Jewishness and Mormonness

This is a guest post by Michael Towns, long-time commenter and friend of M*.

I was recently struck when I read a blog post by the versatile Rod Dreher. For those who don’t know Mr. Dreher, he is an American author and columnist. He was a longtime Catholic who converted to Eastern Orthodoxy in the wake of the Catholic Church’s child sex abuse scandal. I have found his blog posts and musings to be trenchant, important, and often amusing. He covers a lot of cultural ground, delving into politics occasionally but usually hewing to topics of societal issues and influences.

The recent posting was entitled “Can There Be Jews Without The Jewish God?” It was a response to Jonathan Tobin’s analysis of a Pew survey of American Jews. It deals with Jewish assimilation in secular society and the resultant loss of distinctive Jewish identity.

Essentially, “irreligion” has taken center stage in American Jewish life. As Dreher summarizes:

The main lessons, it seems to me, are as follows:
1. Without belief in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and in the absence of anti-Semitism, there’s no binding reason to be Jewish.
2. Unless the Jewish community is willing to police its boundaries, to draw sharp lines between who is and who isn’t in the tribe, it will dissipate.

He goes on to note:

Fifty years ago, there was a lot more cultural pressure to affiliate with a church. You felt that you should, that it was the right thing to do. That’s long gone. In a free society in which there is no serious penalty, social or otherwise, for not being Christian, you have to give people a reason to want to be a Christian. As we’ve observed in this space, no church has found the solution to waning Christianity (see Pew’s study on the “Rise Of The Nones”), though the Jewish experience seems to confirm the idea that a religion that does not offer something meaningfully distinctive from the mainstream will not endure. If you fling open the windows of the Church to the world as it is today, you run the real risk of the winds blowing your house down.

I was arrested by Dreher’s comment that unless the Jewish community “is willing to police its boundaries, to draw sharp lines between who is and who isn’t in the tribe, it will dissipate”.

In relating this piece to American Mormonism, I was curious if we Mormons are currently in a phase where we are not as willing to “police our boundaries”. We seem unwilling to draw distinctions between orthodoxy and heterodoxy; we seem to flinch from suggesting that if you really do believe in a Hipster Jesus, perhaps you’re not really in tune with the authentic or traditional Mormon Spirit. All well and good, but the danger exists that we dilute what Mormonism represents. We lose what makes us distinctive. Cohesion is perhaps a higher value than cultural dissipation and vapidity.

The lesson seems to be that in the rush to be progressive (read: secular with respect to abortion, gay rights, etc.), you lose the distinctiveness that makes religion attractive to the people who are earnestly seeking the answers to life’s greatest mysteries. It’s the same lesson that the mainline Christian churches have learned to their sorrow over the past several decades: if being a secular humanist is what it’s all about, then why show up at church on Sunday (or synagogue on Saturday?). You can just go to Starbucks instead. And not have to wear a suit and tie.


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About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

54 thoughts on “Jewishness and Mormonness

  1. Michael, I think you raise interesting points. It seems to me that this is exactly what the prophets and apostles have been doing, especially in the last two conferences. There are obviously many messages in GC, but the clearest messages, the ones that come through like a clarion call, are that the Church is not changing on social issues. It seems obvious to me that this will be the key test for Church members now. In past generations, the tests might have been following Joseph Smith to Missouri or following Brigham Young to Utah or being mobbed by anti-Mormon mobs. Our test now is: will we follow the prophets even though their positions on social issues is difficult for us to explain to our non-member friends and is definitely not hip?

  2. Agreed. I think it’s also interesting for us to wisely notice and take stock of other faith traditions that have traveled the secularist/progressive road, and heed the warnings.

    (Thank you for posting this little piece.)

  3. I agree that cohesion to doctrine is vital. The problem is recognizing the differences between Mormon culture and gospel doctrine. For instance, in regards to abortion, most lds members are vehemently pro life. However, the church’s position is that if a woman is raped or a victim of incest, abortion is a viable option. As a result, it should be legal and safe. As for gay rights, the church has come out very strongly in support of love and tolerance, while also maintaining the important stance that marriage is ordained of God and should only be between a man and a woman. That said, legislation of religious beliefs is a slippery slope. Just because something is made legal doesn’t make it moral.

    There are many examples of the culture versus doctrine. A couple simple ones: baptism at 8 years old = doctrine; don’t drink caffeinated soda = culture; women can’t be ordained to priesthood = doctrine; don’t watch R rated movies = culture. Problems arise when culture (up for debate and discussion and interpretation) and doctrine (no debate, no discussion, word of God) are confused.

  4. I think the lesson to draw from all this is that we really do need arbitrary, peculiar cultural practices to distinguish us from the world. Polygamy served that function very effectively 120 years ago. Nowadays, merely living the law of chastity seems adequate.

  5. Mike, a few points on the above.

    “However, the church’s position is that if a woman is raped or a victim of incest, abortion is a viable option. As a result, it should be legal and safe.”

    No, “as a result it should be legal and safe *in the cases of incest and rape.*” This does not imply it should be legal and safe in other cases. (My personal opinion is that abortion should be legal and safe in the first two or three months of pregnancy, but we cannot say this is Church doctrine. Just to be clear).

    Your other examples of culture vs. doctrine are good ones. However, the last two general conferences have made it clear that *church doctrine has not and will not change when it comes to same-sex marriage and women and the priesthood.* In addition, I think it would be prudent to read the messages of the prophets and see that they are clearly saying that we should be separate from the world when it comes to social issues.

