tend to engage in what I euphemistically refer to as theological engineering.

    It’s my opinion that the Bible is a mix of historical fact and allegory and it mostly doesn’t matter which is which a lot of the time. Based on my study of the scriptures from a Hebrew point of view, I believe that somewhere around Abraham it ceases to be predominately allegory and starts being more history. Whether or not this transition is hard and fast or whether or not I’ve located it correctly is immaterial. The Bible is mostly a how and why manual for life. In the earlier section of Genesis, the stories are predominately there to explain what’s going right, what’s going wrong and how to fix / avoid the problem.

    For example, the names of the antediluvian patriarchs are mostly not intended to be understood as their literal names. I can’t guarantee that all of my spellings are correct, but in Hebrew, the name of Abel is Havel. Which just happens to be the Hebrew word for zero. Perfect for someone who was cut down in his prime and left nothing behind.

    The names of Cainan, Mahalaleel and Jared in Genesis 5 illustrate the Nephite cycle perfectly. Cainan means material acquisitiveness. Mahalaleel means searching for higher things, usually in the wrong places. Jared is the Hebrew word for decline. I find it interesting that the Book of Mormon identifies the leader of the people leaving the Tower of Babel as “decline.” Perfectly fitting for a group of outcasts leaving a nation in decline and starting over in a rough wilderness. In our day you’d have the greatest generation (Cainan), the baby boomer sixties generation (tune in, turn on, drop out or Mahalaleel), and Generation Y / Millenials (Jared).

    Nimrod is Hebrew for roughly, “bow down” or “get down”. Nimrod is identified in the Bible as the first tyrant. We’re told in the scriptures that his place was in Shinar, however Hebrew thought states that Shinar is not a place in space but a condition in the hearts of men. Whenever people are going to Shinar, they are turning their backs on God.

    There are two Lamechs in Genesis. One is the first bigamist who is also the first man in history to engaging in family planning. Irrespective of whether or not you agree with family planning, his name is indicative of the fact that the Lord is not amused. The other is the father of Noah who thinks that he can now rest because Adam is dead and the worst of the curse is gone. Then you’ve got Melchizedek, whose name means “My king is righteous” or “My king is righteousness”. Again, not necessarily his real name but more a pattern that we should follow.

    Was the earth made in six days? Almost certainly not, but it doesn’t matter. Adam didn’t bring mortality to the earth, but he did bring it to the world. Based on what happens in the temple and my reading of other works, including some of the early brethren, I believe that the Lord initially created the earth through some fairly normal physical processes. How long it took does not matter because there are two discontinuities and a process dead time between the start of its creation and us.

    The Lord first created the earth through normal physical processes taking an indeterminate amount of time. Then a priesthood ordinance was performed that elevated the earth to its Pre-Fall paradisiacal state. That’s the first discontinuity. Then there’s an unknown amount of time that Adam and Eve were in the garden. Was it a day, a week, a month, a year, 100 years or a million years? Don’t know and it doesn’t matter. That’s the dead time. Then there’s the Fall. The second discontinuity. Those three combine to make a discussion of the earth’s age pointless.

    Add to that the fact that when you do gematria backwards, the dimensions of the ark yield YHWH, the name of the merciful Self-existent One, suggesting to the Jews that God saved mankind and the world through His mercy and not entirely through a physical vessel. And you can go on and on.

    To me the Bible tells us predominately how we are supposed to live and why it’s important. I think as you start getting past Israel and his twelve sons it becomes far more history and far less parable. With the exception of certain specific books. I am also of the opinion that except where the New Covenant specifically invalidated the commandments of the Old Covenant, the old laws are still in place. The main thing that changes is the punishment. Whereas violation of the law under the Old was frequently met by swift death, violation of the law under the New was met by spiritual death, thus giving the offender a chance to repent and return.