    Here is a reminder of what the prophets and apostles said about these issues at the most recent General Conference:

  6. Good piece, in my opinion the bloggernacle is one of the main contributors to the efforts to secularize mormonism. Everybody (especially the so called liberals) wants to disregard well established doctrine in favor of the new wordly trends, and publish it online for the rest of the world to agree with them. Hey, form their little online clubs to feed of each other

  7. C Lopez (@8:30), I call that the “Protestant-ization” of Mormonism. Having itchy ears, their worldly trends become their creeds, and they deny the power of God and of godliness, while trying to maintain a form thereof. Just as Joseph Smith accused the religionists of his day as fulfilling that biblical prophecy, so too, I believe, are those who would “reform” Mormonism.

    The pharisees did it to the religion of Moses. Those of the late apostolic era did it to the church of Jesus and the Apostles, followed on by the 4th century councils. Martin Luther and Henry VIII did it again. And since then it has merely recursed and multiplied.

    Recursive splits have also happened in the major schisms from Mormonism. The RLDS held together for quite a while, but now has several branches of multiple levels. Polygamous split-off groups out west apparently branched off even quicker.

    i’ve wondered if some of those who identify as NOMs or DAMU may formallly organize at some point.

    My personal prediction is that baptism and temple recommend interviews may get more detailed or fleshed out as to what sustaining the prophet means.

  8. It seems to me that the church already has some procedures in place to help police its boundaries.

    The church divides us into “temple recommend holders” and “temple worthy.” It divides us into “active” and “less-active.” And, of course, it divides us into normal-status members, disfellowshipped members, and excommunicated. It calls excommunicated and everyone else who’s not a member “non-members.”

    It seems to me that temple worthiness is the real key here. Those who are members of the church and temple worthy, or are at least striving to be temple worthy, are Mormon, and they’re Mormon in more than just the technical sense.

  9. Tim, good comment. How do you think that should be applied to where we stand in Mormon history? For example, in the 1850s, the definition of a Mormon was one who followed the prophet’s advice and gathered to Utah. There were Mormons who stayed in Missouri or California (or even the UK), but the *vast majority* of them either left the Church or eventually moved to Utah. How can we apply that lesson to us today and what we are hearing from modern-day prophets today?

  10. Michael, great post. Glad that you are back and writing good things. I’m thinking about this more before I make a comment. 🙂

  11. FWIW, the theme of the tension between assimilation and retrenchment in LDS history is the focus of Armand Mauss’ book The Angel and the Beehive. Mauss theorizes that from a sociological standpoint the Church has been retrenching for the last 40-50 years–perhaps a reaction in part to the Great Accommodation that came with the end of plural marriage, statehood, the Smoot hearings, in which it seemed like the movement was more for the Church to fit in with society.

  12. DavidH,

    Mauss’ book sounds like an interesting study. What impresses the most about the contemporary situation is the way in which the Internet has made it possible for folks to claim “faithful” status while at the same time undermining the faith of members. This is where I think culture can actually be exceedingly helpful.


    Certainly the Church has a lot of tools at its disposal to police the boundaries from an official standpoint. I was thinking more along the lines of non-official ways. Very few people in the Church actually have the authority to excommunicate, for example. Like, about .0002%.

    It was brought up earlier the tension between culture and doctrine. In many ways, culture is an outgrowth of doctrine, while “doctrine” becomes an outgrowth of culture in many regrettable ways. However, I think by and large, things are a lot better that way since the Church is firmly international. By necessity, only the essentials get emphasized.

    What I am more concerned with are folks who claim to be Mormon on the Internet, who might even have a temple recommend in their wallet, but who do everything they can to undermine the testimonies of unsuspecting folks. These folks go around saying that they are “Mormon”, but they agitate for women to wear pants to sacrament and try to bust through the door into General Priesthood Meeting. Obviously their version of Mormonism is a lot different than mine, or my wife’s.

  13. And that’s where we run into some major problems. When individuals who live their lives in such a way that they’re entirely worthy to attend the temple–and yet others question how Mormon they are because “they agitate for women to wear pants to sacrament.”

    You can argue that someone who by all accounts is temple worthy (ie–can honestly and correctly answer all the temple recommend questions) and who holds a temple recommend is not a “real Mormon.” But that’s where I’m going to have to strongly disagree.

  14. “Honestly and correctly answer all the temple recommend questions” — that’s where the rubber really hits the road, right Tim?

    Surely we can agree that worthiness of a temple recommend, and the mere possession of one in your purse and wallet, is not the same thing.

  15. Michael, this is not a new phenomenon.

    Almost 50 years ago Richard Poll drew a distinction between what he labeled “Iron Rod” Mormons and “Liahona” Mormons–“Iron Rod” members saw the world in a more black and white manner, “Liahona” members saw it with more shading (others would say conservative versus liberal Mormons). That is an oversimplification, the essay may be found Brother Poll (deceased) characterized himself more as a Liahona (liberal) Mormon.

    President Harold B. Lee disagreed with Brother Poll, and in conference made a thinly veiled rebuttal entitled “The Iron Rod.” Among other things, he said that “A liberal in the Church is merely one who does not have a testimony.”

    He also said “Unfortunately, some are among us who claim to be Church members but are somewhat like the scoffers in Lehi’s vision—standing aloof and seemingly inclined to hold in derision the faithful who choose to accept Church authorities as God’s special witnesses of the gospel and his agents in directing the affairs of the Church.” Id.

    He even mentioned temple recommends as possibly inadequate boundary markers for converted LDS: “Conversion must mean more than just being a “card carrying” member of the Church with a tithing receipt, a membership card, a temple recommend, etc. It means to overcome the tendencies to criticize and to strive continually to improve inward weaknesses and not merely the outward appearances.”

    Almost 70 years ago, President J. Reuben Clark expressed similar concerns: “The ravening wolves are amongst us, from our own membership, and they, more than any others, are clothed in sheep’s clothing because they wear the habiliments of the priesthood. . . . We should be careful of them. . . .” (Conference Report, April 1949, p. 163.)

    A few years after President Lee’s talk, Elder Bruce R. McConkie made similar points in defining being valiant for purposes of exaltation, and asked some rhetorical question denoting boundaries–some of which relate to intellectualism and liberalism in the Church:

    “To be valiant in the testimony of Jesus is to take the Lord’s side on every issue. It is to vote as he would vote. It is to think what he thinks, to believe what he believes, to say what he would say and do what he would do in the same situation. It is to have the mind of Christ and be one with him as he is one with his Father.

    “Our doctrine is clear; its application sometimes seems to be more difficult. Perhaps some personal introspection might be helpful. For instance:

    “Am I valiant in the testimony of Jesus if my chief interest and concern in life is laying up in store the treasures of the earth, rather than the building up of the kingdom?

    “Am I valiant if I have more of this world’s goods than my just needs and wants require and I do not draw from my surplus to support missionary work, build temples, and care for the needy?

    “Am I valiant if my approach to the Church and its doctrines is intellectual only, if I am more concerned with having a religious dialogue on this or that point than I am on gaining a personal spiritual experience?

    “Am I valiant if I am deeply concerned about the Church’s stand on who can or who cannot receive the priesthood and think it is time for a new revelation on this doctrine?

    “Am I valiant if I use a boat, live in a country home, or engage in some other recreational pursuit on weekends that takes me away from my spiritual responsibilities?

    “Am I valiant if I engage in gambling, play cards, go to pornographic movies, shop on Sunday, wear immodest clothes, or do any of the things that are the accepted way of life among worldly people?”

    During Brigham Young’s time, the most significant liberal movement in the Church was probably the Godbeites.

    And of course, the stories behind the September 6 also represent concerns at the highest level regarding “liberal”-ness and lack of orthodoxy. In a sense, the disciplinary actions had one intended effect–many intellectual Mormons left the Church completely so the Church was “cleansed” of the virus of apparently faithful members with heterodox views. But it also caused a degree of fear of Mormon Studies among the upcoming generation. Or of intellectual pursuits at all. Some thought it wasn’t possibly to be authentic, intellectual and LDS, and chose to be one or the other. And we lost some who might well have become strong LDS while being strongly intellectual and authentic at the same time.

    For better or worse, in the almost 25 years since then, the attitudes of the leading councils has been one of greater tolerance of scholarship, authenticity, questioning and disagreement. A wider tent.

  16. Michael, I either had a senior moment, or have a comment in moderation.

    I wanted to suggest to you to read “The Wicked Son” by David Mamet. It’s a screed againt secular Jews. (Mamet is devoutly Jewish.) If it’s not at your library, you can get it for a penny, plus s/h, on Amazon. If you feel strongly about your OP, you’ll want to own a copy.

    It’s about Jews and Judaism, but I believe the reasoning is applicable to Mormonism due to our tribal nature.

    Mamet is a master of language. (He’s an award-winning playwright.) The book was a delight to read, not just for his use of language, but also for the parallels that I saw to liberal online Mormons.

  17. DavidH,

    I appreciate your historical perspective, but I was already aware of everything you posted. I am actually pretty well read on every aspect of church history, contemporary and otherwise.

    What concerns me is not really the dichotomies of the past, but rather the sifting going on in the present and near future.

  18. David H, your comment does have a bit of the “if only those silly orthodox Mormons were aware of true Church history” style to it. All of the orthodox Mormons I know and others who participate on this site are very well-read in Church history and aware of the events you mention. So, just to be clear, in 2013, which is the time we as church members should be most concerned about, what defines somebody who is “following the prophet?” The prophets speak to us every six months and urge us to follow their counsel. What did they say in the most recent conferences, what were the recurring messages, what were the themes? I listened to every single talk, and there were several themes, including missionary work, going to the temple and reading the scriptures. But there were also an unusual amount of talks — linked to in my comment above — warning members not to follow the world when it comes to controversial social issues. If we are to follow the prophets in 2013, that is something we need to take very seriously.

  19. The only concept of being a real Mormon, etc. is just odd. I’ve heard it said even by those in authority actually (“No true latter-day Saint would….”). And that’s at least better than real. With true we have a test of at least if they are true to their faith.

    But even so, I’m more happy to simple judge certain actions, individuals, and movements within the faith as wrong or misguided.

    I don’t know why we need to get into this heavy evangelist rhetoric where we say whether or not someone is a “true” or “real” this or that. I’m just content to evaluate their claims and say they’re wrong and they’re outside the teachings of the church.