  49. Pantheril, I think the comment above is exactly what God intends you to do with the OT, i.e., read it, think about it, figure out where the Savior fits in, learn its lessons, etc. God gives us intellect and asks us to use our reasoning abilities, and then He gives us puzzles to ponder. Did the Lord really cover the entire Earth during the flood? Did Jonah really exist for three days inside a fish?

    If we ponder these things in faith, we will find insights that will point us to the Savior (example above: the story of Job and the suffering servant). You are also correct that there are many other great lessons about following prophets when it is difficult (think of Moses and Joshua and Elijah and Elisha) and lessons on having faith in times of adversity (the stories of Hezekiah and Abraham and Joseph, for example). So, I am always pleased to see people ponder these things and come to their own conclusions. I think the Lord wants us to do this.

  50. I enjoyed your comments, PantherII.

    I also largely agree with Geoff that it is not critical whether the Book of Job is literal (historical) or allegorical. What is critical is that the Gospel is contained within it. And much of the Gospel is contained within it, including the doctrine of eternal families.

    I do not believe that anyone is sure of what specific time that Job was written, or when he would have lived. I think that the authorship of Job is also in question. There are those that, as Meg mentioned, question the historical nature of Job because of the interaction between Jehovah and Satan. I am hesitant to make that a deciding factor as I don’t like to put my own cultural limitations on God. Also, it is clear that there were interactions between holy messengers and Satan after the Fall of Adam. And since we do not know when Job may have lived, I am not comfortable with the argument that this interaction forces the story to be allegorical only.

    However, it is clear that the Book of Job is a literary work, regardless of its historical nature, or lack thereof. It is one of the five books of poetry in the OT and is grouped with the other four. Like the other four, it clearly has its own distinct theme. And it is clear that after chapter 2, the remaining chapters are very poetic. Also, it is clear that it is an instructive book, like a parable, and contains much of the Plan of Salvation within it and most key principles of The Gospel.

    Is Job simply a type for Christ? It is possible. But so was Isaac, and no one questions that he was an actual historical person. I do find that the first chapter of Job really does set him up as a type, both with it calling him a “perfect man” and with Job’s offering sacrifices in proxy to make sure that the law is fulfilled for others by proxy. It is clear that while one cannot repent for others, the law can be fulfilled by proxy. This is a clear allusion to the mission of Christ.

    Also interesting, Job is one of the few books in the OT to reference God’s use of councils and also specifically what we often refer to as The Council of Heaven. Really an incredibly deep book with something of consequence in almost every, if not every, of the 42 chapters.

    OK, so maybe a little offtrack from the original post. A fun place to end up anyway.

  51. What bugs me about the book of Job, is that you got chapters and chapters and chapters of Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar talking; then along comes Elihu and later God, and they say that everything Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar said was wrong. So instead of taking what they (E, B and Z) said as gospel truth, you then have to go back and unlearn it.

    So tell your kids to skip to where Elihu shows up, read to the end, then go back and read from the beginning, so you know that everything those three said was _wrong_.

  52. I would like to elaborate a bit on my first post in which I argued that we need to be better at connecting what some may think of as “peripheral” elements of the gospel, to the atonement. If we can do this, it strengthens the argument for the existence, importance and necessity of all the various elements of Mormonism. In my first post I used the law of chastity and the word of wisdom as examples to illustrate this point. When these connections are understood we cannot neglect these commandments without simultaneously diminishing the atonement and it’s potential influence in our lives. Now I would like to discuss how this connection works with the concept of living prophets; A unique feature of Mormonism that is hotly debated and has been mentioned many times in this thread. In order to make the connections as clear as possible I’ll begin by briefly describing a few basic lds doctrines that I’m sure most here are thoroughly familiar with.