    I think they can really be Mormons who are in need of repentance. A true Latter-day Saint, with all the meaning of what it is to be a Latter-day Saint might be another question as I said, but why go there when we can simple identify the incorrect philosophy or lifestyle in the first place.

  20. In light of DavidH’s comment, the question I have is–just as GeoffB proposed–What does the current Prophet teach about policing the borders? What have the 15 asked us to do about dissenting voices? I’m not asking whether they’ve left any doubt regarding doctrine. But where is the injunction to increase our informal policing of the border? The over-riding message I heard from conference was one of inclusion to join, or stay, with us. Not one of creating division.

    I absolutely agree that some members are doing great harm by publicly proclaiming doubt. I do not see any justification for members to begin informally, publicly declaring who is and who is not a real Mormon. In that sense, I would state that I would rather be a faithful member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints than pass as a “Mormon.”

    Posts like this seem to fall prey to the same errors of those they criticize. They seem to imply that the Church leadership is falling behind in their duty to maintain the integrity of the Church. Thus, it has fallen to the authors to call attention to this shortcoming and correct a grievous wrong. Call me naive, but I tend to trust the Brethren.

  21. chris @3:03pm : you asked “why go there when we can simple identify the incorrect philosophy or lifestyle in the first place”

    here’s my answer: because the over-arching matter, at least in regards to the LDS church, is not any particular issue such as SSM or ordaining women. It’s not a matter of some people being honestly mistaken, confused, or incorrect about the rightness/wrongness of any particular position.

    i think It’s more about how certain people _continue_ to push their agendas, lobby, and attempt to convince more people to adopt their viewpoints, _after_ the prophet and apostles have clearly spoken as to what the church’s position is.

    People don’t get excommunicated for personal apostasy or personal rebellion against the brethren in the LDS church anymore. It’s only by publishing or promoting apostasy, or encouraging others to rebel that gets one ex’ed.

    The analogue to the queston “Can there be Judaism without a Jewish God?” could be “Can there be Mormonism without a Mormon prophet?”

    As Michael or someone mentioned in a comment, this over-arching matter (of “true/real”) is important because there is a not-insignificant presence on the Internet of those who claim to be full-fledged, “real” or “true” Mormons, yet promote things that are in opposition to both scripture and the Brethren’s current teachings.

    The danger is that other Mormon netizens see those examples, and can be tricked into thinking that those positions are compatible with full-fledged standing in the church. or even compatible with the Brethren’s teachings, if they are not paying close attention.

    The fact that in the last few years in GC, the Brethren have responded specifically to things that are floating around the Bloggernacle (Elder Holland speaking to those who claim the BoM is inspired fiction, Elder Christoffersen warning of or mocking those who use the word “exegesis”) shows that they _do_ recognize a problem.

    I think it important to know where the speakers in the Bloggernacle stand as to the foundational claims of Mormonism (Was JS a prophet? Is the BoM really what it claims to be? Is TSM his legitimate successor? Are the Qof12 real Apostles?). A speaker’s (online writer’s) stance on those questions really does determine how someone who is striving to be a real/true LDS should parse/interpret their words.

  22. KevinL,

    My post has absolutely nothing to do with overruling or supplanting the Brethren, in any way, shape, or form.

    Did you read Mr. Dreher’s points at all?

  23. KevinL, I think you raise a decent point, but I guess the answer to your questions depends on the definition of “policing the borders.” Michael is proposing, I think, that we collectively have some idea of what it means to be a latter-day Saint. This does not mean that there is no room for diversity on many, many issues, but it does mean there is some consensus on the big issues. What form would that consensus take and how would it be expressed? Personally, I don’t know, and I am guessing that Michael Towns wrote this, in part, to consider how it would be expressed. During the 1850s it was expressed by people who agreed to move to Utah so they could get their endowments and follow the prophet. What would that look like today? I don’t really know. But I do feel that constantly questioning the prophets and publicly concentrating on doubts it *not* what should be done.

  24. I did indeed read Dreher’s points as you quoted. I also read his blog post. My point is that from Dreher’s perspective, in the Protestant and Jewish traditions, there is an absence of central leadership which provides the cohesion he idealizes. That is left up to individual members and congregational leaders.

    When you ask if I even read Dreher’s points, were you sincere? Or is that more of a tactic to avoid addressing my actual comments? You state that this has “absolutely nothing to do with overruling or supplanting the Brethren, in any way, shape, or form.” Fair enough.

    And then I read the following: “I was thinking more along the lines of non-official ways.” (of policing the boundaries) This suggests to me that you believe it is up to members to more sharply draw the line between orthodoxy and heterodoxy. It’s clear that you support the Brethren in their statements of what the Church’s doctrine is and is not. However, the post hints that they are taking appropriate action against the heretics and apostates on the net.

    “I think it’s also interesting for us to wisely notice and take stock of other faith traditions that have traveled the secularist/progressive road, and heed the warnings.” This one hits on both points. Who do you mean by us? A group of leaderless believers trying desperately to save our dying religion? Or Us the Mormon Church as a whole, meaning the leadership as well? The idea of heeding the warnings of man-made institutions over God’s active leadership seems to contradict a testimony of prophetic leadership.

    Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not defending statements which contradict the Brethren, undermine their authority, or teach false doctrine. I do believe that many of these individuals claiming to be faithful, supportive members have sinister motives. Again, I do. I am just clear that my responsibility as a member of the body of Christ is not police borders or label heresy. It is to testify of Christ and his doctrine. It is to persuade, suffer, offer love-unfeigned.

  25. Around 1983, my father was trying to explain to us kids the difference between “Iron Rod” and “Liahona” members. My then-six-year-old sister said simply, “We’re both.” To paraphrase Dad’s response to that, the object is not to label ourselves as one or the other – and I would add, not to classify those we disagree with as the “other”. Instead, both aspects are necessary in each of our Gospel lives. He said, “If we aren’t both, something is wrong.” That to me seems to be the point Richard Poll was trying to make. And I see plenty of elements of both throughout the Bloggernacle.

  26. Geoff B,

    I agree! The public questioning and second-guessing is harmful. I get that Michael probably isn’t advocating public executions or community shunning as methods of policing. The problem may be that those are exactly the types of methods historically used by Christianity and Judaism. I may be misreading things and if I am I apologize. I guess I just believe that we could be a lot more effective ministers if we refused to get caught up identifying and arguing with those we see in error and instead focused our energy in proactively extending love and encouragement to honest seekers of truth.

  27. Kevin L, yes. I tend to see it as a “you have been warned so go warn your neighbor” type of thing. One of the major tests of our time is,”will you follow the prophets even though it is unpopular and uncool?” So, some reminders that it is indeed a test may be in order for some people. We all know people who have left the Church because they disagree with the prophets on issues, and sometimes those include difficult social issues. Does it do any good to “argue” with people? Probably not. Contention is, after all, of the devil. But you would be surprised how many private messages I get from people thanking me for defending the prophets. A lot of people feel very alone on these issues and very much at war with “the world.” So, sometimes we read blogs just to find kindred souls, so if we can help some people stand for something that seems to me a worthwhile cause.

  28. I am very interested in this subject since I have a foot in each camp, though I’ve leaned to the Mormon side for more than 30 years now.

    As a product of a “less-active” Jewish family, there was always a strong cultural identity with slight religious overtones. But, if I were to have asked my parents or close family members any real doctrinal questions, I doubt they could have answered them. Having attended Jewish religious school in preparation for my Bar Mitzvah, I was later struck by the fact that I was taught the mechanics but not the theory or doctrine behind it. I was taught to perform, but not necessarily to embrace. The fact that there was no reinforcement at home certainly did not help.

    Within the Church, for those who participate, the complete opposite is true. We are very versed in the doctrine and can, even as children explain it to someone else. There is a movement to preserve our religion and give it away freely to others.

    Now, don’t get me wrong, I know many observant Jews and, as such, admire their faithfulness. But I know many more, who are not. And they parse their belief in the same fashion as many cultural and less observant Mormons do. But, do not attempt to call them out for that lack of participation. They object to that strongly even though they do not participate. I’ve had much personal experience with that.

    None of us is really that orthodox. We all fall short. but sometimes, those among us who are the most orthodox appearing are also the most judgmental about others. And that judgement is reserved for God alone.

    Geoff B, it appears we have much in common, other that the variant spelling of our first names. I also live in Colorado, but I didn’t go to Stanford, but I did live near there for many years.

  29. Kevin L,

    I see where you are coming from and I appreciate you taking time to make your points a bit more clear to me. I would say that the whole point of the post is really to just open up this particular topic to discussion. I really don’t have an agenda other than I am personally opposed to the kind of nefarious testimony-killing that goes on in the Bloggernacle by would-be LDS, who try to blend their ersatz religiosity with their extreme Left politics.

    Jeff Spector,

    Fascinating! Your background is definitely very interesting.

    I found what you said here to be very insightful and relevant: “And they parse their belief in the same fashion as many cultural and less observant Mormons do. But, do not attempt to call them out for that lack of participation. They object to that strongly even though they do not participate. I’ve had much personal experience with that.”

  30. @MT: You wrote “… I am personally opposed to the kind of nefarious testimony-killing that goes on in the Bloggernacle by would-be LDS, who try to blend their ersatz religiosity with their extreme Left politics.”

    Amen. And there-in is the danger.

    @Jeff Spector: you wrote “Now, don’t get me wrong, I know many observant Jews and, as such, admire their faithfulness. But I know many more, who are not. And they parse their belief in the same fashion as many cultural and less observant Mormons do. But, do not attempt to call them out for that lack of participation. They object to that strongly even though they do not participate. I’ve had much personal experience with that.”

    If you have a strong stomach, you may also wish to read Mamet’s “The Wicked Son.” He does call them out. The reason I praise this book is that Mamet applies or provides insightful vocabulary and analysis towards the Jewish orthodox-versus-cultural dichotomy, which I think is in some ways applicable to the same thing in Mormonism. As I read Mamet’s descriptions of certain people on both sides, I could picture various Bloggernacle participants, and think “That’s so-and-so!”

  31. “None of us is really that orthodox. We all fall short. but sometimes, those among us who are the most orthodox appearing are also the most judgmental about others. And that judgement is reserved for God alone.”


    And “Don’t judge me because I sin differently than you.” (President Uchtdorf)

  32. Tim, don’t disagree but I would also point out that the people who spend all their time cautioning other people not to be judgmental often are the most intolerant and judgmental people themselves. We all have things we can work on.

  33. I likewise don’t disagree, but must point out the seemingly obvious that our tolerance for others’ sins obviously has limits. Do we tolerate child molesters in our midst? I would hazard a guess and say that we don’t. We ostracize them, lickety split.