    One way that Mormonism differs from other Christian traditions is that we understand that our eventual and eternal salvation from sin is not just a final event or blessing, but involves a continual process of recognizing, repenting of and striving to overcome our sins and weaknesses through Christ. Likewise our eventual and eternal sealing to our families involves a daily healing and sealing of our relationships through the power of Christ and we gradually forge unbreakable bonds of love, devotion, and at-one-ment. This process requires a relationship of continual communion with our savior. This redemptive relationship can only be had through covenant, and just as with worldly covenants, they must be administered by one with authority. These two concepts are absolutely key and inseparable: covenants and authority. In the church we frequently discuss authority but too often leave out an essential aspect of authority, the keys necessary to direct that authority. But this too, should not be an unfamiliar concept as we see it at work in the world. Elder Nelson recently gave a GC talk on priesthood keys in which he used the example of how the medical license which grants the authority to practice medicine is distinct from and directed by the separate but related authority that grants this license. In the gospel both the priesthood authority of the one who performs the ordinance as well as the keys of the one who directs the ordinance are absolutely essential.

    This is the essential and necessary connection between living prophets and the atonement. Without their real and valid priesthood keys, our covenant relationship with Christ would be nothing more than an illusion. I baptized my daughter a few weeks ago, and if president Monson does not actually hold all the keys of the priesthood, then the keys of the bishop who authorized the baptism are meaningless and thus my daughter has no actual covenant connection to the savior, and her ability to draw upon the power of the atonement would be extremely limited. Of course one of the requirements of the covenant is also that we renew it continuously, thus without valid keys from president Monson and in turn our local bishops, the weekly sacrament would be meaningless and without this renewal our covenants would drift into oblivion.

    If I believe my covenants mean anything, I must sustain president Monson. The prophet is the key, literally, to my relationship with Christ and my access to the atonement.

    It seems to me that this also helps resolve the dilemma of how much of what the prophet says comes from God. If being a worthy holder of the keys is the prophets primary responsibility then the other question takes on less importance. Most of us believe that a bishop can make mistakes and even say incorrect things without losing the keys that cause us to sustain him. Why should it be any different with the prophet? Sustaining the first presidency and quorum of the twelve as prophets, seers and revelators simply means that they hold the keys of prophecy and revelation for the church. Just as a bishop usually operates using his own best wisdom and judgment but sometimes receives clear inspiration as a result of the keys the Lord has given him, so our prophets may often operate using their own best wisdom and judgment. Sustaining them involves sustaining their wisdom and judgment but also recognizing that their keys mean that if the Lord is going to give anyone revelation for the church it will be the prophet, not us, and not some scholar or activist. They don’t hold the keys!

    My covenant relationship with Christ is the rock solid foundation for my life, and this is the direct result of prophets who have honored their keys and continue to do so. So while I cannot say exactly how much of what the prophet says is inspired, I can say I will follow them unless they counsel me to violate those covenants. This has never happened and I don’t expect it to. Even if it did, my first question would be, “am i somehow misunderstanding my covenants?”

    For me at least, seeing how every aspect of the gospel serves to bind us to Christ, resolves so many of the “problems” the skeptics discuss, and makes me far more in awe of what Joseph restored.

  53. “i don’t remember if it was Nate, but someone who claimed faith in the Restoration/Church told me he didn’t have a _testimony_ of the BoM, but he _hoped_ it was true/historical. i think that should be enough of a seed of faith to be part of the tent.”

    It’s specifically if you’re pulling with the meaning meme or against it.

    A traditional LDS church member that believes in the Church finds meaning in life via trying to take the message of the restoration and spread it. A person like John Dehlin (being used as a prototypical example of a non-believing liberal) honestly can’t see any value in spreading the message of the restoration because he does not believe it to be true. He instead concentrates on other aspects of the LDS church that he feels are true and thus (in his mind) good, i.e. teaching Christ’s love, or feeling good due to community or rituals. On the surface it seems like it’s a workable idea. In practice it is not because inevitably John is still human and can’t really see past beliefs like “the truth is always better than a lie” and various other very probably biologically induced beliefs that we are all beholden to but that we have no rational basis for believing.