    I take Pres. Uchtdorf’s statement to be reasonable and appropriate. And I feel comfortable that he would agree with a reasonable person standard that we don’t tolerate folks that are physically or spiritually destructive of the common good, while still loving the sinner. There is a balance here.

    So while I can truly appreciate having an apostolic aphorism thrown at me, it’s not quite the blank check that you seem to think it is, Tim.

  34. We all like president Uchtdorf because he is our “left-handed boxer” among the GAs today. And I like this statement as well as his last talk. But I thought we could re-parse his statement in the following way:

    Original: “And “Don’t judge me because I sin differently than you.”

    New: “And “Don’t judge me because I sin, differently than you.”

    This is the real issue with some of the orthodox self-righteous.

  35. Geoff B. wrote: “One of the major tests of our time is,’will you follow the prophets even though it is unpopular and uncool?'”

    I think you misunderstand many of your free-thinking brothers and sisters. My sense is that many (a majority?) are willing to defend doctrines that are unpopular and uncool—the Word of Wisdom, tithing, pre-marital abstinence, and so on. These doctrines are relatively easy to defend with logic and empirics.

    But the Church’s teachings against homosexuality are more difficult to defend with logic alone. Why would God create immutable gay people and sentence them to a life of loneliness and celibacy? And even if we accept that homosexuality is a sin, why should we care whether gay people get married? They’ll be living together anyway. Of course, traditional Mormons have answers to these questions, but many of the answers are unpersuasive or rely on questionable assumptions. At the very least, the answers aren’t as intuitive as the answers to questions about the Word of Wisdom.

    So I think you should change your statement. One of the major tests of our times is, “Will you follow the prophets even though you don’t understand the logic? Will you proceed on faith alone?” Those are the questions I’m wrestling with.

  36. The devotion to logic to the exclusion of all else is, in itself, unpopular and uncool. I think the statement can stand as it is. Logic rather easily serves whatever point the speaker wishes to make. It is much more dependent on subjective experience than people would like to think.

    It is eminently logical to listen to the warnings from the watchmen on the tower, so long as one believes they are on a tower. If one doesn’t, logic would at the very least suggest that paying careful attention when someone yells “fire!” is prudent, even if one may eventually look foolish for heeding a false alarm.

  37. Kevin,

    You make assumptions that are incorrect.

    There is no such thing as “immutable homosexual.”

    Homosexuality is a learned behavior, often transferred by molestation.

  38. Kavin,

    The scriptures are full of examples of how the Lord’s Prophets taught people to not to do certain things that were against His teachings. In many cases, it was not popular and the people resisted. The scriptures also tell of the consequences for not following the Lord through His Prophets. In some cases, it was very simple, like not worshiping idols, keeping the Sabbath day holy or giving up your means to help the poor.

    For may of us, those are very easy commandments to follow and explain. In our day, there are commandments, which we are finding harder to obey. Those of a moral nature, consecrating our time, watching over each other are a few that come to mind. It doesn’t often come down to logic, but simply faith.

    One of the age-old questions man has always struggled with is “Why would God…. (fill in the blank)? For example:

    Why would God tell someone to destroy an entire town with everyone and everything in it?
    Why would God allow war, sickness, famine, a flood?
    Why does God allow a baby to be born to live a very short life or suffer their whole long life with sickness, loss of limb, eyesight, hearing, speech, etc?
    Why does God allow so people to be born in rich circumstances, others to be born poor?
    The list goes on and on.

    “Why would God create immutable gay people and sentence them to a life of loneliness and celibacy? ”

    It’s a good question, but does not change the moral law we have been given until and unless He chooses to change it.

  39. Kevin,
    I think a part of the reason why it might seem “not logical” is because the prevailing cultural thought is that our sexual orientation and feelings are an important part of our identity and to hold them back is to deny yourself and is akin to asking a person to change their race.

    But this seems to be a recent development. Throughout history I don’t think gay people looked at themselves or homosexuality this way. i don’t think anyone thought that way.

    I disagree that homosexuality is necessarily learned or brought on by molestation. I don’t think there is evidence for either of those.

  40. Michael P: There are can be several causes of homosexuality. Molestation is one of those, along with certain family dynamics during childhood. Take an informal survey among your gay friends and casually ask at what age they had their first sexual experience. I’m not saying all or even most, but a significant percent were molested. There may also be multi-stage causes, such as a suspected linkage between hormone levels in the mother during pregnancy and effeminacy in the male child; and then the effeminacy may then attract molestation.

    Kevin: ” Why would God create immutable gay people and sentence them to a life of loneliness and celibacy?” Several things wrong there: You’re assuming God created the condition (perhaps you’re assuming that all gays are born gay) in all cases. You’re assuming it’s immutable. I’m not saying it’s always fixable in this life, but some claim to have overcome their SSA. Many privately admit they want out of the homosexual lifestyle. Bisexuality is becoming more common or at least more open.

    Our doctrine teaches that everything is fixed/healed in the resurrection. Elder Oaks has specifically and categorically said that that includes SSA.

    There’s also a whininess in your statement that ignores and insults the many life-long single people, male and female, in and out of the church, who do live celibate lives.

    There are likely far more perpetually single and celibate people in the world than there are sexually active homosexuals. And very few of the life-long single and celibate people choose that. Go to any older singles function in the church, and you’ll likely see many people who are obviously going to stay single. And know that there are many times as many singles in the church as those who show up.

    Then in addition to all the “functional in society but dysfunctional in relationships” type singles, there are those who are physically or mentally handicapped to the point it’s obvious that they can’t form or maintain relationships and will also remain single and celibate.

    So, even supposing that God does “make” someone gay/SSA from birth, even supposing it is genetic or inborn, the cross of singleness and celibacy is the same one that severe autistics, or severe Asperger’s syndrome sufferers or the other otherwise congenitally handicapped people are expected to bear.

    It’s the same cross that the unmarried 33% of the adult members of the church are expected to bear.

    I want to rant even more, but this is a long enough comment. (And how did we get on this tangent from Jewishness and Mormonness?)

  41. ” (And how did we get on this tangent from Jewishness and Mormonness?)”

    I totally agree that it’s a tangent, but I am not surprised that homosexuality has reared itself on this post since it’s the major cultural issue of our day.

    But then again, perhaps it’s not as tangential as we think. Secularism, flush and heady with many political victories in recent decades, portrays us orthodox and conservative folk as if we are a deadly virus. Freedom of religion has been taking it on the chin in recent years (witness Elder Oaks’ *several* talks on the topic), and there will be a collision between the liberty of freedom of religion (which is one hundred times more comprehensive than the mere shadow of itself, freedom of worship) and the secularist coercion of gay marriage.

    Buckle up. It’s gonna be an interesting ride the next couple of decades.

  42. I didn’t mean to derail the conversation. My point simply was that progressive Mormons struggle with certain teachings because the teachings seem illogical — not necessarily because the teachings are uncool or unpopular. What these Mormons need to remember — what we all need to remember — is that we’re part of a faith-based religion. Logic alone can’t explain the Church’s teachings. We need to rely on faith. That reliance, however, can be uncomfortable, particularly when the teachings are inconsistent with our intuitions.

    Other religions face similar issues. The underlying problem is that our society values traditional knowledge much more highly than faith.

  43. When it comes to logic, it is much easier to make a case that the Lord has always frowned on homosexual activity (read the Bible), than to make the case that the Lord cares whether or not somebody drinks coffee. So, Kavin, I agree with you that this is a difficult issue for some of our contemporary brothers and sisters, but the reason it is difficult has nothing to do with logic and everything to do with what “the world” is preaching these days.

  44. Kavin (sorry I previously misspelled your name): I find it interesting that common sense or “logic” in regards to homosexuality has done a 180 degree turn in the last 40 or so years that i’ve been paying attention, and I suspect it is exactly because nefarious forces in our world have intentionally worked to remove much of the uncool-ness and unpopularity of homosexuality,

    i suggest you do some research into the APA (American Psychological Association) (or American Psychiatric Association, I keep forgetting) change, instituted in the 1970s, that removed homosexuality from the DSM. The majority of the members of that association did NOT agree with that at the time. It was a political move. You can still find psychologists and psychiatrists of all ages (but particularly more so among the older ones) who readily admit that many if not most gays are made, not born. But PC-ism silences most, and the media refuse to give air-time to those willing to speak the truth.

    Most of the public’s “common knowledge” of gays comes from the media and a relatively small number of high profile gay celebrities. What I think you are referring to as “logic” in regards to society’s versus the church’s stance on homosexuality, is actually based on false notions and outright lies perpetuated by the APA’s 1970s decision, and extreme political correctness on the part of media and entertainment.

    I find it of note that the same people who for the last 40 years have been telling us that marriage is “just a piece of paper” (ie, the progressives) are the SAME ones telling us that giving people the option to marry the same sex is now morally required.

    Seriously, if you know at least 6 gay men with whom you are close enough to that you could ask them the age they were when they had their first homosexual sexual contact, then I challenge you to put my assertion to the test with your own informal survey.

    Okay, back on topic. The point I’m trying to make is that there is not this big defined border between the realm of “logic” and the realm of “cool and popular”. That through the power of mass media, the power of peer pressure, the power of political correctness, through the repetition of lies (ie, propaganda) is that cool-and-popular is made to _seem_ logical.

    If you remember formal logic from your high school geometry class, you likely also remember logic can be used to “prove” all sorts of falsehoods _if the beginning or underlying assumptions (ie, “postulates”) are incorrect_.

    One of the biggest lies of this age is the assumption/postulate that sexual orientation is only and always inborn. Psych professionals who deal extensively with homosexuals for various things know that that is not true. it’s just not politically correct or socially acceptable to mention that. Just as it is not politically correct or socially acceptable to mention that 90% of all violent crime in America is commited by inner-city African Americans and inner city Hispanics. Or that the rate of child abuse among African Americans is more than three times the rate of child abuse among caucasians. Or that the rate of domestic violence among homosexuals (men and women) is several times the rate of domestic violence among heterosexuals.