    This leads John to try to emphasize things good about the church that are actually not unique or defining. Further, he isn’t just emphasizing them, he’s favoring them. He simultaneously tries to encourage people to be aware of “the reasons people don’t believe” (i.e. this is exactly equivalent to spreading doubt) while encouraging the parts he thinks of as good and true that are shared by all religions. (i.e. this is exactly equivalent to pointing out that there is no reason for the LDS church to exist.) So he is ultimately “pulling against the meme” and thus is in competition with the LDS Church. A person that ‘wants to believe’ is not pulling against the meme, and thus is not in competition with the LDS Church. Therefore there is no problem for such a person while there is for John.

    At heart, John has a ‘theory of religion’ he’s working off of and it could probably be briefly summarized as “the good parts of religion are the true parts — teaching morality and emphasizing ritual and community.” Unfortunately that just happens to be a profoundly false theory of religion.

    The actual truth — and this is well established in studies now — is that belief in the unique part of the religion and believing that it is a message that needs to be spread is the actual useful part of the religion that causes people to imbibe it and be changed by it. i.e. the part John considers to be false*is* the good part and the part John considers to be true is the useless part (or rather it is useless without being attached to the parts John considers false). This is what I keep calling “the meaning meme.” The need to take that message and spread it because it’s honestly believed to be the truth and the world (or some subset of the world) needs to hear that message is the part of religion that is actually humanly useful for a variety of reasons. How this message is spread differs from religion to religion. It is NOT always direct proselyting. Also, it is not always spread to the whole world either, i.e. Orthodox Judaism limits its intended audience but is still feels a missionary zeal for the intended audience.

    I think this leads to the whole ‘liberal problem’ which is that often a liberal value is that you should not have unique truth claims and that you should not believe your religion to have something all others lack. Instead, we should all just enjoy the religion we have and not try to convert each other. This is precisely the part of religion that is pointless and humanly useless, unfortunately. (The Dalia Lama’s statement to that effect was in fact self-serving to Tibetan Buddhism which now spreads in America primarily via the practice of meditation and doesn’t use direct proselyting methods. Of course, once someone becomes interested in meditation, they are very likely to be interested in the beliefs that go with it… the rest logical follows. What the Dalia Lama subconsciously meant was that religions that spread via direct proselyting shouldn’t try to covert people from his and religions like his own that don’t use direct proselytizing *should* try to subtly convert others to his religion. Also bear in mind that if you believe in reincarnation, even getting someone to practice meditation secularly would be seen as allowing that person to be born into the ‘right’ religion in the next life and thus is emotionally equivalent to a conversion.)

    John is literally approaching religion and trying to *de-emphasize* the only part that maters in favor of a part that means basically nothing to the vast majority of human beings. And I’d argue that it in fact means nothing to even John, who just can’t seem to ever just enjoy the LDS church for its community and rituals and instead seems to need to make his primary relationship to the LDS church that of critic and de-converter. i.e. He’s emphasizing the part of *his beliefs* that position him as having a unique message that needs to be spread within a certain community because it’s an important truth that all (in the LDS Church) need to hear. i.e. John finds the humanly useful part of *his beliefs* to be the part that is itself a religious meaning meme equivalent to the part he does not like in the LDS Church. So while John is selling community and rituals, he’s not buying it. Very few that claim to have bought community and rituals actually have.

    I don’t think any of this is all that mysterious. OF COURSE, religion is (to most people) only useful if believed. OF COURSE the centrally important part of religion is its defining truth claims and the special message it claims to bring to the world. OF COURSE people form religious communities BECAUSE they honestly believe that this is necessary to bring that message to a wider audience. OF COURSE John isn’t buying his own message of community and rituals and instead gravitates towards trying to help people not believe in the Church. None of this is the slightest bit unpredictable. It’s exactly what makes the most sense.