  45. May I stick my toe in this water? 1st may I congratulate all on the reasonable exchanges, even when slightly testy (!), handled with courtesy, and true intelligent inquiry (note I did not say “intellectual inquiry” — although I am one who believes intellectual inquiry can rise to spiritual maturity. The small but important point I would like to make is that being a “true” or “real” or “temple-worthy” or “faithful” Latter-day Saint in a secular world includes one link not mentioned in any of these blogs, but absolutely critical to becoming worthy ourselves of being so categorized: a living and ongoing relationship with the Holy Ghost. I do not say at all that such a relationship is easy, quickly gained, or even reducible to logical (i.e. meeting worldly standards of acceptability) description. But I am positive it is crucial to our living a Christ-like life and both gaining and keeping, not just the hope of believing in an existing, omnicient and unconditionally-loving Savior, but the reality of discovering that such a Person actually does exist. I am glad the issues were raised about “Why would God…(do thus and such)?” I, too, have had and do have my share of “Why” queries and have learned that not all my whys are going to answered specifically according to my timetable. But I have also learned that, through opening myself to the presence and instruction of the Holy Ghost, I can be told what I should rightly struggle to understand (“study in out in your own mind”) and what I can safely trust to be made clear in good time (Be still, and know that I am God). In nothing, perhaps, do practicing Latter-day Saints except themselves more from secular thinking than in their certainty that continuing personal revelation is not just a possibility, but a lynch-pin doctrine for the practical Christian (even more so for the practical and practicing Latter-day Saint who operates on the premise that the “culture” he/she is in is actually the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ — a very heady bunch to affiliate with!) Since arrogance, condescension, and egotistical pride sever any hope of being guided by the Holy Ghost, we seem to be left with humility as our foundation for learning what should be and is actually going on, not only in this world but the next. (Thus: Paul’s marvelous essay on charity — I Corinthians 13). In hope this is of some use to any of you involved in this excellent discussion!

  46. To carry it back more on topic:

    Political correctness now dictates our public discourse.

    Public discourse over a person’s lifetime, from when they first start interacting with the world outside their home and family, to when they enter adulthood, is the main or “defailt” influence or programming in our life. (Parents have to make herculean efforts to overcome any programming influences that disagrees with their world-view that comes from peers, school, and media.

    Those things which we internalize during our maturation process (growing up) are then the default and automatic “assumptions” and “postulates” upon which our reasoning is based. Those things we are programmed with become the lens through which we see the world.

    One category of exceptions are “inner driven people”, versus “outer driven”. The vast majority of humans are outer-driven, follow the crowd, go along-get along types. Exploers, natural born leaders, inventors, and prophets are examples of inner-driven people.

    Therefore as long as the vast majority of a culture programs its people with correct principles, then their “logic” can make correct deductions and analysis upon those princples (assumptions/postulates). But once those portions of society/culture which program the rising generation, ie, schools and media,start inculcating falsehoods, false assumptions and false postulates, then the “logical deductions” based on those falsehoods also turn out false.

    So before you pronounce something “logical”, you have to make sure that the underlying assumptions (“givens” or “postulates) upon which “logical reasoning” is based are correct themselves.

    Whether it be religious orthodoxy staving off the trends of disbelief and secular humanism, or political conservatism staving off political correctness, I think it important that the degenerative forces in both cases are being applied through academia and the media, with political correctness and ‘big lies’ being the over-arching commonality.

  47. As Spock told Valeris, “Logic is the *beginning* of wisdom”…..

    Fran, thank you for your timely contribution. For LDS, the gift of the Holy Ghost is indeed what sets us apart.

  48. I think there is a difficult balance to strike between our enthusiasm as members of the Church to proclaim the Gospel message to all nations, kindreds, tongues and peoples, and the obvious necessity of actually having a coherent Gospel message to proclaim. Both of these are equally necessary in being effective in building up God’s kingdom. Personally, I am inclined to agree with Mike Z: there needs to be a recognition of the difference between Church doctrine and Church culture. This is a difficult line to draw, but in general, what actually constitutes binding Church doctrine is relatively small. Essentially, it consists of the Standard Works – those documents, revelations and ancient records which we as a Church have agreed to be bound by. However, I agree (albeit tentatively) that there needs to be more ‘policing of the boundaries’, simply in order to maintain a coherent Gospel message. I would like to see a Church that is adamant, steadfast and unapologetic in the things which we hold to be unequivocally true and inspired of God – in other words, the actual official DOCTRINE of the Church – even when this firmness places us outside the secular cultural mainstream. But I would also like to see a Church that is a lot more accepting of members holding different opinions on things falling outside this category. So, basically, someone who publicly denies and preaches against the divinity of Christ (either in person or over the internet) cannot be allowed to go undisciplined (though of course, only their Bishop and Stake President have the right to make a full judgement in individual circumstances) but I would not say the same thing about someone who, for example, regularly drinks coca cola.
    In other words, yes, I think there should be more ‘policing of the borders’ but I also think the borders should be a little smaller and more modest than they are now. By all means, we must be unequivocal and uncompromising in our proclamation of what God has revealed to His Prophets – but on matters where God has not yet clearly revealed His will, let us be tolerant and accepting of all of His children, no matter what personal views they may have.

  49. This from Eric Hoffer, in “In Our Time“, as quoted by David Mamet in “The Wicked Son” page 122:

    What is it that drives some intellectuals in free countries to hate their native land and wish for its annihilation? In a Western democracy the adversary intellectual is not only against his country. . . but he sides with animals against man, with the wilderness against the sown. Predictably, an adversary intellectual who is a Jew sides with the Arabs against Israel. . .

    One who hates what most people love probably savors his own uniqueness. The adversary intellectual cannot actually wreck a society, and he cannot seize power, but by discrediting and besmirching a society he undermines the faith of its potential defenders.

    I leave it to the reader to draw parallels.

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