    If my above suggest model is true – and I believe it is – then Bookslinger will be proven correct that those that believe in a non-historical BoM but manage to somehow not become a John Dehlin that is actively now working against the LDS Church will probably fail to convert the next generation. Let’s face it, it’s hard enough to convert the next generation when you’re passionately believing in a religion. It’s probably impossible to do so long term (i.e. over generations) when you don’t really believe in it.

    And John Swenson Harvey, I am painting with broad brush strokes to be sure because there is no other alternative when talking about averages. (I did my best to point out that there are exceptions.) I think the way you define “liberal” I am without a doubt a religious liberal. And I am not sure I’d necessarily reject this label if you wanted to give it to me, though obviously most people would not consider me religiously liberal.

    But I stand by my characterization that the *tension* that exists between an orthodox member to a believing liberal member has far more to do with their fairly common support of non-believing liberals than anything else. That may not, on the other hand, be the main source of tension a believing liberal feels towards an ‘orthodox’ believer. If I were to venture a guess, I think it is very likely that orthodox members have a really good radar for when someone is in fact working against the religion in question and liberal members have a much better radar for when the religion has a doctrine that has gone too far and is going to be problematic in the long run. The end result being that ‘orthodox believers’ are more likely to defend a belief that is ultimately going to go away and ‘liberal believers’ are more likely to accidently give support and power to someone that is actually actively working against the interests of the Church because they knew how to punch the right believing liberal buttons to get their support.

  54. And btw, Nate, what you are calling a ‘semi-historical’ view of the Book of Mormon is really just a historical view of the Book of Mormon, IMO.

    The key problem in question has never been how much of the Book of Mormon will turn out to be more rumor and legend than absolute truth — that’s pretty much irrelevant. Nor does it matter how much Joseph Smith inserted his own thoughts in a very loose translation of the concepts he was translating. That’s irrelevant too.

    The question has always been trying to reconcile a fraudulent Joseph Smith with his calling as a prophet. For that purpose, a ‘semi-historical’ view of the BoM is identical to a… what would I call it? A ‘full historical view’? What does that even mean? An ‘inerrant view’? Neither term really works precisely because a semi-historical views and a historical view are really just the same thing.

    The key dividing line is if the BoM was written by Joseph Smith (or a contemporary) and is a work of fiction or if its an honest record written by ancient people that were telling what they honestly believed was true. If it’s the former, it’s at odds with LDS beliefs and I believe there is no way whatsoever to rationally reconcile it with LDS beliefs. If its the later, then it really just what the LDS church currently teaches about the BoM regardless of how its positioned as full or semi-historical.

    This is one of those things that is like being a little bit pregnant. You are either accepting Joseph Smith’s claims about the Book of Mormon as a real ancient record or you aren’t and you think Joseph Smith wrote a work of fiction. There is not the slightest bit of middle ground available here as far as I can tell.

    Again, I don’t doubt that individuals may choose to believe anything they wish no matter how irrational. So I don’t doubt that there are people that somehow make a fictional Book of Mormon work for themselves while still believing Joseph Smith is a true prophet of a unique restoration. I suspect such people are pretty rare, however, and unfortunately their views — if they became widely accepted in the LDS church — would really just be the end of the LDS church because the vast majority of human beings immediately see the insolvable rational problem here. An LDS Church that ever decides “well, believe what you want about the Book of Mormon” (like the CoC did) will soon thereafter lose all interest in the BoM (as the CoC did) and will cease to exist in a generation or two thereafter.

    I think more common is someone that does not accept the Book of Mormon as anything but fictional but has decided that it doesn’t matter because God uses fiction to teach us. Or alternatively that there is no literal God but since the BoM teaches good ethics it is therefore ‘inspired.’ These are views that must stand rationally on their own. But regardless, it’s clearly no longer an LDS view at all. It’s really just a competing religious worldview that denies the LDS church is at all what it claims to be.

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